All At Sea


On Friday August 8, 2003, an interview with Graham Fellows appeared in The Guardian. I don’t actually recall the date in question, however the joy of the internet means that a copy of it sits quietly in a corner of his website to reward those digging deep enough to find it.

In an attempt to explain what influences his work, Fellows talks with the journalist Will Hodgkinson about a handful of his favourite books, one of which he says he returns to time and time again.

“When I finish a tour I’m exhausted and I need a rest,” he says. “Then after about a week I think I’m never going to be creative again and go slightly mad. At which point I always read The Strange Voyage of Donald Crowhurst by Nicholas Tomalin and Ron Hall.”

I wasn’t aware of the story of Donald Crowhurst at that point, so I immediately sought out a copy of the book, and ever since have entirely understood the need to return to it whenever the path ahead seems a little unclear.

The story, which tells of Crowhurst attempting (and sadly failing) to sail single-handedly round the world as part of the Sunday Times Golden Globe Race back in the late sixties, is a fascinating and deeply affecting read. With his attempt  being hampered by virtue of it being made by an inexperienced sailor in an untried and ill-prepared boat, rushing to begin in order to leave before the departure deadline had passed.

For those of you who haven’t immersed yourself in Crowhurst’s story I’m not going to do all the work for you – after all, where’s the fun it that, other than to say that things didn’t end well. The possibility of which he was all too well aware of as these words dictated onto tape early on in the journey attest.

“The thing about single-handing is it puts a great deal of pressure on the man, it explores his weaknesses with a penetration that very few other occupations can manage. If he’s lazy he’ll be twice as lazy when he’s on his own, if he’s easily dispirited it’ll knock the stuffing out of him in no time at all.”

The reason that Donald Crowhurst and his story have reappeared on my radar this time is as a result of hearing the news that a film based on the book is being made featuring Colin Firth in the lead role, due for release sometime during 2017.

Unsurprisingly this won’t be the first time the story has appeared on film, if you can’t wait for The Mercy later this year you could track down Horse Latitudes that was released in 1976 (although you’d be doing well), Les Quarantièmes rugissants (The Roaring Forties)  from 1982, the 1986 film Гонка века (Race of the Century) or Crowhurst, a Nic Roeg backed film shot in 2015 which (with no doubt unintended irony) doesn’t appear to have ever seen the light of day.

There’s also a pretty decent documentary available, Deep Water, released back in 2006 from the same people who put together Touching The Void. However, my advice, if you want it, is to start with the book. Always start with the book.


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