I recently saw a documentary called "Deep Water" which made me fascinated by the story of Donald Crowhurst, a man who spent an amazing amount of time in complete solitude at sea, seeing as he had no life to return to, facing economic ruin and public humiliation. All he was surrounded by was an endless amount of waves and ripples, varying in force and aggression. As this was all that was present in his surroundings, it became his world. With time he began to view himself as a God, evident in his logbook entries slowly spiralling into a kind of free madness.
"I have become a second generation cosmic being, I am conceived in the womb of nature, in my own mind... In the womb of the universe. "
This is taken fromhttp://dresherensemble.org/newmusictheater/ravenshead
Crowhurst was a British businessman who attempted to sail solo in a race around the world from the fall of 1968 to the summer of 1969. His motives for this enterprise were complex, ranging from practical business concerns (he had designed and manufactured a navigational device, sales of which were in sore need of such publicity) to psychological imperatives (a need to prove himself - Crowhurst was an intelligent and ambitious man of modest birth in a class conscious society).
Crowhurst was unprepared for his trip.
He came face to face with his limitations in the South Atlantic. His boat was taking on water, his self steering gear was falling apart, and he was missing vital equipment (the result of slip-shod inventory at the outset). Disappointed in himself and embarrassed by his slow progress, he began to exaggerate his speed in his occasional radio reports, reporting positions far in advance of where he actually was. Crowhurst was probably assuming he would make up the difference over the course of the trip. Soon, however, he realized he wasn't going to make it.
At this critical juncture Crowhurst made a momentous decision. In short, he decided to fake it. He reasoned that by appearing to finish the race but lose it, he might save face while avoiding the magnified attention that would surely result from winning. As an also ran, a dignified failure, he would be afforded enough publicity to benefit his business (and thereby his family and his standing within the community) while remaining unimportant enough to avoid scrutiny and detection, his ships log only glanced at, his accounts taken at face value.
Still, the construction of a log book that would pass even the most cursory examination was an involved undertaking. Crowhurst had to spend long hours monitoring weather reports from around the globe, figuring winds and currents, time, speed and positions, inventing plausible anecdotes for the margins, etc.
In the end, all his effort was undone when his only remaining competition, having heard that Crowhurst was somewhere behind him coming home, pushed his boat too hard in an attempt to ensure a first place finish, and foundered, leaving Crowhurst in sole possession of the lead.
Crowhurst, having already committed himself to the lie by means of fraudulent radio reports of his position, knew he was facing a disastrous unmasking and total ruin. He had been out at sea by himself with limited radio contact (partially by design) for well over 200 days.
His log entries from these last days are a mess of philosophic and religious speculation:
"I had a complete set of answers to the most difficult problems now facing mankind. I had arrived in the cosmos while contemplating the navel of the ape..."
"Now at last man has everything he needs to think like a cosmic being.
At the moment it must be true that I am the only man on earth who realizes what this means. It means I can make myself a cosmic being..."
"My folly gone ‘forward’ in imagination
Wrong decision not perfect Time
no longer computed Had disorganizes Clocks"
Then, the last written words of Donald Crowhurst:
"It has been a good game that must be ended at the I will play this game when I choose I will resign the game 11 20 40 There is no reason for harmful"
It is supposed that he abandoned ship on the 243rd day of his strange voyage, jumping overboard while the ship sailed on. He left his beloved wife and four children.