"Deep Water" doesn't feel like a documentary. Combining archival footage, journals and interviews, the film recounts the strange story of the first Sunday Times Golden Globe Race, an open competition in 1968-1969 to see who could be first and fastest to circumnavigate the globe on a nonstop solo voyage in a yacht.
Because this first competition demanded no qualification requirements, a heady cast of characters attended. "Deep Water" gives the back stories of a handful, but pays most attention to Donald Crowhurst, among the least prepared for the attempt and, ironically, the one with the most to lose if he failed.
By the film's account, Crowhurst was a dreamer who invented the most innovative vessel of the group and found a wealthy patron to fund it. But compared to most of the other sailors, he was an amateur who ran headlong into the deadline of the long and grueling voyage. It's here that filmmakers Louise Osmond and Jerry Rothwell find the mesmerizing human tragedy in their story. Crowhurst could not give up because he'd signed away his family's modest home and savings on the promise that he would complete the voyage. But he could not go forward either, because that meant almost certain death.
In response, Crowhurst floated in his boat in the middle of the Atlantic for nearly a year, sending in false coordinates and faking his logs. Osmond and Rothwell place their narrative in the moment in a way usually achieved only by fictional films. They also avoid overplaying their hand with Crowhurst, leavening his story with the equally compelling tales of the other participants, like Bernard Moitessier, the leader who quit the race on philosophical grounds, only to circumnavigate the globe a second time.
What happens to Crowhurst is a severe example of a crisis most of us have faced, whether to give up and live with embarrassment and failure or go forward into possible oblivion. Crowhurst's trial may have been extreme, but "Deep Water" is outstanding in recounting it in human terms. (PG)