DEAD GUYS: Patrick Childress, Brion Toss


June 8/2020: Major bad news today as I caught word early this morning that an old friend of mine, Patrick Childress, passed away in a hospital in Cape Town, South Africa, a victim of Covid-19. I first met Patrick in the late ‘90s when I was living in Newport, RI, during my time at Cruising World, where I worked with his ex-wife Lynda Morris Childress, who was managing editor then. A bit later I sailed in company with Patrick, as we both skippered boats from Newport to the Caribbean with pay-to-play crews in Hank Schmitt’s NARC Rally. Ultimately, I became his editor at SAIL and prepared several articles he wrote for print there.

Patrick was a consummate sailor, one of the best I have known. When he was in his 20s he sailed a (heavily modified) Catalina 27, Juggernaut, around the world solo, a feat that earned him a spot in the Catalina Hall of Fame. He later worked as a professional skipper and sometimes as a carpenter and eventually saved enough money to take off again, with his second wife Rebecca, on a Valiant 40 named Brick House. Patrick and Rebecca met in one of Hank’s rallies, when she crewed on a boat he skippered, and they got married almost 13 years ago. They were several years into a circumnavigation aboard Brick House when they both came down with the virus in South Africa. Patrick’s case was much worse than Rebecca’s, and he spent almost three weeks in intensive care, on a ventilator and a dialysis machine, before he finally succumbed.

He was a gentle soul. Supremely competent on a boat, but never proud or disdainful of those who knew less than him, Patrick was always willing to help others solve boat problems and was an excellent teacher, patient and ever eager to share knowledge. More than anything, he was the guy you wanted by your side when things were going pear-shaped on a boat. He had a very creative mind. I remember one story he wrote for SAIL wherein he solved the problem of a ruined raw-water pump on a diesel engine during a windless delivery by jury-rigging some plumbing, with cut-up bits of dock hose, so he could run a bilge pump to take the raw-water pump’s place.

If that’s not genius, I don’t know what is.

Patrick shared what he knew in one book, a cruising guide to Narragansett Bay he co-authored with Lynda and Tink Martin, in many magazine articles, and in an excellent series of videos he and Rebecca were producing and releasing on YouTube.

Brick House under sail. The boat actually already belonged to Rebecca (that’s her sitting on the coachroof there) when she and Patrick met. It was a fact in which Patrick took some pride, that he was lucky enough to meet and fall in love with a woman who not only was into sailing, but also came fully equipped with a bluewater cruising boat

Unfortunately, Patrick and Rebecca’s medical insurer denied coverage and has refused to pay for Patrick’s (tragically unavailing) care. You can help Rebecca cover costs by making a donation at this GoFundMe page.

Also crossing the bar today was Brion Toss, who suffered from cancer and recently had a stroke. I never met Brion or ever worked with him, but he had an enormous reputation within the sailing industry. A master rigger with encyclopedic knowledge of everything from traditional tall-ship rigging to ultra-modern yacht rigging, Brion, like Patrick, was also a great teacher. His books, magazine articles, and training videos on rigging and knots have long been considered the go-to references in the trade.

Brion grew up on Puget Sound in Washington State and earned his spurs as a rigger under the tutelage of Nick Benton, who was based in Maine. Brion through his career flickered between these geographic polestars of traditional boat sailing, but ultimately ended up in Port Townsend, where he ran Brion Toss Yacht Riggers for many years.

Brion had a very organic view of rigging. Every sailboat, he felt, needs an optimum sailing rig to become a whole creature, and it is the job of a boat’s rigger to conceive and create that rig. He also had a very empirical mind. He urged his apprentices to sail offshore so they could fully understand the dynamic loads a sailing rig must absorb. He bemoaned the lack of standards in his profession and worked with SAMS (the Society of Accredited Marine Surveyor) and NAMS (the National Association of Marine Surveyors) to remedy this.

He too was a creative man. His last book, recently published online, is titled Falling, a collection of stories on “the wonders and risks of working aloft.”

It is now at the top of my reading list.

Both these men, Patrick and Brion, will be sorely missed. I regret I never had a chance to meet Brion. And I deeply regret that I will never have a chance to greet Patrick again.

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10 Responses
  1. Francesca Ernst

    I find the use of “Dead Guys” insensitive and offensive.
    For loved ones who may see this it could heartbreaking.

    1. Donald Vanvliet

      Mr Doane wrote a beautiful eulogy for both men.

      It’s clear he has no intention to insult, to the contrary…

      If you’re still insulted or offended yourself after reading the eulogy, you’re focussing on the wrong thing and you’re being unreasonable.

      If you’re insulted of offended “in the name of the loved ones”, you’re appropriating pain that isn’t yours, which you shouldn’t do.

  2. Alan

    Many of us who knew the sailors are in sorrow now. Thank you Charles for your posting. about these incredible men of sail. who gave much of themselves. Condolences to Rebecca.

  3. Carter

    I too found “Dead Guys” harsh. But I think that is the point. “Passed away” is so vague and sanguine it just doesn’t express the hurt one feels. “Dead Guys” conveys the harsh finality and shock I felt when I heard that these two great guys had “Passed Away”.

    Charles’s lovingly crafted words shows his deep respect and affection for both men.

  4. kojii

    I have a good idea that both these chaps would understand, and appreciate, the spirit of humor that birthed the phrase dead guy as a wink and a nod to the inevitable for all souls on this planet. I did not know either of them personally, nor any of you me, but read their work and smiled in appreciation of their talent, grit, and humor. As a point of context, the Oxford Companion To Ships and the Sea has no fewer dead phrases than twelve. Sailors. What a salty lot. One phrase has particular essense, for me, at times like this:. Dead reckoning: in use for more than four hundred years, possibly from custom of seamen to refer to unknown waters as ‘dead’ seas in a sense that there was no knowledge about the extent, or even the existence, of these seas, shown by geograhers on ancient world maps. It now refers to a seamans way of navigating by sense and deduction, and not a little apprehension. Steady on.

  5. Cecilia

    Until this day, I miss Brion.

    And your headline makes me still want to pinch your head off, assuming that you have one.

    But Brion wouldn’t even care. Far, far above you he he has always been.

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