Finally got a chance to see this over the weekend, so now I can throw in my two cents. Problem is if you’re a sailor, you spend the whole film scratching your head, wondering what the hell is going on. Just how much did this annoy me? O, let me count the ways:
Mystery 1: Who is this guy? Where is he coming from? Where is he going to? Why is he in the middle of the Indian Ocean? Why should we care about him?
Mystery 2: The sea is absolutely flat calm, not a breath of wind, our Mystery Man is sleeping below (up forward, if you can believe it), without his engine running, and is struck amidships by a floating container… hard enough that it knocks a huge hole in the boat right where his nav station is. How could this possibly have happened? Was the container self-propelled?
Mystery 3: Mystery Man must somehow push the evil container away from his boat. He tries with a boathook. No go. Aha! The sea anchor! He attaches this to the container (remember again, we are in absolutely flat calm conditions), and it instantly pulls the container away from the boat. How does that work? Where can I get a sea anchor like that?
Mystery 4: Repairing the hole! Mystery Man does this with some fiberglass cloth, a few sticks, and some West System epoxy (nice product placement there!), while sailing with the boat well heeled over in a flat calm in almost no wind. How is that possible?
Mystery 5: Finally it dawns on us–the container hit in the nav station must be an important plot device. Mystery Man’s electronics have been completely saturated. He opens up his portable satellite phone and his VHF radio, rinses them in fresh water, and leaves them to dry. Once they’re dry, he focusses exclusively on trying to get the VHF (range maybe 30 miles max) to work and ignores the much more useful sat phone (range global) completely. Say what?
Mystery 6: That weird thing hanging on the back of his boat, what the heck is that? A Hollywood version of a windvane? Are those lines we see wrapped around the axle of the steering wheel supposed to be control lines? The bottom of the device, when we see it underwater, presents simply as a big rail that is bolted to underside of the hull. Say what? What did they spend on this film? Couldn’t they afford to buy a real windvane?
You can see the Mystery Object That is Presumably a Windvane, which is bolted vertically to the boat’s transom, off on the right side in this photo
Mystery 7: What’s wrong with the jib??? It never looks like it is even fully hoisted. And whenever it is deployed, it is always luffing and is never trimmed.
Mystery 8: Mystery Man hears a VHF transmission on his radio, but can’t transmit. He climbs the mast to check the antenna, which turns out to be badly broken and disconnected. How could the radio possibly receive a transmission with the antenna like that? How was the antenna broken? Did the self-propelled container somehow fly up there and whack it before shooting back down into the hull amidships?
Mystery 9: While up the mast, Mystery Man sees an enormous storm just a few miles away. It has turned half the sky all black. Why didn’t he notice this while on deck?
Mystery 10: During the two storms he sails through during the film, we notice that Mystery Man has a habit of always closing the companionway completely when he is below, but always leaves it wide open when he is on deck. When his boat is rolled and completely capsized with the companionway wide open, how is it that very little water gets below?
During his first storm, Mystery Man goes forward to bend on the storm jib (before the storm, after he finally noticed it, he spent his time shaving instead of doing this). While on the foredeck he is swept overboard. Fortunately, he is clipped on–to the top lifeline, as you can see here. Amazingly, the lifeline and stanchion post do not break away under the load, and Mystery Man is strong enough to instantly hoist himself back aboard!
Here we see Mystery Man surviving his second capsize. He has no problem staying with the boat, even though he is not tethered to it. Note also the wide open companionway, which evidently did not result in any catastrophic downflooding
Mystery 11: The boat of Mystery Man loses its rig the second time it is rolled, and the broken mast ends up in the water on the boat’s port side. This somehow creates a new hole in the boat, up forward on the starboard side. Where’d that hole come from? If the plot demands there be a hole, why not just use the first one? The repair on that one was so patently flimsy it looks like you could easily poke a finger through it. How could it possibly have survived two violent capsizes?
Mystery 12: The new hole is sinking Mystery Man’s boat, so he takes to his liferaft. He leaves the raft tethered to the boat and falls asleep. Shouldn’t he be worried that the boat will drag the raft down with it?
Mystery 13: After his nap, Mystery Man has plenty of time to reboard his boat and gather supplies. How long was that nap? Why does the boat take so long to sink? Did the ballast keel fall off or something?
Mystery 14: Just how does Mystery Man stay so dry all the time?
Mystery 15: Mystery Man, since losing his electronics, has been brushing up on his celestial navigation. Once adrift in his raft he displays uncanny ability. He takes a sun sight, looks in a book, stares at his (perfectly dry) chart for a few seconds, and makes a mark at his location–no timepiece, no parallel rules, no dividers, no math, no worksheet required. Where can I learn to do this?
Mystery 16: Why does Mystery Man have no EPIRB?
Mystery 17: Why is Mystery Man’s liferaft moving so quickly? Judging from those marks he makes on his chart, he’s covering about 100 miles a day.
ANYWAY… I think you get the point. I could go on and on like this. Pretty much everything that happens to Mystery Man, and everything he does, is inexplicable to anyone who knows anything about ocean sailing.
I asked my wife, who doesn’t know much about sailing, if any of this bothered her, and she said she did wonder about Mystery Man’s ability to stay dry and the rapidly drifting liferaft. Otherwise she thought Robert Redford gave a great performance as the Mystery Man.
Frankly, I didn’t see that. All I saw was a man who looked confused, aggravated, and worried for over an hour and a half. I had exactly the same expression on my face the entire time.
The Biggest Mystery, of course, is why didn’t the filmmakers hire someone to advise them on what ocean sailing is really like? Reading through this very detailed precis on the film, I find only references to liferaft and marine electronics consultants. I know you can’t expect Hollywood’s version of reality to be much like real reality, but they could have done much better than this.
If you haven’t seen the film, I say give it a pass. Watch this trailer instead: