Speaking of films, last night I gave myself a rare treat – I took time out to watch a film. “Deep Water” is the tragic story of Donald Crowhurst, an amateur sailor who decided to compete in the 1968 Golden Globe Round-the-World Yacht Race. Woefully under-prepared, he set out anyway, due to pressure from sponsors and media. His boat started falling apart almost immediately, and would certainly have sunk if he had continued on the race route into the hostile Southern Ocean. But if he abandoned the attempt, he would have to pay back all his sponsorship monies – which would lead to certain financial ruin.
So on the horns of this dilemma – death or bankruptcy – he came up with a cunning plan. He would hang around off the coast of Brazil, fake his race position reports, and then rejoin the competitors as they came past him heading back north up the Atlantic. But his plan started to fall apart when, one by one, the other competitors dropped out and he stood in serious danger of winning – meaning that his faked logbook would be subjected to the most rigorous scrutiny, which it would surely fail – leading to public disgrace and humiliation.
Through his deceit, he had put himself in a terrible situation – compounded by the mental strain of being alone at sea for 8 months. He could see only one way out….
What, you thought I was going to tell you the ending? No way!
You’ll have to see the film. But be warned, it is VERY sad, made even more harrowing by the participation of Donald’s family. Even after all these years their sense of grief and betrayal is palpable.
For me it was especially interesting to see a throwback to a time when going to sea meant an almost total lack of communication with dry land. When I was on the Atlantic I got some inkling of what they would have gone through, when my satphone failed a month before I reached Antigua. I was abruptly plunged into total isolation, without access to weather information, advice, or my mother.
Strangely, for me, this was the best part of my row. I became much more focused in the present moment, rather than becoming hopeful or despairing depending on the (usually inaccurate) weather forecast. I found a new kind of serenity that had previously eluded me.
But I only had to last a month without comms. Eight months could have been a very different story. It would take a strong mind to stay sane for such a very long period of solitary confinement.
[photo: me with Sir Robin Knox-Johnston, the winner of the 1968 Golden Globe Round-The-World Yacht Race, who donated his �5000 winner’s prize to the Crowhurst family. Picture taken in Hamble, UK, last year.]