In 1983, Dodge Morgan, then 53, sold his electronics company and made a promise to himself: he would sail around the world, alone, without stopping. He hoped to complete the 27,459-nautical-mile voyage onboard his 60-foot cutter, American Promise, in 220 days. That would require him to sail 100 miles a day at an average speed of 6.25 knots. As Morgan boarded American Promise in Bermuda, dressed in a tuxedo and red suspenders, his weather router Bob Rice reported, “I don’t think you’ll run into a terribly large problem of being becalmed.” But even experienced weather routers can blow a call or two.
Some say a picture is worth a thousand words, but after watching filmmaker Chris Knight’s Around Alone, you’ll believe that a film—at least, this film—is worth a thousand photos. Around Alone has a you-are-there-ness that neither written words nor photos can match. Chris Knight, a lifelong cruising sailor, was, as Morgan wrote, “ideally suited to the challenge of filming my voyage...He idiot-proofed the cameras and supervised the installation of a smart—and very durable, it turned out—electrical circuit to control their operations.”
On board American Promise, Knight installed six Super 8 sound cameras in waterproof canisters that automatically filmed at preset intervals. Three were programmed to expose 30 seconds of film every four hours if there was enough light, and to expose film if the boat was knocked down to more than a 45-degree angle. In all, Morgan exposed some nine hours of film during the voyage, an average of three minutes a day.
Around Alone follows Morgan throughout his journey, beginning with the construction of American Promise with designer Ted Hood and continuing on to sea. There, the cameras become Morgan’s confidant, and he is a good off-the-cuff commentator.
There are moments of greatness: on Day 48, a deep low in the southern Indian Ocean creates 40-to-50-foot chaotic seas and Morgan tells the camera, “It’s one-on-one chaos, so let’s see who holds out. I may not be able to get through this day, but I can get through the next hour.”
There are moments of humility, like his 1986 New Year’s resolutions: “I won’t covet my neighbor’s wife; I won’t argue with my boss; I won’t stray very far from home, since this is home.”
And there are moments of tribulation. By Day 91, American Promise had been becalmed in the “Roaring 40s” for a week. Being becalmed, says Morgan, is the most difficult condition in a sailboat. “It is devastating, and I don’t know what to do. Nothing can be done. It’s all grim determination.” He finds himself wishing the journey would end, and with 10,000 miles to go, he feels close to the edge.
But on Day 109, he sees the coast of Chile. He’s gone 18,500 miles, and he’s reached the ultimate sailor’s landfall. He celebrates with two bottles of beer—one for the boat and another for Cape Horn—and declares, “Now we’re going home! What a sight, what a sight.”
American Promise arrived back in Bermuda on April 11, 1986, after a voyage of 27,500 miles over 150 days, 1 hour, 6 minutes—the fastest at that time for a singlehander. On September 14, 2010, Dodge Morgan died at the age of 78. American Promise was donated to the U.S. Naval Academy for its offshore sail-training program. She now serves as mothership for the Rozalia Project for a Clean Ocean.
This summer, the Maine Maritime Museum will celebrate the 25th anniversary of Maine sailor Dodge Morgan’s record-breaking solo circumnagivation on Sunday, August 21 at Portland Yacht Services in Portland, Maine. For more information, visit http://dodgemorgancommemoration2011-eorg.eventbrite.com/
Around Alone (57 minutes)
Produced by The New Film Company, Inc. www.newfilmco.com