Documentary Captures Olympic Truth

Published on July 6th, 2016

by Katy Nastro
When one mentions the phrase “Sailing movies,” Wind immediately comes to mind. On a stormy day in sailing class, this old-school look at America’s cup racing circa ‘92, barely scrubs the surface in portraying any real sailing action or understanding. Charlie St. Cloud, debuted in 2010, only left people saying – Charlie St. Who??

With a smaller box office budget, and a whole different concept in mind, US Sailing teamed up with a newer sponsor Sunbrella to produce Uncharted Waters, the feature-length sailing documentary that chronicles the trials and tribulations that go along with being an athlete on US Sailing Team Sperry.

Quality of production and fluidity of the story were definitely above Wind caliber, in my opinion. The authenticity of each subject allowed sailors and non-sailors alike to view these competitors, not as the guy or gal down the street who’s a “boater”; who’s away traveling the world for some competition or other; but an actual person with Olympic/Paralympic goals, trying to make their dreams a reality.

In a recent press release, US Sailing’s Olympic Managing Director, Josh Adam, says “Uncharted Waters is an unprecedented media project in sailing…The action footage that is featured is some of the best in our sport. The Uncharted Waters project is exceptional, and a fine example of Sunbrella’s creativity and dedication to performance — two qualities inherent to the brand.”

Let’s face it, sailing can be boring even to the diehard fanatics out there who may or may not have every AC hat on the market signed by Jimmy Spithill. It doesn’t draw the crowds like football; people don’t bleed for teams like baseball; and it sure does cost a bit more than buying an inflatable ball to throw into a hoop. When it comes to Olympic Sailing, it’s common to hear someone defensively make a case for our sport by throwing out the old, “Well – it’s in the Olympics, so yeah, it is a legitimate sport.”

Legitimate as any other, and now with hard video evidence to back it up.

The production team surrounding the video did not have much, if any, experience shooting within the sailing world. Some might argue that this style of media could’ve been produced by a sailing specific media outlet and crafted just as well, yet more technical. I argue that this would have killed the film. Too techie and you lose just about every non-sailor out there. If you want the sport to grow – talk kindergarten terms.

The inclusion of Team Sperry’s Sports Therapist Dr. Jerry May via phone, made the footage almost reminiscent of a Churchill speech set to black and white – very fitting and very well-rounded for the viewer to comprehend. Raw emotion is the real driving factor though. Some of the best parts of the film were ladened with watery eyes, pure excitement, and pure pain.

This human element of the film, beautifully captured when elated Caleb Paine won his Finn trial, right down to the last race against former silver medalist Zach Railey. Then, on the other end of the spectrum, Cindy Walker and Sarah Everhart-Skeels were filmed as their hearts broke along the dock just moments after losing their SKUD 18 trialS to Ryan Porteous and gold medalist Maureen McKinnon. To the audience, this is not just about sailing. Those moments so vividly caught on camera are about years of hard work, all for a not-so-common dream.

As an insider to some of these events and sailors, I knew quite a bit of background information going in to this film. Working in media, my expectations were high and yet just thrilled that some non-sailing media outlet wanted to highlight these athletes. However, the insider part of me was left a tad disappointed with the lack of “Holy Sh#t, I’m going to the Olympics/Paralympics!” moments from the other athletes in the film.

I was there for some of these events, and spoke with some of these sailors – I know they were a bit more excited than what was portrayed. It’s the Olympics for God’s sake! But, then again, there is footage we haven’t seen (and never will), and story-lines that just don’t get spun – this isn’t Reality TV. And, in fairness, the camera crew walks a fine line between getting “the shot” and completely invading someone’s personal space, to the point where they don’t want anything to do with a camera.

Anyone can stand there and critique someone else’s hard work without knowing their back story, whether that be Olympic Sailing or film making – that’s life. The sailors involved in Uncharted Waters have an advantage to this conundrum.

When you see this film, you will understand why the chips fell where they did, and from watching and hearing their stories, you cannot dispute the fact that these athletes are OLYMPIC athletes, no more or less than any other Olympic sport. They train, they break, they cry, they win, they lose, and everything in between. You don’t have to be interested in sailing to appreciate this film.

The finale scene with Sarah Everhart-Skeels quoting William A. Ward’s famous poem “Risk,” will make you realize sailing in general may appear unique, but the art of sport is all the same.

“The pessimist complains about the wind; The optimist expects it to change; And the realist adjust the sails.” William A. Ward.

Uncharted Waters is a feature-length film (click to enlarge) exploring the challenges, triumphs, and motivations of US Sailing Team Sperry athletes, as well as the profound beauty of the sport of sailing.

Katy Nastro is a US-based freelance writer and broadcast presenter and correspondent. Contact her here.

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