Documentary that provides an escape

“Sea Gypsies: The Far Side of the World”
Written and directed by Nico Edwards. Perf. Clemens Gabriel, Ayack Wanderer, David Bowie. Splendid Entertainment, 2017. 77 mins. Currently available on Amazon.

Review by Bob Muggleston

What an escape it was to watch this documentary, especially with so much going on. The basic set-up: A German sailor, Clemens Gabriel Oestreich, lives aboard the 120-foot ferrocement ketch Infinity with his wife and kids. The small ship is constantly on the move, so he recruits young sailors wherever he happens to be to help on passages. For reasons not well explained, Oestreich decides to make the 8,000-mile, two-and-a-half-month-long passage from Auckland, New Zealand, to the Patagonia region of South America via Antarctica.

On this particular trip, he wisely leaves the family behind and recruits more than a dozen crewmembers. One of the older sailors only has one arm, and one of the younger sailors is named David Bowie. Do you really need to hear more?

Among the mostly young, international crew is an aspiring filmmaker from California named Nico Edwards. When he’s not violently seasick or re-charging his camera’s dead batteries, Edwards meticulously documents the journey.

One of the great threads in the film is that everything is done old school. That is, if something needs to be done, it’s tackled head-on by the chain-smoking German captain and his mates. Time spent swapping out an engine, rebuilding a winch, or sewing together blown-out sails – these moments are recorded in meticulous detail, and presented in small, consumable bites.

How could adventure not present itself on such a journey! Witness the Infinity weather a terrible Southern Ocean storm. See her dodge icebergs at night. Watch as her crew scrambles ashore in Antarctica to briefly cavort with penguins. Fret over the ship’s diesel supply, which has been hopelessly contaminated by both seawater and gasoline. Marvel at the fact that they’re recruited in Antarctica by the conservation group Sea Shepherd to try and dupe a Japanese whaling ship.

These are the types of highs and lows that seem to accompany such an endeavor, and all the while, as a viewer, it’s a pleasure to be there. Oestreich is always a comforting presence aboard, both highly capable and a dynamic personality whose natural-born leadership skills serve as an example worth emulating. His mostly sunny disposition and endless energy seem to infect the crew. If there are malcontents they haven’t made the final cut. The folks aboard seem a jovial lot, happy to be where they are and extremely grateful, too.

There are still great adventures to be had in this advanced age. And they can be done on a shoestring budget. For me, these were the chief takeaways of “Sea Gypsies.” It was a revelation that the takeaways would be embedded in so much fun.