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I’ve been away from the blog for nearly two months now; consumed by another adventure. I’m making a new series for Discovery that I can’t write about; but I can write about Alaska. Last winter I visited for the first time and was blown away by the grandeur, scale and savage other-worldliness of the place.
This time we arrived mid April as the snow was melting and the greening had begun. Snowy peaks soar above fronds of silver rivers teaming with salmon that are preyed on by bear and eagle. Everywhere you look is drama. We hope to be here until the fall. What a privilege it will be to follow the seasons and cycles of this extraordinary world.
It’s been a month since I wrote my last blog. The time has flown by in a giant jumble of family, friends, travel and DIY. However, all good things must come to an end and in this case they are being replaced a with great new challenge. As of next week I start at Raw TV as an Executive Producer. It’s big job with brilliant people and lots of scope and I’m delighted and daunted in equal measure.
Despite the precarious nature of being a freelance Series Producer, one of the benefits (especially if you have your next contract lined up) is being able to take long breaks. In all I’ve had six weeks off and it’s been utterly memorable. After returning from France in what Jen and I reckon was one of our best ever holidays, I spent just a day to in London before heading north to the Hebrides with my Dad. The Maynard and Maynard tour of the Highlands is becoming something of an annual event. My father is an astounding ninety years old in February so these are precious journeys. Last year we circumnavigated Scotland but this time we concentrated on family and friends in Lewis and Harris.
I detected a positive vibe to the islands that I hadn’t felt for many years. There are some inspiring examples of young people returning to the islands and getting on with plasterboard and projects. Nickolai and Beka Globe have made a fantastic new space for their pottery and photography at their converted Mission House Studio. And my old friend Ruraidh Beaton continues to build the legend of Am Bothan in his magical bunkhouse in Leverburgh. The advent of the long overdue Sunday Ferry and the reduction in ferry fares to the Islands through the Scottish Parliament’s revolutionary Road Equivalent Tarrif (RET) initiative have had an enormous impact on tourism. The roads were busier than I’ve ever seen them, lots of cars with surfboards on the roof and ever more dreaded camper vans in their wake. Ah well progress always comes at a price.
Talking of progress, my last day on the Island was spent at the helm of the Jubilee, sailing out of Loch Stornoway as the new Sunday ferry steamed past…bizarre. The Jubilee is fully restored 80 year old ‘Sgoth’ that I last sailed fifteen years ago. It’s another sign of renaissance in the Islands. The Jubilee, which was one of the island’s last serviceable traditional wooden sailing boats is now one of a fast growing number of this class of boat being built sailed regularly by locals and visitors alike.
Returning to London, I concentrated on getting the new kitchen installed interspersed with lots of catching up with friends in London. Amongst the highlights was the launch of Phil Stebbing’s massively ambitious ‘Lifeline’ project in Hyde Park. Phil is trying raise funds to send three teams of people around the world. Their mission is to meet others who are trying to live sustainably and build a Digital Ark filled with the secrets of sustainability. I did say it was ambitious.
Another memorable event was going to the one day England V Australia cricket match. Even to a relative newcomer to the game it was pretty obvious that it wasn’t a brilliant match, and England got soundly beaten. But nonetheless, great company, good weather and enough beer to last a lifetime more than compensated for the poor performance.
So that’s it. The holidays are over and the work begins. Bring it on.
In June 2007 we landed in Jayapura, West Papua at the start of a four month expedition. I was heading up an expedition to make a series of films (called Living with the Mek: The adventures of Mark and Olly) for Travel and Discovery Channel. I’d been planning this trip for months. Our goal was to seek out then live with mysterious Mek mountain tribe (if they’d let us).
There was a lot to do before we headed inland. We had to organise plane loads of supplies and make all the final preparations to allow our group of fifteen or so to be virtually self sufficient in the mountains for four months.
There is no doubt we were all nervous. No matter how many precautions we’d taken, the mountains of West Papua are fraught with dangers. We planned on managing just one mile a day as we searched for the tribe.
To acclimatise and rest up before the expedition got fully underway, we organised a day out on local canoes to a remote island west of Santani. On the way back at dusk, we hit a boiling shoal of tuna. The boatman hooked one and that evening we ate a last supper of fresh raw tuna marinated in lemon juice. It was a perfect end to the day and exactly what we needed before we headed into the uncharted mountains.
Of all the projects I’ve developed, An Sgoth probably gives me more satisfaction than any.
In the early 90s I asked Hebridean boat builder, John Murdo Macleod if he’d build a Sgoth Mor (Big Boat) for a documentary I wanted to make for the BBC. John Murdo was the last in a long line of builders of these amazing traditional sailing crafts.
Fishing boats grow in size depending on how plentiful the fishing stocks are. The ling fishery off the north of the Hebrides had reached its zenith around the turn of the last century and was in decline when John Murdo’s grandfather built the last ‘Sgoth Mor’ in 1918. It seemed such a tragedy to let all the cumulative knowledge held in John Murdo’s hands and head go unrecorded on film. So after years of fundraising we finally got all the pieces together.
John Murdo spent a year with apprentice Angus Smith building ‘An Sulaire‘. I filmed the pair as they cut down the trees in January and launched this amazing thirty three foot craft the following December.
The community in the Hebrides really came together around the project. After the launch, An Sulaire became the focus of a revival in traditional sailing in the Hebrides.
A year ago last Christmas I sailed out into the cold December waters of the North Minch in An Sulaire. At the helm was writer and poet, Ian Stephen, an old friend and co-collaborator. I hadn’t been on the boat for more than 10 years. We had young and enthusiastic crew and despite being a liability when it came to dipping the massive lug sail, I felt immense satisfaction at having helped to make something come alive that has had such a positive effect.
Because of continuous over fishing by international and local boats, and some say pollution from fish farming, fish stocks are now under severe pressure.
Today a catch of this size would be a bonanza.