A PRINCE IN HIS REALM: The Amazing Life of Thomas Thor Tangvald


“Lyrical, engaging, and true,” writes prize-winning historian W. Jeffrey Bolster of my biography of Thomas Tangvald, The Boy Who Fell to Shore, recently published by Latah Books. “Doane reconstructs the searing tragedy, apparent resilience, and ultimate vulnerability of a brilliant young man better suited to navigating the sea than life itself. It’s gripping—a thriller to the last page, and much more than just a sea story.”

March 24/23:  Hey folks! I wanted share a few more pix that couldn’t be used in the book. These will give a thumbnail sketch of how Thomas’s highly unusual life played out. His father, some will recall, was Per (aka Peter) Tangvald, a once-famous ocean-sailing vagabond, originally from Norway. Peter’s first long ocean voyage was in 1957-58 from Britain to Los Angeles, via the West Indies and the Panama Canal, in a teak yawl named Windflower that he bought on a whim in England.

On his second boat, Peter Tangvald sailed clear around the world. While in Tahiti he was hired as an extra for $7 a day during the filming of the 1962 MGM film Mutiny on the Bounty. That’s Peter on the left in the open shirt confronting Richard Harris and Marlon Brando in the mutiny scene:

Peter designed and built his third boat, which he named L’Artemis de Pytheas, in a shed behind a beach in French Guiana. Thomas was born on this boat in the middle of the Indian Ocean years later in 1976. He lived aboard her through all his childhood. (You can see more pix of L’Artemis in this previous post here.)

Here we see Thomas as a happy toddler with his young mother Lydia (Peter’s fifth wife!) on a street in the Philippines during the time the family was sailing there. Thomas soon after this saw his mother murdered by pirates. A few years later, he saw his first stepmother lost overboard. He lived through a few other awful tragedies as he was growing up and may well have suffered from post-traumatic stress later in life.

With his first “girlfriend,” a Dutch girl named Agnita he met when he was 6 years old, sailing in the Caribbean with his family:

With his father and younger step-sister Carmen aboard L’Artemis in Curaçao when he was 14 years old:

On a friend’s boat in Puerto Rico about a year later:

On the island of Bonaire, studying the remains of L’Artemis, after she was wrecked and his father and sister were killed:

Orphaned at age 15, having lived all his life afloat on boats, Thomas was sent to live in the tiny nation of Andorra, in the Pyrenees Mountains, with an old sailing friend of his father’s. One of his favorite hobbies there was flying model gliders with his friend Steve.

Though he had almost no formal education, Thomas had little trouble getting into university after a couple of years of home-schooling in Andorra. He decided to attend the University of Leeds in England, where he studied fluid dynamics and advanced mathematics. He’s the one in red here, hanging with some friends at school:

While still in school, Thomas bought a tiny 22-foot wooden cutter he named Melody. After finishing school, he eventually sailed her non-stop across the Atlantic Ocean back to the Caribbean. (You can see more pix of Melody in this previous post here.) This drawing by Thomas shows Melody under sail encountering a ship on the east coast of Britain:

Thomas settled on the Puerto Rican island of Culebra and lived afloat on boats there for several years. Here he is discussing boat design with a friend on a neighboring boat:

After some very hard times on Culebra, Thomas married a Puerto Rican woman and eventually moved ashore on the neighboring island of Vieques, where he built a house. He and his wife Christina had a son, Gaston, not long after they got there.

During their time on Vieques, Thomas and Christina ran a food truck.

Thomas eventually decided he and his family should move to Brazil, and of course he also decided they should sail there on a boat. He bought an old Puerto Rican racing sloop named Oasis and converted her into an ocean cruiser. (For more pix of Oasis, check this previous post here.)

Just three days after the family arrived in Brazil, Christina gave birth to a second son, Lucio, aboard Oasis.

Unfortunately, the family was kicked out of Brazil and had to move on to Cayenne, French Guiana. Living conditions for a family with little money were very hard there. Thomas ultimately sailed alone out of this marina on Oasis in March 2014 and was never seen again.

Some believe he must still be alive somewhere.

You can buy a copy of my biography of Thomas straight from the publisher, or on Amazon, and on lots of other websites.

You can 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 this adapted excerpt in SAIL Magazine. Or give a look at this article in All At Sea on how I came to write this book.

I’ll be giving presentations on the book around the country in the next couple of months and will post notices about those here on the WaveTrain Facebook page.

So stay tuned!

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3 Responses
  1. I’ve just come across your book and am looking forward to reading it, though I expect to find it will be a little difficult for me. Thomas and his sister Carmen were friends of mine when I was a kid living on a boat in Culebra. My parents were friends of Peter’s as well. I distinctly remember them all coming to my 9th birthday party and how saddened (and scared) I was when I heard about the wreck on Bonaire, which must not have been too long after that.

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