Last night I watched the just-released DVD Deep Water, a documentary about Donald Crowhurst, whose participation in the first single-handed, nonstop, round-the-world yacht race ended with his faking the last leg, going mad, and killing himself. Of the eight remaining sailors taking part, five (Chay Blyth, John Ridgway, Bill King, Alex Carozzo, and Loïck Fougeron) retired before completion, one sank while approaching the finish line (Nigel Tetley), one sailed on to Tahiti just as he was about to place first (Bernard Moitessier), and only one (Robin Knox-Johnston) saw the £5000 prize.
The story is fascinating, heartbreaking. The film was a little choppy and left me hanging: what books had these men, several of them alone for as many as 300-odd days, read to pass the time?
In an interview (part of the special features), King, at least, spoke of what had sustained him—"I read the New Testament from cover to cover, the Koran, The Light of Asia…and all the best novels: Tolstoy, and so on."
Here, according to various sources, is what some of the others read:
from Jean-Michel Barrault’s Moitessier: A Sailing Legend
"Among the books that Moitessier read and reread during his circumnavigation and a half was Romain Gary’s The Roots of Heaven."
from Robin Knox-Johnston’s A World of My Own:
"I took some care choosing books from home…[choosing ones] that would take time to read and yet hold their interest all the way through…Tristram Shandy, Vanity Fair, Orley Farm, War and Peace…"
And finally, poor Crowhurst’s library, so said the British Psychological Society in 2001:
"There were the necessary volumes for navigation but otherwise only Shanties from the Seven Seas by Stan Hugill, Gipsy Moth Circles the World by Francis Chichester…Crowhurst had few books with him…"