British sea kayakers Jeff Allen and Harry Whelan may have gotten all the press for their record-setting 25-day circumnavigation of Ireland in the spring of 2011, but behind the scenes was a man with a camera on his own a whirlwind tour of the Emerald Isle in a cluttered Pugeot Boxer van. Photographer Vaughan Roberts racked up about 3,000 miles providing land support for Allen and Whelan, navigating the backroads of coastal Ireland and setting up shots for his new DVD, Into the Wind. We caught up with Roberts to discuss the thrills and challenges of shooting his first documentary, which is now available through his Romany Productions website and Sea Kayaking Cornwall, Allen’s outfitting business in southern England. — Conor Mihell
CanoeKayak.com: How did things start with you, Jeff and Harry? Where did you first hear about their Ireland Expedition and when did you get the idea to join them?
Vaughan Roberts: Jeff was the one who suggested joining the trip in December 2010. Over the past two previous years I had gotten to know both Jeff and Simon [Osborne] at Sea Kayaking Cornwall. Jeff recognized the passion I had for both sea kayaking and filming and we both acknowledged Ireland was a great opportunity for me to start a career in filming. I couldn’t turn down the chance to film an expedition in such a beautiful country, as my main inspirations are landscapes and wildlife. I’m always truly grateful to Jeff; he’s a character that takes pleasure in seeing people reach their dream.
In the beginning, what were you expecting your role as shore support to entail?
We all agreed from the beginning that I was simply filming the expedition. My role would be to keep camera equipment maintained and charged and to meet Harry and Jeff where possible. At times it was a complete nightmare trying to find them and keep the camera equipment going.
As a videographer, what were you thinking initially in terms of a storyboard or shot list?
As the guys were trying to break a record, I concluded Jeff and Harry’s story would tell itself. But I went to Ireland with some themes. Ireland is renowned for its rugged landscape, and brutal sea and weather conditions. There is nothing to obstruct the swell created from distant storms in the Atlantic and so I aimed to capture some of these elements within the final production.
It sounds like a challenge of following these guys around the Island by road became as difficult as paddling the coast. Tell me about some of your most memorable adventures racing around Ireland with Jeff and Harry.
While driving around Donegal Bay [on Ireland’s northwest coast] I heard on the radio that most of the marsh in the northwest was on fire due to dry conditions. Unaware that I was driving straight towards the fires, I arrived at [a friend’s] house mid-afternoon. As I arrived I was rushed out the door and handed a shovel. We piled into a police van with a load of Irish locals armed with as little as me and drove into the smoke. It was dark from the thick black smoke [and] we barely able to see more than a few feet in front of us. Flames were raging all around, trees exploding in balls of fire, and tractors and fire engines thundered past, spraying water over houses as the fire threatened to burn them to the ground. It was like walking into a war zone. At the time it seemed worthless fighting such a large fire with a shovel, but the combined effort of people culminated to stopping small fires from becoming larger. In the rush I had left my cameras and didn’t manage to capture any of these dramatic scenes, one for the memory bank!
From a photographer/filmmaker perspective, a truly inspiring moment was being at the Cliffs of Moya. I sat on the cliffs waiting, waiting, and waiting to see the guys. As the sun began to set to the west, the light was perfect and easy filming, the swells pounded against the cliffs, birds flying effortlessly in the light winds. I spent five hours capturing these moments. As I was about to leave, [I turned] back to take once last glance. The clouds seemed to drop from the sky, creating a sight I will never forget. Gently rolling purple mist edging its way over the cliffs toward land.
In the end, how did you end up filming them?
It became clear in the first few days of the expedition that it would be nearly impossible to film the guys on the water myself as well as following them on land. So it was decided that Jeff and Harry would film from on-board (GoPro) Hero camera for paddling shots, and a Sanyo handheld for descriptive moments.
On land, I did lots of running up hills, packing and unpacking my camera equipment. I spent a lot of time guessing where the guys would be. After the first few days I began to work out roughly their distance covered in an hour, so I could gauge where they might be. This became increasingly difficult after the seventh day because of the wind. Most evenings I managed to find them, but there were times I spent hours driving around aimlessly as the maps I had were different from the actual roads!
Are you happy with the final results?
As a final production, yes I am. Into The Wind tells a great story of two guys achieving their goal, capturing the high and lows and the magnificently stunning landscape of Ireland. All in all, it has had a fantastic response.