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Story by Tor Pinney                                                                                                                                        Back to List of Tor's Tales

                  

THE OLD SALT AT THE BOAT SHOW
1996 Tor Pinney - All Rights Reserved

 

I first met Tristan Jones at the 1982 Annapolis Boat Show, when I wandered into a floating exhibitor's bar. I was captain of the prototype Morgan 60, a modern-rigged schooner named Paradigm, taking her on a debut tour of five East Coast boat shows for the manufacturer. That afternoon, I was marking time while Morgan Yachts' salesmen and the general public swarmed over my vessel.

Among the patrons on the bar's raft was a crusty old mariner off by himself, leaning against the rail, drinking and smoking a cigarette. He didn't look much like an exhibitor to me. Slim, shaggy-haired and bearded, he sported a worn pea jacket, rumpled trousers, black rubber sea boots and a squashed Royal Navy cap that had seen better days. Compared to the slick, blue blazer-clad yacht brokers all around us, this guy looked like he'd been washed ashore by an errant squall and hadn't quite dried out yet.

Somehow we struck up a conversation and introduced ourselves. At the time, his name meant no more to me than mine did to him. The old man (he looked old to my young eyes) muttered something about voyaging. "Oh," I said, "have you done any cruising?"

He didn't miss a beat. "Well, a bit here and there," he replied with his lively Welsh brogue and an amused, sidelong glance.

Our conversation drifted to other subjects. He explained he'd recently had a leg amputated and was having a tough time getting used to it. "Larry Pardy is carving me a new one," he said, "so I'll have something to show for it." Now, there was a name I knew. I'd read a couple of the Pardy's sailing books. The old salt continued, "I can't get around on a deck like before but, by God, I'm not through sailing!"

"Have you ever tried sailing a multi-hull?" I suggested. "Maybe a broader, more level deck would be easier to move around on for you." He seemed to consider that.

After awhile, he said he had some kind of radio interview to go to. We shook hands and said good bye. "Listen," I added on impulse, "I'm skippering that schooner over there," indicating with a wave of my hand the two masts towering above the crowded harbor. "You're welcome to stop by for a drink after the boat show closes for the day." The old man didn't seem particularly impressed that I was the captain of the "belle of the boat show," but he nodded and said he just might come by later.

And he did. Soon after the crowds and the salesmen had gone, my new acquaintance came hobbling up the gangplank. "Here, I brought you a couple of my books."

"Oh, you're a writer?" There were two paperbacks: one titled The Incredible Voyage, the other simply Ice. On the inside covers, he had autographed them to me. I thanked him and put them aside. I still had no idea who Tristan Jones was, but of one thing I was certain. He was...different. And I liked him.

"What are you drinking," I asked.

"I'll have a rum & coke, if you please," he answered, and lit a fresh cigarette from the butt of his last one.

During the next couple of hours, while we sat there talking, I sipped my drink and Tristan finished off the entire bottle of rum! That man could drink and never get drunk! It's a fact that every time I ever saw Tristan Jones, day or night, he had a rum & coke in one hand and a cigarette in the other - yet he always seemed sober. It's hard to imagine how he kept "one hand free for the ship," constantly occupied as they both were with his spirits and tobacco.

Listening to him yarn in Paradigm's cockpit that evening, I began to get an inkling of what this rugged little sailor was about. What an extraordinary life he was living, sailing places and doing things I could scarcely imagine! Here was a sailorman's sailor - sharp-witted, opinionated, occasionally caustic, adventurous and vastly experienced.

I wish I could remember more of the stories he told over that bottle of rum. Some I later re-discovered in his books; others just popped into his mind as we sat swapping tall tales in the cockpit. One thing I do recall, though. Before he left that night, he said, "You know, I've been thinking about what you said about multi-hulls. I just might give it a go!"

From Annapolis, I took the offshore route to Fort Lauderdale to attend the boat show there. On the way, I read the two books Tristan had given me. Wow, I could hardly believe I'd actually met this amazing man! What a character! I wondered if I'd ever see him again.

That year, the Fort Lauderdale International Boat Show was held in the exposed, southwestern corner of Port Everglades, rather than in the snug marina at Bahia Mar. The docks were temporary floating platforms, placed here just for this boat show and secured to moorings on the harbor bottom.

Again Paradigm was a featured showboat, and I was directed to put her in a slip up front by the sea wall. Morgan Yachts' sales manager asked that I position the bow close to the wall to facilitate public viewing, and I complied. By the time I had the vessel squared away and the cleaning crew had finished rinsing off the journey's accumulation of salt, it was nearly day's end. The show was to open the next morning.

I was just thinking about toasting my landfall when down the dock limped a familiar figure. "Hey, Tristan!" I called to him and waved.

"Hello there, mate," he replied. "How was the passage down?"

"Not too bad, except for a blow off Cape Hatteras," I answered.

"Well, that's to be expected."

The formalities done, his eyes flickered to my boat laying alongside the dock, then to the nearby sea wall. Then he looked hard at me and snapped, "But after getting your vessel safely down here, what the hell are you doing docking her like that? You fancy yourself a bloody captain? What in bloody hell are you going to do if the shit hits the fan and you suddenly have to move that boat out of here? You going to back her out in a blow in this claustrophobic little space, are you? Don't you know any better than to put your bow to a sea wall? Don't you think the weather matters in port?"

I was stunned at the sudden tirade, and more than a little embarrassed to be chewed out on a crowded dock by this old sea dog. I started to babble some excuse about how the sales manager had told me to put her here, and...

"Sales manager? What in bloody hell does he know about your ship? You're the bloody captain, aren't you?" His manner softened a bit. He put a hand on my arm and said, "Listen, mate, you don't ever, ever want to put your bow in towards the shore. Always dock so you're facing outward. You have to be ready to escape from any harbor if things turn nasty, be it bad weather, unfriendly government officials, or some wench's angry husband! Now, I've said enough! What say we sit down and have us a drink? Give the old stump a bit of a rest," he winked and tapped his false leg with his walking stick.

Later, when Tristan (and another bottle of rum) were gone, I switched on the VHF radio to catch a weather update. I knew there was an autumn norther reaching down across the Florida peninsula, but what I now heard worried me. The front was due here before dawn, with very strong winds and showers expected. I didn't like the looks of these flimsy, temporary docks, especially with a strong cold front bearing down on us.

So, I had a problem. I had been hired to deliver the boat to the boat show, which I'd done. But, although we were here, I was still captain of this vessel and I now knew, with bad weather imminent, that I really should move Paradigm to a safer berth. On the other hand, the boat show was opening in the morning, and there would be some very upset sales people if the "belle of the boat show" weren't here. Then again, I was docked bow to a concrete sea wall, and the wind shift, when it came, would put the wall to leeward. In the cramped confines of the boat show docks, it'd be very difficult, maybe even impossible, to get out then if I had to.

Just as Tristan Jones had warned.

I made my decision. "Sales managers be damned, I'm taking her out of here now!" I alerted the crew, fired up the engine, cast off and within the hour was securely berthed in the inner harbor of a nearby marina. Then I called my employer.

He fumed, he threatened, he pleaded. The boat had to be in her boat show slip for the opening, he insisted. They had advertised! The press was going to be there! Who the hell did I think I was?! On and on he went, and when he finished, I told him that either he could fire me and move the boat himself, or else I'd bring Paradigm back to the show after the front had passed through. And that's how we left it for the evening.

Around 0400 hrs., I was awakened by a slapping halyard. On deck it was storming and blowing a gale. The front was passing through. But Paradigm was secure in her berth and, after checking the lines, I crawled back into my bunk and slept soundly `til dawn.

In the morning, the sky was clearing and the wind abating. I launched the inflatable tender and zoomed over to the boat show site in Port Everglades to check things out. The dock from which I had removed Paradigm the previous evening was now smashed up against the sea wall. The temporary moorings hadn't held against the gale-force winds that had arrived with the cold front. If Paradigm had been in that slip, she'd have plowed into the concrete wall when the dock came adrift. There was little doubt that she would have lost about six feet of her fiberglass bow and foredeck, and might well have sunk on the spot!

Well, when the sales people came to understand what had happened, I was suddenly a hero for saving the boat. Not only did I keep my job; they even paid me a bonus!

But I know who the real hero was - that crusty old salt who had probably forgotten more about seamanship than I'll ever know. Thanks, Tristan! You were bloody well right!

To this day I always dock with my vessel's bow facing seaward, and I keep an eye on the weather in port. And if an old timer chooses to offer me a bit of advice, I pay close attention. Some of those graybeards really do know what they're talking about!

 

About Tristan Jones

Tristan Jones - Welsh mariner, author, adventurer and humanitarian - said he was born at sea in 1924 off the island of Tristan da Cunha aboard his father's tramp steamer. He died in Thailand in 1995 of "complications after a stroke" (Associated Press).

In his 71 years, Captain Jones claimed to have logged 450,000 nautical miles, probably more than any other living person, mainly aboard small sailboats. By his own reckoning he sailed across the Atlantic at least 20 times (including 9 single-handed crossings) and circumnavigated 3 times.

At the age of 14, Tristan Jones began a seaman's apprenticeship aboard a sailing cargo vessel. At 16 years he joined the Royal British Navy and served aboard several ships during World War II, surviving three sinkings. Following his discharge, Jones started what was to become his lifetime quest, to roam the seven seas in search of great adventures and unique voyages under sail. He chronicled many of these in 17 marine adventure books, two novels and numerous short stories and articles.

For example, Jones wrote that in 1959 he set out to sail farther north than any other private craft had before and spent a winter frozen into the Arctic ice cap with his three-legged dog, Nelson. This he described in his book, Ice. In The Incredible Voyage Tristan Jones recounted his amazing feat of taking a sea-going sailboat from the lowest navigable waters on Earth to the highest. Afterwards, he sailed (and dragged!) the boat across the South American continent, navigating down nearly the entire length of the Paraguay and Parana rivers to set yet another record.

After having a leg amputated in 1982, Captain Jones acquired the 38-foot trimaran, "Outward Leg". Aboard this stable craft, he was able to continue his cruising-adventures. He formed the Atlantic Society and dedicated himself to helping disabled children around the world by teaching them seamanship and self-respect.

Tristan Jones made landfall in Thailand in 1987 where he continued his adventures, his writing, and his work with disabled children until his death. The cruising community salutes this extraordinary man. 

~ End ~

Back to List of Tor's Tales

 
 

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