Throughout history, sailing and the sea have been a source of hope and new beginnings, and stories of the sea have carried with them the glory of adventure balanced alongside the reality of human frailty. The British documentary Deep Water tells the tale of perhaps the last great sea adventure, the 1968 Golden Globe Race and its enigmatic and tragic hero, Donald Crowhurst.
In March 1968, The London Sunday Times announced that it was holding the Golden Globe. There were few conditions placed on the contestants; in all, the winner would be required to sail solo around the world without stopping. It was to be the greatest race at sea ever held and would be extremely dangerous, pushing to their limits the nine who signed up to contend for the prize. Almost all were veteran sailors who knew each other and were well acquainted with the challenges that lay ahead. It was in this rush of excitement that Crowhurst's name first came to national attention in England.
Crowhurst was a family man who had four children and a wife and owned a small nautical electronics company. Like many Britons, Crowhurst had grown up near the sea but had never been a serious sailor. As the homegrown dark horse, the British media loved him, and his confidence was able to sell those around him on his dream of winning the race. He found a financial backer and began building a yacht. By October, he was under way, following his competitors south to the equator.
In July of the next year, three months after the race ended, Crowhurst's boat was found empty and adrift in the Mid-Atlantic. There was no trace of the man, but Crowhurst's journal, audiotape, 16mm film, and two logbooks would begin to unravel the mystery of his long voyage and his heartbreaking end.
Veteran filmmakers Louise Osmond and Jerry Rothwell lovingly and brilliantly piece together the story of Crowhurst and the Golden Globe using original news footage, the film found on Crowhurst's boat, and the footage taken by the race's other competitors. Newly filmed interviews with Simon Crowhurst, Donald's son, and Sir Robin Knox-Johnston, the race's winner, along with an ensemble of friends, colleagues, and contemporaries, candidly and energetically recreate the experience of the racers at sea and their families at home.
The film's most powerful scenes, though, come from Crowhurst's wife, Clare. Her comments are made with typical British understatement yet with a warmth that brings the audience into the heart of a loving wife. Clare Crowhurst admits that one of the reasons she was willing to be a part of the film project was the sensitivity and broadmindedness the filmmakers brought to her husband's story.
Deep Water is a tragedy that even Sophocles would find compelling. In the dire last days of his life, Crowhurst can be seen as a modern-day Captain Ahab, shaking his fist toward heaven as his own pride and ambition come to bear against the overwhelming power of the sea.
Opening Friday, November 2nd