Dec. 6/2022: As mentioned in my last post sharing extra pix of Thomas, the first boat he owned himself was a scrappy little Chapelle-designed scow, Spartan, that he bought in Puerto Rico for just $200. This boat, along with L’Artemis de Pytheas, the boat he grew up on, was destroyed in the terrible wreck that killed his father and sister in 1991. Spartan was just 22 feet long, and coincidentally the next boat Thomas owned, a much more seaworthy Itchen Ferry cutter named Melody, was exactly the same length on deck. The photo up top shows her racing in the Isles of Scilly in Great Britain, under Thomas’s command, in August of either 1998 or ’99.
It is worth noting that, as a type, Melody was quite similar to Dorothea, the Harrison Butler-designed cutter that Thomas’s dad, Peter Tangvald, sailed around the world in the early 1960s. Both were very traditional wooden British cutters, relatively narrow, with long full keels. Dorothea, however, was a good 10 feet longer on deck than Melody. Peter ultimately lost Dorothea in March 1967, while sailing her solo out of French Guiana bound for Florida. He struck something solid in the water southwest of Barbados, and the boat promptly sank. Peter managed to escape in a 7-foot plywood dinghy he sailed under a jury rig more than 50 miles to the Grenadines.
Peter Tangvald aboard Dorothea under sail during his circumnavigation
Thomas purchased Melody for £5,000 in August 1996, in the Thames estuary east of London, during the summer after his second year attending the University of Leeds. In September, he sailed his new boat from the Thames up the east coast of England to the Humber River, and thence to Leeds, in what proved to be a trying journey. Later he shared some drawings of that venture in a letter he wrote to Kathy Young, a woman he’d dated during his first year at school.
After finishing school in July 1997, Thomas sculled Melody, with her mast down and engine removed, all the way across northern Britain through the Leeds-Liverpool Canal. After emerging on Britain’s west coast at the end of that summer, he re-stepped Melody’s mast and sailed her down to Cornwall. Thomas spent more than two years here on the River Camel–and during summers out at the Isles of Scilly–working to prepare Melody for a jaunt across the North Atlantic.
Thomas with Melody dried out on the banks of the River Camel. Photo courtesy of Clare Allcard
While working on Melody during this time, Thomas replaced her mast-step, staunched leaks, replaced rotting timber, and simplified the boat’s interior. To keep warm, he fashioned a wood stove from an old bus muffler and vented it with a stove pipe crafted from tin cans riveted together. Photo courtesy of Clare Allcard
Thomas with Melody at anchor in the background in the Isles of Scilly. Photo courtesy of Jean Buchanan
Thomas sculling Melody during a windless moment off Cornwall. Photo courtesy of Jean Buchanan
Thomas with the trophy he twice won (in 1998 and ’99, see photo up top) sailing Melody in the Scillonian Sailing Club’s Round the Island Race. Photo courtesy of Jean Buchanan
On April 6, 2000, Thomas at last sailed away from Cornwall aboard Melody, bound for Puerto Rico, the last place he and his father had been based prior to the wreck in Bonaire. He sailed non-stop on this tiny boat for 47 days and finally arrived at Culebra, in the Spanish Virgin Islands, on his 24th birthday.
Thomas aboard Melody on the town dock at Dewey on Culebra
Thomas down below aboard Melody at Culebra
Aboard Melody in Culebra, studying his hand-drawn passage chart of the North Atlantic
Thomas aboard the remains of Melody, anchored out off Culebra at Dakity, four years after he completed his solo transatlantic. Ultimately the boat sank and could not be refloated. Photo by Greg Bowl
Go for it! You won’t be disappointed. It truly is an amazing story!
Visit here if you want to listen to a podcast of me discussing the book with Andy Schell, of 59 North. Click here to read a review in Ocean Navigator. Or click here to read a feature story about Thomas and Melody in SAIL Magazine.