I often go on kicks where I watch a ton of films of similar stories and subject, and become obsessed with that topic for a while. Right now, it is movies about sailing. There are so many fascinating stories out there, about people facing the great oceans of the world, on boats that barely seem like they will be able to keep it together, staring up at the massive swells of some of the most dangerous waters on Earth, trying to things alone.
And through this, I came across Deep Water, a documentary that retells the story about an around-the-world, solo, non-stop sailing race that was held in 1968. At the time, people had become fascinated that it was possible to sail solo around the world. But it was time to kick things up a notch: it was time for someone to do it without stopping on land. At all. A complete circumnavigation without the ability to stop to resupply, or to fix any of the many, many things that could go wrong on a boat trying to accomplish this.
The race was sponsored, and would hand out two prizes: the first person to finish the race (they could leave at their own times, as long as it was before a certain date), and the person who had the fastest time around the world.
A handful of experienced sailors undertook the task. And one who had very little experience at all.
Donald Crowhurst entered the race as the least experienced sailor, a kind of nerd who liked the water, but had never done any sailing of major significance. He was the last one to leave England, still trying to get things together until the last minute before his departure. For those who had never heard the story before, we kind of get the feeling that he is doomed.
But the story gets better.
With so much riding on his successful circumnavigation, Crowhurst knows that he cannot fail. If he does, his family will be in financial ruin, and he will be humiliated. He must succeed. So once things start to go wrong near the start of the journey, in the Atlantic Ocean, he chooses what he must have felt was his only option: cheating.
From here, Deep Water becomes incredibly fascinating. Largely told through archival footage and interviews with the people who were closest to Crowhurst, we see how this man attempted to cheat his way into a respectable finish in the race. He didn’t want to win, for that would be too obvious, and he was never interested in the fame. He just wanted to grab a third or fourth place finish, maintain his respectability as a man, and continue on with life.
In order to do this, he would have to fake months upon months of logs that would track his journey, all the while hanging out in the South Atlantic, close to Brazil, while he waited for the other competitors to round the southern tip of South America and pass him. From there, he would be able to turn north once again, and get home in just enough time that his ailing boat wouldn’t sink on him, and just slow enough that he wouldn’t win either of the prizes.
The next twist, makes a great story even greater, as Crowhurst slowly went insane while waiting for months on his boat, alone at sea. His diary entries became scary, yet fascinating, as he was forced to consider what he was doing, having left his family and small children behind, constantly bent by the weight of trying to get away with his ploy, and maintaining his sanity while all alone in the middle of the ocean.
Deep Water is an absolutely fascinating story of life at sea, and the pressures that it can cause someone. With so many very good documentaries about successful and not-so-successful attempts to circumnavigate the globe, such as the fantastic Maidentrip, or Wild Eyes, this one provides us with something completely different, and the story is nothing short of compelling. It is very suspenseful, and there are plenty of twists and turns to make this true story better than fiction.
This is definitely a winning documentary, and for anyone else who is obsessed with film about sailing, Deep Water is a definite must-see.