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Jet lag and Donald Crowhurst

Several of my posts from Pop!Tech appeared on Worldchanging.com, which means they’ve generated a wealth of comments. One of the most helpful came from “JessicaR”, who tracked down a theatre review of “Jet Lag”, a piece that Marianne Weems of The Builder’s Assocation directed about a woman who died of jetlag.

The woman was Sarah Krassnoff, the grandmother of a 14-year old boy, who’d gotten into a battle for custody with the boy’s father and decided to evade the father by flying back and forth between New York and Amsterdam, over and over again. In 1971, they flew back and forth 167 times, never leaving the airport, until the 80-year old grandmother collapsed. It’s not hard to see how Weems would be excited by Hasan Elahi’s decision to “hide” from the FBI by flying to Singapore and never leaving the airport, while faithfully documenting every meal and toilet visit via photograph.

What really caught my attention was the fact that “Jet Lag” superimposes the story of Krassnoff and her grandson with the even weirder story of Donald Crowhurst. Crowhurst was a British businessman and amateur sailor who competed in a round-the-world solo yacht race, hoping to use his participation to drum up sales for his invention, “the Navicator”, which communicated with marine and aviation beacons.

His race began badly and at some point, while still in the starting phases of the race, he began falsifying his position and reporting progress he hadn’t made. He planned to drift in the South Atlantic until it was time to follow the race leader home and take second prize. Unfortunately for him, the race leader wrecked his boat, leaving Crowhurst with an impossible dillema – if he were to sail back to England, he’d be the “winner” of the race, and his logbooks would be carefully examined, displaying his fraud. Journals found on Crowhurst’s abandoned boat, the Teignmouth Electron showed his descent into madness, which evidently consumated itself with Crowhurst jumping off his ship and leaving it adrift.

I’ve had the definitive story of Crowhurst’s odd trip, “The Strange Last Voyage of Donald Crowhurst“, by my bedside for the past year or so – this coincidence may finally inspire me to read it. I encountered the Crowhurst story for the first time by seeing “Ravenshead“, an opera by the utterly remarkable Rinde Eckert, my favorite contemporary composer. In a one-man show, Rinde follows Crowhurst – tranformed into “Richard Ravenshead” – from the talks he gives in Britain to raise funds for his voyage, to his setting sail, through his descent into fraud, madness and breakdown. (If you’re lucky enough to be a Rinde Eckert fan, you’ll recognize Crowhurst as a classic Rinde archetype – a fascinating figure who gradually proves himself to be utterly mad in a way that’s extremely human and approachable to an audience.)

Eckert and Weems aren’t the only artists to take on the Crowhurst story – according to the Wikipedia entry on Crowhurst, the story has featured in two films, a video work, a novel and a pop song. Some stories are simply too evocative for artists to ignore….