British round the world yachtsman explains how he prepared, and fared, on this ‘lunatic endeavour’, a 4,000-mile trip across the South Pacific in an open boat
INTERVIEW: Mutiny crew Conrad Humphreys, and leader Anthony Middleton
As cruisers, we simply don’t have experiences like this. We don’t cross oceans in totally unsuitable open boats. We navigate using satellites, not stars, logs, compasses and chronometers. We have enough victuals onboard. We choose our fellow crew, and we rest well. But that’s cruising.
Conrad Humphreys is a British round the world racing yachtsman. He competed onboard the W60 Odessa in the 1993-94 Whitbread Race. He was the 26-year-old skipper of LG Flatron and her amateur crew when she won the 2000-01 edition of the BT Global Challenge. He skippered his Open 60 Hellomoto to seventh place in the 2003-04 Vendee Globe, becoming only the fifth British skipper to finish. These are all stellar achievements, but the challenges he faced in the making of this TV documentary are of a totally different ilk.
Anthony Middleton’s military career culminated in a four-year tour in the Special Boat Service (SBS). Ant has also been Chief Instructor for two series of the hit Channel 4 show SAS: Who Dares Wins, and will return in the same role for a third series.
You can listen to Conrad Humphreys relive and reflect on his Mutiny experience in talks in several towns and cities. Click here to find the nearest to you.
Benje Goodhart of Channel 4 press, spoke to Conrad Humphreys and Anthony Middleton.
Why on earth would you want to sign up to something like this?
I’ve got a little bit of a history of doing lunatic endeavours. I’d never sailed in a little wooden boat like this before. Most of my career has been fast, high-speed yachts, and extreme conditions. But this was very, very different, so I jumped at the opportunity.
Was it a very different boat to handle from those you’re used to?
Yeah, very different. It has no keel, very simple sails, so you’re really at the mercy of the wind and the waves, which adds some risk. But it was a simple boat, so there was very little to go wrong, very little to break, and easy to repair.
Presumably navigation was another very complicated aspect of the journey?
Yeah. Obviously today we have all sorts of technology to identify exactly where we are, so the challenge in today’s world is ‘Where do we want to be?’ Whereas in Bligh’s world it was very much ‘Where are we, and are we about to hit a reef?’ Trying to accurately navigate with traditional methods is not something that modern man does anymore.
How did you prepare for the series?
I brushed up on positional navigation, and learned some of the techniques that Bligh would have used. I put on a bit of weight in readiness. In hindsight I wished I’d put on a bit more. I lost 20 kilos. I wasn’t prepared for that amount of weight loss. And then a lot of preparation was preparing the crew. A lot of them had very little sailing experience. I had to prepare my family, as you often do with these sorts of trips, for what could be the worst. This was a dangerous trip. There are always dangers when you go to sea.
What were your worries going in to the series?
The biggest worry was the fear of losing somebody overboard, in this boat it would be very, very difficult to go back and recover someone. Other fears were coping with the intensity of being on board with a small group of strangers, and whether we would bond as a team. And I was quite fearful of the lack of food.
What was the reality like, compared to the theory?
It was remarkable, in a number of different ways. At times there was great fear. It taught me a lot about myself, how I reacted to certain people on board, how much I enjoyed working with Ant (Anthony Middleton). Normally in these situations I’m in charge, so playing a supporting role to Ant taught me the art of followship, which is as important as leadership. I really enjoyed the sense of achievement and accomplishment that came with getting to the end. I would go so far as to say it ranks alongside the Vendee Globe and winning the BT Global Challenge and some of the other big events I’ve done.
What did you learn from this experience?
I’ve learned patience, I’ve learned to trust other people’s judgement, I’ve learned to be very content with very little around me. Great happiness can come from the very simple things in life.
Why on earth would you want to sign up to something like this?
First of all, I do like my history. Obviously I’ve heard of Captain Bligh and HMS Bounty and the mutiny, and that really made me interested in doing the project. But also I wanted to see whether modern day man could endure what they endured in 1789, or are we all too wrapped up in cotton wool? It’s a good starting point for me to lead it, and to prove that we are more robust than people might think. I think we can still achieve great things. That was the main thing that attracted me to this. And it’s an amazing survival task – sea survival combined with land survival. With me being a survivalist, it just felt like a golden ticket to me. And it could all have gone horribly wrong – that’s what was exciting about it. The magnitude of the task, and the pressure to deliver.
Were you involved in choosing your crew?
No, I had no involvement with the crew. They obviously tried to keep it as authentic as possible, having a handyman because Bligh had a carpenter, having a GP where Bligh had a surgeon. I think they kept it as authentic as possible. I made it very clear from the beginning that I only wanted to be involved if it was going to be as authentic as possible, down to the rations, the boat, the islands. Basically keeping the health and safety team at bay as much as possible so we could remain in our bubble. With the longevity of the voyage, you can’t keep jumping in and out of the bubble, because you won’t last very long. You have to get into that bubble, say to yourself that there’s no safety boat, even though there was, and the only people who are going to get us out of this are ourselves. It was very important to maintain that.
How did you prepare for it?
I’m used to being in uncomfortable situations. I actually thrive in uncomfortable environments. I put on 10kg, because I knew the seriousness and the magnitude of this task. So I was already mentally prepared. I didn’t dig too deep into Bligh and the mutiny, I knew about it, and that was enough for me. I didn’t want to be too polluted with how Bligh acted or what went on. We’re recreating the journey, but we’re modern day men, I didn’t want to have the history taking over my mind. I ate a lot and just prepared myself.
What were your worries going into it?
Leading a bunch of civilians. I’m used to dealing with military personnel in a team. In the SAS, if you’re not good enough, you’re graded out of it. Here, I was the leader and it was my responsibility to help everyone through this, regardless of their strengths or weaknesses. I was worried these guys would be a nightmare to instil discipline and structure into. They haven’t been through the military process, I was worried they wouldn’t get it. The only way to get their respect is to earn it, so I didn’t go in there thinking ‘I’m an ex-special forces operator, I deserve their automatic respect.’ It doesn’t work like that. That’s why I led from the front from the beginning. I made sure that everything I asked them to do I was prepared to do myself