Tell Tales

Being home for an extended time changes how you think about things. It’s hard not to try and figure out what has value in your life and what seems trivial. It’s an interesting moment of self-reflection and change. Some people are in a better position than others to withstand all of this. I don’t take any of it lightly.

I want to say that generally I don’t want to dwell too much on what is happening in the world. It’s good to think about other things right now and not just dwell on bad news.

I haven’t had a lot of free time actually, but I’ve been using chunks of quiet time at night to watch some sailing videos. Having never really sailed my curiosity grew from an interest in better understanding how to actually do it. It turns out that videos made of long solo sailing trips are pretty soothing to me right now for some reason. Maybe it’s the shared isolation we are all feeling to one degree or another.

One of the things that I think this strange time has taught me is to be more patient. Things aren’t going to happen immediately with all that is going on in the world. My expectations are being altered in a positive way. I think we are all becoming a bit less crazy about needing things happening instantly. We know life isn’t going to be back to normal in two business days and we are going to have to wait for it.

I think what we realized in this time of delayed gratification is an increased appreciation in all of the things that make up our lives. Maybe we will all start to savor life a little bit more. We won’t just grab the Instagram post and never actually think about that place or meal or trip again. We might start to actually be somewhere again. Sailing seems to sync with the pace of life right now. Moving along at 5 knots might just be the right speed.

Comments on “Tell Tales

    Michael Williams on April 27, 2020 2:16 PM:

    My buddy Ian sent this amazing list of sailing docs for anyone interested in going deeper. Thanks Ian.


    Coyote: The Mike Plant Story
    A combination of archival footage and present-day interviews, the film tells the story of Mike Plant– a sailing superstar in the late 80s (now a hall of famer) with a run of underdog, single-handed race victories. Plant was also a prolific drug trafficker, and this film is at its best when exploring his issues with Greek and Portugese authorities. It was made by Plant’s nephew and omits some of his complexity, but it’s a great entry point into the sailing doc genre.

    Spectacular, recent award-winning doc about Tracy Edwards, who assembled the all-woman Whitbread Round the World Race crew. Edwards is effectively the Mia Hamm or Abby Wambach of sailing– chiefly responsible for getting innumerable women into a traditionally male-dominated sport. This doc does an excellent job of telling the story of Edwards and her crew. She’s a somewhat complicated figure– determined to win at all costs. It’s an inspiring watch that has wide appeal outside of the sailing doc genre.

    Following Seas
    A family leaves “normal life” for two decades exploring the world via sailboat. It’s comprised of footage captured by the family and is narrated by its matriarch. I absolutely love this film and it has led me to seriously think about selling my house, buying a boat, and homeschooling at sea innumerable times.

    The Weekend Sailor
    With virtually no experience, Mexican captain Ramon Carlin entered and won the 9-month Whitbread Round the World Race in 1974. The film documents the campaign of his boat Sayula II. Carlin was a fascinating character– a self-made home appliance magnate, he had deep pockets. He and his crew reportedly went through several bottles of wine and jars of caviar each day. In addition to the hardships of the race (including capsizing in leg 2), they were also subjected to racism by the British press throughout their campaign. Shot in 16mm and mostly subtitled, it’s a beautiful film and incredible story.

    Deep Water
    This film’s official description is perfect: “In 1968, Donald Crowhurst, an inexperienced British sailor, puts up his home as collateral, gains financial backing and enters the Golden Globe, the first nonstop boat race around the world. Under dire financial pressure, Crowhurst decides to set sail before his boat is fully built, leaving it unprepared for the stresses of the open ocean. Crowhurst is under-prepared himself, and his decision to embark before he and his vessel are ready sets a deadly chain of events into motion.”… A common theme in most of these docs centering around circumnavigations is the lengths the central characters must go to secure financing. Deep Water may be the ultimate example of this. It is as solid a character study as it is sailing doc. The documentary was released in 2006, and a so-so Hollywood adaptation of the story hit theaters in 2017 (The Mercy starring Colin Firth and Rachel Weisz).

    At 14, Dutch teen Laura Dekker is the youngest person to sail around the world alone. This film documents her two-year voyage. Largely subtitled and comprised of footage captured by Dekker herself, it’s an incredibly personal and inspirational film and one of the more “kid friendly” sailing docs.

    Morning Light
    Fifteen (young and likeable) men and women enter the TRANSPAC, one of the world’s most prestigious open-ocean sailing competitions which starts in San Pedro, CA and ends off Diamond Head, HI. Exec produced by Roy Disney, this film definitely has a “Disney feel”, for better or worse… It’s inspiring, family-friendly and lighter-fare with enough thrills to keep it engaging.

    Chasing Bubbles
    A more recent documentary about Alex Rust– a 25 year-old day trader in Chicago who bought a sailboat and a “Sailing for Dummies” book and set out to sail around the world. There’s nothing too momentus in this film, but it’s a solid watch and scratches the “leaving it all behind” itch (and the full film is available to stream for free via YouTube:

    Racing Around the World Alone
    Compiled via footage shot by sailors on each boat, this film tells the story of the 2008/2009 Vendée Globe race. There’s lots of great footage and plenty of action, though this film may suffer from trying to tell too many stories at once– you get a good sense of the chaos of the race, but it’s hard to get a great sense or form an attachment to any of the sailors. A solid C.

    Sea Gypsies: The Far Side of the World:
    A crew constructs a boat for a punishing journey from New Zealand to Patagonia across the Southern Ocean through perhaps the most treacherous waters in the world. This one is more for the “heads”– it is a very good, but absolutely brutal watch. Where the other films left me eager to get out on the water, this one had me reconsidering… I have no desire to sail the Southern Ocean after watching this one.


    The Endless Summer
    It should go without saying that this is THE most canonical surf film, but it’s worth revisiting if you haven’t watched in awhile if only for the footage of Senegal, Nigeria and Ghana.

    Rockers (1978)
    An out-of-work drummer in Kingston, Jamaica hustles vinyl records. A local gang steals his dirt bike. This scripted film is worth a watch for the incredible footage of Kingston in the late 70s and as an homage to reggae culture. The film is much more driven by style and aesthetic than plot, which is perfectly fine. The photography and music are fantastic. Also contains a great Burning Spear cameo. Full film available on YouTube:

    Matt Cleary on April 30, 2020 9:02 PM:

    Thank you, the top video was amazing, and similar to your ideas about pace, I took the time (kids in bed…finally) to watch the thing full stop and enjoyed both the pace and the visuals.

    Then when I read your article, I started to think of sailing videos that I’d come across and that I should send them to you…only to see that several of them were posted below the story! Cheer and safe travels, no matter what the pace

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