Douglas has been a professional food writer since 1986. He is also an award-winning actor and director in Community Theatre and has been for many years. His blog may be found at: www.urbaneguerilla.wordpress.com
Published February 15th 2018
An man of honour forced, by his own actions, into dishonour
In 1968 a man, Donald Crowhurst, with little ocean sailing experience set off to sail around the world non-stop and single handed as part of the Sunday Times' Golden Globe race for a five thousand pound prize.
A man who had been a pilot in the RAF, a local councillor, a member of the Liberal Party and a small businessman making and selling electronic equipment of his own devising and invention with a wife and four children.
A man of integrity and bravery he mortgaged his home and business to a local businessman in order to raise the capital required for the venture. The 40 foot (12mtr) tri-hulled catamaran was a new design and largely unproven for this kind of sailing at the time.
He set off on the last permissible day, the 31st October, 1968.
The reports he made via radio showed initially slow progress through the Atlantic, then he picked up speed, shattering several sea speed records, round the Cape of Good Hope, across the Pacific Ocean, south of Australia, round Cape Horn and up the coast of South America back towards home.
Donald Crowhurst shortly before setting off around the world (Photograph courtesy Wikimedia Commons)
On the 10th July, 1969 his boat, the Teighnmouth Electron, was found empty and sailing under a mizzen sail with no trace of Donald. Close inspection of the papers on board showed that, in fact, he had not sailed around the world at all, but stayed in the Atlantic, reporting false positions and progress.
The papers, some 25,000 words, along with self-filmed footage and recordings, also showed his mental deterioration as he struggled between the likelihood of death if he went on, and the financial ruin for himself and his family if he turned back.
An honourable man forced by circumstances of his own making into dishonour he found the position agonising, which, combined with the loneliness and isolation for which he was not prepared, proved his undoing.
We do not know if he committed suicide or was swept off the boat by a freak wave. There was nothing on the boat to indicate what had happened, the logs of his true journey were laid out in plain sight and the only piece of equipment missing was a ship's clock.
The Mercy, the story of Donald Crowhurst's venture, directed by James Marsh (The Theory of Everything) and starring Colin Firth (The King's Speech) and Rachel Weisz (The Constant Gardener) is not an easy film to watch, the direction, photography, script and acting are of such a high quality and the knowledge that this is a true story make it immensely real.
Clare Crowhurst (Rachel Weisz) and family (Photograph courtesy of StudioCanal)
Such is the skill of the film-makers that one is in the yacht with Donald Crowhurst with the eerie sounds, the impossibly huge waves, the brilliant sunshine and the empty, empty sea. A scene in which he has to climb to the top of the main mast to attempt a repair is entirely terrifying in its reality.
The subject of his death (his body was never recovered) is treated as the enigma it is, with suggestions and hints.
But the real question arising from the film is why do men, and it's usually men, put themselves and their loved ones into these predicaments from which there is no possible outcome with honour.
It is a situation often reflected in life - seldom so dramatic as a solo round the world sailing race, but many people set out on ventures, staking all on an outcome, risky at best.
The Mercy is an amazing film, vivid, thought-provoking and flawlessly created. it is. however, not light entertainment. Nevertheless, I urge you to see it.
The Mercy opens at both the Cinema Paradiso in Northbridge and the Windsor Cinema in Nedlands on the 8th March.