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In 'Deep Water,' a Sailor Who's Lost His Bearings

Deep Water is disturbing, unnerving and wire-to-wire involving. It's the story of a dream that got so wildly out of hand that it ensnared the dreamer in an intricate trap of his own creation.

It all began in 1968, when The Sunday Times newspaper sponsored what was billed as the greatest endurance test of all time: a single-handed sail around the world, with no stops allowed and dangers at every point of the compass.

Almost all of the 10 men who announced that they would compete were top-notch sailors. And then there was Donald Crowhurst, amateur yachtsman and father of four, owner of a floundering marine electronics business who yearned for bigger things. As his son Simon explains in Deep Water, "he needed a challenge, to show who he was — and this, the greatest one possible, compelled him."

The sea itself was unforgiving, however, and once Crowhurst began his journey, his lack of preparation time led to serious problems with his 41-foot trimaran and the starkest possible choice: risking his life if he continued, financial ruin if he went back. Period, end of story.

Or was it?

The heart of Deep Water is a series of empathetic and perceptive interviews with the individuals who knew Crowhurst best. They've had decades to think about the story, which makes them candid, articulate and insightful.

If you want to know why documentaries are increasingly capturing audiences' imaginations, this is a good place to start. It's a story that couldn't possibly be invented, a tale that has the jaw-dropping twists and reverses only reality can provide.

Copyright 2022 NPR. To see more, visit https://www.npr.org.

Kenneth Turan
Kenneth Turan is the film critic for the Los Angeles Times and NPR's Morning Edition, as well as the director of the Los Angeles Times Book Prizes. He has been a staff writer for the Washington Post and TV Guide, and served as the Times' book review editor.
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