Made Here: The Canoe Boys – an Adventure Show Special, BBC Scotland

SAYS the BBC, here: “Ex-footballer, Michael Stewart, joins kayaker, Brian Wilson, in this Adventure Show Special, to recreate one of the great pioneering journeys of Scottish canoeing.

“It’s been more than 80 years since friends, Alastair Dunnett and Seumas Adam, set off from Glasgow in 1934 to paddle round the west coast from Crinan to Skye. With little experience on the sea, many thought they’d never navigate Scotland’s most notoriously difficult waters in their primitive Lochaber canoes, but the friends proved everyone wrong.

“Both fledgling journalists at the time – Dunnett later went on to edit the Daily Record and The Scotsman – the lads funded their trip by writing about their adventures. Their exploits captivated the nation’s imagination and they became known simply as The Canoe Boys.

“Fast forward eight decades and ex-Hearts and Hibs midfielder, Michael, an inexperienced paddler, takes on the exact same challenge with the help of expert kayaker, Brian.”

The programme is being broadcast on BBC Two Scotland at 1900, on Sunday, April 17.

Here, producer, Margaret Wicks, of Adventure Show Productions, answers the questions…

Who commissioned the programme?

David Harron for BBC Scotland.

Explain the thinking behind the programme’s ‘look and feel’.

This film is both an exploration of the historic journey made in the 1930s by two young journalists, Alastair Dunnet and Seumas Adam, and also a modern-day adventure for Michael Stewart and Brian Wilson.

Today’s two ‘Canoe Boys’ experience the excitement and drama of the original expedition and, during the journey, the pair tackle the infamous waters of the Dorus Mor, the long crossing between Oban and Mull and the notorious circumnavigation of the most westerly point of the Scottish mainland, Ardnamurchan.

Ironically, however, it was during a relatively simple section between the islands of Muck and Eigg that Michael had the greatest difficulties. Overcome by sea sickness, he lost his temper and broke his paddle.

Understanding the historical significance of the original journey, and the motives and characters of the original Canoe Boys, was also central to the programme – so meeting both Alastair Dunnet’s son, Ninian, and Seumas Adam’s daughter, Ailish, adds an extra dimension.

It is this combination of the historical and modern-day adventures that underlies the programme.

What kit and software?

We had two camera people, one safety officer and a support boat for the filming.

We used a Canon 305 and a Canon C300, together with a number of Go Pros mounted in a variety of positions on the kayaks. We also had a Sony GW55VE which was used when filming from a small dingy. This enabled us to get closer to the action on the water.

The programme was edited on Final Cut Pro.

What were the main production challenges?

It was important to relive the 1930’s journey in as authentic a way as possible and, by great good fortune, the Scottish Maritime Museum in Irvine has the only existing canoe of the type used by the original Canoe Boys.

With this ‘Lochaber Canoe’ as a template, staff and apprentices at the Scottish Boat Building School made two replica kayaks for our programme.

These boats were superb and the people we met on the journey, like 89 year-old Duncan McGilp, who remembered the original 1930’s trip, were impressed by their authenticity.

In terms of the filming, it was important to get as close to the action as possible, especially when conditions became more challenging. The Go Pros gave good alternative shots and ensured that we had footage even when the main cameras could not be used.

The support boat was excellent and the crew enabled us to capture the journey in as authentic a way as possible. It was not always easy for the camera people, however, because when the water became rougher – and therefore the action more interesting – it was sometimes hard to maintain steady shots.

Using the small dingy was beneficial but there were times when the conditions were unsuitable for such a craft.

It was also a challenge to ensure we recorded good quality sound during the kayaking. We therefore used a separate hard disk recorder which we put in a waterproof case. This ensured that we recorded sound throughout the journey – even when the cameras were too far away for the radio mics.

As a result of the continuous recording, both on the Go Pros and the hard disk recorder, there was a substantial amount of material to work through in the edit.

What did you most learn and enjoy from the experience?

Filming intensively as a tight-knit team over a week, enabled us to appreciate the achievement of the original Canoe Boys. They undertook this journey without any support and very little money.

Their staple diet was ‘oatmeal browse’. We treated Brian and Michael to slightly more sophisticated food, but they did cook this mixture of oatmeal, water and butter when they camped out on the island of Eigg.

Luckily, it was a superb evening, the campfire didn’t smoke too much and, although the finished product was fairly lumpy, they both said they enjoyed their meal.