The Perils of the Sea: Thoughts on Deep Water

Isolation heightens our self awareness. Is it what we lack or what we bring with us that frightens us most?

Public Domain Image by NASA
The route for the Sunday Times of London Golden Globe Race, 1968

Can you imagine sailing completely around the world alone without ever once putting into port? In 1968, nine men tried. That year the Sunday Times of London sponsored the first ever solo, nonstop, around the world boat race. Prizes were to be awarded to the man who came home first and to the man who made the quickest voyage. Competitors could leave whenever they were ready, but no later than October 31, 1968, a deadline imposed out of fear of storms off Cape Horn at the southernmost tip of South America. I think most of us would balk at the idea of being holed up alone on a yacht for nine or ten months, on a route that would take us through the extremely tumultuous waters of the south seas, never stopping to stretch our legs or feast our eyes upon land. These fellows made the attempt without the aid of global positioning satellite technology, which was in its infancy, and no one at that time was sure that a boat could make the trip, let alone a human being. It was a highly dangerous pursuit, and almost half left the race before exiting the Atlantic Ocean.

Deep Water, directed by Louise Osmond and Jerry Rothwell, sheds light on the horrific struggles they faced. It focuses on the tale of Donald Crowhurst, an amateur sailor seeking to prove himself and to win prize money to help his failing business and support his wife and children. Caught between a rash agreement with his patron, a romantic portrait painted by his publicist and his own lack of preparation and fear of disgrace, he suffered a mental breakdown and was the only one of the nine to lose his life while competing in the race.

The three men who actually completed the circumnavigation of the globe had their own difficulties. One would sail on past the turn home, finding himself unwilling and unable to return to civilization, eventually ending his journey in Tahiti and becoming a vagabond of the south seas, leaving his family behind in Europe. Another sank his boat in the mid Atlantic trying to stay ahead of Crowhurst on the return trip and would be found a few years later hanging dead from a tree dressed in woman’s lingerie. Only one man completed the task by returning to England, winning both prizes. Recalling the difficulty of the south sea, which he acknowledges as “a bastard”, that man donated the money he received for the fastest voyage to the family of Donald Crowhurst. His empathy speaks to the torture he experienced in his own isolation upon the deep sea.

Deep Water is a fascinating film that explores the sea’s uncanny ability to intensify the personality and amplify and exploit weaknesses in mind and body. It’s a strong person that can look into that mirror without looking away or going mad.

© Josh Giovo with CCLicense
© Josh Giovo with CCLicense

For whatever we lose(like a you or a me)

it’s always ourselves we find in the sea.

–E.E.. Cummings, maggie and milly and molly and may

Video via MovieTime on YouTube.

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