Jan. 25/2023: You absolutely cannot make this stuff up! The true story of Thomas Tangvald—born and raised at sea, orphaned in a wreck and cast ashore at age 15—is finding traction with both sailors and land folk fascinated by “the freedom one finds in any life close to nature.”
As previously mentioned, I have many interesting pix that were not published in the biography I wrote about Thomas and have been sharing them here. Today’s dose of extracurricular art focuses on the “nativo” sloop Oasis that Thomas sailed with his heavily pregnant wife Christina and young son Gaston 1,300 hard upwind miles from Puerto Rico to Brazil. (The photo up top, which does appear in the book, shows Thomas aboard Oasis off the island of St. John, en route to Brazil.) This was Thomas’s penultimate voyage. This in a life that was full of voyages, starting from the moment he was born. Truly he led a life like no other.
The first photo (below) shows Oasis with her original rig. The nativo sailing sloops of Puerto Rico’s east coast were traditionally designed as fishing boats, but later (as is common in the Caribbean) were modified with enormous rigs and sails and used for racing. Note that the hull of the boat is very low to the water and the mast is very tall! The unpainted plywood box in the middle of the deck is the cabinhouse Thomas tacked on after he bought the boat in 2010, with the explicit intention of sailing her to Brazil. Originally, in place of the house, there was only an open cockpit:
To get a sense of what the boat was like before Thomas made any changes, you can watch this video he posted to YouTube, which shows he, Christina, and Gaston taking the boat on a short trip soon after she was purchased. Thomas, who spent a good part of his childhood in Puerto Rico, was a big fan of nativo racing sloops and believed Oasis was the finest one ever built.
This next photo shows how much Thomas shortened the mast to turn Oasis into an ocean cruiser. You can see also how he re-sized the original mainsail to fit the new gaff rig:
Next we see Oasis out of the water (in St. Martin, on the way to Brazil). Like any nativo sloop, she was very deep, with a full keel, and carried no engine. You can see the end of the sculling oar that Thomas used instead of an engine poking out over the transom to the right:
And here we see Thomas actually sculling with the oar to propel the boat into a harbor:
This next shot shows the helm position on the boat and Thomas steering with a tiller. This remained unchanged and is how the boat was steered all the way across the ocean to Brazil:
Here we see the middle of the interior of the boat, after it was modified. Not exactly luxury accommodations:
And this is Christina working in the very simple galley, which was right beneath the companionway hatch:
Thomas and Christina shared one double berth aft, crammed in with very little vertical clearance under the aft deck:
Gaston meanwhile slept in this little bunk berth forward of the mast:
As I mentioned, Christina was heavily pregnant during the voyage to Brazil. Here we see her buying provisions at the island of Dominica, just before Oasis and her crew took off on the longest leg of their journey:
Nineteen days after leaving Dominica, Oasis finally arrived at Oiapoque, Brazil. She was towed the last few miles up the river there by a friendly local fishing boat:
Thomas on deck, with gear drying out, after anchoring off Oiapoque:
Just three days after the family arrived in Brazil, Christina gave birth to a second son, Lucio, on the deck of Oasis, under a makeshift tent Thomas slung over the boom. Lucio was the third in his line born afloat, after Thomas (born on his dad’s boat in the middle of the Indian Ocean) and Thomas’s mom Lydia (born on an inter-island ferry in New Caledonia):
The family on deck together, not long after the birth of Lucio:
Unfortunately, the family wasn’t allowed to stay in Brazil and had to sail on to Cayenne, French Guiana, to straighten out their immigration paperwork. Here we see Thomas (in the background) working on the boat in Cayenne:
And here’s the boat at the Marina Degrad des Cannes, not long before Thomas set out on her, singlehanded, bound back to Brazil:
Thomas sailed alone out of Cayenne on March 4, 2014, and was never seen again. Some believe that he must by now be “king of a lost tribe up a river somewhere.”
To learn all the details of what happened aboard Oasis—including a pirate boarding and what Christina described as “a shipwreck”—you’ll have to check out my book! You’ll find that the rest of Thomas’s life was pretty dramatic too!
You can buy a copy straight from the publisher, or on Amazon, and on lots of other websites.
You can also listen to a podcast of me discussing the book with Andy Schell of 59 North. Or read a brief review from Ocean Navigator. Or check out an adapted excerpt in SAIL Magazine that tells of Thomas and another boat he owned that he sailed solo across the Atlantic. For more cool pix check out earlier posts on WaveTrain!!!
Looks like you have found a great story to tell Charlie. I look forward to reading it.
Thanks Jesse! It is a truly amazing story. My job as a writer was simply to not f*ck it up. I look forward to learning what you make of it.
Yo se quien hizo ese bote y quien se lo vende a él , soy el Buda y tengo un programa de podcast llamado TomaBudaPR Sailing Podcast y me dedico hablar de esos veleros artesanales de Puerto Rico
Hey Buda! Thanks so much for chiming in. For those following, here is a machine translation of the Buda’s comment:
I know who made that boat and who sells it to him, I am the Buddha and I have a podcast program called TomaBudaPR Sailing Podcast and I dedicate myself to talking about those artisanal sailboats from Puerto Rico
If you read the book you will see the boat was built by the master… Don Gelo. I do not know the name of whoever it was that sold the boat to Thomas.
Just finished the book. Having also read The Sea is Not Full, I can say I sincerely appreciate the quality of your writing. This tale just would not have been properly portrayed without the blue water experience, adverse and otherwise, that your perspective provided.
The story of Thomas is complex and tragic. Human life is fragile, and the sea does, in so many ways, provide a supportive, spiritual, healing presence for those of us who are afflicted by the cancer of the intellect.
Thomas’s indulgence in the “too many humans” worldview is one that increasingly afflicts more and more young people and often leads to depression. When there is an oversupply of anything, what happens to the value? Self-medication, and subsequent self-destruction is a common path for those who are steered away from valuing every individual life above the collective.
Congrats on the book Charles. I’m a big fan of your work and have huge respect for your accomplishments.
What’s the idea for the next one?
Hey Scott! Thanks so much for the kind words. Thomas’s story is pretty unique, and I consider myself very lucky to have had the chance to tell it. I’m not really sure yet what the next project will be. I have a few different ideas. Meanwhile I’m staying busy trying to pimp the Thomas book and hopefully making a film deal out of it. There’s been a bit of interest so far. Fingers crossed something will pan out. Right now I’m anchored out in a marsh in Georgia waiting for a cold front to roll through tonight. Not a bad place to be. cheers!