Vancouver International Mountain Film Festival: Mad Brits row across an ocean in And Then We Swam

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      You’d think their first clue that they weren’t meant to attempt rowing across the Indian Ocean without any support boat or backup would have been the bad omen when they tried christening their seven-metre rowboat: the bottle of supermarket bubbly missed the hull and smashed on the trailer winch.

      Then, at the starting point in Western Australia, the pair of Brits saw off a solitary adventurer trying the same mad feat and watched him limp back after just a few days, sick, tired, and full of bad stories about the weather.

      But James Adair, 30, and Ben Stenning, 31, had already ignored the host of reasons why they shouldn’t have even entertained the thought of rowing the 5,600 kilometres from Geraldton to Mauritius.

      First there was the fact that neither of them had ever even spent a night at sea, and this when they were looking at more than 100 consecutive such marathons while pulling three-hours-on, three-hours-off rowing shifts.

      Then there was the small matter that Ben had never even been to sea, period. Not to mention that neither of them had rowed a boat in their lives.

      Mad dogs and Englishmen.

      Against those odds, though, in 2011 the duo became the first unsupported pair to pull off the unlikely quest.

      Sort of.

      Which is why outdoor-adventure enthusiasts will be hitting the Cinematheque tonight (February 9) to watch the North American premiere of the short (37 minutes) documentary And Then We Swam.

      It’s part of a larger Vancouver International Mountain Film Fest program called Great Traverses, which includes two likeminded (albeit better qualified) daredevils, Sarah Outen and Markus Pukonen, presenting accounts of their own beyond-ambitious expeditions.

      Outen is halfway through a human-powered globe-girdling odyssey, and Pukonen is a survivor of a 5,800-kilometre Atlantic Ocean row, from Dakar, Senegal, to Miami Beach.

      Because of the relatively short length of the documentary, there isn’t a lot of detail from and footage of the 116-day travail, especially because half the film footage was lost on the last day, within sight of land, when the most harrowing part of the entire expedition took place.

      For a clue as to what happened next, look no further than the film’s title.

      Director Ben Finning, a BBC vet and one of the brave men’s brother-in-law, took over afterward, putting together and editing what footage remained and conducting interviews with the resolute survivors.

      It’s an entertaining package and a good fit with the evening’s presenters. Adair, in particular, seems much the philosopher of the two and contributes some personal gems in recounting his motivations to undertake the task (a serious illness in his teens and a desire to “prove people wrong” are two of them) and why he was prepared to die in the attempt.

      They almost make up for Stenning’s mid-ocean flash of the salt sores on a delicate part of his anatomy.


      And Then We Swam screens Sunday (February 9) at the Cinematheque as part of the Great Traverses program (starting at 7:30 p.m.; doors at 7 p.m.) of the Vancouver International Mountain Film festival.