The Grand Tour

“We barely made it” – Richard Hammond on ‘Seamen’

How did you initially feel about traveling by boat instead of car?

I don’t like boats. They don’t stay where you parked them and the brakes don’t work very well. Don’t forget that I am from Birmingham; we don’t do boats. So when I heard, my heart sank and I am no better a boat driver now than I was when we started.

How did you decide on your boat?

I’ll be honest, not being a boat person, I just thought it looked cool. It was pointy which I thought would mean it would be fast and powerful, and that was the extent of my thinking on the matter. Plus it used to be on TV, so that meant it had to be good, being a film star boat.

Photo: Amazon Prime Video

A film starring Hulk Hogan no less…

Exactly right. We daren’t speculate as to what might have gone on below deck. It did have a bit of a sleazy air about it.

How did you feel when you saw Jeremy and James’ boats?

Jeremy’s was too big and out of control, which is basically Jeremy’s personality in boat form. And James turned up in a little wooden boat that was particularly inappropriate. A creeky little tub. Also James in boat form.

Had you been to Cambodia or Vietnam before?

I’d been to a very different part of Vietnam years ago. I’d never been to Cambodia. It’s absolutely staggering. It looks fabulous on screen, it is a beautiful country to see.

It really does look epic, doesn’t it?

Yes. What is good is that there are three boats and we are car-height on the water so it’s not like we are in something where the view is confusing and different to what you might see from a car. These are countries that rely extensively on the water for transport and food and even to live on it so it would be difficult to visit those countries meaningfully without being on the water. They don’t tear around in cars as much, they use boats.

Photo: Amazon Prime Video

The tour didn’t start off as planned, did it?

It went wrong from moment one. When we first arrived there was a slight miscalculation on our part due to the Chinese building a dam which meant there wasn’t any water in Cambodia. Now, I am no expert on boats but I think you need more water than a puddle. So we cycled off in search for water. The next problem was going from not enough water to way too much because somebody switched the monsoon season on and I have never known rain like what we saw there. It was hot and humid and you were pretty much underwater even when you weren’t in the water. I was in the water a lot however because I kept getting my propeller caught on nets and wire.

That water looked vile, and apparently it made you sick…

Yeah, I had open blisters on my heels through which I developed cellulitis in my legs which is a blotchy creepy infection and was intensely painful. When it first struck I didn’t know what it was and I just couldn’t walk. The medic checked it out and told me.

I needed to be on very strong antibiotics quickly because it can creep into organs and turn into sepsis and that’s not good.

Were you feverish with it?

Yes, it felt like hell. But on those trips, we are all exhausted and it is tough conditions so I probably was feeling as bad as everybody else.

And on top of that, you weren’t getting a lot of sleep…

Yeah, we didn’t really hit gold dust on sleeping locations. When there is no alternative you just have to make do with what you’ve got. Generally, if you are stuck somewhere, it’s not like you can tough it out until you can get to the hotel around the corner because there’s not a hotel around the corner. That circumstance does arise quite a bit on these specials and I think people enjoy watching us suffer. Weirdos, all of you.

Photo: Amazon Prime Video

One change in this special is that you talk about climate change slightly more sympathetically than you usually do. What is your take on that?

It’s difficult not to take it seriously because the effect, one way or another, is before us. We’ve never been climate change deniers, we don’t have our heads buried down in the sand. There are things changing around us and we do notice that. But it was ironic, the situation we found ourselves in. The car show was suddenly unable to continue due to the effects of climate change. Let’s not forget, though, it was also down to human attempts to counter climate change and build other energy sources because the Chinese are building electric dams and cutting off supplies of water to people further downstream. One set of solutions can have an effect on other areas. I think we’ll see that again and again.

Having seen that at first hand, will that have an effect on anything you do in the future?

It was always in there. We are citizens of the world. We have travelled and have seen things before. I don’t think that will necessarily change our trajectory hugely but it will feature in it, yes.

There are some very funny scenes. Can you tell me about the floating market?

It’s a market that floats, so the idea is that the locals cruise up on their boats and buy what they want. It’s like they’re cruising the aisles in the supermarket. But in our case, we crashed because we are not very good at driving boats. We won’t be welcome back there. It was like going into your local supermarket in an out-of-control hovercraft.

Does this special feature more crashes than ever?

I’d say so because we are in boats and they don’t work. You can’t park the thing without crashing it. Suddenly when you think you’ve got it right, you lose control again. So it’s actually not our fault.

Have you been on a boat since?

Weirdly, yes I have. I can report they are still stupid, and they still don’t function properly.

Will you go back to cars now?

It is back to cars next time, yes. But we are not much better with cars really, are we? We don’t have a high success rate. But this special is no different to our other car focused specials. The boats are more or less car size. They are floating cars, but rubbish floating cars.

You accused Jeremy of doing a historical documentary but there were lots of points of interest in both countries, weren’t there?

Many. There were lots of fascinating places to see. He suddenly thought we were making a historical series… he must be getting on a bit. But to be fair to him, it was so fascinating. It is an amazing part of the world. And the people were so warm and friendly to us, which I could not believe! We crashed into a couple of floating villages and a floating market and ended up going down endless miles of narrow canals because Jeremy got lost on the Mekong, which is an enormous river. But even though we were clearly inept and out of control, people just laughed. They found it funny and were very welcoming.

Photo: Amazon Prime Video

Does it make a change for you to be so welcomed by such a nice community?

We’ve had a less-than-warm welcome in some places we have been, or for other films there’s been nobody there because we’ve been somewhere very remote. But in this part of the world, the attitude is so welcoming and friendly. I ended up being towed by a bunch of locals who saw me stuck. People really do muck in and help and see the funny side. If you are at the back of your boat trying to cut the nets out of the prop, people will actually find that funny. They’ll laugh but they’ll still come and help you.

What has the relationship been like between the three of you this time around?

Even though we’d had a bit of a break, as soon as we met up off camera it was as though we’d never left each other. I have a similar thing in my own life: I have always ridden motorcycles and when I get on a bike I am there, aged 17, and nothing has changed. As soon as we three get on camera together it is like we have never been away, it is like a parallel world that we step into. It’s weirdly comforting although they’re bloody irritating. There are always two of us picking on one of us. It’s evenly spread: I think one of us usually needs a good kicking and the other two are there and happy to delivery it.

Photo: Amazon Prime Video

What was the final stretch of the journey like, across the rough seas?

It was awful. It got really tough. We barely made it. I was surprised by my boat not handling it well because they used to race those boats, but there were points when it felt nearly vertical and I thought I might go over backwards in a minute and then die. It was deeply unpleasant. There was a heck of a lot more swell than anticipated and we thought ‘Oh that will be alright’, but it is a particularly vicious stretch of sea. It can be some of the worst in the world and it decided that day to demonstrate that, which was alarming.

There was a moment where you looked close to tears and panic-stricken. What were you going through?

At first it was the horrendous monotony of it, just being bashed and bashed when water smashes against the hull again and again. The sea water in my eyes – you see me at one point trying to pour bottled water into my eyes to attempt to get the salt out. That was pretty close to despair.

You say on camera it was one of the scariest things you’ve done. Do you stand by that in hindsight?

It was definitely up there.

You are going to Madagascar next. How do you feel about that?

Honestly, I don’t know. We’ve done our usual research so we are aware of some of it. Part of me is thinking, “Great, back on dry land”, and then I am also thinking, “We’ll see…”


The Grand Tour presents: Seamen will be available on Amazon Prime Video on Friday 13th December 2019.

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