Join Tristan Jones as he tells tales of the humorous and fascinating adventures that his Saga of a Wayward Sailor began. Discover more anecdotes and unexpected adventures aboard a converted lifeboat ketch cruising the coasts of the Balearic region with Tristan, his one-eyed, three-legged dog, Nelson and the prim Bishop's sister, Sissie St. John. It's a prolific prose journey of surprising arrivals, machine gun-thwarting and ship-saving escapades of a wayward sailor and his motley crew.
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About the Author
Jones wrote many books about his remarkable life, including Saga of a Wayward Sailor and The Incredible Voyage. He passed away in 1995. In 2003, Ragged Mountain Press published an unauthorized biography, Wayward Sailor: In Search of the Real Tristan Jones.
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Seagulls In My Soup
Further Adventures of a Wayward Sailor
By Tristan Jones
OPEN ROAD INTEGRATED MEDIACopyright © 1991 Tristan Jones
All rights reserved.
A Long Time Ago
"Ai say ... Tristan dahling! Yoo-hoo!" I stirred under my blanket and listened for a moment to the patter of rain on Cresswell's deck overhead. Autumn nights and early mornings in the western Mediterranean can be quite chilly to ordinary mortals, but Cecilia (Sissie) Saint John, the Bishop of Southchester's sister, was always awake and astir at the crack of dawn, no matter what the weather.
Again she screeched, "Skippah ... Yoo-hoo, dahling!"
I stretched one trousered and seabooted leg out of my berth. Nelson bumped his tail on the cabin sole, stared up at Sissie with his one eye, and glowered. I, too, glared up at her. She was leaning her oilskin-bedecked upper torso down through the companionway hatch. Under her yellow sou'wester hat, her hair, as usual in damp weather, was the color of a dead aspidistra leaf. Her Saxon-blue eyes gleamed with that peculiar kind of benevolent madness only seen among the English.
"Wazzup now?" I growled. I glared at the ship's clock. Sissie had polished its brass casing the previous night, before retiring to her ritual of Bible and Booth's London Dry Gin in the tiny, low, kennel-like forepeak which she called home. "Six-thirty. God."
I didn't at all like to be disturbed, while the boat was in harbor, much before eight o'clock, especially when it was raining and few chores could be done, and while the ones that could be done, Sissie did.
Sissie spread her rosy apple cheeks all over her chubby face in a wide grin. "Theah's a boat coming alongside, dahling!" she announced. "It's a, er ... catamaran." She raised herself up above the cover of the companionway hatch and stared ahead, the rainwater streaming down her face into the soggy towel she had wrapped around her neck. Her eyes slitted almost closed against the drizzle. Then again she grinned. "Ai say," she howled, to no one in particular. "What a marvelous name ... Bellerophon of Bosham ... how simply spiffing." Nelson growled softly. "And dahling ... Tristan dahling ... she's English!"
"With a name like that she could hardly be bloody French," I observed petulantly. "At this time in the morning I don't give a fish's tit if she's Chinese."
Sissie looked down at me. Her face fell into apologetic sympathy. "Oh ... you poor dahling," she murmured. "Half a mo', I'll make the tea ... No, Ai'd bettah help this jolly old boat moor stern-to-the-jetty first." Turning, she scrambled over Cresswell's whalebacked poop, showing a dimpled thigh under her yellow oilskin jacket and above her British Army socks and Irish ditchdigger's brogue boots. Agilely, she leaped over the five-foot gap between the rudder and the jetty wall. Nelson again bumped his tail, pounding it softly against the cabin table leg, pleased that his main competitor for my affection had once more gone ashore and left his master entirely for himself to watch and guard with his limitless canine loyalty.
I turned over again, wrapped the blanket around me, and settled to doze away another precious hour or so. I was still thawing out and catching up on sleep lost during the Arctic voyage five years ago.
There were the usual shouts and hollers as the arriving boat's crew heaved mooring lines at Sissie out in the now-pouring rain. Sissie's voice pierced through the drumming downpour on deck. "Ai say ... welcome to Ibiza!"
A masculine English voice, almost as awf'ly English as Sissie's, but not quite (there were undertones of Surbiton) called back, "Nice boat you have there! Wonderful weather for ducks, eh?"
"Yes," replied Cresswell's mate, with a girlish giggle.
It's a wonder how sound carries over water and through the sides of a wooden boat. As I reflected on this, and listened to the alternating roar and purr of the catamaran's outboard motor, Cresswell gently jiggled, jingled, and pulsated with the myriad sounds of a sailboat's waking day. "Oh, Christ," I said to myself, and, heaving myself up against the cabin table, staggered over to the galley, filled the kettle up from the freshwater hand pump, lit the gently oscillating kerosene stove, slammed the kettle down on the flame, and sat down again to rustle Nelson's head and murmur to him—a diurnal liturgy in Cresswell.
There was another sudden commotion outside. First the splash of a rope falling into the harbor water—filthy with black, slimy oil, dead fish, plastic bags and other impedimenta deleterious to cleanliness and pilotage—then the sound of a man's voice, again from the arriving vessel, called in fruity tones, "Oh, dash ... what rotten luck!"
"Yes, isn't it?" I heard Sissie reply. "But hang on a jolly tick—Ai'll get a boathook."
Then there were the sounds of Sissie hefting her 170 pounds back over the gap 'twixt rudder and wall, and scrabbling for the boathook tied to the handrail below Cresswell's mizzenmast. All the while the boat pitched slightly up and down as it was first burdened with, then relieved of Sissie's dumpling thighs, Michelin waist, boxer's arms, heavy oilskin jacket, and ditchdigger's boots.
I quickly donned my Shetland jersey and slid my black oilskin around my shoulders. I clambered up the companionway ladder. I stared around through the misty rain to see one of the ugliest sailing vessels I ever clapped eyes on. She was a catamaran, but obviously home-made. She had slab sides to the hulls, far too high, and the cabin stuck up above the two hulls, box-like and shoddy, with great windows all around it. The whole boat was painted black, and the top paint had worn away in places, exposing the previous white paint in obscene-looking patches. The total effect was that of a greatly enlarged praying mantis with a skin complaint.
She was about thirty-two feet long and at least eighteen feet wide. Two figures, squat and heavy in their yellow oilskins and yellow seaboots, with the flaps of their jackets buttoned up around their chins, stood in the pouring rain on the catamaran's afterdeck, looking nonplused and rather forlorn as their vessel was slowly pulled away from the jetty again by the weight of their anchor line, which was streamed out forward. The rain drizzled down implacably on this cheerful scene.
I turned around to peer through the rain toward the jetty. There was Sissie, stretched out fully on her belly on the muddy, fish-scales-littered pavement of the town quay, leaning right out over the filthy harbor water, reaching with our boathook toward the fallen mooring line, now floating in the midst of a particularly noisome pool of slime and garbage. She was grasping the boathook by its blunt very-end, attempting to hook the line and failing to do it by a mere three inches or so.
I turned again to the catamaran. One of the figures stared at me for a moment in seeming puzzlement and confusion, then hailed me. "Morning, old chap," it called in a gruff, manly voice. "Nice weather, what?" It wore a rope belt, from which dangled a seaman's knife.
"Why don't you throw me a line?" I replied. "I'm much closer to you than is the jetty."
"Damned good idea," called the other figure, in far less gruff tones. He sounded like a choirboy whose voice was just about to break. He wore spectacles, and I imagined him regretting that, with this downpour, they were not fitted with windshield wipers. Even as he addressed me the spectacles were pointed some five yards away to my left.
By now the Knife had run over to the catamaran's guardrails and was grinning at me. "Pleased to meet you. Billy Rankin's the name, and this is my brother Tony."
Spectacles now spoke to a point three yards to my right. "What ho?"
"Throw me a line," I shouted. "Your boat is sliding away over your anchor rode, and if you don't get a line to me soon you'll have to restart your motor and do the whole exercise again ... And anyway, your anchor is probably fouled up with mine in the middle of the harbor."
Tony the Specs turned and desperately peered through the pouring rain while Billy the Knife calmly and methodically bent down, grabbed a line, held the coil in his left hand, and heaved the fag-end with his right. The knot in the end hit me in the eye with a wallop so bitter I could taste it, just as a loud splash came from the direction of the jetty. Cursing as I recovered the rope's end from Cresswell's deck, my eye smarting with pain, I turned to see poor Sissie's yellow oilskin jacket just below the oily, slimy surface, rising to float, flailing, in the muck-bestrewn, turdflotilla'd, dog-corpse-littered waters of Ibiza harbor. Then her head appeared, her whisky-colored hair now black and shiny with petroleum byproducts and her face and body besmeared with flecks of effluent from a thousand fishermen, ten thousand black-clad, bereted peasants, four thousand well-fed tourists, and five or six impecunious yachties—two of whom were now haring along the town quay to Sissie's rescue, despite the early hour and the effects of the previous night's festivities.
Soon the yachties, one a Frenchman, as gallant as ever; the other a Finn, as hung-over as ever, had Sissie's arms in their calloused hands and were slowly dragging her, dripping like a dipped sheep, out of the murky basin, she still gripping faithfully onto our one-and-only boathook, spluttering all the while.
As soon as I saw that Sissie's rescue was assured and imminent, I turned again to securing the wayward vessel alongside Cresswell. The rising wind was yawing and veering both my boat and the catamaran alarmingly, and they were in danger of colliding with each other.
Billy the Knife still held onto the bitter end of the rope he had thrown me. I needed plenty of slack, so that I could take the line onto the jetty and secure the stern-end of the catamaran away from Cresswell, to windward.
"Give me slack!" I hollered. Quick as a knife, Billy eased off the line. I scrambled aft as fast as I could, holding onto the mooring line for dear life. I threw myself over the gap onto the jetty, over the heaving backs of the Frenchman and the Finn, ran along to windward, and secured the mooring line. Then Billy the Knife, with Tony the Specs still peering helplessly around him in the rain, steadily and sturdily heaved the stern of the catamaran away from Cresswell, and soon the vessel was hauled up tight against the wind.
I turned to clamber back aboard Cresswell. As I passed Sissie, who by now was again stretched out on the pavement of the jetty, face down, streaming water and oil and all kinds of unmentionable solids and liquids, she raised her head. Tears were dolloping from her screwed-up eyes, but she was still trying to grin. "Awf'ly sorry, Skippah," she spluttered.
"That's all right, mate." I tried not to patronize her, at least not in front of the two foreigners. "You'd better go onboard and get cleaned up. I've got the kettle on, and the bucket's empty ..."
"Mais ..." The Frenchman started. "But she can come onboard my boat." He was the skipper of some rich nob's gin-palace down the line. "I 'ave ze bath ..."
"That's a good idea," I said to the Frenchman.
Sissie looked even more distressed. "Oh, Ai don't think Ai could really." She leaned over to me. "He's not merried, you know," she said in a hoarse whisper. She started toward Cresswell's stern just as Billy the Knife clambered onto the jetty.
"Rotten luck, ma'am," said Billy, respectfully. "Look, why don't you come onboard Bellerophon? We've got lots of water and you can take a shower." Billy's voice was like a fog horn as he hitched up his knife lanyard like a cowboy hoisting a gunbelt.
Sissie turned momentarily. "Thank you very much indeed," she said, "but deah, dahling Tristan ..." she puckered her lips and pointed a begrimed chin at me ..." has simply everything in hend ..."
Billy turned to me, hitched up his knife lanyard again, and said, "Well, look old chap, I'm sure you'll agree we at least owe you lunch, what?"
I looked at Billy, thinking 'a meal's a meal for all that an' all that,' and said, "Lunch? Why yes, of course ... what time?"
"One o'clock, old bean. My brother and I always work until then, and take two hours off for lunch, you see."
"Right, you're on," said I to Billy. Then I turned to the Frenchman and the Finn, thanked them, and made my way to the little dark bodega Antonio at the end of the quay, there to while away the time over a tiny cup of thick, treacly, black coffee, until the Dragon of Devon, the English games-mistress, had completed her ablutions.
As I traipsed away, breakfastless, through the persistent rain along the town quay, I heard the soft, gentle patter of Nelson's three-paw steps astern of me. I didn't need to turn around to know it was he, nor did I need to look at his eye or the droop of his old head to know that his senses of virtue and modesty, instilled in him by his old master, my first sailing skipper, Tansy Lee (1866–1958), had been deeply offended by Sissie's divesting herself of her oil-filthy vestments before he'd had a chance to reach the companionway ladder. Nothing if not Victorian, was Nelson.
An hour later the rain had stopped. Through the low front door of the dim bodega I gazed over the still half-full tiny cup of coffee, over the berets of the usual assembly of a dozen or so sad-eyed fishermen, too old now to do anything much more than dream of past catches and criticize the tight pants of their offspring, and dote over the tiny offspring of the loins displayed by the very tight pants they criticized. Over their heads, which were silhouetted against the bright shafts of sunlight shining through the miasma of early-morning harbor mist, I saw Sissie's form marching along the jetty. She strode into the bodega like a Grenadier guardsman. She had, I observed, changed her British Army socks and brogue boots for a pair of calf-length black seaboots, while her torso was again resplendent in her dark blue English games-mistress gym slip, the skirts of which reached almost halfway down her dimpled thighs, which quivered as she weaved her way, smiling benignly, through the assembly of septua-, octo-, and nonagenarians—all of whom, without exception, glanced at her haunches lasciviously and held their breath until she had squeezed her way past their crowded tables.
Sissie's lips pursed until they looked like bicycle pedals. Her blue eyes gleamed with the fondness of freshly burnished bayonets. She plonked herself down opposite me. For a moment there was silence as the Ibizan fishermen recovered their collective breath.
"Coffee?" I asked her.
"Oh, dahling Tristan," she gushed, laying one calloused hand on my sunburned arm, "oh, golly, that would be supah ... but you've not had your brekky."
I pointed my thumb at a round wooden box lying on the stone floor of the bodega. It was a quarter-full of dried codfish, set out neatly, their mahogany-colored bodies overlapping each other, all looking extremely sorry for themselves. "We can have some yellow peril here." Dried cod was about the cheapest food in Spain at the time—about five cents per whole bony corpse.
"Oh, that will be nice," said Sissie as Antonio, the ancient proprietor, in shirtsleeves, his grubby white apron drooping all the way down to his ankles, approached our table.
I ordered our breakfast, then, and Antonio shuffled away in his incredibly tattered carpet slippers. I looked at my watch. "By the time we've finished this little lot it will be time to go to the post office. Why don't you come with me?"
Again Sissie's hand descended gently on my forearm. "Oh, dahling, thet will be supah. Oh, goody, goody gum-drops," she chortled. Then, after a moment's reflection, which she signified by staring into mid-space, her North Sea eyes opened as wide as she could manage, she said, "Ai say, Skippah, what terrific cheps they are onboard the catamaran. They told me they are to stay in Ibiza for several days ..."
"Then why didn't you go onboard their boat for a shower and use their bloody fresh water instead of ours?" I queried.
"Oh, dahling, I simply couldn't jolly-well go onboard a boat alone with two cheps ..."
"Oh, well ... only natural, I s'pose," I grunted, thinking of the diminishing water in Cresswell's tanks. Another thirty gallons would cost another thirty pesetas (about eighty cents).
As Sissie strode, Nelson limped, and I traipsed along Ibiza's waterfront, the sun again broke through the high clouds and gold-plated the cathedral and fortress atop the steep hill to our left. Across the harbor, on the east side, another heavy rainstorm reminded me of the eleventh commandment: "Thou shalt not loiter ashore too long when dirty weather is in the offing."
Excerpted from Seagulls In My Soup by Tristan Jones. Copyright © 1991 Tristan Jones. Excerpted by permission of OPEN ROAD INTEGRATED MEDIA.
All rights reserved. No part of this excerpt may be reproduced or reprinted without permission in writing from the publisher.
Excerpts are provided by Dial-A-Book Inc. solely for the personal use of visitors to this web site.
Table of Contents
- 1. A Long Time Ago
- 2. A Grave Matter
- 3. Mochyn Du
- 4. High Barbaree!
- 5. Strayed Revellers
- 6. Hanging Johnny
- 7. The Ship that Almost Died of Shame
- 8. Little Black Sheep
- 9. On the Highway
- 10. The Thousandth Man
- 11. The Sailor-Fireman
- 12. The Sailor’s Way
- 13. What Shall We Do?
- 14. Cradle Song
- 15. Love’s Secret
- 16. The Bending Sickle’s Compass
- 17. Ten Thousand Miles Away