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Mutiny crew member: 'I didn't want a Big Brother boat'

Recreating one of the greatest survival feats in naval history, the Mutiny on the Bounty, is no easy task, as Gemma Dunn discovers.

If truth be told, the modern man is often considered a mere shadow of his esteemed ancestors. There's no denying many of today's chaps - accepting of the metrosexual tag or not - are more likely to be caught crafting a meticulous appearance, than pledging blood, sweat and tears on a life-or-death voyage. His band of merry men are a group of friends in a swanky bar; his compass reading skills peak at Google Maps.

But excluding the likes of survivalists Bear Grylls and Ray Mears, would our contemporary menfolk jump at the chance to achieve the same extraordinary feats as their hardened predecessors?

As it turns out, yes, they would - or at least in the case of new Channel 4 series Mutiny. Trialling the age-old nautical saying, 'When ships were made of wood, men were made of steel', the fact-based series follows a group of nine 21st-century contemporaries who attempt to relive one of the greatest survival feats in naval history.

The tale begins 230 years ago, when HMS Bounty was sailing from Tahiti to the West Indies. During its 17-month voyage, a poisonous rift meant Captain William Bligh and his loyal crewmen were cast adrift in the Pacific Ocean and left for dead. In a remarkable act of seamanship, Bligh - forced into a tiny open boat and left to die - led his crew to safety across 4,000 miles of ocean from Tonga to Timor. It would go down in history as the Mutiny on the Bounty. To replicate the same gruelling journey for the Channel 4 show, nine men would follow the same route on a replica 23ft open wooden boat with similar equipment, the same food and water rations and the same basic clothing that Bligh's men had.

They'd also use the 225-year-old diary kept by Bligh during the voyage as a survival handbook, to help them uncover the secrets of the seas in such unpredictable, often brutal, environments.

SAS veteran-turned-TV star Ant Middleton leads the expedition, assuming the role of Captain Bligh. It's a role he refers to as "psychologically and leadership-wise, the hardest task I've done".

"In my military career, everyone had been through that process," explains the 36-year-old, who made his name as the lead instructor of Channel 4's SAS: Who Dares Wins.

"Everyone knew how to behave - the discipline was there, the structure was there. "This was a team of strangers that came together having gone through no process, so for me it was probably my toughest leadership task I've had to date, because I had to tailor to each and every one of their needs."

The rest of the eclectic crew, aged from 23 to 43, is made up of builder/handyman Ben Gotsell, sailor/adventurer Chris Jacks, professional sailor Conrad Humphreys, skipper Freddy Benjafield, doctor Luke Kane, brand ambassador Rishi Ravalia and embedded cameramen Dan Etheridge and Sam Brown.

Staying true to form, Mutiny's producers cast a crew that would mirror that of Bligh's - with Gotsell recruited as ship carpenter and odd-jobs man and Kane taking on the role of surgeon. Any expertise was put to good use.

"The worst bit was when everyone's skin basically disintegrated," recalls Kane, who is in his final year of GP training. "The cold, wet period was quite long, and essentially our skin's outer layer broke down, which let all these bugs come in.

"Everyone was riddled with ulcers and boils. It was really difficult to manage it, because the only way to deal with it was to dry off and we just couldn't do it.

"Sam's hands were the worst - he didn't have fingerprints for ages."

While health and safety protocols had to be put in place, Middleton was adamant the group would be self-sufficient and that a call for the safety boat would be for absolute final resorts only.

"I said from the beginning, 'I won't be involved in anything that's not as authentic'," he says. "I didn't want it to be a Big Brother boat. These guys knew that if they called that safety boat in, then they're off. It's as black and white as that."

As for conflict, there's no denying there was bickering on board - but any disputes were quickly put to bed.

"It's bigger than any individual, this trip. The magnitude, the size of it and the seriousness of it - we had to stick together as a team," Middleton explains.

  • Mutiny, Channel 4, Monday, 9pm

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