OLD SALT AT THE BOAT SHOW
1996 Tor Pinney - All Rights Reserved
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.
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
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
didn't miss a beat. "Well, a bit here and there,"
he replied with his lively Welsh brogue and an amused,
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
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.
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
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."
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.
are you drinking," I asked.
have a rum & coke, if you please," he answered, and
lit a fresh cigarette from the butt of his last one.
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.
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.
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!"
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.
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.
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.
was just thinking about toasting my landfall when down the
dock limped a familiar figure. "Hey, Tristan!" I
called to him and waved.
there, mate," he replied. "How was the passage
too bad, except for a blow off Cape Hatteras," I
that's to be expected."
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
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...
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.
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
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.
as Tristan Jones had warned.
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
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.
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.
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!
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!
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!
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
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"
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 3½
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
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.
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.
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.
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