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Jeremy Lindsay Taylor
1968: An inexperienced sailor enters a round the world race which he fears he won't be able to complete yet alone win. In order to save his dignity, he decides to cheat to come last but things don't go according to plan.
Confronted by a perilous sea, bad weather, an unfinished boat and painfully slow progress, sailor Donald Crowhurst faces an impossible dilemma - to continue into the open ocean on his 1968 solo round-the-world race with a leaking boat or return home defeated and bankrupt. Using original 16mm footage, tape recordings and interviews, this film reconstructs one man's extraordinary physical and psychological journey.
"It is indifferent... it's there waiting for you to make one slip up." Those words (paraphrased) are perhaps the best sum up of the nature of the ocean I have ever heard muttered. Its furies are boundless, not least of which, her loneliness. Those words come from the mesmerizing and heartbreaking documentary Deep Water. It is the story of Donald Crowhurst, an amateur sailor who partook in the 1969 Sunday Times Race around the World. If you do not know his story, it may be best to stop reading now. Don't read this or any other information on Crowhurst or the race. Find the film and just watch it.
After the first solo circumnavigation of the ocean in 1967, adventurers and watchers of adventurers began seeking the next one-up. This time the journey would have to be done without making landfall or stopping along the way. Having fallen on hard times, Crowhurst saw the race as a great chance to get his family back on their feet. He had lived through financial hardships as a child, and wanted part in going back to such a life. So he set out to find sponsors, and soon did in Stanley Best and Rodney Hallworth. The two men spelled the potential cash cow, and granted Crowhurst a boat, on the condition that if he should pull out of the race he would be forced himself to pay the expenses. His boat however was in serious need of repairs, and he feared it would not be ready in time for the final departure day. He was informed however by his sponsor's that he simply must go after all, they ponied up the dough and expected it back many a time over.
The details of the story are infamous: Crowhurst's boat began taking on water, and his progress slowed to a crawl. Faced with the decision of trying to round the horn of Africa (certain death in such a boat) or turn back (financial devastation and destitution), he searched for a third option. He chose to hide out, alone on his yacht, waiting for other competitors to round Cape Horn in South America. From there he would rejoin the race. He reported false positions, and record breaking speeds. Then he stopped all communication for fear that his position would be given away. He also had to painstakingly construct fake log books for each day of a journey he did not take. Eventually the loneliness, the guilt, and the realization that he would likely be caught weighed too heavy on Crowhurst. His final log entries make the musings of a Kurtz seem entirely sane. Only a few weeks from home, he turned his boat away from home, and is reported to have jumped overboard soon thereafter.
Crowhurst's odyssey is a fascinating one, and its ending is heartbreaking, but strikes of inevitability. Our dreams so often turn into fears, and the consequences of our actions often leave us so few options for a happy ending. It is a story of a descent into madness, teased on by the infinite abyss of the cruel seas. The filmmakers do a wonderful job in telling this story. It's put together with chilling audio and video recordings done by Crowhurst, and narrations of his ever-increasingly maddening log notes. The story starts slowly, and may distract some viewers, but the rewards of the story are entirely worthwhile as it progresses.
There are also inquiries into some of the other competitors, such as Frenchman Bernard Moitessier, who was on par to likely win the speed competition, only to pull out and begin a second trip around the world. Also in the film is Robin Knox-Johnston, who was the winner of the competition. He donated his prize money to the Crowhurst family.
To read briefly on the Crowhurst saga simply does not do justice. It's interesting of course, but a quick browse bypasses the raw emotions and oddness presented here. The final moments of Deep Water are genuinely heart breaking, hearing the thoughts of his widowed family, and the adoration and understanding of his friends. This is a fascinating story, and it is that which carries the documentary into such great channels.
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