What do you get when you put three crazy guys on three yachts with dreams of a sailing adventure around the South Pacific? Enough stories to last a lifetime!
Canadian Alan Boreham, Australian Peter Jinks and New Zealander Bob Rossiter set off from different points in the world"one on his first high seas adventure, one racing aboard a classic wooden yacht, and one in the company of a Hollywood star.
'We encountered people so unusual that you couldn't hope to invent them," says Boreham. 'We decided we wanted to share these sailing experiences and these characters with people who would never have the opportunity to venture out there themselves."
Beer in the Bilges offers a fascinating glimpse into sailing voyages where three men have to rely on their skills, their wit and, most importantly, on each other.
'These real life sailing adventures, both funny and dramatic, introduce you to curious characters and peculiar situations in remote parts of the idyllic South Pacific," Jinks says.
These stories, a mix of humour and drama, will provide readers with a temporary escape from their world.
'This book takes a comical, honest, edgy and at times irreverent approach," says Rossiter. 'While some or all of us are featured in each chapter, we are generally only a vehicle to introduce the interesting people, situations and places we experienced in our travels."
One of the classic yachts featured prominently in the book, the Ron of Argyll, has hosted many interesting guests during its life, one of which was Marilyn Monroe. The other featured yacht is Yankee Tar, owned by Hollywood actor Hal Holbrook, who, with his wife Dixie Carter, donated it to the Mariners' Museum in Newport News, Virginia in 2006.
Alan Boreham emigrated from England to Canada with his family when he was two. He grew up on Vancouver Island, spending a lot of time on the water with his father and friends. After completing a degree in civil engineering at UBC in Vancouver, he began his travels with a trip back to England. Following three years of work, he left for the voyages described in Beer in the Bilges.
Alan returned to Vancouver in 1983 to resume his career in fisheries and the environment. He also served for 10 years as a director of Cooper Boating, Canada's largest sailing school and yacht charter company. He also volunteered with the Canadian Yachting Association to train sailing instructors. Retired since 2010, Alan lives in North Vancouver where he does consulting and keeps busy as a writer and travel columnist for Canadian Teacher Magazine.
'Hollywood" Bob Rossiter has a history of life on the sea. From his home in Auckland, New Zealand, he made his way as a fisherman, sailor and ferryboat captain. Bob spent time around the Polynesian islands, both as a fishing guide and a sailor, before moving to Marina del Rey, California, to work as a shipwright on the yachts of Hollywood personalities. There he met distinguished actor Hal Holbrook, leading to their voyage across the Pacific to New Zealand.
Bob had a marine services business in Hawaii for many years. While in Hawaii, Bob studied acting and had parts in television commercials filmed there. Bob retired from full-time marine work in 1995 and moved with his American wife to the Arkansas countryside where he still does some consulting work. They are making plans to retire for good to their property in New Zealand.
Peter Jinks left his home in the south of England at 17 to immigrate to Australia. By the time he met Bob and Alan, he had spent almost half his life on the road. He started a window-cleaning business in Denmark, worked as a freelance photographer in South America, Russia and Japan, and as a crocodile hunter in Costa Rica.
Back in Sydney, Peter went from selling end-of-line shoes for cash in the local flea market to a partnership in two top-grossing city shoe stores. Along the way, Peter was featured for a time as the Foster's Man in Foster's Lager television commercials and has had other acting roles. Married in 1989, Peter and his wife have two daughters and have lived with them in the Cook Islands and Bolivia. An entrepreneur and still an ardent traveler, Peter and his family live at Bondi Beach in Sydney, where he owns a real estate consultancy.
Beer in the Bilges
Authors: Alan Boreham, Peter Jinks and Bob Rossiter
Question: What inspired you to take the sailing adventure around the South Pacific?
Alan Boreham: We were all drawn to the exotic places that we had heard about in stories and films like Mutiny on the Bounty and South Pacific, but we all had our own reasons.
Bob has a history of life on the sea, and has made his way as fisherman, sailor, and ferryboat captain. He had already spent time around the islands of Polynesia, both as a fishing guide and as a sailor, when Peter and I met him"Peter in Fiji and me in Honolulu. Bob had just finished sailing across the Pacific to New Zealand with distinguished Hollywood actor Hal Holbrook and his lovely wife, the late Dixie Carter, when the opportunity came to return to the South Pacific to deliver a classic wooden yacht to Hawaii.
When I met Peter he had already spent almost half his life on the road, working as needed to fund his adventures. When he ran out of money, he started a window-cleaning business in Denmark, worked as a freelance photographer, had a fur coat business in Afghanistan, worked as a crocodile hunter in Costa Rica, and started a marriage agency with a business partner in Sydney that was written up in Time magazine. Peter had jumped at the chance to join the owner and crew from the Cruising Yacht Club of Australia to race a classic wooden yacht from Sydney to Suva, Fiji, and then on to the other beautiful islands of the South Pacific.
I was working in northern Canada, suffering through a particularly cold and snowy winter, when I realised that there must be more to life than working in such a forbidding environment. I made the decision to head south in search of the sunny, tropical islands I had read about as a boy in books like Treasure Island. Not long after I sailed into Hawaii aboard a sail-training ship from Vancouver, I met Bob, who inspired me to go to the South Pacific for more adventures.
Question: Why was it important to wrote Beer in the Bilges?
Peter Jinks: In the years after the adventures we describe in the book, whenever two of us got together we relived these and other experiences in the South Pacific, usually over a beer or two. But the three of us didn't get together again until 1999, when we met at the Harbor Pub and Pizza overlooking the Ala Wai Harbor in Waikiki. Over the course of that rather long session, we talked about how lucky we had been to sail through the South Pacific islands and experience them while they were still relatively unspoiled. And we marveled at the variety of amazing characters we had encountered along the way, such as Sharkbite Charlie, Rosie the three-hundred-pound dancer, and Gunter, the mysterious chef from South America. These were people so unusual that you couldn't hope to invent them. We decided then and there that we wanted to share these sailing experiences and these characters with people who would never have the opportunity to venture out there themselves.
Question: How did the three of you come together for this adventure?
Bob Rossiter: It was by chance, really, because it would be hard to find three more different guys than us. And harder still to imagine how we all came to be together in the tropical swelter of Pago Pago, American Samoa. You could say that the encounters in Honolulu that we describe in the book were a lot like the encounters of the 'gentlemen of fortune""buccaneers"of the seventeenth century. Like pirates in Jamaica's old Port Royal, Honolulu is one of the places around the world that offshore sailors meet. True, our intent was mostly peaceful, but the spirit was the same.
So it was no mistake that the owner of the elegant Ron of Argyll came to Honolulu looking for me to entice me to sail his yacht up to Hawaii from the South Pacific. Where else in the Pacific would he be likely to find me? And it was natural for me to go looking for crew around the Ala Wai marina where, by the greatest of chances, Alan was trying to put some distance between himself and an east coast mob he had run into on Maui. I was happy to accept such an eager and capable recruit, and one with such good survival skills.
In the meantime, Peter was continuing to enjoy the pleasures of the South Pacific islands, while tending the yacht and awaiting a new skipper and crew. I had crossed paths with Peter in Fiji, and he knew that I was an experienced skipper to lead the crew on the next leg of this adventure. He knew me well enough to know that I would choose another experienced hand.
When all three of us finally got together we quickly recognised that we each have knowledge and skills that complement one another very well, and that we all like to temper our hard work with a good amount of fun. Maybe most important, though, was that we found that we all share the trait that allows us to see the possibilities, rather than the obstacles to achieving them. This alone was to save our skins in more than one of our adventures together.
Question: How did you work together to write this book?
Peter Jinks: A lot of people have asked us what kind of process we used to write a book with three co-authors. We tell them that it's just like sailing a yacht with three different characters like us: it all comes down to teamwork.
We know each other well enough to understand our individual strengths, so we just fell into a regular routine. As in offshore sailing where a well-drawn crew has complementary skills, like sail handling or navigation or cooking, we easily found our roles in writing Beer in the Bilges. We all contributed to the telling of the stories in the memoir, but we each had our specialties. Bob is the best story-teller among us. I had the best recollection of the people and places, as well as a few spicy anecdotes! And Alan had the skills to record and craft the vignettes we've presented in the book.
We got together every twelve to eighteen months, approaching this project like a job and working about eight hours a day, allowing adequate time afterward for mental stimulation and recreation! Alan worked at the keyboard while we chatted together about a chapter, then we all reviewed the raw product and offered our suggestions. We edited the draft together until we were happy with the final product and then moved on to the next one. We made tremendous progress on each trip.
To help us in writing these memoirs we went back to Marina del Rey in California, to Hawaii, Tahiti, and Samoa, to Rarotonga in the Cook Islands, and to Australia and New Zealand. It helped enormously to go back to the 'scene of the crime" to sail the waters, talk with people, and generally soak in the atmosphere of these places again. Besides the clarity and focus that those trips provided, they were all part of another adventure. And after all, that is what life is all about.
Question: Can you share one interesting story with us from the journey that may or may not be in the book?
Alan Boreham: There was a point in time when there was a real possibility that this book would never be written. It was November 1982, and we were five days out of Pago Pago, en route to Honolulu, sailing the classic, fifty-five-foot gaff-rigged ketch we talk about in the book named Ron of Argyll. She was built in Scotland in 1928 for one Colonel McKay, who was a frequent guest of King George V aboard the Royal Yacht Britannia. The colonel had reputedly hired the marine architect who produced that lovely yacht to design one for him. Her traditional hull, built of one-and-a-quarter-inch-thick teak planks, copper-fastened to oak frames, had over the years furrowed the waters of the Atlantic, West Indies, and Pacific, hosting, it is said, such celebrities as Marilyn Monroe. It had been sold to an Australian owner in the 1970s.
For we three sailors"'Hollywood" Bob is a New Zealander who was then forty-one, Peter is from Australia and was thirty-two, and I'm from Canada and was twenty-seven"this was a delivery job, a contract with the current Australian owner to bring the yacht to Hawaii and then on to Los Angeles for sale. We were all young at heart and living the dream of sailing a beautiful yacht through some of the most amazing cruising destinations in the world. It was an adventure, but one that was suddenly testing our resolve.
The winds had risen to gale force, and as the old girl punched into the growing seas, water was gushing in somewhere"we couldn't tell where"and filling the bilges. With 1,800 miles to go, we took to the manual bilge pumps to try to dry her out so that we could find the source of the leaks. The search proved futile, and we worked just to stay afloat. With each of us following an exhausting, nonstop routine of an hour on the tiller, an hour on the pump, and an hour of sleep, after two days we were stumbling around like zombies. Bob swore that he had seen an empty beer bottle full of cockroaches washing around in the bilge, with the butt of the biggest one stuffed into the opening like a cork, making a cockroach lifeboat. That may have been the incentive we needed to turn around and try to make it the five hundred miles back to Samoa. Otherwise it was just three miles to land"straight down.
As we were to find out later, it was a wise decision, as we unwittingly avoided an approaching hurricane that surely would have spelled the end of that lovely yacht"and us along with it.
Question: What does the title Beer in the Bilges mean?
Bob Rossiter: When people first hear the name of our book, Beer in the Bilges, they usually have one of two responses. For sailors, it is one of confirmation, and for the non-sailors it is one of confusion. After having read the book, everyone gets it, but since you asked, I'll tell you. But first you need some history.
For hundreds of years, British sailors depended on alcohol to make the brutish task of sailing bearable. Whether they were volunteers or pressed into service, a sailor's lot was a hard one, and being slightly sloshed soothed their demeanor and made them easier to manage. The British navy had the bright idea of giving the sailors a daily ration of a gallon of beer each to keep them suitably intoxicated. The trouble was that the beer eventually went off, especially in the tropics. In 1655 the navy discovered the benefits of rum, and continued the practice of the daily tot of an eighth of a pint until 1970.
While not so formal a tradition in the recreational sailing world, beer has persisted as a necessary cargo for many sailors. Even though today's voyages are usually shorter than a naval assignment, the problem with temperature is still present for the many boaters who do not have the luxury of refrigeration. The solution today, as it was centuries before, is to place the beer in the coolest part of the boat, which is the space below the waterline called the 'bilges", and hence the general practice of keeping the 'beer in the bilges."
Interview by Brooke Hunter