Published: 26/09/2014 18:15 - Updated: 26/09/2014 18:46

James's epic voyage part of Sunday's ocean filmfest

Ben Stenning (in boat) and James Adair, in Mauritius at the end of their journey – and back with their boat which had capsized and left them in shark-infested waters a mile from their destination.
Ben Stenning (in boat) and James Adair, in Mauritius at the end of their journey – and back with their boat which had capsized and left them in shark-infested waters a mile from their destination.

by Margaret Chrystall

THE first International Ocean Film Festival comes to Eden Court on Saturday (Sept 27), the selection originated in Australia showing some of the world’s best ocean-themed short films with over two hours of viewing.

The films venture above and below the water’s surface with divers, surfers, swimmers, rowers and oceanographers.

Highlights include:

The Giant And The Fisherman — documenting the relationship between Indonesian fishermen and a whale shark. (picture above)

Duct Tape Surfing — the story of a paralysed woman whose dream of surfing again is realised – with the help of duct tape.

Sportlife Saga: Water — world champion free-diver Guillaume Néry goes to depths of more than 100m and can stay below the surface for more than seven minutes at a time.

And Then We Swam — documenting the adventure of two British friends who set off to row the Indian Ocean. Read James Adair’s story below.

The film selection starts at at 7.30pm. For more: www.eden-court.co.uk and www.oceanfilmfestival.co.uk

THERE are moments in James Adair’s story of two rowers battling to cross the Indian Ocean that are pure comedy – and the humour is one of the reasons he likes film And Then We Swam.

Ben Finney’s movie documents the journey James and his friend Ben Stenning took in 2011 when they rowed over 3,000 nautical miles in 116 days before capsizing a mile from the end.

"We are unlikely adventurers – we’d never done anything like that before. And I think people like the fact we’re not chiselled athletes!" laughed James, who later wrote a book about the trip, Rowing After The White Whale.

"We were both in London doing pretty boring jobs and we just dreamed of adventure," he said, talking about early plans by the former St Andrew’s University pals.

"We were looking for something a bit more out there," laughed James.

James’s book about the adventure, Rowing After The White Whale, published by Polygon.
James’s book about the adventure, Rowing After The White Whale, published by Polygon.

"We’d never rowed before we decided to do it – and in fact we never had the chance to row in our boat before she had to be shipped to Australia for our starting point north of Perth.

"Our first time in it, we ended up arguing about how to steer and came in after two hours."

But having raised £15,000 for a "third-hand" 23 foot self-righting boat that had already crossed the Atlantic, the duo’s first problem as their epic voyage began was getting away from their start point.

"There’s a big Continental shelf and it’s hard to tear yourself away. The shelf is very shallow and there can be steep seas so it took us 10 days to get away from Australia.

"I kept a journal of just a few words every day. ‘Going backwards again!’ was a typical entry at the start," James laughed.

"Towards the end, close to Mauritius, it was monsoon season so we faced cyclonic winds.

"But everything in the middle was quite hard too. We had everything from storms to flat calm."

With a routine of two hours on and off rowing during the day and then three hour watches at night to allow sleep in their tiny watertight cabin, one person was always rowing

Strangely, blisters weren’t too much of a problem, thanks to a baby’s nappy rash remedy.

James explained: "We heard that Sudocrem rubbed into your hands helped.

"But we did have sore bottoms from sitting a lot. We made some cushions to sit on, but we had bottom inspections once a week, the other person would try to be as positive as possible! And salt sores – they can be very painful."

But there were moments when the duo worried about their mental health.

"We were quite baffled by a lot of things. The moon and stars and sun were amazing and we saw incredible stuff like a lunar eclipse.

"But there was one point where it looked as if the sea was sloping downwards which made us wonder if we were going a bit mad.

"People who sail and spend their lives at sea know that it is a strange and magical place. People on a cruise or on a cargo ship doing 14 knots won’t experience it.

"Whales would come and scope us out and so did sharks, they’d just come and have a look.

"For two nights in a row under an oppressive sky with no stars, we had giant squid and plankton under the boat like a shimmering apparition because of the light and phosphorescence they create."

Tim the moth who landed on their boat 750 miles out of Australia.
Tim the moth who landed on their boat 750 miles out of Australia.

And there was passenger Tim …

"A moth landed on the boat when we were 750 miles out of Australia."

The experience has given James a new perspective.

"We phoned home on our satellite phone every few weeks, but in a way it was quite nice to be disconnected from everything. Not knowing any news was quite liberating. So now if I lose my phone it’s quite stressful, but also quite nice!"

Close to shore at the end of the journey, the ship was capsized by a huge wave and the rowers spent hours in the water in danger from sharks and the reef before being found by local fisherman. Though the boat was later recovered, a lot of their belongings – including most of the camera’s memory cards – were stolen or lost.

But there was enough left for Ben Finney’s film.

"It’s a fantastic bit of work and it’s nice to have the trip turned into something special," James said.

"After we got back, I was working on the book but it was quite hard to get back into the real world.

"My current job with offshore support vessels is in Barcelona.

"Ben is in shipping too working for a big logistics company in Paris. We’re both on the run!

But future adventures are currently on hold.

James laughed: "One day we will go back out there. But both Ben and me got married, so we have to seek higher authority.

"Maybe as OAPs we’ll be allowed to do the Pacific."

And Then We Swam is shown as part of the Internation Ocean Film Festival at Eden Court Cinema on Saturday at 7.30pm. James’ book is published by Polygon.

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