“Deep Water” is a documentary (recreation) about the disastrous 1968 round-the-world yacht race made famous.
“Deep Water” is the stunning true story of the first solo, non-stop, round-the-world boat race, and the psychological toll it took on its competitors. Sponsored by the Sunday Times of London, the much ballyhooed event attracted a field of nine, including amateur sailor Donald Crowhurst, who set out to circumnavigate the globe in late 1968. Battling treacherous seas and his own demons, Crowhurst almost immediately comes apart as he faces the isolation of nine months on the high seas. Part adventure yarn and part metaphysical mystery, “Deep Water”is an unforgettable journey into one man’s heart of darkness. In 1968 the Sunday Times of London announced the first non-stop, solo, round-the-world sailing race. The rules stated that anyone who attempted a non-stop circumnavigation of the globe was automatically entered. There were two prizes: the Golden Globe for the first man home and 8000 lbs. (about $13,000) for the fastest voyage. Competitors had to leave before October 31 to avoid the fury of the Southern Ocean in winter where strong winds collide with icy currents from the South Pole to create relentless storms. The most unlikely competitor was Donald Crowhurst, a 36-year-old father of four whose marine electronics business was failing. For whatever reason, he felt compelled to win the fastest voyage prize. He was certain that a trimaran, a newly designed three-hulled vessel was the fastest boat available. Local businessman Stanley Best agreed to finance the building of the boat under one condition — if Crowhurst failed to finish the race he had to buy the boat back from Best. So going in, Crowhurst knew that if he didn’t make it around the world he would face financial ruin and lose everything. On the behest of opportunistic PR agent Rodney Hallworth, who envisioned making a big event of it, Crowhurst agreed to embark from Teignmouth, a port city in the south of England, and named his boat Teignmouth Electron. But Crowhurst struggled to get his boat seaworthy by the Oct. 31 deadline. His innovative designs, including a self-righting mechanism created to bring the boat upright in the event of capsize, remained unfinished. Donald’s wife Clare had enormous confidence in her husband’s ability but was nervous about the massive challenge he had undertaken. The pressure for Crowhurst to succeed — both externally and internally — was intense and he became increasingly withdrawn as the departure date grew near. The preparations descended into chaos and when Crowhurst finally left, his unsorted provisions were strewn all over the deck and cabin. As he pulls out of the harbor, his anti-capsize bag gets tangled in the rigging and he is forced to endure a humiliating return to Teignmouth for last minute repairs. Now finally underway, Crowhurst makes slow progress during his first two weeks at sea. The boat shows its weaknesses as hatches start leaking. Crowhurst faces an impossible dilemma: to continue into the Southern Ocean with no viable way of bailing out a leaking boat or to return home and face certain bankruptcy. For the moment, he continues to meander south on the Atlantic Ocean. By the end of November, only four competitors remain in the race. Robin-Knox-Johnson and Bernard Moitessier are heading toward New Zealand, and naval commander Nigel Tetley is making good progress in the Southern Ocean. After his depressingly slow start, Crowhurst starts to radio a series of increasingly record-breaking daily statistics to his delighted press agent who embellishes the distances before relaying the good news to the press. At home, Crowhurst’s family is delighted by his sudden progress and his children believe he has a real chance at the prize money. In reality Crowhurst is slipping further and further behind his reported position. His logbook shows how far the gap was between his actual position and where he said he was. He started as second logbook where he recorded his true position and entered elaborately calculated false positions in the official logbook. He is now weeks away from where the rest of the world thinks he is. In effect, Crowhurst has become trapped by his own lies: He can’t quit without being found out but he knows that to enter the Southern Ocean in a leaking boat would be suicidal. Meanwhile, Knox-Johnson and Moitessier are battling to be the first man home. But after rounding Cape Horn at the southern tip of South America, Moitessier sends a message back to his wife in France. Unable to contemplate life on dry land, he says that he is going to continue around the world a second time. For him the journey is everything and the destination is nothing. This leaves the path clear for Know-Johnson to claim the crown as the first man to sail alone, non-stop around the world. Thousands of well wishers turn out to watch his triumphant return to Falmouth on April 22, 1969 as he takes his first steps on land in 10 months. That leaves Tetley and Crowhurst to battle it out for the prize money for fastest time. Crowhurst’s wife has heard nothing from him for weeks and fears for his safety. But Crowhurst has been biding his time off the coast of South America waiting for the race to catch up to him. He makes an illegal landing in a remote Argentine bay for repairs. The local coastguard, unaware of his predicament, gives him timber and screws to fix his boat before he heads back to sea. In the eyes of the world, Tetley and Crowhurst — the naval man and the inventor — are both competing in their trimarans to set the fastest time. To avoid close scrutiny of his logbooks by the judges, Crowhurst is intent on coming in a close second. In a radio message to his PR man Hallworth, his first in three months, Crowhurst reports that he will be unable to catch Tetley. Nonetheless, Crowhurst’s family is ecstatic that he is safe and heading home. His wife begins to prepare for his return and wonders if his personality will be changed after spending nine
months alone on a boat. Believing that Crowhurst is hot on his heels, Tetley pushes his boat so hard that it breaks apart beneath him. He is rescued off the Azores. This means Crowhurst is the certain winner of the race. But he knows that if he goes back to England his fraudulent journey will be exposed and he will face total humiliation. As preparations are made for his triumphant return, Crowhurst stops sailing and sets his boat adrift. He pens a 25,000-word tract on God, human history and time travel. He starts counting down to the moment he will attempt to think himself into a “cosmic being,” and sets a time for when he will resign “the game” of being human. At 11 o’clock, 20 minutes, 40 seconds, Crowhurst lays out his logbooks and sound recordings in his cabin before stepping off the side of his boat after 243 days at sea. The drifting boat is found and Crowhurst’s wife is told that the Teignmouth Electron had been abandoned in the Atlantic. As the griefstricken family struggles to come to terms with his death, the PR man Hallworth flies out to collect the logbooks and the film recordings of the voyage. He informs the widow that her husband never went around the world, and then sells the logbooks to a British newspaper. Crowhurst’s body is never recovered. Teignmouth Electron was towed to Cayman Brac, an island in the West Indies, where it remains rotting to this day – in “Deep Water.”