Wednesday, June 25, 2008

Strange Tale of Donald Crowhurst

I recently caught Deep Water, the Donald Crowhurst biopic on PBS. It tells the story of Crowhurst, a British businessman and amateur sailor who died while competing in the Sunday Times Golden Globe Race, a single-handed, round-the-world yacht race. Crowhurst had entered the race in hopes of winning a cash prize from the Sunday Times. Instead, it is believed that he encountered difficulty early in the voyage, and secretly abandoned the race while reporting false positions, in an attempt to appear to complete a circumnavigation without actually circling the world. His boat, Teignmouth Electron, was found without him on board as well as sailing logs (believed to have been doctored) and personal journals of his experience.  The readings from the journals, that frame testimony from friends and family as well as news and personal film footage of Crowhurst and family, are especially haunting. 

I have previously blogged about my fondness for the book and recent movie Into the Wild, which tells the story of Chris McCandless, a young man who abandoned his life and travelled to Alaska on foot to find himself, only to lose his life in the process.  As I was watching Deep Water, I could not help but see some similarities between Crowhurst and McCandless.  Unlike McCandless, however, Crowhurst's story is much darker, involving deception, mental breakdown, and possible suicide.  McCandless sought to escape from the world by taking on the wilds of Alaska and ended up dying in the process, most likely from malnutrition, the mis-identification of an edible plant or a combination of both. Crowhurst sought notoriety and the spotlight in the race of a lifetime and died in the process. But similarities are present including the underestimation of both men regarding the effects of a solitary lifestyle on the human psyche, as well as the inherent danger in tackling creation or something wild on one's own terms.  Both men greatly underestimated the risks of facing the wild on their own.  Both were warned of the harsh realities of what they were about to undertake and both were given grim odds at the undertaking by observers and experts.  The stories of both men are, in the end, heart-breaking.  Especially heartbreaking was the testimony of family and friends who explained the residual impact of Crowhurst's attempt at deception and subsequent death on their own lives.     

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