A gripping & unconventional “memory” piece based on the real-life saga of Howard Blackburn, the Gloucester fisherman who overcame enormous odds to survive.
In the winter of 1883, Howard Blackburn survived an Arctic storm, the death of his dorymate, and five days without food, only to lose all his fingers. Battling back from disability, Blackburn opened a saloon and found happiness in marriage. But his life was interrupted by personal tragedy. In a bid to make peace with his demons, he decided to sail solo across the North Atlantic.
Source Material: Lone Voyager by Joseph Garland & Firsthand Account by Howard Blackburn
EXT. NORTH ATLANTIC – DAY (SUMMER 1899)
Light mist and mild winds. Through the dawn, the silhouette of a sloop appears, with the outline of one man on deck.
EXT. DECK OF GREAT WESTERN – DAY (SUMMER 1899)
A bear-like and bearded HOWARD BLACKBURN is trimming his mainsail with fingerless paws. He has made one turn of the main sheet (rope) around a cleat and is leaning against the taut part of the line that leads to the sheet block (pulley) on the boom.
He pinches on the line near the block with the stubs of his thumbs. Then he hauls the slack around the cleat with his teeth.
He does this two times and examines the mainsail. Happy with the trim, he uses his stubs to secure the line around the cleat.
Sitting down by the wheel, Blackburn slowly pulls off his boot. His toeless foot has begun to swell visibly beneath his sock.
INT. LISHMAN CABIN – NIGHT (JANUARY 1883)
A muffled groan. MR. LISHMAN is using a large fishing knife to hack away at Blackburn’s boots and trousers. Blackburn is seated on a bench in the main room of a large log cabin. The only light is from the fire in the stone fireplace behind him. His chest is bare and his pale skin glows. Both of his hands are swollen, mangled, and badly frostbitten.
MRS. LISHMAN holds a cup of water to his lips while MR. LISHMAN finishes cutting. Mrs. Lishman removes the cup.
We don’t want to kill you, poor man.
Mrs. Lishman fetches sailcloth to wrap around Blackburn while Mr. Lishman pulls half a flour barrel of cold salt water close to Blackburn’s feet.
Stick your feet and hands in that.
Blackburn does as he’s instructed. The pain is so intense he wants to scream with agony.
An hour. Try to think on something pleasant.
EXT. MEDWAY HARBOR, NOVA SCOTIA – NIGHT (SUMMER 1869)
A warm summer’s evening. YOUNG BLACKBURN, aged 10, is swimming the breaststroke through the harbor. Bursts of laughter rise from the shore. Spruce trees are silhouetted on the hill. Boats creak on their moorings. Ocean phosphorescence swirls around him with each stroke.
EXT. DECK OF GREAT WESTERN – NIGHT (SUMMER 1899)
A sky filled with stars. The mist has cleared and the Great Western is becalmed not far off Cape Ann.
Limping slightly, Blackburn uses his paws to hang the riding lights in the shrouds, red on the portside and green on the starboard. As he walks back toward the stern, a shadowy bird swoops by the deck and vanishes into the night.
INT. BLACKBURN’S BEDROOM – NIGHT (FEBRUARY 1887)
Sitting in a rocking chair, Blackburn uses his foot to soothe his one-month-old son in a wooden cradle. Stars shimmer through the bedroom window. There’s a sheen of sweat on the baby’s forehead.