Tristan Jones was one of the most acclaimed sea-faring storytellers ever. The combative Welshman was born at sea on a ship off Tristan da Cunha. He dropped out of school at 14 to work on sailing barges, and then spent the rest of his life at sea ' first in the Royal Navy, then as a delivery skipper, then as a daring adventurer. Saga of a Wayward Sailor tells the tale of one of his most exciting adventures. Jones sails through treacherous waters aboard the Cresswell, a lifeboat converted into a sailboat, struggling to survive against impossible odds. He makes it through violent storms, arrest by the Soviet Navy, and other extraordinary experiences. Join Tristan Jones and a host of other lively and intriguing characters, as this salty and humorous tale unfolds.
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January 01, 1995
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Excerpt from Saga of a Wayward Sailor by Tristan Jones
Hell and High Water
The storm struck out of the southwest on August 3. It developed rapidly, in a matter of hours: from a steady blow to a howling rage of shifting cloud, rain, and wind, and the four cardinal points of the horizon galloped at me like the horsemen of the Apocalypse. And me in the middle of them. Waiting, vulnerable, patient.
"Hold onto your hat, old lad, we've got some fun and games coming," I said to Nelson, my three-legged Labrador retriever, as I watched the sky turn first into somber gray, then menacing blackness, with sheets of lightning electrifying the whole heaving, gray-green watery curve of the world. Cresswell plunged on, away from the Arctic Circle, which she had passed over only the day before. By the time the gale freshened to a full storm, I was exhausted.
I had set out on July 10, 1961, from Svalbard for Iceland, 800 miles away to the southwest. With the prevailing wind against me, this distance was doubled.
I thought I had recovered my strength and wits during the days in Svalbard, and Cresswell was again sound. I first headed due south to latitude 71, so as to avoid any ice floes which might have broken loose from the main pack; then I headed due west for Jan Mayen, with the idea that if anything went amiss, I could shelter in those lonely islands. But the wind shifted to northwest and I was forced away to the south; so I missed Jan Mayen entirely.
By July 25 I was 180 miles due north of the northeast tip of Iceland. With the northwest wind I had a close reach, and the boat was making fast time. I aimed to reach Cape Farewell, the southern tip of Greenland, not later than August 30. From there, with the Greenland Current helping me westward until it joined the southerly running Labrador Current, it was around 800 miles to St. John's, Newfoundland. If my luck held out, I should reach there by the end of September. I would have to push it, because my margin of safety, food-wise, was narrow indeed -- only three weeks.
On July 31 I was in the Denmark Strait, heading southwest on a broad reach over the heaving waters, sometimes sighting Icelandic and British fishing vessels over the white-silver-topped, flashing green seas. Now came August, and with it the end of the short Arctic summer.
In the Arctic for almost two years, my diet had consisted mainly of rice, seal blubber, fish, and corned beef, and I was down to a wiry 120 pounds. Besides, I was suffering from what I call Arcticitis, a kind of lassitude which slows you down. Everything is slow motion, though you are unaware of it until you encounter someone who hasn't got it. It's something like a man from the mountains plodding along at his pace for years, nice and easy and perfectly normal to him. Then he goes to New York and immediately there's a difference in time, almost a time warp. After two years alone in the Arctic, even the mountain man would seem like a big-city tycoon.
Anyway, it blew seven bells and the sea worked up into monsters. I had been hove to under reefed mizzen only, when suddenly this great mountain of water, out of nowhere, crashed down onto Cresswell. I had not much fear of the hull giving way, for she was double diagonal mahogany on grown Portuguese oak frames with oiled canvas between the mahogany planks, which were beautifully laid with copper fastenings. The deckhouse I had added myself, continuing the original hull specifications all around. The masts were stepped on deck, in galvanized iron tabernacles. This was mainly for ease in dropping the masts when they were in danger of icing up too thick.