Harry Dwyer is a self-described “enthusiastic doer of fun stuff”; a designer, video director, stop-frame animator, inventor and electronics designer. A true renaissance man. He also strikes me as someone I’d LOVE to hang out with in an old creaky pub somewhere near the sea, wearing rustic cable-knit sweaters (although he would call them “jumpers”), relaxing comfortably next to a cozy fire. Harry has stories to tell!
After moving to London at the turn of the last century, I realized it was a treasure trove for the types of eccentrics with which I seek to surround myself. Through friends, I met lots of people like Harry, which made going to dinner parties so satisfying. London seemed to be a gathering point for people who had been places and done things. The ones who would stick out to me were the happy lunatics: well educated (either formally or otherwise), well-spoken with a quick wit and robust sense of humor. If there were such a thing, I think Harry Dwyer would be a chieftain of this tribe.
I first stumbled across the Tiny Speedboat series one year ago on YouTube with the release of its first episode. As a lover of boats and weird, seemingly pointless projects, I was immediately drawn to this bearded, smiling man as his face beamed with excitement, puttering out into the slack waters of the Thames as he prepared to make a loop of the UK. I knew at that moment that I would try to get to know Harry in real life, so it is with the greatest satisfaction that I am able to introduce to you to this man as a part of our “Islands” theme, which seemed as good as excuse as any to reach out to him.
Can you give our readers/drinkers a bit of background on yourself?
I’m a bit of a jack of all trades, but I’m a stop-frame animation and commercials video director by trade. I’ve always been into making things on an amateur level. When a TV show about making things from an old Airbus A320 came along, I jumped at the chance of getting involved. Since then, I got used to being on both sides of the camera and have continued making things and making videos about them for Youtube, like the cardboard houseboat, and then more recently doing up my old tiny speedboat and taking it around to coast of the UK.
What led you to make the jump and do this project?
I had been looking at the old 1970s speedboat rotting on the back of a nearby ship near my workshop. I’m down by the river Thames and the thought of doing it up and taking it on an adventure drove me to distraction. Eventually I got my hands on it and videoed the restoration. At some point I jokingly started mentioning that I could take it around all 1700 miles of the UK coastline. Of course it seemed easy back from the comfort of the warm workshop, plus I didn’t know much about boating and how rough the sea can be. But the thought of remote beaches, swimming and zipping around on the water kept me wanting to do it.
Have you yet been scared for your life out there? Or how does it usually go?
Yes, I think the more scary bit is the build up. Thinking about what conditions might be out there and furiously checking the forecast. Once you’re out in it you just sort of get on with it. On our third day we had a nightmare getting the two of us and all our stuff onto the boat from the beach we had camped on. A storm has got up and we were completely unprepared. We had to swim out to the boat and sat freezing to death whilst driving back to a safe harbor with a broken propeller. The only thing that kept us going was taking it in turns swigging from a bottle of Pernod as the waves crashed over us and gave us a regular face full of freezing seawater. All the cameras had died from seawater submersion so there’s no footage until it was safe to bring my phone out and grab a few grizzly moments.
Do you ever think, Christ this would be easier with a much bigger boat?
Constantly. I go around in circles. A bigger boat would make it so much easier but we would lose that connection to the water. We sit at one with the surface, when the dolphins jump up next to us we’re right there with them, not sitting up in the wheel house looking down on them.
One thing that is obvious to anyone is your good humor and that of your mates. How handy is a good sense of humor doing what you’re doing?
I’m lucky to have such good friends who put up with me and are prepared to come along, it’s probably more of a faff for them than it seems in the videos. You have to see the funny side, although it’s not always that easy. I think the main thing is to just embrace it and try to enjoy what’s happening and make the most of the events as they unfold. In order to capture the magic we have to film a lot, so often it can seem quite tedious if you’re not used to it. I like capturing those moments of strange madness so I’m constantly fiddling with a camera to try to film as much as I can.
I’ve seen people in your videos greet you and mention they follow the channel. That has to be exciting and weird, right?
Yes, I think the boating world is quite a small one, so if you’re into boats you might have watched one of the videos. I always worry that the reality of us is a little disappointing when experienced in real life, what is it they say, don’t meet your heroes? Whenever people visit the workshop who have seen it on a video they’re always surprised at how small it is. It’s practically the first thing they say, ME: “hi, come on in..” THEM: “…Oh it’s smaller than I thought!” The boat though, Goodwin, that won’t disappoint, it’s even smaller in real life than it looks in the videos.
How long do you think it’s going to take to complete the mission? And when is the next leg being filmed?
No idea, definitely years. The further I go, the slower and more wiggly I seem to be going. Did you know there’s no exact measurement of the coastline, it’s impossible to measure. It’s because it very much depends on the unit you use to measure it. If you measured it in straight sticks each 1mile long it might be 5000miles. If you had a line made up of atoms then they would wiggle around every pebble on every beach, on every jagged rock on a cliff or grain of sand. So the line would be almost infinitely long. I’m beginning to think i’m going in that direction.
I look forward to settling in sometime and chatting over a pint in that most customary of British traditions. Can you tell us the name of the pub that you love the most and why, where is it, etc.?
It has to be the Duke of York pub in Iddesleigh in Devon. It’s an old country pub that’s almost entirely unchanged from what it might have been 200 years ago. In that time the fire has never gone out, the ceiling has a 100 years of nicotine staining and there are still the same old farmers at the bar.
I’ve shared a couple channels like Sailing SV Delos that I really like, and I think, due to YouTube’s algorithms, is how I found you. Is there a channel that you’re totally into that you can turn us on to?
Well now, this is where we really get into some specialist interest stuff. It’s not for everyone. I started watching Mustie1 about four years ago. I couldn’t believe it when i first saw it and wondered why anyone would watch it. He’s a man in a shed in New Hampshire mending old lawn mowers he finds at the side of the road. He sets up his camera, pushes record and lets it run virtually unedited as he tries to fix something. Of course he’s incredible at fixing it, knows everything there is to know and he explains his thought processes and brings you along for the wild, but slow ride. I think it’s a bit like fishing. I don’t fish, but I once mentioned to a keen fisherman that it was too boring for me, and they said that for them although they might be just calming standing holding the rod they are actually engrossed and on the edge of their seat for the entire time. With his Youtube revenue Mustie has upped his game a bit, has a bigger workshop and bigger vehicles but has managed to keep the same magic.
For that matter I am also a big fan of Andrew Camarata and of course enjoy the never-ending progress of Sampson Boat Co.