(Author's note: the following piece ran in the Oct. 19 edition of the Sun-Sailor Newspaper)
In October 1992, Mike Plant left port in New York destined for France where he was set to compete for the second time in the Vendee Globe Challenge – a non-stop single-handed yachting race around the globe.
He never reached his destination.
In November of that year, Plant’s 60-foot yacht, Coyote, was discovered capsized, but its captain was never found.
Now, 25 years later, Plant and the extraordinary tale of his life and his career on the water, is returning to Minnesota by way of the 2017 Twin Cities Film Fest.
“Coyote” details how a troubled youth whose exploits were well-known in the Lake Minnetonka area went on to become one of America’s most decorated yachtsman.
While all filmmakers have a personal connection to their work, “Coyote” is even more personal for director Thomas Simmons.
“Mike was my uncle,” Simmons said, adding that the pair were pretty close to one another. “When he was lost at sea, I was 10 years old. ... old enough to know what’s going on, but young enough for it to not really sink in.”
Simmons grew up in Wayzata, attended the Breck School and the University of St. Thomas before settling into a stable, comfortable life in finance in California. Eventually, however, the good pay and stability weren’t enough. At the age of 32, he decided to pursue a more artistic path and bring his uncle’s story to life.
"Coyote" director Thomas Simmons. (Photo courtesy of CoyoteDocumentary.com)
“It’s never too late to run into your passion,” he said, noting the parallels to his uncle’s story. “Mike didn’t discover single-handed sailing until he was 34.”
So beginning in 2014, Simmons set out to tell his uncle’s story from the good, winning the 1986-87 BOC Challenge, and making two other single-handed trips around the world, to the bad, cocaine trafficking in South America and his involvement in the fire that burned the Excelsior Danceland; to the unbelievable, hitchiking from Minnesota to Mexico as a teenager and ending up on the run from Interpol in Greece.
Simmons said it was important to him to paint a truthful picture throughout: “One thing I love about Mike’s path is that he wasn’t a hero right away.”
The ticket sales for the film indicate that he’s not the only one interested in that picture.
The film’s first screening sold out so quickly that film festival organizers rushed to schedule a second. The second screening followed suit, and a third screening was added. Tickets for that screening – 9:40 p.m., Sunday, Oct. 22 – are still available, but are limited and moving steadily.
To put it into context, most films that screen at festival get one screening time; a handful get two; and very, very select few have necessitated a third. Never, though, has one gone beyond that threshold. Not yet anyway.
“Maybe a fourth,” TCFF Executive Director Jatin Setia said of the possibility of adding another screening. “Which is something that’s never happened before.”
Mike Plant (Photo courtesy of CoyoteDocumentary.com)
Simmons said he thinks there are a number of factors as to why “Coyote” is doing so well for ticket sales.
First, with him being from the area, many of his family members and friends that are still here are coming out to see the fruit of his labors.
Second, both the Wayzata and Minnetonka Yacht Clubs have shown great support for the film, and for Plant’s legacy and contribution to the sailing community.
In September, the Wayzata Community Sailing Center announced that it is closing in on its $4 million fundraising goal to replace the 126-year-old house used by the center. Once complete, the new facility will be named in honor of Plant.
Lastly, and most importantly, Simmons said, is that the Lake Minnetonka community still feels a great connection to his uncle.
“He wasn’t perfect, none of us are, but we all have the power to take a left turn,” he said. “Mike did that and people just gravitated to him.”
For more information on the film, visit its official website.