Deep Water (2006) – One Middle Aged Chancer Against the Sea…

“God and his Son played at the heart of the Cosmos.. they played a lovely game that consisted of transforming apes into gods. It was a fun game, and all the while they played, they followed a simple rule: the apes were not allowed to know about the existence of the gods…”Donald Crowhurst

The old one about truth being stranger than fiction is rarely more applicable than in the story of Donald Crowhurst, a bumbling English businessman who decided to enter a non-stop round the world boat race, only to find disaster, disgrace and insanity.

It is the Sixties, and sailor Francis Chichester has just completed the first single-handed journey around the world, and returns to a hero’s welcome. The Sunday Times, who had sponsored Chichester’s endeavour, decide the next step is to organise a non-stop race, offering a 5000 pound reward.

The prestigious event and tidy prize fund attracted a number of experienced adventurers and sailors – and Donald Crowhurst. We are introduced to Crowhurst early as he makes his preparations to depart on the journey from Teignmouth, Devon.

The film makes excellent use of documentary footage, and although these early moments are in black and white, vividly capture the slipshod and comically disorganised nature of Crowhurst’s departure. He is clearly a worried man – he gambled everything he had on building his boat, a trimiran called “Teignmouth Electron”, and time was running out. Contestants needed to leave between June 1st and 31st October, in order to pass the dangerous Southern Ocean in summer.

Crowhurst left on last day, in a boat he’d never sailed before, packed with gadgets designed to make his journey safer, but weren’t hooked up properly because of his rushed preparations. A weekend sailor at best, his journey would take him through the Atlantic, around the Cape of Africa, across the Southern Ocean, rounding the horn of South America, before heading back up the Atlantic and home.

Interviews with Crowhurst’s widow and son are eerily intercut with footage of them watching him making his last minute preparations and his departure; she tells of her misgivings about the adventure, and that concern is all too evident in her eyes on the old news reel.

Crowhurst and his Teignmouth Electron got into trouble almost as soon as he left the harbour; the reported positions of the other competitors were way ahead of him, and he soon realised that his options were dire – he could return home to disgrace and financial ruin, or press on and probably drown in the fierce Southern Ocean in a boat that was barely seaworthy.

However, Crowhurst was an inventive man, and soon came up with third option – I won’t go into too much detail, because it turns into one of the most unusual stories I’ve heard – but suffice to say it starts with a decision to keep a second fake log book, and by the end, it is not surprising that Crowhurst felt the cosmos was conspiring against him.

There was also a camera onboard Crowhurst’s trimiran, and with some of the other competitors, and the images captured are beautiful, haunting echoes from the past, showing men in complete isolation against heavy seas. The documentary as a whole successfully distills an atmosphere of high adventure, in an era where man had visited the moon, and there was little else to explore – yet these men at sea were virtually untraceable apart from their radio signals, long before satellites and GPS.

The film spends some time telling the stories of the other competitors, in particular Bernard Moitessier, an enigmatic frenchman who finds himself out on the ocean. The main focus of the documentary is Crowhurst, and delves into his dwindling psychological state, assisted by his own despairing diary entries and spooky film footage of a man clearly losing his mind.

“Deep Water” moves at the narrative pace of a feature film, and the real-life twists will be best appreciated by those with little or no knowledge of the story; however, it seems as though it suffered the same fate as Crowhurst’s real life adventure – up until I saw it on Channel 4, I’d never heard about it, and thought it the strangest tale never told, and this film seems to have disappeared from people’s radar amid more celebrated feature length docs such as “Touching the Void” and “Grizzly Man”.

Fully decked out for a re-discovery, then – just be warned, it’s probably best not to watch it late at night by yourself, because the film is strange, creepy and rather unsettling.


About leerobertadams

Lee is an English writer, blogger and film critic living in Brno, Czech Republic. When not watching and writing about movies, he loves football, reading, eating out, and enjoying his adopted home city with his girlfriend and baby daughter.

Posted on 02/11/2011, in Adventure, D, Documentary, Drama, Film, Movies, Psychological and tagged , , , , . Bookmark the permalink. Leave a comment.

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