“Time isn’t a straight line. It’s all... bumpy-wumpy. There’s loads of boring stuff. Like Sundays and Tuesdays and Thursday afternoons. But now and then there are Saturdays. Big temporal tipping points when anything’s impossible.”
Last year, I interviewed BVI resident David Hildred before and after he crossed the Atlantic Ocean on a raft with writer Anthony Smith and two other men. In addition to coverage in VIPY, the crossing received international press, including a weekly column in The Daily Telegraph titled “Four Men on a Raft.” The purpose of the rafting trip, as explained to me by David, included reestablishing rafting as a viable mode of transportation, showing that adventures have no age limits, and recreating the journey of the World War II vessel Anglo-Saxon’s jollyboat across the Atlantic to a very specific beach, Eleuthera, in the Bahamas.
Anthony aboard Antiki in Sint Maarten Shipyard as he prepares to complete his intended journey. Photos by Traci O’Dea.
The raft did not reach Eleuthra on its trip across the Atlantic. The four men instead landed on the island of St Martin, about 700 miles from the Bahamas. I visited 86-year-old adventurer Anthony Smith on the raft Antiki at the Sint Maarten Shipyard a few Saturdays before he and his new crew were about to set off for the last leg of the voyage—completing the journey he’d originally intended to take.
When I first approached the raft Antiki in the shipyard, it appeared smaller than I’d imagined it from the many photos I’d seen, but that could’ve been because it was docked beside a massive catamaran. Once aboard, while standing in the shadow of the mast made from a telephone pole, I appreciated the roominess and stability the raft. The stability should not have been a surprise as the raft basically has four hulls—the four main pipes that sit in the water—topped by fourteen cross pipes and decking on top of that.
We began our chat on the deck in the morning sun but soon had to relocate inside the cabin as a dark cloud brought pellets of rain. The corrugated stainless steel cabin also defied expectations, seeming to be larger on the inside than the outside, similar to BVI Doctor Who’s TARDIS, but I don’t think Antiki’s cabin has a swimming pool within its walls. As Anthony Smith recounted his journeys, I suspected he might be the closest thing to a real Time Lord—defying linear chronology and gathering up adventures worthy of several lifetimes. Despite the many photos that I’d seen of him, Anthony’s appearance surprised me, too. He has the eyes, voice, spirit and demeanor of a 20-year-old—a mischievous 20-year old—and I further appreciated the comparisons between Anthony and the Doctor, especially the newest incarnation of the renegade time traveler. It made sense. Who else, besides a time traveler, would constantly refer to his own excursions, whether on a raft or a hot air balloon or motorbike, as “sensible things to do”?
Anthony called the decision to go to St Martin instead of the Bahamas a “mutiny.” According to him, the crew had “solemnly” agreed, before the journey that they were going to the Bahamas, knowing it would add extra time and difficulty to their crossing. The agreement “wasn’t written down,” he said, “but I tried to make it as solid as I could.”
“We were keeping along the 19th parallel coming across,” Anthony said, “so we always had it in mind that Bahamas were there, but it suddenly became increasingly obvious that we weren’t going to make it to the Bahamas. The two sailors who we were commemorating by going there…they got across [to the Bahamas]…but it took them 70 days, even though they were sunk 70 miles west of the Canaries.”
When the raft was about 600 miles west of the West Indies, the “mutiny” occurred. In fact, Anthony described a quite civilized meeting in which two of the crew, including David Hildred, cited obligations at work and home that hindered them from wanting to travel the extra 700 miles. The third crewmember, Anthony said, claimed to like the long-haul and voted to go to the Bahamas. Anthony, as the head of the committee, decided to side with the other two, “since it was two against one,” and they sailed to St Martin, arriving within 200 yards of the place where they had aimed the raft 600 miles out. That, Anthony said, is why he calls the raft’s coming to St Martin a mutiny.
Now the raft will finish the originally intended journey by heading from St Martin, where we continued to chat, ignoring the rain bouncing off the steel cabin, to the Bahamas. This time, Anthony will not be traveling with three strangers, who Anthony called an “untested lot,” as he did with the Atlantic crossing; rather, the new crew includes some old friends. “I once went down a South American river that you’ve never heard of that happens to be 2500 miles long called the Araguaia River,” Anthony said, “with a steamboat…and Bruno was then a 20-year-old who just came along because he was age 20 and didn’t have anything to do. Now he’s 50 and just had a baby…but [his wife] is being offered a holiday in the Bahamas when we arrive.” In addition to Bruno Sellmer, Anthony will be joined by a married couple—Nigel and Leigh Gallaher. “She is much more yachtie than he is,” Anthony informed me. “He’s an architect, he’s English, and I’ve known him since before he was born.” The blue-eyed explorer then went on to tell the tale of how he had once listened for Nigel’s fetal heartbeat to assuage the fears of Nigel’s pregnant mother and how Anthony had later been named godfather to the child. The Gallahers will be sleeping in the back of the cabin where stacked bunk beds are set up behind a thin privacy curtain. Lastly, the crew will be joined by the person who will be doing the filming, Ali Porteous. “Another woman,” Anthony said, “but she won’t be part of the story because if there’s any action, she’ll be filming it professionally, so that’s five.” Five crewmembers but only four bunks. Anthony explained that Bruno is “a real nature guy” who will sleep “outside somewhere.” Anthony then shared a story about when Bruno stayed with him in London and would sleep on the floor instead of the “nice proper bed” Anthony had made for him. “He said he’s already looking forward to the stars,” Anthony added.
Anthony, sporting a wide smile.
The trip can no longer be called “Four Men on a Raft.” The rafting nonagenarian said that the addition of women on board will “make the laundry line look different.” He mentioned that he liked the way that the hanging shirts “became alive with their arms waving in the wind” and on his last raft journey they called it a “shirt-o-meter for measuring wind, so we’re now going to have a bra-o-meter.”
The new crew, excluding Anthony, has an average age of about 56; and the former crew had an average age of 58. Anthony prefers the company of the young and young-at-heart, and I think that’s why he’s been able to keep so young himself. “We push our old people in England to old people’s homes which are horrendous even if they are nice,” Anthony said, adding that some of his children believe he should be in one of those homes having fun and experiences with people the same age. “But I say I’d have more fun with a 20-year-old,” he said, and I was reminded of Doctor Who’s companions who tend to be centuries younger than the Time Lord. “One of the reasons for me doing this was to show you don’t have to go on a cruise. You can do something like be on a raft.” Or travel in time.