I’ve become hooked on Channel 4’s Mutiny, savouring it every Tuesday night. But I’m in two minds about how much I’m willing to suspend my disbelief. There’s no doubt that these, mostly, layfolk have undertaken a seriously arduous voyage – that they’ve endured insane hardship – an open boat in heavy weather, punishing sun and over 4,000 miles to navigate. Add minimal, decaying rations and rotting flesh and you’re still not even half way there (oh how we love the grizzly bits). Hard man skipper Ant Middleton apparently lost over three stone during the filming. So it’s an epic feat whichever way you look at it.
But then there’s the safety boat plodding slowly behind at a distance of several hundred feet and “always out of sight” – so Channel 4 claims. But if the mentor boat is out of sight how come it can shoot footage of the replica boat? I’m afraid, with all the talk of production teams depositing food in various places on ‘The Island’, it’s difficult to be convinced that these challenge programmes are as hard core as they make themselves out to be. The illusion was once again shattered last week when naughty, disobedient Chris was plucked from the boat a few minutes after radioing for the safety vessel. Uber couldn’t have done a quicker pick up.
But watching it I’ve become nostalgic about my own time at sea, which seems almost too distant and far-fetched to have ever happened now. Bobbing about between Greek islands lying on the deck drinking Mythos barely seems to count as sailing – and that’s the only thing I’ve done in the last few years.
It was 2005. I was 22 and in the graduate vortex. Hell-bent on not working in an office (look how that turned out), I decided to join a bunch of strangers delivering a 40ft cat from Southampton to St Maarten. I’m very glad now that I am such an avid diaryist, because although a lot of it is pretty tedious, there are some more exciting bits:
Day 58 [*9th day into transatlantic crossing] Tuesday 6th December 2005 12:41
Heroics from Simon. Action man.
The leeward (port) shroud broke with a tremendous crash.
Doom mongering from myself. Would we lose the rig? This would surely add weeks onto our crossing if we had to depend solely on the jib or the screecher (gennaker). Certainly there isn’t enough water. Food, fine, I know I’ll last with the best of them, being a chubster, but water: a slow agonising and frustrating death of thirst.
As per usual Simon seemed less than ruffled, “If we lose the rig, then we lose the rig.”
We made a plan to fashion a replacement shroud of three spliced ropes. Simon would have to go up the mast.
In addition to all this excitement, a large ship rolled by merrily tooting as us. Over the VHF they told us, “Remember you are not alone. We big ships like to look out for our little friends.”
I found that very touching. So there is other life out there.
Later I immerged from a long slog in the galley to see Simon hanging precariously above the second set of spreaders. His situation looked fraught. His arms and legs were clamped around the mast but he was being aggressively lurched from side to side as it swayed. It looked pretty impossible for him to hold on and use his tools to mend all at the same time.
I tried to be cool. He seemed agonisingly far away and for a moment I felt very aware that he didn’t seem to be on the boat at all. “There’s an awful lot of strain on this winch,” Guy said, red faced. Swear words were cascading from above us.
After what seemed like ages he made his descent. But the mission had taken its toll. He was exhausted and fell to his knees on the deck. His temples were glistening and his hair was damp. His fighting spirit had been reduced and for a few minutes he lacked his usual exuberance.
“Well fuck that for a game of soldiers,” he said.
Even he, the bold, seemed slightly shaken. He looked ravaged. I scurried off to fetch him some water as he leaned back on the perspex pod window. His inner arm and thigh had vicious red scratches and a nasty rash from where he had been chafed against the shroud.
*[I’ve spared you the considerable rambling soppy shit I write about my relationship with Simon]
He’s recovered now, after a nap, and as he sits across me at the lunch table, he looks as fine as he ever did.
I wrote prolifically on that trip. But there wasn’t much else to do and being a sea is a hell of a way to avoid the usual procrastinations.
I remember that you can smell land before you see it. And that using my legs after 20 days at sea was a revelation. Swinging my hips and claiming back my old swagger. It seemed to me that more of my identity was carried in the way I walk than I had ever intended or thought about. But then being able to get away was always important to me.