It all began
with a book...
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.
in immediate post World War 2 England was, to my way of thinking…
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
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.
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.
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.
“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
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…“
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.
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.”
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.
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.
two years later, and with much relief from the high-masted,
“Cadets will either sink or swim,” training ship, “Vindicatrix.”
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!
apprehensive yet excited, much as Jim Hawkins must have felt
when first boarding the “Hispaniola,” comparisons quickly
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.
“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
inside the Great Barrier Reef to New Guinea, Malaya, (as
Malaysia was then called), Borneo, the Admiralty Islands,
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
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
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
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),
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.
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.
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