Freddy Benjafield: A band of brothers
Nine strangers, a 23-foot wooden boat and 4,000 miles of open ocean – not something your average Joe would sign up for; but for Freddy Benjafield, a 24-year-old skipper from Plymouth, it was an experience he pursued in earnest to challenge his courage, determination and resilience. Sailing Millie Home joins Freddy on his family yacht to learn about the unexpected brotherly bond that followed recreating the Mutiny on the HMS Bounty, the 1789 story of Christian Fletcher’s mutiny against Captain William Bligh.
Mutiny on the Bounty
During a 17-month voyage to transport breadfruit plants from Tahiti to the West Indies, a British navy ship was on the verge of rebellion. A young captain, William Bligh, was cast away from his ship in the Pacific with 18 of his loyal crew members. Channel 4 filmed the reenactment of the treacherous voyage to see if a group of today’s 21st century contemporary sailors could measure up to their predecessors’ achievements. Sailing from Tahiti to, at the time, a Dutch settlement in Timor the group was pushed to their absolute limits in an intense survival challenge.
“For me, the biggest appeal was that we could go out there and do something modern sailors don’t do every day. It’s not everyday you get to sail the way that sailors of old once did.”
Although Freddy has been sailing with his seafaring family since he was only 10 days old, Bligh’s ability to cross the world’s most remote and unforgiving seas was a testament to the age of sailors – a journey Freddy believes he was also capable of achieving 230 years later.
Image courtesy of Channel 4
Reliving naval history
Proving that they could stand the test of time, an almost exact replica of the open wooden boat was built, the same rations were shared and an identical 48-day passage was followed. As the modern day castaways sailed through the Pacific, the whole expedition was made even more authentic by the accuracy of their own experiences, aligned to those in Bligh’s journal. The detailed account of the journey made for vivid reading while Freddy and the crew faced the same hardships experienced by Captain Bligh and his men.
“The original crew went through all these horrible things that happened to them and they didn’t have anyone to document it for them, other than Bligh writing a diary, whereas we had cameras to document the whole thing. For us, it was a weird duality because stuff was happening to us that we were reading in Bligh’s diary – it was almost ghostly.”
The present-day forsaken sailors endured storms, hunger, treacherous reefs, and all the while in a confined space. Although a safety boat travelled 5-10 miles away from them, the dangers were real and, despite warnings, Freddy and the rest of the crew pushed through questionable risks. Risks that brought nine strangers together and made them friends for life.
A voyage of discovery
Sailors by nature are explorers interested in other ways of life. This connection brings strangers together in way that Freddy can relate to best, from his family sailing trips to France. He notes that, “There will be loads of people [from the sailing community] that will enter into your life and a good 90% of them will stay in your life forever.” The treasure of sailing experiences shared on the water creates an unspoken philosophy of openness and eco-consciousness between sailors.
For nine extremely different men, all from England and with entirely separate lives, the reenactment of the Mutiny on the Bounty gave them an opportunity to interact in a way probably denied in any other walk of life. Brought together by their related skill sets to form a modern-day Bligh’s crew, Freddy assumed the role of third mate. Utilising his knowledge learnt from the Warsash Maritime Academy in Southampton and the countless hours spent on the ocean, Freddy displayed a remarkable capacity for patience and endurance that became vital to succeeding on the journey.
Image courtesy of Channel 4
Relying on each other to get themselves safely through the discomfort and danger of this vigorous odyssey, Freddy taught the novice sailors on board rope work and celestial navigation. Learning about one another in such a small space of time, this intimacy and mutual reliance formed bonds that remain today. Reminiscent of their time out on the high seas, Freddy says they still speak most days and continue to joke about some of the more subtle instances that come from spending an extended amount of time together on a small boat.
One of the hardest parts of the trip for Freddy was suffering from cabin fever while at sea. An avid foodie, he would imagine a coconut sorbet being served on a silver dish after an appetizing meal and, although some of the crew would enjoy indulging in his imaginary feast, others were concerned about the mental strain a lack of food and water was having on the crew. However grim it became though, like a true seafarer Freddy would dismiss his food fantasies when needed, but confides that he would console his cravings by writing the recipes down in a book.
A testament to classical sailing
Testing his physical and mental strength like never before, Freddy endured extreme conditions that saw him on the brink of life-threatening dehydration. But it was during these moments that the crew really bonded. Banding together, they fought through their fatigue and looked out for one another like true sailors that had experienced countless voyages in years past. “Especially at night, you just sit down, steer the boat, there’s a bit of wind, the stars are out, and you spend a good four hours just chatting to them and getting to know them. It was definitely a bond of brotherhood with pretty much everyone on the boat, basically.“
Perhaps it was the effect of those long starry nights, but the nostalgia that comes with sailing seems to be inherent to seafarers uniting under that familiar curiosity for adventure and benevolence. An old nautical saying, that Freddy reveals was crew member Anthony Middleton’s, who assumed the role of Captain Bligh, favorite was: “when boats were made of wood, men were made of steel”. In recreating one of the oldest maritime adventures, the dynamics created within the group provided new insights. And although it may have not been intentional, the reenactment of Captain Bligh’s story brought a sense of shared purpose and experience to the group that was central to the whole project.
Image courtesy of Channel 4
Currently sailing in the Mediterranean on a 156m super yacht, we don’t think Freddy will be missing that 23-foot wooden boat anytime soon; but as tribute to that unique experience, the same boat sits in the berth next to his family yacht in Plymouth. A meaningful token from a unique and extraordinary journey that created the band of brothers they remain today.