CLEVELAND—It’s a simple fact when more than a half-century passes after a story happens, no matter how compelling it is, the details of it run the risk of fading and passing along with those who lived it at the time.
Such was the risk of the tale of the voyage of Bob Manry, a 47-year-old husband and father of two from Willowick, who in 1965 attempted the almost unimaginable by sailing his 13.5-foot boat “Tinkerbelle” solo across the Atlantic Ocean from Falmouth, Massachusetts to Falmouth, England.
It’s a story now preserved for the ages thanks to Steve Wystrach, producer and director of a new film premiering Thursday at the 42nd Annual Cleveland International Film Festival “Manry at Sea – In the wake of a dream.”
“This is the centennial year of Robert Manry's birth,” said Wystrach, “I’ve always wanted to bring the film to Cleveland for starters and so I was very excited when the Cleveland Film Festival invited us.”
“Manry at Sea” follows the parallel stories of Manry’s remarkable journey at sea along with the one taking place at home in Cleveland, as newspaper rivals the Cleveland Press and the Cleveland Plain Dealer battle it out to cover the voyage.
The latter part of that story made even more interesting by the fact that Manry was employed as a copy editor by the Plain Dealer and no one at the newspaper was even aware that he had embarked on the voyage until after he had launched.
“The Cleveland Plain Dealer initially found out about the voyage because Manry sent them a letter,” Wystrach recalled of the mail Manry was able to hand off mid-trip to passing ship. “And they decided to do some articles about it as they tracked him across the ocean.”
At the time the morning and evening papers were engaged in a fierce battle for readers. “It was so intense that they actually had spies working in each other's organizations,” he said.
In an effort to own the story of one of their own the Plain Dealer made the decision to fly Manry’s wife Virginia and two children to England to be there if and when he arrived.
The Cleveland Press, which was owned by E.W. Scripps, the same owner of News 5, got wind of this and went to News 5 anchor and reporter Bill Jorgensen and asked “what if you could get there and intercept him before he arrives in England,” Jorgensen recalled in the film. “But what are the odds of finding one man in a 13.5 foot sailboat sailing the Atlantic?”
As both papers set off on their quests, Manry meanwhile was alone at sea totally unaware of the news war that was on to cover his story which only fed international curiosity over his journey.
Wystrach, a sailor himself, first got the idea for the film in 1997 while reading the book Manry wrote of the journey.
“At the end there's a section about all of the equipment he took and I noticed that he took a 16mm movie camera and a lot of Kodachrome, so I had just immediately asked a question what happened to his film?”
Bob Manry died in 1971 but Wystrach was able to eventually track down the film to his brother who was living in Calgary, Alberta at the time.
“It was in the back of his garage and he told me 'oh I was just going to pitch it out next spring, in my next spring cleaning.' So fortunately, he sent it to me," Wystrach said.
That then began a 20-year journey to bring to life the tale of this man who left in literal obscurity from Massachusetts and arrived in England as an international sensation, greeted literally by tens of thousands of people screaming from the shoreline and live TV coverage.
“He took about $400 with him because he expected just to sail into Falmouth, take a bath and ship the boat back and come home,” Wystrach said. “He didn't expect any sort of fuss or anybody to know about it. This was just his voyage and the fact that the press got ahold of it, it just exploded into this huge story."
The film makes its world premiere Thursday, April 5 at 6:15 p.m., Friday, April 6 at 1:50 p.m. and Saturday, April 7 at 9:35 a.m. at Tower City Cinemas.
“Next week we've been invited to the American Documentary Film Festival which is out in Palm Springs, California. We've been invited to three other festivals, one up in the northwest and one in Poland and one in England. So we've just started making the rounds,” said Wystrach.