He takes to liferaft after container smash

Tens of thousands of shipping containers are lost overboard every year and, as unmarked navigational hazards, they have preyed on the minds of offshore yachtsmen for many decades. Now in a new film, All Is Lost, to be released on Boxing Day, the chilling results of what could happen in such a collision do not make easy viewing for sailors.

Yachting Monthly were invited by film distributors Universal Pictures to a private screening in London of the Robert Redford movie, which has received critical acclaim.

The film opens with an ominous banging sound: it is the door of an upended container adrift in the middle of the Indian Ocean during a flat calm. Then it cuts to eight days earlier with a slumbering Redford, who plays a lone yachtsman, woken by a heavy crash and the immediate ingress of saltwater through the starboard side of Virginia Jean, his Cal 39 sloop.

With water pouring in over his chart table, wrecking his navigation systems, he flies on deck to find the corner of a container jammed in the side of his boat. After unsuccessfully trying to lever it away with a boat hook, he lashes his sea anchor to the far corner of the container and the current drags the 40ft steel box clear allowing it to disgorge its cargo of trainers.

Back down below Redford realises he has no power at all, and therefore is reduced to pumping out his boat by hand. With his boat on starboard tack, to keep the hole above sea level, the resourceful sailor then uses a GRP repair kit, complete with strips of matting and brush-on resin to effect a crude patch. Using a bosun’s chair he puts another layer of glass on the outside of the hull.

Next he tries to dry out his VHF radio and mobile phones on deck, then his charts and finally the main batteries.

With no satellite navigation to assist him he starts to teach himself celestial navigation, and unpacks a brand new sextant which has never been used in anger.

But before he can master the arts of astro, he is hit by a storm, is thrown overboard fortunately wearing a harness and having clambered back aboard suffers sea-sickness. During a second knockdown the boat goes through a 360 degree roll, is dismasted and holed by the falling spar and this time no amount of pumping will save her.

Now time to deploy the liferaft, Redford drifts astern of his stricken yacht, until he has extricated enough stores, fresh water, charts and the sextant and as the boat sinks and night falls he casts himself off.

Now with ever more reason to learn astro he works at his sights and marks a daily position taking him slowly towards an ocean shipping lane. Because the breather cap has been left off his jerry-can the fresh water is contaminated and our skipper’s resolve is almost broken as he shouts one of the very few words of dialogue in the whole film, at the heavens. It’s the word we all of us would shout in that situation!

With sharks now circling the fish he’s catching to survive, the raft needing continual pumping, and a makeshift desalination ‘plant’ crafted from the useless jerrycan, Redford’s plight is desperate.

So when a Maersk Line container ship approaches in broad daylight, Redford stands up in the deflating raft and waves a white flare. With double irony the box ship passes without seeing him: a leviathan navigated by the same electronics denied Redford by a jettisoned container .

The bleak, haunting score adds chillingly to the relentless assault on one man’s battle for survival.

In Yachting Monthly’s March issue, Technical Editor Chris Beeson, will examine the challenges that faced Redford and come up with some alternative choices.

All Is Lost, written and directed by Academy Award nominee J.C.Chandor. FilmNation Entertainment, Black Bear Pictures and Treehouse Pictures present a Before The Door/Washington Square Films Production.

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