Film

Sailing Doc Red Dot on the Ocean Has Some Adventure, Little Insight

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A kid who’s spent formative years in an obscure cult, rehab, juvenile detention, and, ultimately, prison, isn’t likely to grow up to solo-navigate around the Americas in a leaky boat. But Matt Rutherford did, without stopping, and thanks to the documentary Red Dot on the Ocean, we’re privy to his adventures.

The difficulties of sailing the Northwest Passage in particular have been sailors’ undoing since the days of the explorers. And while adventurers have done it in modern times, they’ve had bigger, nicer vessels than Rutherford’s secondhand 27-foot fiberglass sloop, higher-class provisions than his cans of freeze-dried food, and companions to help with the work and the monotony.

But, despite all that and Rutherford’s appealing self-deprecating nuttiness, the story bogs down. Director Amy Flannery made this film after the fact, so she had only Rutherford’s shaky, grainy videos of the actual voyage. She makes do by filling in with footage of swells that are dynamic enough to make you seasick and offering testimony from Rutherford’s family and sailing experts. But the drama is built with more detail than feeling.

The introverted insights of sailors often mean little to landlubbers. Rutherford returns to Annapolis after 309 days and 27,000 miles alone at sea little-changed, at least according to this account, and, so, neither are we.

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