Ron's Tristan Jones Page

Narrative #9

"The Good and The Bad"

By: Ron Reil

Note: I recently had an unfortunate experience with the author of a new book about Tristan Jones called "Wayward Sailor." My biggest concern, his statement that my story below had the "ring of fiction," will be rectified in any future printings, but there is another point that I want to clarify also where Mr. Dalton is in error. Below there is a statement he quotes (italics below) on page 101-102, where Tristan, after reading my log, left me a note saying that he would sue me if I were ever to publish any of the material in my log about his underhanded dealings. I said it was was due to his concern about his readers. He references the fact that "The Incredible Voyage" wasn't published until 1977, and it was 1973 at the time, so the concern about his readers didn't exist yet. At the time that I was switching boats with Tristan, his main focus was his writing. In fact he quickly modified the front end of Dart, where the medical cabinet used to be, to be his writing area, removing the cabinet doors and installing horizontal cross bars to hold his writing supplies. He also had his typewriter set up so he could use it in the front of the boat while sitting on one of the bunks, with the typewriter on the other. He was extremely concerned about his public image in regards to his writings because he had already determined that his writings were going to be his primary source of income in the future. That was due to the successes he had already had in magazine publishing. I have no way to prove this point, but it is an erroneous conjecture by Mr. Dalton, based on my use of the word "books." A better word for me to have used below would have been"writings," and this dispute would not have arisen.


On the 7th of January, 1973, Fitz and I sailed Sea Dart into the anchorage in Bequia, W.I. We had come across the hundred mile crossing from Barbados, sailed around the north end of St. Vincent, and south along the lee side of the island. We spent one very uneasy night and day in Kingstown, the locals were very hostile to Americans, and then we sailed south across the Bequia channel to Bequia harbor. This was a world apart from St. Vincent. The locals were very friendly, and it was quickly apparent that we would call this little island home for a couple of months while we explored the southern islands.

The anchorage was wonderful. There was a beautiful, semi-secluded beach in the lower bay, Princess Margaret Beach, that offered protection as well as good skin diving. That was important since almost all our food came from the sea. I dove every afternoon to get our fish, lobster, or conch for dinner. Fitz prepared it with some of our ultra cheap rice which we had provisioned the boat with in Barbados. We had paid only $0.03/pound BWI for it. That was about 1 1/2 cent a pound US currency! It was crude but was wholesome. Once the trash was sifted out, the stones, etc., removed, it looked fine, even if it did smell like a fart when we cooked it. The smell soon earned it the name of "fart rice" aboard Dart.

The location had other merit as well. There were several nice "bars" available. One very nice one called the "Frangipani" was a favorite, even if it was a little expensive for yachtsmen on a $0.60 a day budget. Also, the bay was full of yachts at that time of year waiting for fair winds to sail to the Galapagos Islands after they traversed the Panama Canal. They would spend a month in Bequia before heading on to Panama. That month was full of parties and fun. Each night a different yacht would have a party on deck and everyone in the bay was invited. Sometimes the bigger yachts even had a steel band on deck. In the afternoon the yachtsman would row around the bay knocking on hulls to announce the party. The invitation always included the request to bring any musical instrument you might play. It was a wonderful time for everyone.

Fitz and I made the best of the island, exploring all parts of it on foot, barefoot at that. One wonderful place was a small bay called "Hope Bay" on the windward side of Bequia. The big surf breaking on the barrier reef offshore sent in waves that were perfect body surfing waves. We spent many hours enjoying the surf, and getting pounded into the sand when the ride didn't go right. We hiked over with Mary and George off "Sugar Creek", a beautiful double ender, and four other folks off of two Swedish yachts. It was interesting how the customs of Europe differ from ours. When it came time to change into swimming suits, the Swedish men and women just stripped down right there on the spot and changed, we followed their example, and that was that. I should add that the Swedish girls were very attractive.

There were several other interesting yachts in the bay too. Marty and Charlie Pit were sailing the very fine 55 foot yacht "Santana", which had belonged to Humphrey Bogart. Santana had almost been taken by the same giant surf in Barbados that almost claimed Dart. I had a wonderful evening on the yacht "Tiki", a 105 foot schooner that really put on a big party one night. One afternoon Simon Bridger off of the yacht "Circe" came over to ask for my help to rescue his anchor. It was fouled in 40-50 foot deep water, and he was told I was the only diver in the bay that could probably help him. After several warm up dives I free dove and managed to free the badly tangled anchor. When I went aboard Circe afterward, I discovered that Circe belonged to Tom Chamberlain, who had built her and now lived in Newport, Oregon. I knew Tom, so it was a warm reception I received on the Circe.

Life in the bay was not without its surprises and adventure. We had a storm that lasted over 24 hours, starting on the 18 of January, that had the entire bay taking full gale precautions. I set out a second anchor, my big danforth, and was very glad I did so when the winds increased to over 50 knots that night. Several big yachts drug anchor and ended up running their engines to try to hold against the winds while they desperately tried to get the hook to stick. There was action everywhere in the bay, as yachts in line with the dragging boats attempted to move, or fend off, the oncoming craft. I was fortunate to be out of the way, and only suffered loss of sleep, while I kept checking my anchor bearings to detect any slippage on my anchor system. We did have one big trimiran slide by within a few feet of us, but that was early in the storm when it was still daylight. We had several such storms while anchored in Bequia.

All in all, Bequia was a wonderful place to call home, for a time. There are many other stories to be told about this wonderful place, including the invitation I received to go whaling with the local whalers in the old "Nantucket sleigh ride" style whaling boats. I believe they were the only remaining whalers in the world still whaling in that tradition, handed down from their Yankee whaler forefathers who had jumped ship on the beautiful little island. Their heritage was apparent in the "old English" dialect that they spoke.

Two Men of Note

Thor Heyerdahl

I would like to relate to you information about two men that I met in my sailing that you may be familiar with. Although this is a "Tristan Jones" page, I also want to include a couple of paragraphs about my personal childhood hero, Thor Heyerdahl. When I was only 12 years old I read the book "Kon Tiki" by Thor Heyerdahl. It was responsible for me going to sea, and Thor had been my idol for many years. Several years before Tristan and I crossed wakes, I had been fortunate to be in Barbados when Thor sailed in on "Ra II". I learned of his approach, and sailed out 24 miles in Vega to meet the Ra, at sea, just as she was taking the line from the government tug "Culpepper". I sailed along side the Ra and exchanged conversation with Thor and his crew, as well as we could, considering the language differences in his multi-national crew.

After meeting the Ra at sea, I was able to go aboard the Ra a week later, after all the welcome activities had died down. There were over 200,000 people waiting to meet Thor when he arrived in Barbados! It was a wonderful experience to cross wakes with my childhood hero. I can't think of anyone who has had a greater impact on my life than Thor Heyerdahl.

Tristan Jones

In early March of 1973 Tristan Jones came into my life with a rush. My first glimpse of Tristan occurred one early morning when I was brought to Dart's deck by a big ruckus ashore. High up on the hill, in town, I could see Tristan running down the road toward the bay, as fast as he could go, with the local sail maker right behind him waving a big machete and screaming profanities at him. Apparently Tristan had pulled a fast one on the sail maker and was about to pay for it with his life.

Tristan was fleet of foot, however, and reached the end of the town dock about three steps ahead of the sail maker's machete. Tristan launched off the dock gracefully clearing 20 feet of water before entering the sea in a head long dive. He swam out to "Banjo" and climbed aboard in a fierce temper. He could be heard all over the bay cussing at his two young black crewmen. It has been said that Tristan couldn't swim, but if that's true, his actions are a testament to quick learning in a pressing situation. If Tristan couldn't swim, I think he must have forgotten that fact for a moment.

I got to see Tristan quite often after that. Tristan loved the rum bottle, especially someone else's rum bottle, and would often come back to Banjo in a fierce roaring mood that would get the whole bay up on deck to watch. One such event occurred one afternoon when Tristan returned to the beach after some heavy socializing. He yelled to Banjo for his crew to come in to the beach and pick him up with Banjo's dingy, but received no response. He continued to bello from the shore while his thermostat moved steadily up into the danger zone. Finally he couldn't take it any longer, waded in, and swam out to Banjo, once again forgetting he couldn't swim. When he climbed aboard Banjo he was in an extreme temper, and in a rage, stormed below decks. A few moments later he showed up on deck again with one of the little black boys held high above his head and threw him into the sea. He immediately went below again and brought up the second one repeating the gesture.

When the boys climbed back aboard Banjo, Tristan had not cooled enough yet, and he repeated the treatment, throwing each one back in the sea while yelling profanities at them. The entire bay watched while he went through this ritual. Finally he had cooled enough to go below and crash for the day. It was a demonstration I will not soon forget.

After some time passed, Tristan became aware that I had put Dart up for sale. He hailed me from shore one afternoon, and I went in to get him in Dart's dingy. We spent the afternoon on Dart discussing Dart, and working on the gallon and a half jug of rum I kept on board. That night, Wednesday 13 March, Tristan and I reached agreement on the sale of Dart. That night the bottle of rum also became history.

If I had turned Dart over to Tristan, and departed Bequia at that time, things would have been much better than how things actually worked out. I elected to keep Dart until the 1st of April so that I could sail her one last time down into the Grenadine Islands for a visit. When I returned to complete the deal, and turn Dart over to Tristan, things started to deteriorate. As matters worked out, however, I never did make the trip down through the Grenadine Islands.

To understand my feelings about what happened you need to know about another event that happened during the transition time when Tristan took Dart, and I moved aboard Banjo. Shortly after the sale, I was bitten on the lower right leg by a spider. It turned out to be very poisonous, and soon the wound was a horrible mass of rotting flesh. Nothing I did made any difference. It was getting to the critical point when I decided to take things into my own hands. I sat down in Dart and scraped and cut away the entire rotting mass as best I could. It was on the back of my right calf, so seeing and reaching it was a problem. I had no proper disinfectant, so I opened a bottle of cologne and poured it on the open wound. That almost sent me into orbit, and it did little good, as the wound was even worse the next day.


The Operation

About this time a small boat sailed in that I knew well. It was the boat of two friends, Hillary and Neil, who I had shared many pleasant evenings with. Neil was an English physicist, and Hillary was a mathematician. They were very highly educated people, and a joy to talk with.

Of course, when they sailed in, I had to go over and join them the first evening they were in port. I was in a very poor mood because the wound on my leg was developing blood poisoning, and I felt that my future was going to be quite short at that point. There was little or no medical help to be had in Bequia. I hoped that Hillary could help me.

When I came aboard I failed to mention Dart's sale, in my concern for my health. I sat with them drinking some of their home made beer while discussing the stinking mess that my leg had become. Hillary decided to have a close look at it, which I thought was very brave considering. She got out a magnifying glass and a sharp knife to explore the wound with. After some time poking and prodding, while Neil held a light for her, she announced that she could see seven distinct "cores" in the center of the wound that must relate to seven bites.

After an extended period of discussion of the options, Hillary decided that the only option was for her to operate! She proposed cutting out all the infected tissue, and the cores, and then using tape to tie the hole together instead of stitches. At that point it sounded wonderful to me, other than the fact that it would have to be cut away without the benefit of pain killer. Neil came to the rescue on that front, and produced a new bottle of rum. The pain killer was in hand.

We talked far into the night while I steadily worked on the rum. When a significant portion of the bottle was gone Hillary decided the time was at hand to operate. I continued to talk with Neil ,and enjoy his rum, while Hillary started cutting the rot out of my leg. I can empathize with the soldiers of the Civil War. The rum helped but was far from a pain killer. I would have to stop talking every now and again when Hillary made a particularly deep cut. By concentrating on Neil's face, and the subject of the conversation, I made it through the ordeal. When it was all cut away Hillary produced a can of sulfa powder, and covered it all with the wonderful substance. She then bandaged it expertly, and it was over.

All signs of the infection quickly vanished, replaced by healthy healing tissue. Within three days I was back in the sea diving for my dinner once again. It was a tremendous load off my shoulders to know that I was not going to die. I owed it all to Hillary and Neil, but especially Hillary for having the stomach to operate on such an ugly mess. I loved them both for what they had done for me.

 Bad News

When I next returned to visit my friends, Hillary and Neil, I made the comment that I had sold Dart, and would be heading up to the US in a few weeks. They were excited about the news, and asked who had bought her, as they had news for me too. When I told them Tristan had bought her it became deadly quiet in the boat. Neil looked at Hillary, and I knew instantly that something was very wrong.

After a few moments of confused silence Hillary looked at me and told me that they had also sold their boat to Tristan Jones. They had, like me, decided to make one more trip down through the Grenadines before turning it over to Tristan. While they were off doing their final cruise Tristan had discovered my boat, about the same size, but vastly superior for his purposes. Dart was a multi-keeled boat. She had three keels, a main ballasted center keel, and two bilge keels. The combination of the three keels and the rudder support allowed Dart to take to the bottom during low tide in an upright stable position. It also reduced the draft of the boat to only a little over two feet. For sailing in the West Indies, and especially to haul it to Lake Titicaca in the Andes, Dart was a far superior hull design.

The question now was what was going on with their boat sale as there was no doubt that Tristan was taking over Dart. The local banker was holding money that Tristan had put down on their boat, as well as money that he had put down on Dart. The immediate question to be answered was if their money was still there.

Hillary and Neil went to the bank and when they returned I instantly knew that all was not well. Tristan had told the banker that Neil and Hillary had elected to cancel the agreement and had sailed out of Bequia. The sailing part was, of course, true. They were just going on their last cruise. They had also booked their air passage out of St. Vincent back to England, and the tickets were not refundable. They had made other arrangements in England as well. With their boat missing from the bay the banker thought that Tristan was telling the truth and returned his money which he then used to put down on my boat.

I immediately decided that I would cancel my deal with Tristan in order to force him to go back to the original arrangement, but Hillary and Neil would have no part of it, and insisted that I complete my deal. I felt horrible over the situation, and all the joy I felt in having everything come to a smooth close was gone. I was filled with anger towards Tristan.

The situation was now most unpleasant since I now shared Banjo and Dart with Tristan. We would spend the evenings together either on the 36 foot Banjo, or on little Dart. We ate dinner on Banjo every night together since it had so much room to relax in. Banjo was sort of a "fill in boat" that Tristan had picked up after the sale of Barbara, while he planned the Titicaca trip. I was never quite clear where he had acquired Banjo, but she was a superb all wood ketch, and seemed huge to me after living on Sea Dart. Conditions were going to be much different between us after this.

We discussed the various options available to us, including legal action, but decided that any such action would be very costly, and in the laid back island society would take longer than the time available. Besides, Tristan would simply hoist anchor on Banjo and sail away to regroup elsewhere. There was nothing more that we could do other than harass the banker, and Hillary and Neil had already vented their frustrations on him. He knew he had really made a blunder.

It comes to a Close

Things continued on in a very uncomfortable manner for another week until Hillary and Neil had cleared up their problems, as much as they could, and had sailed out of Bequia to look for better fortune elsewhere. I never saw them again. I have a very warm place in my heart for both of them, I owe them so very much.

Tristan and I settled into an uneasy truce for awhile, but eventually we started to communicate on a more friendly level until one day something new happened. I had agreed to take over the Banjo as her Captain for the new owners, a retired pharmacist and his new bride. They were flying down from New York in two weeks so I had lots of time to relax on Banjo while I waited. I should add that the final switching of boats had not been made yet. I was still sleeping on Dart and, Tristan on Banjo, when this happened.

One day the crew of a French yacht invited me to go over body surfing on the other side of the island. I loved the walk and the surfing so jumped at the chance. While I was gone Tristan came aboard Dart and went through all of my stuff looking for my ships log. He was very concerned about what I had recorded in it about the incident with Hillary and Neil. Since no one ever locked up their boat, but always left the companion way wide open it was a simple matter for him to enter Dart. It should be noted that I was still the owned since the boat had not been transferred to Tristan yet.

After searching through everything, I always had the log well hidden, he found and read it. He then wrote a note, and left it in the log, stating that if I ever published anything that was in my log about the boat deal he would sue me for everything I was worth! He was very concerned about his image to his readers since his income came from his books. That was quite a shock to me considering that everything in the log was a strict record of all events as they happened, with only occasional personal comments or observations.

Tristan and I had another go around over the trespass aboard Dart, and I almost cancelled the sale at that point, but decided that would hurt me more than him. We finally closed the deal and on the 1st of April 1973 Sea Dart became Tristan's. We rafted Dart up with Banjo and transferred our things. We stayed rafted up for several days while Tristan sorted through his mountain of possessions to reduce it to an amount that could fit on Dart.

At one point there was a big pile of stuff in Banjo's cock pit waiting to be tossed over the side. On the pile was an old world atlas. I picked it up and looked through it and was amazed to see that every page in it that had ocean on it had dozens of red and blue pencil lines drawn in. They were all the various routes Tristan had sailed over the years. It was a testament to a man's solitary life at sea, and to an enormous number of miles at sea. He had sailed just about every place that could be sailed between the Arctic and Antarctic oceans, and then some. I really regret throwing the book back on the pile, as it was a monument to a really amazing life, no matter what Tristan and I thought of each other.

I relaxed aboard Banjo, letting Tristan's crew go, and waited for the new owners to arrive from New York. I had two weeks to lay back and read, and do some work on Banjo to get her ready for the 5000 mile trip ahead of us to New York. I had set up an agreement to sail Banjo to New York for the new owners in exchange for food, booze, and a plane ticket back to Oregon when we reached our destination. I was in a hurry by that point so set it up for us to sail up to St. Barts to provision Banjo, and then to open ocean sail all the way to New York. I looked forward to the 50 day trip with little to do but read, navigate, and sail the boat. Little did I know about the hurricane that would crash us down, upside down, from the top of a giant wave at 2:30 am, and almost take Banjo down, and us with it. We were also going to have to face "pirates" off the Dominican Republic, and only the fact that I had a double barreled shot gun prevented almost certain loss of the boat and our lives. The adventure was only beginning. I will save those events for another narrative, however.

A few Last Comments

I had never planned to publish any of the information you have just read about Tristan. Now that he has passed from the scene, and is becoming something of a "god" to the sailing community, I think that the full story should be told. Still, I probably wouldn't have bothered to put this site together if it were not for the increasing number of e-mails I am getting requesting first hand information about Tristan. I am doing this more as a defense measure, to prevent me from having to answer the e-mails over and over with the same basic story. I can now just send a return e-mail with the URL to this page, and they can read it easily here.

I do regret that the relationship between Tristan and I was a tense one, but it was not of my doing. I would much rather it had been friendly, and that Hillary and Neil had not been involved at all. I was chagrined and saddened to realize, while going through my log to write this narrative, that I never recorded Hillary and Neil's last name in the log, and I have long since forgotten it. If anyone reading this recognizes the description of these two wonderful people, I would be very indebted if you could e-mail me their address. They would be about 50 years in age now, and I would assume are probably still involved with physics and math at a high level. They are probably still living in England, although not necessarily so.

This page is not meant to cast a shadow over Tristan. He was a man, perhaps not like any other man, but still had the failings that all of us have. Taken as a whole, Tristan had a remarkable life, and one well worth remembering. He was, in some ways, much like Joshua Slokum, only in another day and age. It will be interesting to see how marine history remembers Tristan. I think that there is really very little that is known of Tristan, the man, as he was such a loner that few people ever would get  a chance to know him.  We were put together by a situation of chance, and through it I did get to know both sides of Tristan, the "hero" and the "villain". But what is new, nothing, we all have two sides to our character too.

I hope you found this page of use to you. It may not fit your perception of Tristan, but few heroes really do when you get to know them. If you wish to comment or make suggestions, please click the e-mail link just below. Thank you for taking the time to read this narrative. I hope to have several other sailing narratives on the web sometime soon. Check back to see when I add more to this site. Thank you. 

 The End

A Post Script:  The miracle of the Internet brought Hillary and her children back into communication with me in 1998. I was astounded to learn that due to the problems of selling their boat, and various other complications arising from what Tristan had engineered, Hillary and Neil never were able to return to England. They stayed in Bequia where Neil became a teacher in the local school. They raised their children on and under the sea to become natives of this little island paradise. Their children later did go to England for higher education, so the ending was a beautiful one after all. At the time of this writing Hillary is touring around South Africa with her adult children....the unsinkable Hillary, and Neil continues to work in Beguia.   :-)

Associated pages that may be of interest to you

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17 July 03