Donald Crowhurst: pitching his sanity against the sea

In conjunction with the exhibition The Voyage, or Three Years at Sea Part I, the Charles H. Scott Gallery presents a screening of the film Deep Water (2006), a historical documentary that chronicles one of the most infamous nautical tragedies of the past several decades. February 15th, 2011

Donald Crowhurst (1932–1969) was a British businessman and amateur sailor who died while competing in a single-handed, round-the-world yacht race. Encountering difficulty early in the voyage, Crowhurst secretly abandoned the race while reporting false positions, in an attempt to appear to have completed a circumnavigation without actually circling the world. Evidence found after his disappearance indicates that this attempt ended in insanity and suicide.

Deep Water reconstructs Crowhurst’s voyage from his own audiotapes and cine film, interwoven with archive footage and interviews. What emerges is a portrait of a man sinking rapidly into a pit of despair as he comes face to face with his own darkest nightmares of personal failure.

Tacita Dean has made several works inspired by Crowhurst, including the film installation Disappearance at Sea which was part of The Voyage, or Three Years at Sea Part I. The film depicts the mesmerizing turns of a lighthouse beacon at dusk as a metaphor for Crowhurst’s gradual loss of a sense of time, place and reality to the void of the sea.

“For many, Donald Crowhurst is just a cheat who abused the sacred unwrittens of good sportsmanship. But for some, it is more complicated than this and he is seen as much a victim of the Golden Globe as the pursuer of it. His story is about human failing, about pitching his sanity against the sea, where there is no human presence or support system on which to hang a tortured psychological state. His was a world of acute solitude, filled with the ramblings of a troubled mind.“

– Tacita Dean

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