In Search of the Real Tristan Jones

Tristan Jones wrote stories and did faithfully adhere to the Mark Twain adage “Never let the truth get in the way of a good story.”  When David starts spinning sailor yarns, I call him Tristan Jones.  It doesn’t stop the spinning because David reveres Tristan Jones and finds that Tristan’s embellishments contribute to the world:  bringing it more adventure, imagination and joy.   Tristan Jones was an amazing man that we can all learn a thing or two from.  In particular, the things about Jones that resonate with me personally are his ability to think big, persevere, and be flexible in order to achieve his goals.  Even while accomplished great things, Jones certainly didn’t write chronicles intended to be used to determine the precise series of events, that much is certain. How much was true and how much of his books are pure fiction? Does it matter? Not really, if the goal is to tell a good story, Tristan reached his goal always.

Who was this guy?  The “official” biography reads like this:

“Tristan Jones was born at sea aboard his father’s sailing ship off of the cape of Tristan da Cunha. He joined the Royal Navy at the age of fourteen, and spent his entire life at sea. He sailed a record 400,000 miles during his career with the navy and on a delivery yacht and has gone on several ambitious journeys on his own small ships. For the last few years of his life, he retired to Phuket, Thailand aboard his cruising trimaran. He passed away in 1995.  Jones wrote many books about his remarkable life, including Saga of a Wayward Sailor and The Incredible Voyage.”

All readers of Tristan Jones books, at a certain point, get to the place where they’re shaking their head side to side laughing at the entertaining stretches of reality Tristan makes. For me, there were three “stretch” categories:

  • Size,
  • Luck,
  • Tristan is the original Superman.

The books Tristan authored were all about his “remarkable life” but to me, they’re entertaining sailing yarns full of those three stretches of size, luck, and superhuman powers.  About the sheer size of things–everything is huge when Tristan is facing it including the winds and seas and even the TONS of free cheese that he could stuff into his tiny little boat. The man had the art of exaggeration down.  While the windfall of free cheese arrived without a story of starvation preceding it, typically when people give Tristan Jones something, he really needs exactly that thing.  The books are full of free cheese– proclamations of how at just the right time, sometimes seemingly at random, people would just wander up and give him the impossibly hard to find things that he really needed at just that moment (and he never, ever asked for these things) and finally, this original Superman could literally leap tall buildings in a single bound–or at least drag his boat up into the high mountains to sail on the highest body of water, Lake Titicaca, in the Andes.  He had many personal heroics along the way to deal with the gargantuan storms, mountains, floods, and distances he covered.  It all is a bit far-fetched but incredibly entertaining.

Tristan Jones real life

An even more enticing read than Tristan’s own books, though, is “Wayward Sailor: In Search of the Real Tristan Jones” by Anthony Dalton. This is the book you really need to read since it was written to sort out the truth of Tristan’s voyages vs his fabrications. Really. In my opinion, Anthony Dalton’s biography of Tristan Jones is far more fascinating than anything ever written by Tristan Jones himself.

Dalton reveals how much of Jone’s life story was a total fabrication, beginning with the story of his birth, and the inspiration for having been given the name “Tristan.” One of Jone’s early books, Heart of Oak, was an account of Jones’ service in the Royal Navy during WW II. This is a work of total fiction, as he did not actually join the Navy until after the war was over. The fabrications go on and tales grow taller from there.

Like the stories that perpetuate around many “big names” in sailing, one of the more astonishing parts of this ‘self-invention’ of Tristan’s was the extent it was enabled by a variety of consumer sailing magazines and their editors. To quote from Dalton’s press:

In the end, no one really knew Tristan Jones. He was larger than life, perhaps the most successful sailing writer of the twentieth century, and by his own account the greatest sailor. But he was not who he said he was. He told us what he wanted us to believe, and he told the tales so well that we either believed or suspended disbelief. As Anthony Dalton reveals in this uncompromising yet admiring biography, the real Tristan Jones was both a lesser and a greater man than his invention. Self-educated, self-taught, enormously creative, he was himself his most creative act.

A 2007 YouTube of Tristan Jones: this sequence is of the late Tristan Jones. It is part of a longer documentary on Sailing.

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Cat in Charge

Life is hard for the ship’s cat it seems.  It remains a constant struggle for Beryl to identify the most important bit of kit to lay upon to assure that the crew doesn’t have proper access to it.  Here we see her taking charge of my jacket that I’d just taken off and was wanting to put back on.

Beryl and the jacket

Love it when cheap is good

West Marine Tahiti 7x50 waterproof binoculars
photo–David watching the Elephant Seals at Drakes Bay in Sept 2010.

May 27, 2017 OK, I just saw the sales at West Marine on Anchors (up to 40% off) and Binoculars (up to 60% off) for Memorial Day and had to revive this 2015 post with new pricing information.

UPDATED POST from 12/2/2015. As most boaters know, the least expensive version of any bit of kit aboard is usually just so-so and we’re always looking for a nicer version of whatever it is.  Spend, spend, spend. But, there are exceptions. One of those is the West Marine Tahiti 7×50 waterproof binoculars with compass. They’re actually cheap–right now on sale at $223.88 which is amazingly inexpensive. We got ours in late 2006-early 2007 timeframe while sailing Stargazer and really thought we’d be getting a more costly pair of binoculars down the line. We look at new ones from time to time but we just haven’t found reason to replace these. So, yes, I love it when “cheap is good” since that so rarely happens in boating-related equipment.

These have plenty of light gathering capabilities, there’s a compass in there so it’s good for piloting purposes rather than also using a hand-bearing compass.  These also have the little marks — they call it a rangefinding reticule– which is a net of fine lines or fibers in the eyepiece of the binocular or other optical device used for sighting and taking other measurements.  The point is it allows you to use a set of binoculars to figure out how far you are from something if you manage to remember the formula for using the reticule to calculate range and you’re not too tired to take on the mental arithmetic.  I do note that a few days into our watch-standing when I’m beginning to have that zombie feeling, I’m likely to want to pull out a calculator or write the calcs on a scrap of paper rather than do them in my head.

Here’s the rundown on the specs and the sale which ends on the 6th of December:
WEST MARINE Tahiti 7 x 50 Waterproof Binoculars with Compass
Model # 14361273 | Mfg # TAHITI-N
Terms of sale: Reg. $299.99 Sale price $223.88 (Order online but ships to Store or home for FREE)

Fully multi-coated lenses allow for transmission of more than 90% of visible light. Anti-reflection coating optimized to your dark-adapted eye allows for improved twilight and nighttime viewing. Filled with dry nitrogen gas to prevent internal fogging, and tightly sealed for a long life. Internal Finnish compass and rangefinding reticle allows them to work as a high-accuracy bearing compass. 27.4mm eye relief. BAK-4 prisms deliver sharp images and reduce glare. Padded neck strap and buoyant Cordura® case included.

Magn. x Objective Lens Dia.: 7 x 50
Focus: Center
Waterproof: Yes
Prism Type: BAK-4 Porro
Light Transmission Efficiency: >90%
Field of View @1000yds: 350′
Eye Relief: 27.4mm
Compass: Yes
Rangefinder Reticle: Yes
Weight: 40oz.
Warranty: Limited lifetime

Using the binoculars

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