Independent films can create a niche celebrity status for some of the most unlikely people. Sea Gypsies is a fine case in point; a rag-tag group of sailors, engineers and generally nomadic individuals navigating the ocean waves, now captured in a fly-on-the-wall documentary that follows their voyage of over 8,000 miles from Auckland to Patagonia, via Antarctica.
The emphasis of the film – created by Nico Edwards, a Californian who spent over a year as a self-confessed ‘stowaway’ aboard the 120-foot Infinity, upon which these characters sail the world – focuses heavily on the aforementioned characters who call the ship home. From the captain Clemens Gabriel, who generally has his entire young family sailing aboard the ship with him, to the rest of the international motley crew, it is a film less about the natural environment of the Ross Sea and surrounding Southern Ocean, and more about the ‘sailing tribe’, as Gabriel puts it, who accompany him around the world.
‘Infinity lives in the moment, and sails on a whim,’ comments Edwards. Nevertheless, this particular journey is one which requires an increased level of planning, a trip heading far further south – into a land of foreboding icebergs – than the Infinity was ever designed to travel. ‘A mad voyage of exploration, just for the sheer joy of it,’ he enthuses.
Despite the acute and depressing observations that there are basically no fish around at all for them to catch, there is plenty of wildlife – wild seals, penguins and even orcas – waiting to greet them upon their arrival in Antarctica. Combined with the long, bright summer nights, and the striking icy landscape, it would be hard not to capture amazing footage of this part of the world, and Sea Gypsies does not disappoint.
Edwards’ commentary that: ‘Due to some sort of Big Brother/unjust world governments treaty agreements thing, it might not be completely legal to actually step foot on the continent without a permit and special insurance of some kind,’ perfectly sums up their attitude to both this journey and their general view on the world – as a place full of rules and expectations to which they collectively refuse to comply. Their repeated use of the word ‘pirate’ betrays their longing for a life of rebellion on the high seas. It’s an experience they do briefly get to live when they become entangled in a spat between a Japanese whaling ship and a Sea Shepherd vessel full of activists; high drama at the bottom of the world which our protagonists were obviously crying out for.
The real message of the film is on the power of doing something out of the ordinary, travelling to a part of the world where few people will ever go, and then carrying those memories around with you for the rest of your life. It’s a powerful moral, captured very well. ‘There are a number of ways people joining us have turned this experience into a very meaningful impact on their lives,’ explains Gabriel. ‘Simple things like seeing the sun rise in the morning and set in the evening, and seeing the sky and the stars unobstructed, and really taking in the beauty of the planet and the vastness of the oceans. It puts everything else in a different perspective.’