Wednesday March 23rd, 2016

The Documentary Film "Below 40 South"

For the past three years David Nichols (boat builder, author, film maker) has been working on the production of a documentary film about the coming voyage of Southern Cross. Thought this might be a great time to update folks on how this came to be, why I am involved and how it will get done.

Dave's film web site is "" On the site you can read his words about the film project in some detail.

Whats In A Title
The title of the film and the byline are an interesting mash together and there is story behind both. "Below 40 South" I like because thats where I'll be. It is one of those phrases (unattributable) coined by some amongst the thousands of Cape Horn clipper ship sailors who have preceded me, many who's lives ended there. Some used to say, "Below 40 degrees south there is no law and below 50 degrees south there is no God."

As to the byline "A Voyage to the Dark Side of the Moon" is a photo I snapped with a timer at my furthest west point up the Beagle Channel those many years ago. It was on this day of snow squalls, high winds and dwindling food supply that I looked into the southwest (over my right shoulder in the photo) and vowed that some day I would return. I thought to myself that it looked so dark and foreboding yet so intriguing, perhaps like the dark side of the moon. How time flies as some day turned to so many some days. So I am headed back to the staggering beauty of southern Chile figuring life is for the living and I still have a bit left in the tank.

The Stakes Are High
Not to sound dramatic but its true the stakes are high for any boat or ship (regardless of size) sailing the waters of Tierra del Fuego, I know because I have been there, have twice capsized there and have also been injured doing same. To sail the waters of TDF one must have a tight boat and an act on as tight as can be with no distractions. Everything happens extremely fast when it begins to go bad and full focus is required. This photo is of a williwaw wind, likely "question in doubt" if caught out in a 12 foot boat, been through several of these. This one may be blowing in excess of 60 knots.
A Williwaw
Someone took the photo below of me as I approached in sustained 40 knot winds gusting to just over 50 knots. This was taken on the Beagle Channel near Timbales. This is not a time to be thinking, for in the moment of thought it's already behind you and the next critical moment or wave is at hand. This is all about muscle memory gained from practice. This is where the tiniest preparation detail comes into play and pays. Skip forward to my coming voyage with the added complication of two or three running cameras and this kind of situation can be even more dangerous. Considering involvement in the making of a film has to be done in a most thoughtful manner.

Challenging day on the Beagle Channel
How The Film Came To Be
Dave Nichols and I met as both were attending a small boat gathering, Dave as an instructor and me as the key note address speaker. While talking boats I told him of my plan to sail a 12 foot boat to Greenland and he proposed the idea of a film. I had planned to shoot some amateur (because I am) footage using a Gopro camera to share with friends after the voyage. After talking with Dave I understood his motivations and they seemed very honest and in line with how I view the world of hyper over the top media and reality TV shows. Time marched on and Dave and I continued to talk about a film. I was not convinced and have to say I waffled back and forth approximately 1000 times as I could not see my voyage (now to Tierra del Fuego) as being a worthy enough story to be the subject of a film plus I have never been comfortable in front of a camera. I actually can hardly stand to have my picture taken.

As our friendship grew we delved deeper into the idea of a film and I came to the realization that lead me to saying yes. I decided I would like the opportunity to go to a theater and see a good small boat voyaging documentary as there just aren't any or at least very very few. I just hadn't thought of it being my voyage, so I waffled on.

I figured the film would not be about me but about an interesting small boat that I was part of the test team for, SCAMP #1. I volunteered my time as I was convinced on first seeing the design that I might have found my ride. So I joined Josh, Kees, Simeon and Russell for test work (little did they know I had an ulterior motive;-).

I had already purchased two kits long before #1 was even launched as I knew I could modify an already great design to meet the conditions where I wanted to sail at the time, from Goose Bay Labrador to Sisimut Greenland. My plan was to build one boat as stock test it and then build a modified version as my voyaging boat.

I recognize she may not be a design for everyone due to size. For her size I find SCAMP to be extremely capable if thoughtfully handled. Is SCAMP my end all and be all of sailing boats? Not a chance. She is just one of many I like to sail and specific in purpose in my quiver of small boats, nothing else matches up in the micro cruiser genre for my tastes. I wanted a boat with more volume for the voyage than a sailing kayak and with as much positive buoyancy as possible. I also wanted one as small as possible because of shipping costs so I chose SCAMP.
Taking a breather during static capsize testing
This is an amazing small boat
The little boat can stand up to a breeze (gusts over 30, Cedar Key Florida)

Mr. Waffle
That'd be me!
I had the hardest time deciding to embrace the film because it seemed a mix of self proclaimed "look at me", a major logistics hassle when I will have so much to do just trying to keep my hair dry and until last summer I held fast to the belief that there was not a story in what I was planning. I was just going sailing and nothing more, not much story in that I reckoned.

So back and forth I wavered and finally I got it on a final point that tipped the scale in favor of "Yes, I'll shoot film while sailing." It was the inspiration piece. Not being particularly talented I reckon I am no more than the sum of what I have borrowed from others and of how I have been inspired by others. Beginning with Manry and moving on through the many "real" sailors I have admired and studied throughout my life I came to the realization that I am going so why not help make a film that might inspire those who can't make such a voyage. I figure if I am not giving then I am likely taking, so I decided to give by having Dave tell a factual story, a story that was not over dramatized and devoid of superlatives.

Promoting The Film, Not Me
It is not in my nature to promote myself as I prefer going about life quietly and I really don't believe the pressure to have to do something is such a good idea.I have come to believe the film is a worthwhile initiative. Since I am finally all in with assisting the film makers (I am mounting their cameras on my boat and shooting some 90% of the film) this means I also have to help ensure the film can be produced otherwise why would I go to the trouble. For the effort I am putting into filming I want the film to succeed.In the coming article about my boat in Small Craft Advisor readers can appreciate the extent to which I have set the boat up to be bale to maintain cameras, batteries, etc.A big part of this assistance translates to helping them raise funding to make it (its an independent film). Not money for me but for the film company. This has been the main reason I have been so reluctant to be involved, the seeming self promotion.

So We Agreed
That there would be no hype or superlatives, no reality show feel about it and no following boat for the film crew or meet ups along the way. That I would shoot and Dave would produce a film. Last summer we began to involve other people and it got sticky because I did not fully grasp the concept or what the film would depict and made a decision (based on advice) about how the final product would look and who would control the outcome.

I learned that a documentary if meant to be real has to be real. Although I intellectually knew this, it was still hard to grasp the concept. I can't be in control of what the film depicts, only the facts can, which is exactly what I want. I saw it this way, my voyage, my moments good or bad as I traveled all caught on film that I shot yet after the voyage I would give the images of my personal experiences to someone else who was not there to edit and make into a film as they saw it?? Head spin! So I gave up on trying to figure what it should be and let go giving it to Dave to do what he does. Thats what trust and friendship are all about. It was an excellent learning process and man am I glad I am still open enough to know when it's time to step back and learn.

Here is something Dave has penned that might be a good piece for understanding the motivations behind the film.

Dave Nichols Writes:
"The film Below 40 South: A Voyage to the Dark Side of the Moon is meant to be much more than the documenting of an extraordinary small boat voyage in an isolated, extremely hostile yet stunningly beautiful part of the world by sailor Howard Rice. It is meant to be a celebration of life and the importance of living it to the fullest in a modern world that has sterilized the edge from just about everything we do in our daily often predictable lives. There will be nothing comfortable or predictable for Howard as he makes his way south through the Strait of Magellan and into the notorious Southern Ocean aboard a 12 foot open boat. Once there he will explore the remote dangerous southwest islands south of the Beagle Channel, a place so remote that perhaps far fewer humans have set foot there than have stood on the south pole."
Dave Nichols
The Theme of the Film

Again Dave writes: 
"The theme of the film is based on one mans desire to explore one of the most isolated places on our planet. In doing so he will by circumstance (sailing solo and unsupported) be forced to innovative and ad lib daily just to survive. Through my conversations and resultant friendship with Howard I have come to learn his quiet take on adversity and how it can be clearly viewed in two ways.
The first being something to overcome and the second being a rich opportunity for learning and personal growth. He talks openly about growing as he explores his inner landscape of dreams, realities, fears, triumphs and at times the testing of his will to go on in spite of long odds. He seems comfortable both with people and with being alone for extended periods of time, which is an interesting combination. How many of us have taken a step back from life to be alone for even 24 hours? How many of us can live without a cell phone or the internet for even a few hours?
I believe the appeal of the film will be multifaceted in that the act of modern day exploration of these remote waters and islands will examine that part of the human spirit that seeks meaning that can only be derived from sole focus, passion and the self awareness. It will examine the willingness to let go and flow with circumstance and chance. In essence his course will be dictated by wind and wave and as goes his course so goes his inner voyage."
"Success in such a place can only happen by the setting free of expectations to the vagaries of wind and weather in one of the most volatile and extreme weather locations on the planet. This freeing of the human spirit from the shackles of day to day living, from predictability and following the desire to see what is just over the horizon is what pushed sailors to discover Cape Horn 400 years ago. The film is an opportunity for a lone sailor to share his exploration with the world."

A Video Diary
"Central to the film is a video diary/log that is being kept by Howard. This diary footage will document the challenges and triumphs as he copes with some of the world’s most extreme weather. Footage from special cameras mounted on the boat that will film while underway and footage shot while on shore will be blended together with the diary footage to tell a chronological story. That story line will be supplemented with footage shot over a two-year period prior to the launch of the boat at Punta Arenas and with photos from Howard’s first voyage. Where appropriate, historical images and film footage will expand the scope of the story. The majority of the footage for the film will be shot by Howard alone. This will allow the viewer to experience the adventure as if on board by his side and to appreciate the beauty of Tierra del Fuego through his eyes. This will allow each of us to come as close as possible to being a participant."
Three of my favorite rides, Southern Cross, my home built sailing canoe and my next voyaging project, Tinkerbelle. Photo credit- Dave Nichols
"Below 40 South could best be described as combining the elements of cinéma vérité or participatory documentaries and observational documentaries. Some elements of reflective documentaries are present with the inclusion of the video diaries. It is the inclusion of the reflective aspects that elevates the film and takes it beyond a simple sailing adventure.

A Key Element
One of the key elements of this story is a reunion between Howard and the three Armada de Chile personnel he spent ten days with on Cape Horn during his first voyage there. Howard has just returned from Chile where he engaged in five separate meetings with the Armada, two of these meetings focused on his request for Armada assistance in locating the three naval ranks whom he became such close friends with while on the Horn. This is an incredibly rich aspect to the story and speaks to the human connection between men thrown together in a remote and hostile environment."

Me with my amigos from so long ago- Marcello, Carlos and Noe

"Also key to the broad appeal of the film is how he has gone about preparing for the voyage. He has built the boat that will carry him on the adventure. It is hard work, sacrifices, and friends lending a hand with some of the labor that has allowed Howard to assemble the ideal “little ship” to carry him on the voyage. There are no sponsors, no one has funded this voyage. This fact adds an “Every Man” aspect to the adventure and the film.     "

A Rich Story
"Because the goal of Howard’s voyage is to simply explore the vast isolated southern islands of Tierra del Fuego (mostly lee shores) rather than sail to a predetermined point and return the story is potentially more interesting and meaningful. This goal allows the film to become more organic and evolve rather than be restricted by a narrow inflexible objective. This permits the film to paint with broad brush strokes and present a more relevant picture to a wide audience."

Thank you for reading!
Next Wednesdays post will focus on provisioning. Here is a photo of my provisioning expert, wife and best pal Keiko. I am very much looking forward to writing about her work and its bearing on how I am provisioning.


  1. I noticed your mention of n"Manry" and observed the picture of "Tinkerbelle" under construction. As a teen I read Robert Manry's book, "Tinkerbelle", and forever after have messed about building and sailing small sailboats and a couple of kayaks. Thanks for taking the time to post these blogs of your adventure. They keep my dreams alive.

    1. Hi Rick
      Thank you. The Tinkerbelle I have is an exact replica, meaning an original Old Town Whitecap with precise modifications as per Manry's. She was modified by none other than Emmitt Smith in Sranan Lake NY for a wealthy New Jersey client some 25 years ago. The client lost interest and Emmitt never finished her so I purchased her and am finishing the boat off to be Tinkerbelle as per Manry. Exciting project for me as Manry inspired me as a boy, changed my life really. Tinker belle is currently on display in the Case Western Reserve Museum in Cleveland Ohio. Good and bad as no one will ever know just what Manry felt like as he sailed her, now others will have the chance when my Tinkerbelle launches. But first I am going south aboard Southern Cross. So glad my work can in the spirit of Manry inspire others. Best,

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  3. Wow, I can't wait to see this film. Ever since I was a kid, I've enjoyed reading stories of adventure and exploration, especially on the sea. It's hard to believe you're doing this alone. Even Columbus and Magellan had crew members. So did the Polynesians who crossed the South Pacific. I'm jealous, though I realize I'd also be frightened. Like Bilbo Baggins, I wouldn't my meals interrupted.

    Kourtney Heard @ Hansen Adkins

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