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Sailing Movies Worth Watching
The Best. The Worst. Sometimes They Are The Same.
February 25, 2014

F
riday night “All Is Lost” sold every seat at Oriental’s Old Theater. The movie, while nicely filmed, left most sailors cringing. More than one called it “the worst sailing movie ever.”

TownDock.net readers have since written in with their favorite (and sometimes least favorite) sailing movies.

Until I was reminded of “Deep Water,” I was about to make my argument that there are no good sailing movies, and that in fact you’d be better off holding a contest for the worst one – of which there are many strong contenders. None stronger, though, than “Wind,” which is truly execrable and might even make my short list of worst movies of any kind ever made.

“Deep Water,” though, is engrossing. It brings to life all the players in the famous Golden Globe race, especially Crowhurst, who unfortunately has gone down in history as a cheat but who really was a complex man placed in a position where he had no good options.

Two thumbs up for “Deep Water.” It crushes the (lame) competition.

- Wes Newman -

The docu-drama Deep Water based on the book “ A Voyage For Madmen” by Peter Nichols ranks way up there for me.

- Dennis Melton -

Deep Water was on several sailor’s faves list.

Deep Water Trailer:

While opinions on “Wind” were variable, most readers wrote in with Wind on their favorites list:

I love the movie “Wind” with Jennifer Grey. We watch it about twice a year and it never seems too hokey.

- Keirn Rush -

I know of only 3 good sailing movies. The best is Riddle of the Sands from the 70s. It is a mystery/action adventure on a sailboat. The next best movie is Master and Commander with Russell Crowe. There was a movie about a women on a racing sailboat, called Wind.

- Dale Montgomery -


I think Wind with Jennifer Grey and Matthew Modine is great.

- Melanie Fluharty -

The movie “Wind” (1992) has some great shots of 12 meters sailing. Americas cup plot line a bit much, but the sailing scenes are great. Takes some liberties in the final race between America and Australia and the lead up to the match races.

- David White –

My favorite sailing movie is Wind. Mathew Modine, Jennifer Grey, and Cliff Robertson do a good job of portraying Cup racing as an interesting sport to watch – although Larry Ellison did a much better job of it last year.

- Ted Cart -

“Wind” All about Americas Cup sailing with some humor and drama thrown in.

- Charlie Overcash -

Wind was inspired by the 1983 & 1987 America’s Cup races. Wind Trailer:


White Squall for best overall
Captain Ron for comedy
Dead Calm for suspense
Master and Commander for historical
Deep Water for documentary
Wind for action

- Jim Privette -

White Squall Trailer, 1996:

Liz and I saw “All Is Lost” on the big screen in New Bern, prepared to see a good sailing movie to counter all the other poor ones. Not to be. This was probably the worse one of all and more so because of its pretension, publicity and great reviews by supposedly informed critics. My immediate comment after the viewing was, if you don’t know anything about sailing and especially sailing on the open ocean, you might enjoy it.

You asked for any good sailing movies:

1..”The Dove”, some real sailing going on here and it is close to the actual thing. My pick as the best sailing movie.

2..“Deep Water”, the tragic final voyage of Donald Crowhurst in the first singlehanded circumnavigation race. Fascinating account of a true story.

3..”Around Cape Horn”, Only on DVD but has been seen at the old theater. More a documentary than a movie and all the better for it. Allan Villiers is a legend.

4..”Hornblower” series on TV not the movie. Seems much more authentic than the Gregory Peck and Virginia Mayo version.

5..”Billy Budd”, Seems like a realistic depiction of life on a British ship of the time. The classes on a British ship were much further separated than Upstairs Downstairs.

6..”The Riddle of The Sands”, many rate this one higher than me but it is a good one..

7..”Master and Commander”, represents many similar movies of this type with some good scenes.

8..”Moby Dick” several versions but Gregory Peck is probably the best.

9..”Mutiny on the Bounty”, Marlon Brando version but other actors do a better job than Brando.

10..”Dead Calm”, not much sailing but a young Nicole Kidman makes it worth the time.

- Tom Lathrop -

We saw your review of All is Lost and agree with your summary (and we laughed at your “5 minutes in” wish).

… Sailing plays second to the suspense of the storyline, but Dick and I think “Dead Calm” is pretty good.

- Jackie Mahan -

Dead Calm made quite a few “best movies” lists (and at least one worst list). Here is the trailer:

I love Captains Courageous! 1937 B&W, Lionel Barrymore, Spencer Tracy, Mickey Rooney….. great actual footage of Bluenose schooners racing to market off the Grand Banks…. It doesn’t get much better than that! Then there’s Moby Dick (the original) with Gregory Peck…

- Charlie Garrett -

One of my favorites is The Sea Will Tell-1991
True story based on a book by Vincent Buglosi.
It might be fun to have a “sailing” movie night every so often, seeing how the Old theater was sold out!

- Rob and Dale Murena -

Moby Dick with Gregory Peck as Captain Ahab. Storms, shipwrecks, white whales—what’s not to like? Everybody roots for the whale.

- Chuck Beattie -

Master and Commander. “The Dove” was decent in it’s day, maybe a bit sappy and dated in today’s world. It received a 6.4/10 rating and stars Mathew Modine, Jennifer Gray and Cliff Robertson.

- Elizabeth Zim –

“Master and Commander”…. My vote for the best sailing movie. Seeing the movie on the big screen made me feel as if I were on board the ship…I could almost feel the spray. After seeing the movie I bought and read all eighteen books of the Jack Aubrey series by Patrick O’Brien. What a great movie followed by great books.

- Dan Brock -

Master & Commander Trailer

The Dove, 1974, is based on the real story of Robin Lee Graham, a young man who spent five years sailing around the world, solo, starting at age 16.

Yes, the evening with Robert Redford was painful.
Captain Ron, with Kurt Russell, is one of our family favorites.
Yeah, a bit silly. And, I don’t believe there is much in this movie that is even close to being technically correct, either.
However, there is enough corny humor and one liners woven into the story to help you overlook reality for a little while.
Everyone dreams of jumping on a ship and sailing away from their life, right?
And, even if you don’t know what you are doing and get lost out there, according to Captain Ron,” … just pull in somewhere and ask directions.”
Besides, young Kurt is much easier to watch than Redford, the ancient mariner.

- Marcia Ostendorff -

Captain Ron!
Because . . . “if it’s going to happen, it’s going to happen out there!”

- Sally Seehafer -

Captain Ron trailer:

Captains Courageous! Classic sailing and fishing. Good story What could be better.

- Keith Bruno -

The showing of All is Lost was a great night at the Old Theater but all those attending with any sailing experience couldn’t help but critique the illogical things Redford did. How is it even possible to set your life raft on fire?

My favorite sailing movie is actually a British produced made for TV series: Hornblower. There were eight films that covered the first three novels by C. S. Forrester who wrote the book series about Royal Navy officer Horatio Hornblower during the French Revolution and Napoleonic Wars. The books were masterfully researched and the films were very realistic. There’s lots of battles at sea and ingenious big ship maneuvering that is really fun to watch. I especially enjoyed learning the origins of many of our sailing terms we still use today.

We’re taking note at the Old Theater – what a concept, show a sailing movie to a sailing town and we pack the house! Thanks again to everyone who attended and supported the Old Theater Friday night.

– Nelda Coats -

DVDs of quality amateur productions by Ed Zacko.

Lin and Larry Pardey DVDs, see landlpardey.com. All of these feature “pocket” cruisers designed by Lyle Hess.

- Ed Ruppert -

I liked it, despite the number of fun disagreements with dumb mistakes (the best was keeping the raft in the bow locker). But in terms of showing perseverance under pressure, it was good.

But best sailing flick? If you eliminate stinkboats and skiffs/lifeboats, and want something where the ship is a major star, you’re sort of limited to (in my order)…

Captains Courageous (Tracy): Tracy got the Oscar for Best Actor, and a lot of the scenes were actual footage of sail fishing boats in the North Atlantic. For authenticity, you can’t beat it.

Mutiny on the Bounty (Brando): In terms of acting, not in the same league (pun intended) as Laughton/Gable. But the Bounty is the true star. Ted Turner bought it and it’s still somewhere on the East Coast.

Dead Calm (Sam Neill/Nicole Kidman): More authentic on a sail sinking and few blips. And Kidman was fun to watch when she was 22 on a boat.

- Russ E. Boltz -

This 1937 movie got lots of votes (and the TownDock award for most sou’westers worn) – Spencer Tracy in Captains Courageous.

“Overboard” starring Angie Dickinson is a gripping sailing movie. (NOT the other “Overboard movie) There are repeated flashbacks that flesh out the plot and the couple’s relationship before they take off on their sailboat to save their marriage. She’s knocked overboard one night. I remember loving that movie years ago.

- MK Christiansen -

Overboard, 1978. We couldn’t find a trailer – just a description: Filmed in French Polynesia, in which Angie Dickinson spends two hours bobbing around in the ocean after having fallen overboard from lawyer-husband Cliff Robertson’s forty-foot sailboat, recalling her life with him and the fling she had ashore with a French playboy.

Here is a hubba hubba shot from the film:

Forgive the distraction… but it’s soooo cheesy, the writer couldn’t resist. Just to put yourself in 1978, here is a Martini & Rossi ad from that year – starring Angie Dickinson.

This article was inspired by seeing “All Is Lost” – here is the morning after review on TownDock.net:

It was great to see a sold out Old Theater last night. Robert Redford and “All Is Lost” filled every seat. Thanks to the Old Theater crew for bringing a sailing movie to a town that’s known as a sailing capital.

Read the national press, and “All Is Lost” has generally great reviews. Before seeing the movie, we were even part of a coffee discussion that sailors might overly “nit pick” the movie. TownDock Senior Management wanted to like this movie.

And then it started. Five minutes into it, this writer just wanted Robert Redford to die. No further delay necessary. Just please, put us all out of our misery. Now. The defense of the movie would be that Redford played an inexperienced and unwise sailor. We all make dumb mistakes, right?

But here on earth, does anybody score a perfect 1000% on doing everything wrong (and still manage to get to the middle of the Indian Ocean)? Add suspension of the laws of physics and any logical connection between cause & effect… and one has… “All Is Lost”.

Mom always said one should point out the positive. “All Is Lost” is beautifully filmed.

And, for the brave, the All Is Lost trailer:

Finally, Wilma Kennedy writes in – maybe something can be found in “All Is Lost”?


I think that All is Lost has great potential to be in the same league as the Rocky Horror Picture Show as a cult classic.

Think about it.. in the first few minutes the audience could all yell “dumb ass! dumb ass! dumb ass!” … in unison. They could bring PFDs to throw instead of toilet paper. They could bring shaving cream for the shaving scene and yell “dumb ass” again. Then they could all join in with his famous 1 word line in the life raft. They could yell “get him” during the shark scene. And they could end the movie with a rousing rendition of Johnny Cash’s “burning ring of fire”.

And we could start it… right here in Oriental.

- Wilma Kennedy -

Posted Tuesday February 25, 2014 by Keith N. Smith


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