For avid sailing enthusiasts, I’m sure the stories of the 1968-69 Golden Globe single-man non-stop race around the world are the stuff of legend, and this film will provide some nuggets of newness, and in general tell an interesting story. For people who don’t really know (or particularly care) about sailing, Deep Water is an intense, surprisingly gripping, often poetic tale of adventurousness, innovation, triumph and failure.
While the stage is set initially for a tale about the Golden Globe race - the first of it’s kind, created by the notorious Sunday Times as part of its expanding publication into adventure reporting - it quickly focuses in on one of the nine racers, Donald Crowhurst. The other eight contestants all had some sort of sailing notoriety, whether it be a cross Atlantic journey, or some innovative feat, many of them had naval backgrounds. But Crowhurst was an utter unknown, a working man who sold modern-edge navigational equipment (enough to live off at least), a family man with four children, a man who saw an opportunity to lift his family and his business above their current status. Seeking and gaining a sponsor, Crowhurst designed a new kind of boat which he thought would be the fastest on the seas, equipped with the latest in technology, he genuinely felt he would have the edge. There was a three month span from which the competitors could set sail, the cut-off date being October 31, 1968. The day before he must set sail, Crowhurst was uncertain of his boat, and feeling unprepared. But he had signed a contract with his sponsor, and if he backed out of the race, or quit at any point, he would face financial ruin. Having grown up in squalor, he couldn’t bear to do that to his family. Putting his life on the line, he set out to sail on the last day possible.
There was a lot of coverage of the race, both the lead-in to it and the following of it. Crowhurst even had a documentary crew following him, giving him an everyman charm making him popular with the masses. New technology in radio transmission allowed the competitors to keep in touch with the mainland 80% of the time, sending teletype messages back and forth. Each racer was also provided with a tape recorder and a camera with miles of film to record their journey. And, as most seamen do, they have their log books, their journals which contain their course of actions, their positions, and their thoughts.
Crowhurst knew, from the moment he set out, what was in store for him. He faced one of two options: certain death or financial ruin. His “cutting edge” ship was slow, far slower than any of the other racers. It was taking on water which had to be bailed out by hand in multiple places. Screws fell loose. In calm seas it was barely manageable. In a persistent gale he’d most likely sink. Approaching the southern Pacific would be certain doom, his Catch-22 was unbearable… but there was a third option.
If you’re unfamiliar with the story, I won’t spoil it for you, because it is incredible. The portrait painted of Crowhurst is a relatable one of a man desperate in many ways, a story of pride, and a story of deception. But this story isn’t just about him, but also the other major competitors, about the family he left behind, about the media tracking it all, and though it starts off a little slow, it becomes one of the most captivating tragedies. If it were fiction, it would be ingenious, but as reality it’s fascinating and emotional.
The experience of the movie itself is a brilliant one, but the DVD features some stellar extra features including featurettes on Crowhurst’s family, the media, and most of the other racers. The film clocks in at around 95 minutes, but with the special features it’s a rich near-two and a half hours chronicling many sides of the fascinating story.
The allure of the sea is strong for some, and it’s best accentuated by hearing the stories of the men that sailed it put beside the women and children that they left behind for their 300+ day journey. One of the best documentaries, and even better DVD packagings I’ve seen in a long time. About the only thing I didn’t like: the title.