I can’t write about it. Not yet. And I don’t think I’m copping out. It’s just not time. Incubation is still required.
But I’m not going to write a piece about what I’m not writing about. Explaining to you that there are some things I haven’t told you, though I may tell you in the future, just not now.
So while these little gems of non-disclosure percolate, I reflect upon Donald Crowhurst, the man who dared to sail around the world in 1968, though he had only marginal sea experience to back his huge ocean dream. His story is fascinatingly chronicled in the documentary film, Deep Water, which outlines his seafaring tale as well as the severe consequences of his deceit.
Like any fibber, he had good reason for lying. With a wife and four children depending on his success, he had staked everything on the race. Locked in an agreement with the investor of his boat, if he dropped out of the expedition along the way, he’d face bankruptcy. But, when early on in his voyage, his boat began taking on water, he knew that to continue towards rougher seas would mean certain death.
Crowhurst idled in the dilemma of a lifetime, caught between two choices. And then the prospect of an untruth offered a third option. Take a shortcut, fake the log books, and wait until the other sailors came full circle. His idea was to follow up behind them as they all made their way home. He’d linger towards the back, not be the winner. Avoid the fanfare or log book scrutiny, but at least save face and his finances.
He had good reason for faking. And his plan seemed sound, albeit, deceptive. Perhaps the best way out of a dire situation.
Robin Knox-Johnston, the sailor who had held the lead in the race, made it home to a hero’s welcome. After his return, all eyes were on the final few en route for home. Of those, sailor Bernard Moitessier, had become so enraptured with his experience at sea, that instead of turning for home, he opted to try to sail around the world a second time (eventually anchoring in Tahiti).
Ultimately, this left Crowhurst and Nigel Tetley as the last two sailors to return. As long as Crowhurst could quietly bring up the rear, his secret was safe. But in a tragic turn of events, Tetley was rescued from his sinking boat, leaving Crowhurst as the last sailor in the race.
The press grabbed the story with vigor, weaving the tale of the triumphant underdog, as preparations for his homecoming were made. No doubt Crowhurst’s log books would be scrutinized. His lie, sure to be revealed. His public shame, inevitable.
As his anticipated arrival neared, Crowhurst suddenly broke all communication. Ten days of silence passed, and then his boat was found abandoned, his body, never recovered.
Reflecting on this affecting documentary, one can see that there were multiple ‘crossroads’ at which Crowhurst had the choice for truth or lie. Though there were solid cases to be made in favor of the lies, it seemed each untruth only got him deeper into trouble, until eventually, he saw only one way out.
Sometimes it is so utterly frightening to be exposed. Baring the truth can feel like sheer annihilation. In these moments, the cover up can seem so clever. Safe. But its very essence – deceit – has a shadow side of sting, and can’t be trusted.
It takes courage to tell the truth. And strength to endure reaction to it.
When I think of Crowhurst, I feel sad to imagine his isolated struggle. How his wife and four children lost a husband and father. What would have happened if he sailed into harbor and just confessed? Would the humiliation have been worth enduring, if he at least was reunited with the ones he loved? Given the chance to live? Perhaps realizing a new dream?
I cannot conceive of what happens to the human mind and spirit when alone at sea for hundreds of days. I don’t know what I would have done in his position. In the infinity of that watery depth, Crowhurst made his choices.
This thing, the one that I’m not yet telling you…it’s no life or death deal. It’s not even all that important. And it will come out eventually, in perfect time.
Maybe the subject of truth doesn’t even matter. Perhaps it’s the process of telling it that means the most. A willingness to face the fear of all the repercussions that may follow in our honesty.
There will be consequences either way, truth or lie.
Seems the best course is staying true. But it doesn’t mean it’s easy.