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All Is Lost

All Is Lost



A Sailor Looks At Redford’s Shipwreck

By William Thomas



Yo, Robert. We’re not off to a good start. Dump the opening prologue. It makes your audience go, whaaaa? Get right into the soundscape onboard the boat. The sound design of this movie is outstanding. As the director says, it’s “enhanced” to simulate the hyper-reality of sailing sur le mer. That’s correct. Good call.

And those storm scenes made me cringe! After 40,000 miles at sea aboard my 31-foot trimaran, Celerity, my body knows. It freaked.

When you removed the bottom hatch slide, I shouted out, “Oh my God. Don’t do that!”

This movie demonstrates the folly of even newly minted seniors sailing big boats alone. This old man is continuously behind the curve. Ma Ocean does not respect senior moments. The weight of her gear and sheer effort needed to “keep your ship together” in such a relentlessly demanding and occasionally terrifying environment make it easy to get behind the physical curve. Exhaustion is the real killer offshore. It denies sleep and breeds mistakes. And, worst case, a self-fulfilling fatalism.

Boats go best when the ocean is outside and not inside. Having stood in water rising rapidly above the floorboards, I know the feeling. But wrong first move, dude. Since the inrush of water is not immediately but eventually catastrophic, the first priority is to start the engine and the big bilge pump driven off it. Start the smaller electric bilge pump, too. Besides, you’re going to need the engine’s alternator if you keep engaging the electric autopilot.

What’s on tap weather-wise? Oh dear. Despite so many electronic gadgets, you’ve omitted Weatherfax. Not a good plan when centuries-stable weather and current patterns are so seriously out of whack.

Going sailing? Sheeting in a big genoa with a single turn around the winch is an excellent and painful way to lose a couple of fingers.

Speaking of fingers, it would've been good to wear a pair of disposable gloves when mixing that toxic gunk for the giant patch. I never did, either.

An emergency at sea, I’ve found, is no time to get emotional. Or show emotion. You've got to stick with procedures you've repeatedly rehearsed in your mind…

Why bring the charts up on deck where they could blow overboard, then put them down to play with the drowned radio?

Why risk going up the mast to check the aerial without first testing the radio for on/off function?

Your distress call was a knee-slapper. Small craft in distress, don't radio an SOS. They say Mayday Mayday Mayday, vessel so and so, one soul onboard, location, situation.

Hello. Come in, please. Why do you keep taking off your foul weather gear? Why do you walk around below decks without HOLDING ON TO SOMETHING? You know, one hand for the ship…

Oopsa daisy. There she goes again – this time capsizing around her sea anchor. This is why monohull sailboats scare me. This boat seriously needs an outrigger or two.

Not dismasted by 360-degree roll? “Wow,” I said.

Almost as impressive: The cup knocked on its side in the galley doesn't move as the waves toss the boat like a beach ball.

I would've taken time to shave, too. Morale matters. I would have used an electric shaver, though. And I'd be catching that rain squall off the furled mainsail in containers 

before luxuriating in a freshwater shower.

Going up the mast at sea always entails a severe beating. Been there, done that. My thighs and upper arms were black – not black-and-blue – for a week.

Boy, things are not going well for you. Happy as a kayaker completing a Dutch roll, your boat must have a fin keel boat to like capsizing so much.

Yep. Thar she blows. The second time she rolls over you can see the upside-down spade rudder and fin keel. That Cal 39 is a nice boat. Sails well to windward, which is huge when you need to. But tippy. And maybe not my first choice to brave the Cape of Storms. Without a heavy keel, in any kind of seaway the interior of Amanda James would've resembled – as my mate Thea used to say – “an amusement ride”.

Second capsize, the mast stays in the water, trying to torpedo that fragile plastic hull. I hate that. Instead of using his emergency bolt cutters to snip the heavy stainless-steel shrouds slamming the mast against the hull, you cast off a single something and it floats free. All dismasted sailors should be so lucky.

Time to bail out? Jesus walked on water. But you can’t. LASH THAT LIFERAFT TO SOMETHING! Don't just throw the whole bundle halfway into a cockpit resembling the Niagara. When you do “secure” your only liferaft, why not belay it to a weak stanchion instead of to a strong cleat? Hey, it’s your life.

Wait! Wait! Why didn't you throw extra water, rations, charts, compass, first aid kit, fishing, signaling and survival gear through the open liferaft canopy before jumping aboard?

Especially when the boat doesn’t immediately sink.

Here’s a thought: Why not pump the water out? Even if it takes days, the boat is still floating well and a lot nicer habitat than that raft.

Next, construct a jury rig using the boom and storm jib, bed sheet, whatever. Sail to the nearest land on the best course you can make. Better than drifting around in a raft outside the shipping lanes.

Too late. She' going down. Foredeck's awash.

Is that a sextant box? Looks like it’s never been opened. Which means its not calibrated. Without both books of calculation tables, good luck with your celestial reckoning.   

But movie stars don’t need luck. Or real stars. A charted fix after a single sunshot – made without a corresponding time hack – is very well done indeed.

Where’s all the barfing? Within two hours of flopping into an undulating liferaft, everybody up-chucks. No exceptions. But the people behind All Is Lost understood that an audience that has just invested two hours of however many they have left rooting for this aging fuckup will not be pleased to see Our Lone Hero upchucking all over the inside of that waterlogged and slowly deflating raft.

Oh good, a squall. Time to collect rainwater. Hello? Rainwater? Nope. Too windy. The raft’s canopy is being continuously rinsed by saltwater. Too bad.

Why shelter from sun holding the canopy orange side down, blue side up hiding him from any passing aircraft?

Why would you close the canopy and go to sleep while still tethered to a sinking boat?

Now the damn thing turns turtle. The violin score is appropriate. For the beleaguered Bobby, it's just one damn thing after another. Now our guy’s in the water again, trying to get back into his floating rubber apartment.

Ain't life tenacious?

See the raft deflating. This is what inflatables do. Since you never tried the air pump, you didn't know it was busted.

The shark eating the fish you’re about to land is absolutely authentic. What if it eats the raft next?

Nice jury-rigged solar still! You need nearly half a gallon a day. One cup is not going to do it.

STOP! Please put the lid back on that water jug before swallowing that first sip of water. It's salty anyway, 'cause you left the stupid air cap open – even though there was no need to loosen it to fill the jug. The F-bomb is entirely appropriate. Just needs the chorus – all together now – “Durak!”

Smooth move, throwing plastic overboard. Ever heard of the Pacific gyre? Serious sea karma has just been incurred, brah.

A ship! A ship! Very close. Why are you lighting a scarce flare in daylight? Smoke. Quick. Orange smoke. Even at night, firing flares in the wake of a passing ship is just not effective. People on the bridge are looking “in front”. If they’re peering out at all and not perusing a skin mag or below playing cards… Even attentive watch officers don’t see what they don't expect to see.

Drifting out of the shipping lanes? I'd haul in that sea-anchor and let the monsoon push me towards distant land.

But this is more creative: Light your liferaft on fire to attract the attention of a hallucination! Thank the seagods the Indian Ocean’s calm as a pond.

Of course, you drown. Why not? You've already given up – composed and dispatched your own death notice after self-sabotaging your remaining water supply. Once you’ve decided to die, you’re dead.

No. Wait. You drown then swim back up to reach for a hand extended from a small boat showing a small all-round white light. Problem is, what the hell is such tiny inshore fishing vessel doing way out here?

Do I recommend this seriously amateur “sailboat” movie? You bet. In the long credit roll, “Our Cast” is a single name. Robert Redford. Amazing emotional performance, dude. Bravo. But bravo. Your best acting ever.

No dialogue! None! Just a succession of disappointments and escalating disasters registered solely in his expressions, sighs and body language. Though any bluewater sailor I’ve known – self included – would've been swearing inventively and incessantly. Fatigue, fear and frustration do that. 

Oh my.


“RESIST MUCH, OBEY LITTLE”   发件人     William Thomas 2023