Lit Bits

THOMAS TANGVALD: In His Father's Wake

Thomas Tangvald on Oasis

HERE'S A HOT STORY from the Where Are They Now Department that blew my mind a bit while I was cruising around in the Spanish Virgins last week. Spotted a feature in All At Sea, a local Caribbean sailing comic, by a young blonde rasta-looking dude about sailing 2,000 miles to windward from Vieques to Brazil in a converted wooden fishing smack with a pregnant wife and young son. Byline: Thomas Tangvald.

Yes, THAT Thomas Tangvald. Last known whereabouts (in my own mind, at least) was a reef on the east coast of Bonaire in 1991, where, at age 15, he eyewitnessed from a surfboard in the dark of night the crunchy death and destruction of his famous cruising dad, Peter Tangvald, and his little half-sister Carmen. Which, amazingly, was in fact the last in a triptych of awful tragedies that defined his childhood. Panel one being the eyewitnessing at age 3 of his own French mother Lydia being gunned down by pirates in the Sulu Sea. Panel two being the loss (at age 8) of his Chinese stepmother Ann (mother of Carmen), who got clubbed overboard by an errant boom during a transatlantic passage from the Canary Islands to Grenada.

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DESCENT TO THE UNDERWORLD: How Much Stuff Is Hiding In Your Bilge?

Escher Hell

OF ALL the supernatural entities we sailors must cope with while messing around on our boats none are more heartless than the dreaded Bilge Gods. As long as there have been bilges on boats, these evil spirits have been lurking down there, waiting patiently to consume any Very Important Object an innocent mariner might temporarily hold in his or her hand. Even if you are on deck, or at the very top of your mast, as far from the bilge as you can possibly get, it is a scientifically proven fact that all you need do is let slip your grip on a VIO for but an instant and somehow it will end up in the hands of these greedy gremlins.

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SOUTH TO SENEGAL: Non Merci Non Merci

Raft of the Medusa

THE SKY TO THE SOUTH as we sailed away from the island of Gomera looked bruised and hazy, as though the blue had been sucked out of it by some meteorological vampire. By this time, November of 1996, I had been cruising full-time and living aboard Crazy Horse, my Pearson Alberg 35 yawl, for almost a year and a half. I had sailed three times across the North Atlantic--twice as crew on other people's boats four years earlier, and once again as master of Crazy Horse after I left New England and headed east for Europe the year before. For several months I had felt competent, confident even, as we cruised Portugal, Spain, Madeira, and the Canary Islands at our leisure. But now, heading south from the Canaries toward our next destination, I felt a cold stone of uncertainty growing within me.

Africa! The very name conjured thoughts of the unknown and the unknowable. In the two years since I had acquired my boat I had sailed in familiar waters, voyaging to places I had been before, or places close to places I had been before, where I knew what to expect, what might go wrong, and how to set things right again. Now, at last, I was wandering on to charts that were alien to me, and I felt as though I was stepping off a cliff into a void.

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PASSAGE EAST: Racing Transatlantic With Carleton Mitchell

1952 Transat Race

Big confession here: I have read little of Carleton Mitchell's writing. I was always familiar, of course, with his enormous reputation--three consecutive Bermuda Race wins, etc.--but I never bothered to study any of his seven books until he died at the ripe old age of 96 in the summer of 2007. On learning of his demise, I ordered a copy of Islands to Windward, his first book, published in 1948, which documents an extended cruise of the Caribbean he made aboard Carib, a 46-foot Alden ketch, shortly after World War II. The photos were nice, but I wasn't very impressed with the writing, much of which seemed like dated travelogue stuff. Vaguely interesting, perhaps, if you had visited some of the same places and were curious to see how much they had changed, but not very compelling in itself.

This summer I spotted a copy of Passage East, Mitchell's account of the 1952 Transatlantic Race, in a used-book store and picked it up on a whim. It has been a while since I was so immediately enthralled by a book about sailing. Though its format is shopworn and predictable--a present-tense logbook-style narrative of a long ocean passage--Mitchell's prose is so engaging and evocative I got sucked right into it.

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