Matt Baker: Behind the Scenes – Close calls on the water

Presenter Matt goes behind the scenes of the stories featured on Countryfile and his other TV shows. This month: close calls on the water.

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I have always had a respect for water, and especially the sea, which is no doubt due to the experiences I have when I come in contact with it.

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My first vivid memory of water is being engulfed by the wave machine at the local leisure centre. It’s not that I’m not a confident swimmer, it’s just that I often end up having to get myself out of a watery situation. For example, as a 10-year-old marine explorer on the last day of our holiday, I was mesmerised by a squid that enticed me into a whirlpool. From the centre of the vortex I was screaming for my dad, who heroically came to rescue me. Our legs were cut to shreds by the jagged rocks but we both managed to escape.

This story did have a little bonus – the airline took pity on my dad and I, and gave us an upgrade on the way home as we couldn’t bend our shredded knees. At the time I couldn’t believe they had TVs on planes.

At college I joined the sea kayaking club and took to the sea on the first lesson, squeezed into a carbon fibre, streamlined kayak. I was unaware of the advantage of choosing a less stylish, plastic, ferry-type vessel and spent the entire lesson inverted, gasping for air as my kayak was so tight I couldn’t get my legs out.

These early experiences didn’t put me off and set me in good stead for watery filming adventures. Blue Peter was known for its connection with the RNLI and so am I, as I’ve been rescued twice for real.

One occasion was when I was filming off the south coast in an old-fashioned galleon ship (with no engine). A surprise storm came in and we were hit by a freak wave. We all slid down the deck and some of the tapes we’d just recorded went overboard – Davy Jones’ Locker now contains the footage of me sword fighting in period costume. We were all rescued in a hairy boat-to-boat transfer, including my dog Meg, wrapped in a blanket.

But my list of H2O adventures, excitement and close calls doesn’t stop there. While speeding up the Thames to cover the London Marathon, our inflatable boat launched off the wake of a passing vessel, projecting our soundman into the air. Fortunately, he landed back in the boat but his sound equipment wasn’t so lucky and the rest of our coverage was very quiet.

But my closest call was scuba diving and filming off the coast of Egypt, when my equipment malfunctioned and I inhaled a large quantity of the Red Sea. Thankfully, my dive buddy saw exactly what was going on and saved my life. But please don’t let me put you off – after all, I’m still here to tell my tales.

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Originally published in Issue 72 of Countryfile Magazine