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Captain Tony's childhood inspiration. 

It all began with a book...

Born in the tired seaside resort town of Weston-super-Mare, Somerset, my home faced the Bristol Channel that separates England from Wales, about twenty miles south-west of the once thriving sea port of Bristol.

My childhood in immediate post World War 2 England was, to my way of thinking… drab.  

Everything and everyone appearing in varying shades of gray. Even the cold North Atlantic water that flowed swiftly along the Bristol Channel was permanently gray, as was the thick mud when exposed at low tide. 

Each morning I was awakened by the excited squawking of sea birds as they circled the incoming tide, and by foghorns announcing the presence of cargo ships navigating cautiously along crowded sea lanes.  

Seaweed and brine scented my bedroom.  Not that I had a problem with noisy foghorn blasting ships, or squawking sea birds, or the ocean’s bouquet, for envy of their freedom to roam quickly expanded my imagination beyond “the box” in which I felt restrained…to unknown adventurers in the world beyond. Indeed, I was a dreamer, of world class.    

One birthday…I was aged about nine or ten…an uncle gave me a book that was to convert this perceived drabness into a lifetime of amazing Technicolor adventures.  

Contents of this gift were to release me from the hermetically sealed home and classroom environments that had for so many years protected yet bored me, introducing a new world filled with warm crystal-clear oceans, white sandy beaches, and coral encircled palm tree carpeted tropical islands.  

This colorful “new world” would be inhabited by spear carrying cannibalizing natives, leather faced ex-pat island traders, red tuniced colonial officers…and sailing beneath the fluttering Scull and Bones embossed Jolly Roger, PIRATES! 

My gift was, of course, Robert Louis Stevenson’s book, “Treasure Island.”  

Although not at the time an avid reader, Stevenson’s tale introduced me to the most fascinating of characters including the one-legged, devilish but sometimes likeable Long John Silver, the frightening Black Dog and even more frightening beggar Blind Pew.  I vividly recall the fear he instilled in those to whom he presented the dreaded “Black Spot,” and my relief when he quickly exited the story, trodden to death after stumbling under the hoofs of a horse at full gallop.    

I felt at ease when in the company of well-regarded Doctor Livesey and Squire Trelawney. Upon entering the seafarer’s dimly lit but always crowded gathering place, the “Admiral Benbow Inn,” my vivid imagination could almost literally smell the warm beer, hot rum toddies and sweet tobacco smoke from seafarer’s pipes, ears invaded by the belting out of sea-shanties…

             Fifteen men on the dead man’s chest…Yo-ho-ho, and a bottle of rum!”
 

And then there was the skeletal figure of marooned Ben Gun, crazed after surviving three years as sole white inhabitant on this supposed treasure island dominated by Spy-glass Hill. 

Introduced into my limited childhood vocabulary were terms that would forever trigger images in my mind. “Walking the plank,” “Keel hauling,” "Pieces of eight," and “Shiver me timbers, mate.” 

All fascinating mental stimulation for a bored English lad equipped with a fast ADD-generated mind; but who really captured my interest and became life-changing was the story’s protagonist, young cabin-boy Jim Hawkins, and the schooner “Hispaniola” on which he sailed with motley crew from the port of Bristol to adventure in the South Seas. 

Perhaps among the last generation of English youth allowed by some parents to “run away to sea,” at age fourteen, imagination no-longer willing to be contained, I hiked a ride on a freight train that offloaded me in Bristol’s dockland.  Parents were informed of my late night arrival, swiftly putting an end to my first adventure…for the moment. 

I graduated two years later, and with much relief from the high-masted, “Cadets will either sink or swim,” training ship, “Vindicatrix.”  

Promptly instructed to report to the “s.s. Mapledore” berthed near Bristol, I was about to commence my first seagoing duties as cabin boy.  My ship was finally about to set sail!

Feeling apprehensive yet excited, much as Jim Hawkins must have felt when first boarding the “Hispaniola,” comparisons quickly ended.  

My ship…far from fully rigged schooner of beautiful timbers, acres of white sail and gleaming brass fittings, was an aged tin-can, rusted decks, railings and winches partly exposed under many layers of ever-peeling black and orange paint.  

While “Hispaniola” was to seek treasures and adventure in the South Seas, “Mapledore” was destined to spend the next eight months freighting coal from Sidney, Nova Scotia, to various ports along the often sleet or fog enshrouded St. Lawrence River.  Some ship! Some adventure! 

My love of the ocean and all things nautical had, however, by age seventeen, “directed” me toward many exciting opportunities, eventually venturing south to Australasia.  At last, my pale English body began to thrive in the warmth of the South Seas.  

No longer a cabin-boy, I helped crew a small flat-bottomed Australian army landing ship (pictured) from Sydney on a once in a lifetime journey north inside the Great Barrier Reef to New Guinea, Malaya, (as Malaysia was then called), Borneo, the Admiralty Islands, and Singapore. 

Highly memorable were the hours spent while on night watch as helmsman.  Alone, high up in the craft’s open conning tower.  Above, a million stars sparkling, set in a backcloth of carbon blackness. Below, the barely audible splashing of phosphorous-illuminated wake rolling gently from bow to stern.  

Dolphins would appear occasionally to bow-ride, as would schools of winged flying fish.  Soon to be lost witnesses to our passing.   

Along the way we beached on tropical islands in the South China Sea previously visited by few, if any ships…but who knows how many lost sailors, or treasure hunting pirates from centuries past had walked these beaches? So wondered my mind.

Serendipity, or fate, or subconscious wishful thinking served me well, allowing several more happy years sailing the South Pacific as an executive with San Francisco based luxury cruise liners, the gracious “Mariposa” and “Monterey.” 

Now well into my sixth decade, part retired and part (adventure) travel writer, the Jim Hawkins in me continues to feed off childhood dreams instilled through the pages of “Treasure Island.”  

Several years ago while introducing daughter Sarah to England’s West Country, we decided to explore beautiful Cornish fishing villages once favored by pirates as safe havens from the law.  Most notably St. Ives, Mousehole, (pronounced Mowzel), and Penzance.  

To my great surprise when walking the narrow sometimes cobbled streets of Penzance, I suddenly found myself facing THE “Admiral Benbow Inn,” this sunny day filled almost to its solid oak-beamed rafters with tourists many of whom had gravitated to the Inn through the pages of “Treasure Island.”  

Last year I returned to Australia and Malaysia/Borneo. No-longer viewed from the rolling of a ship’s deck but from the comfort of an airliner at 38,000 feet. 

Far below, oceans sparkled in the sunlight, tropical rainforest and bleached white beaches stretched forever, and palms continued to blanket multi-colored coral-encircled atolls. Here’s hoping that such beauty will be enjoyed by many generations to follow. 

Fond memories will remain until my last breath, as will the tattered sleeved, earmarked and yellowing pages of my original copy of “Treasure Island,” packed carefully in a cabin-trunk while my own story continues to unfold…

Thank you Mr Stevenson for helping inspire me to seek adventure in the South Seas.

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