Friday, September 29, 2006

In Deeep Water

Coming to a cinema near you. Hopefully. Deep Water tells the very weird and wonderful story of Donald Crowhurst, the oddball amateur who committed suicide during the 1968 Round the World Yacht Race.

A weekend sailor at best, Crowhurst piloted a hopelessly unseaworthy boat and faked stories of remarkable progress around the world. In fact he never left the Atlantic and hoped to tuck in behind the winners on the final leg and come home a hero. Then delusion and the hell of loneliness stepped in.

The documentary lays out the unfolding tragedy in a gripping story that puts all Crowhurst’s failings on display but always in a hugely sympathetic and touching way. The contributions of his widow and son in particular are extraordinary.

I’ll declare an interest in that the film is produced by one of my oldest and dearest friends, John Smithson. That said, his credentials as the man behind Touching the Void need no help from me. Great documentary on the big screen – I also recently saw One Day in September, the terrible story of the Munich massacre (also kevin macdonald) - is priceless. Let’s hope this one can get some decent distribution.

The talk after the film was how impossible it would have been for Crowhurst to have done the same thing today. His own word about his progress and position, sent by morse code, was impossible to dispute or corroborate. Today, the wonders of GPS would have his position displayed on the web to within 10 metres. By phone, email, weblog and video diary we would have had Donald with us 24/7.

Beyond that he would never have been allowed to get to a mile of the starting line. He would have needed to prove his competence to race with licences, safety qualifications and endless fitness tests while his boat would have been scrutinised and stress tested within an inch of his life.

The most touching bit of archive was Donald getting on his boat wearing collar and tie and carrying a battered leather briefcase, looking for all the world as if he was off to the City for the day. The days of the amateur buccaneer – the gentleman cricketer, the privateer racing driver, the give it a go yachtsman – are sadly way behind us.

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