Homeport
  |   Specs   |   Photos   |   Logblog   |   Refit   |   Captain   |   Articles   |   Books   |   Guestbook   |   Contact
.


Autobiography

 

A cruising sailor's autobiography (thru 2002), written at the
publisher's request for the Introduction to my book,  "Ready for Sea!

 

 

HOW I CAME TO THE SEA  

From Rock-&-Roll to Rocking & Rolling

© 2002 Tor Pinney - All Rights Reserved

 

When I was a teenager, I was invited to go for a day sail aboard a friend's family yacht, a 35' sloop, on the Long Island Sound. The sail was exhilarating! A stiff breeze and a white-capped chop brought the little ship to life. But what really impressed me, what absolutely electrified my young imagination the more I recognized its implications, was what I discovered belowdecks. I had never before seen the inside of a proper yacht that size. "This is incredible," I thought, "there's a kitchen, a desk and a dining table, a bathroom, beds, books… Why, you could actually live on one of these, and travel!"

Well, that was the beginning of the end. I was so moved by the experience that I soon became hopelessly obsessed with the idea, the lifestyle, the freedom and pure joy of liveaboard cruising. Ready for Sea! summarizes much of what I've learned about outfitting a sailboat in the decades since that epiphany.  

That I was drawn to a life of travel, adventure, boats and the sea isn't so surprising. My mother, a famous baby photographer turned artist, crewed for years in sailboat races on the Long Island Sound. My father, a naturalist and herpetologist with two-dozen books and many documentary films to his credit, has traveled to the world's most remote regions for the better part of a century, sometimes taking me with him. My Norwegian grandfather, Arnt Bertelsen, was the son of a boat builder, from a long line of seamen dating back to the Vikings. He shipped out of Oslo on a three-masted barque in 1914, survived a torpedo sinking in the North Sea during World War I, and went on to skipper ships from the Arctic to West Africa before he settled in America and became an engineer at the Brooklyn Navy Yard. My paternal family name is Schiffer, which literally means boatman or "skipper". My brother, Roy, sells yachts in Fort Lauderdale. Two of my best friends are also yacht brokers and the rest are cruising sailors, or ought to be. I guess you could say travel, adventure, boats and the sea are in my blood.  

My path to the sea, however, was a tortuous one at first. I was sidetracked by the needs, interests and obstacles of an adolescent becoming a young man. And besides, it was hard to realize that such a thing was really even possible. Living on a sailboat was unheard of in the 1960's, at least in Larchmont, New York, where I grew up. With the exception of a handful of voyagers then unknown to me, such as Eric & Susan Hiscock, Hal & Margaret Roth, and of course the founding father of it all, Joshua Slocum, people did not even think about what today is commonly called liveaboard cruising. Oh, yachtsmen made voyages, to be sure, but then they went home. As far as I knew, people didn't actually live on boats.

During the next couple of years, the dream of setting sail gradually grew into a burning desire. I finished high school and went to Syracuse University, as I was expected to do. But college bored me - the subjects were lifeless; the gray, wet weather depressing - and so my real life began when I dropped out after only one semester, stepped onto a southbound Interstate, and stuck out my thumb. From that moment on, I was on my own and headed for the sea. Eventually.  

Within the year, I married my high school sweetheart and soon became a young father. Alas, the marriage was not to last, but my relationship with my daughter did. To this day Lisa is the light of my life. She has been sailing with me many times, all over the world. Recently, she made me a (young) grandfather and if I have anything to do with it, little Reece, like his mother before him, will learn to sail a boat way before he learns to drive a car. But I was talking about how I came to the sea.

I had been playing in rock-n-roll bands since junior high school, and was a tolerable guitar player, singer and songwriter. Needing a way to support my new family, I put together a rock group and we were soon performing in New York City's hip nightclubs. My hair was getting long and as Bob Dylan sang, the times they were a changin'. I was at the heart of the new hippie scene and experimenting with everything. It got pretty wild - a little too wild - and it was becoming evident to me that I had better distance myself from it a bit. Right about then my brother invited me to take over a rock band he had put together in Texas. I jumped at the opportunity and into my old, convertible Corvair and headed west.

The group, called the Chains, was a big fish in a small pond, enjoying a string of regional hit records in the western states. I had actually written a couple of the songs they recorded. For the next year and a half, we played dances and rock shows from Texas to Montana, dodging the truck stop rednecks that thought hippies were fair game, feeling like stars, and generally having a pretty good time until the promise of a big-time recording contract lured us all back to New York City.

The contract never materialized and I lost interest in playing in nightclubs. So I left the Chains to try my hand at Madison Avenue jingle writing. To keep me from starving meanwhile, my manager landed me a part-time job giving guitar lessons to actor Dustin Hoffman three times a week in his Upper East Side apartment, preparing him for a scene in a movie he was making that required him to strum three cords and look natural about it. Dustin was a nice guy and I liked him, but he wasn't really into learning guitar. He never practiced except during the thrice-weekly, one-hour sessions with me. For this reason he learned slowly, which was great for me because I needed the $12 an hour his movie production company paid me.  

I wasn't having much luck as an advertising jingle writer and, when Dustin went off to make his movie, I needed a new gig. Just then, my manager called me with a proposition. "Tor," he said, "you know that new record on the radio called 'Na Na Hey Hey Kiss 'Em Goodbye?" Well, of course I did. It was a huge, number one smash hit all over the United States and around the world. To this day, kids still chant the chorus at school football games. He went on to explain that the record had been a studio creation and that there was really no such group as Steam, the band credited with the recording. Now that the record had taken off, the producer was being bombarded with requests for the non-existent stars to perform at concerts, college homecomings and rock festivals coast to coast, and was actually booking the band's first national tour. Now they desperately needed a group that could perform that song convincingly along with enough other material for a 45-minute show, and my manager was offering me the job of putting that band together.  

The tour sounded like a blast and the money was good, so ten days later my new quartet went on tour as Steam. We Na-Na-Hey-Hey'ed our way all across the country, signing autographs, dodging the rednecks and loving the groupies. It was the beginning of the '70's in all its glory and, man, we were cool. Most of my old school chums were either still in college or trying to stay alive in Vietnam.  

After a year or so of being a bubblegum rock star, I sold a song I'd written to Columbia Records and spent the advance money on a plane ticket to Morocco. For the next couple of months, I hitchhiked through Europe, lived in a commune on the island of Mallorca with author Robert Graves for a neighbor, and finished up in the smoky coffee houses of Amsterdam. I still couldn't afford a boat, but life was good.  

All the time I was in show business, my desire to live and travel aboard my own sailboat grew steadily stronger until it became an obsession. I read books about it. I fantasized about it. Every new gig, every recording contract was supposed to be my ticket to freedom, my pot of gold. It never quite turned out that way, but I was determined to keep trying.  

Next came a stint as a rock-&-roll songwriter, under contract with an Atlanta-based record company. They actually paid me a retainer and put me up in a swanky garden apartment in Buckhead. My job - you're not going to believe this - my job was to hang out and write songs, let my hair grow even longer, smoke and party all night long, write more songs, sleep late, flirt with the stewardesses and nurses that lived in my apartment complex and go into a big, state-of-the-art recording studio a few times a week to tape demo sessions and oversee the arrangements whenever their other bands recorded my material. I was in hog heaven, as those good old Atlanta boys would say - until their record company went belly-up and I found myself on the street again.  

I heard of try-outs being held for something they were calling a "rock opera". Well, I didn't want to go back to playing in bands again, so I went to the audition. It turned out that my hard-rock stage experience and gutsy vocal style was just what they wanted for the lead role, and so I became Judas in the rock opera, Jesus Christ Superstar, the Atlanta production. The show was an instant and, in the South of the early 1970's, controversial hit and we were packing the theater in Underground Atlanta, 14 shows a week. One evening, the Governor of Georgia showed up in the audience to check out our show. Afterwards, he came backstage with his wife and bodyguards to meet the cast and get us to autograph his libretto. I addressed my signature "to JC Super Governor," the "JC" standing, of course, for Jimmy Carter.  

Having seen how Superstar's producers had put that show together, I decided I could be a producer, too. I found a financial backer in Atlanta, flew to New York, met with the U.S. managers of the superstar rock band, the Who, and got exclusive stage performance rights for the Southeastern United States for their rock opera, Tommy. 

My rendition of Tommy was a colorful, multi-media stage production featuring a troop of modern dancers, a black African choreographer, a professional director, special effects stage lighting and a live band that blasted out those songs better than the original soundtrack. Producing a show like that turned out to be more involved than I had anticipated, and I worked myself into a state of exhaustion molding that company of 30 creative talents into a single performing unit. The show opened on time, went on the road and got standing ovations for every performance it did for the next two years. For my part, I was burned out by opening night. Besides, the mechanics of managing the road tour didn't interest me, so I left the company to my successors. 

The truth was, the urge to be on a sailboat headed for some tropical island was burning in me with a passion and all else seemed lukewarm by comparison. So at long last, ready or not, I packed my meager belongings into an old pickup truck and headed for the coast.

I wound up in Wrightsville Beach, North Carolina, where I found a job in a boatyard for minimum wage. I wanted to learn everything I could about boats, from the bottom up, and that's exactly what the yard manager had in mind. He put me to work scraping and painting the bottoms of boats that hauled out there. Gradually, I learned to paint hulls, install equipment, use bedding compounds, do simple engine and rigging repairs, and so on. I was no closer to affording a sailboat than I had been when I was 16, but I was happy to be within sight of the ocean at long last.

Halfway through that summer, a couple of ex-GI's pulled into the marina aboard a 40' ketch, on their way to "the Islands." One evening we were sharing a six-pack in their cockpit and the skipper said I'd be welcome to come along as crew if I wanted to. Well, friends, he did not have to say it twice. Within the week I sold my truck, quit my job, moved aboard, and put to sea. In a sense, I've never come back.  

For the next couple of years, I crewed on a host of different boats, ranging as far as the West Indies and South America. Every voyage was an adventure, every passage a teacher. The captains and mates I sailed with, the weather we braved, the ports we made and the lessons learned in those first years could fill a book, and maybe they will someday.

At last, in the spring of 1974, my dream finally came true. I bought a sailboat and moved aboard. Then came the day of days, a bright morning full of promise, with a breeze just fair enough for a single, sweeping tack down Biscayne Bay. I weighed anchor, slipped quietly out of the Coconut Grove anchorage and headed down the Florida Keys. Longhaired, bearded, 20-something, practically penniless and perfectly content, I set off on my first single-handed voyage aboard my first liveaboard sailboat.  

She was no ordinary sailboat, either. Thumper was a converted lifeboat, salvaged by my predecessor from an old World War II Liberty ship being scrapped in the Chesapeake. She was a salty old dog and the queen of my heart, though you might not have called her graceful. A tubby 24-footer, eight feet wide almost her entire length and double-ended only at the last possible moment, Thump' had been built in another era and for another purpose. 

She was made of riveted steel plates and sported a stout spruce mast held aloft by cables, deadeyes and lanyards, flying a gaff-rigged mainsail and a sadly worn working jib. With no electrical system, her running lights were kerosene and her one massive bilge pump, manual. She was mostly an open boat, but with an added-on plywood cuddy cabin forward, just big enough for a cozy couple to sleep. Original oak plank lifeboat benches ran around the inside of the hull and amidships squatted a husky Gray Marine gasoline engine, held together with Marine Tex and bailing wire and started by means of a heavy iron hand-crank - like an old Model T automobile. I paid $1,000 for her.  

When I sold Thumper about a year later, I found my way to Maui and liked it enough to stay for a while, playing folk music at a tourist bar for my living money. When it was time to go, I had just enough for a plane ticket to L.A. and had to hitchhike the rest of the way back to Coconut Grove, Florida.

In America, an entrepreneur doesn't have to stay broke for long. I designed and produced a line of jewelry, then a line of tropical clothing, and before long I had scraped up enough money to buy the ketch Autant, a classic beauty I found forlorn and for sale on the Miami River. Designed by William Hand and built in 1927 of double diagonal strip planking, her hull was over 2" thick and very strong. Her stout gaff main and mizzen and self-tending jib allowed for fairly easy handling by a lone sailor, which was just as well because Autant had no engine in her. 

She also had no electrical system, no plumbing, no winches, or other modern conveniences. She was all kerosene lamps, block-&-tackle, and muscle. A simple sailboat with character, she measured 36' on deck; about 42' overall. I lived aboard and cruised the Florida Keys and the Bahamas with her for 2-1/2 years.  

.
I turned 29 single-handing Autant back from the Abacos. Realizing I would soon be attaining the ancient age of 30, I decided it was time to upgrade my life, find a way to voyage farther on finer boats, and get paid for it. So when I got back to Miami, I took a crash course and passed the Coast Guard exam for my 100-ton license. I had some business cards printed up that said Captain Tor Pinney, typed up a resume, and commenced my life as a professional delivery and charter skipper. 

For the next few years I alternated between running charter sailboats in the Virgin Islands and delivering yachts between the U.S. East Coast and the West Indies. I sailed almost constantly during that period and logged tens of thousands of nautical miles.

In 1980, I traveled to Costa Rica to backpack around for a month or so. There I met up with a company in San Jose building an unknown, salty-looking fiberglass sailboat they called the Cabo Rico 38. They were hoping to break into the lucrative U.S. marketplace with these boats and needed someone to find stateside dealerships for them. It was agreed that I would do just that, and I spent the next year as Cabo Rico's factory representative, living in motels, rental cars, and a VW pop-top camper van. I traveled coast to coast and eventually signed up six stocking dealers. When it was over I had created Cabo Rico's first dealership network, and they have done well in the United States ever since.  

I had also earned enough in commissions to pay for my next boat, a steel Finisterre yawl named Buccaneer. For years I had seen her berthed in Coconut Grove's Dinner Key Marina, and now she was for sale. Designed by Sparkman & Stevens and custom built in Chicago in 1959, Buc' had a low freeboard, a broad beam and a sheer line as graceful as a swan. A beautiful sailboat, she was often mistaken for a Bermuda 40.

My new mate and I sailed Buccaneer up to the Chesapeake Bay and from the beginning, it was difficult to say which of my two "girls" was the more cantankerous. My mate troubles are another story altogether, but it turned out Buccaneer needed a huge amount of hull re-plating, her steel having rusted from the inside way beyond what the surveyor had detected. Lucky for me, I had a friend with a boatyard on the Bohemia River. 

There we spent an entire summer sandblasting, grinding, re-plating, repairing, replacing and reconditioning the old witch stem to stern. By the time we sailed for the West Indies in early December, there was ice on the decks and precious little left in the cruising kitty.  

The next year I was invited to captain the prototype Morgan 60 schooner, Paradigm, first through a series of East Coast fall boat shows, and then for a season of chartering in the Virgin Islands. Two significant things happened that year: I met, befriended and got drunk with Tristan Jones at a couple of those boat shows, and I rescued a dory-full of commercial fisherman after they had abandoned their burning ship in mid-ocean. Oh, there was one other thing. I convinced Pacific Seacraft to give me a new Crealock 37 sailboat.  

Well, maybe "give" is an exaggeration. I had decided I wanted that boat and so approached the builder with a proposal. I would open their first Southeast U.S. dealership in Fort Lauderdale and promote and sell their boats fulltime if they would send me a demo boat. I promised to pay them for the boat, plus interest, out of the commissions I earned. We struck a bargain and I became a yacht broker and regional dealer for Pacific Seacraft. The brand new demo boat arrived. I christened her Kerry and moved aboard. For the next 4-1/2 years, I lived dockside except for occasional demo sails, holiday cruises and boat shows, and I worked hard at my new profession. I managed to pay off that boat in the first 18 months.  

 

I had promised myself I would only stay put for 5 years max and I was already planning my escape by 1987. I'd sold quite a few cruising sailboats by that time, new and used, and noticed that more often than not, the buyers had many questions about how to outfit their boats to go cruising. Pacific Seacraft built good boats and rightfully touted them as bluewater passagemakers, yet when the new boats came from the factory they were nowhere near ready to actually go cruising. There was no ground tackle, no safety equipment, no spare parts kit, minimal electronics, no awnings, jack lines or self-steering, the floorboards weren't secured for capsize… The list of what needed to be done was prodigious. The people that bought these boats could generally afford to pay for all the additional stuff, but hardly knew where to begin selecting and assembling it. 

So I made a new proposal to Pacific Seacraft. I suggested they offer an upgraded version of their Crealock 37, which was the biggest boat they built at the time. This special edition would feature a long list of equipment and systems added according to my specifications. We'd call it the Crealock 37 "Circumnavigator", and I was volunteering to introduce it at the 1988 East Coast fall boat shows. I also asked them to build the first one for me… for a discounted price, since it was my idea. In return, I would design the equipment and systems package that became the "Circumnavigator", write the copy for their advertisements, and arrange to take the prototype to all the boat shows as a factory rep, allowing the other regional dealers to sell from my demo boat. Pacific Seacraft thought it was a worthwhile idea and agreed to the plan

My brand new "Circumnavigator" arrived Christmas week, 1987. I christened her Sparrow after the famous calypso singer/songwriter, the Mighty Sparrow. For the next few months, I worked with a crew installing equipment and modifying or inventing systems to make her into my idea of the perfect liveaboard cruising sailboat. Afterwards, when I took her to the boat shows, a lot of people seemed to agree that I'd gotten it right. That "Circumnavigator" package was the seed from which this book eventually grew.  

And so it was that by the end of my 5-year stint as a yacht broker/dealer, I had put my daughter through college, socked away a cruising kitty, fulfilled my obligations to Pacific Seacraft, owned an extraordinarily well-found sailboat, and had the freedom, the ability and the time to take her anywhere in the world. Life was good, even though I turned 40.  

Sparrow carried me safely over 30,000 nautical miles during the next six years. Half the time I single-handed, more by circumstance than by choice. The other half of the time, my crew consisted of, at first, my fiancée, Sherrie, and our 90-lb. yellow Lab, Shaolin, and then later, after they abandoned ship and moved to Alaska, my new love, Andrea, and my new dog, La Rosa Española de Sevilla (Rosa for short), and in between times an assortment of family, friends, and others I met along the way. I/we sailed from Miami to Maine and back, then to Venezuela via the West Indies. We cruised extensively through Los Roques, Curacao, Honduras, Guatemala, and Belize and back to Florida. Next came a trans-Atlantic via Beaufort, Bermuda and the Azores to Lisbon, and on to Spain where we wintered in Seville and Cadiz. Gibraltar followed, then the Balearics, Sardinia, Sicily, the Greek Islands and Turkey. 

 Finally, we backtracked through the Mediterranean by way of Tunisia and Gibraltar, fought our way to the Canary Islands, re-crossed the Atlantic to Grenada, and ambled up through the West Indies to Puerto Rico, the Bahamas and finally back to Florida, where I sold Sparrow. I wrote much of this book during that cruise, benefiting from the opportunity to find out first hand what equipment and systems really worked and what didn't, both on my own boat and on many others I studied.  

For my next venture, I bought a 65', 175-passenger ferry boat in Ontario, Canada, hired a crane to plunk a slide-on camper unit onto the upper deck to serve as temporary living quarters, and drove that unlikely-looking vessel 2,000 miles by way of the Great Lakes, the Erie Canal, the Hudson River and the Intra Coastal Waterway to Key West, Florida, where I ran her as a riotous tourist excursion boat for a few years. 

On the upper deck, my partner and I installed a giant Jacuzzi, a real sand beach, live palm trees in planters, and tables and chairs, all surrounded by a tiki thatch skirt around the railing. On the main deck, indoors, was a full liquor bar specializing in...frozen tropical drinks, a snack stand, restrooms, more tables and chairs, and a dance floor with live reggae music and limbo dancing. The bulkheads were adorned with hand-painted tropical murals and the entire ship was one big island party. Am I crazy? You tell me. It was a wild ride.  

When I left Key West, I went cruising again, but this time in a 23' RV with Rosa, a little 12-pound mutt I had rescued from starving on the streets of Seville back when I'd been there aboard Sparrow. I wanted to see more of the United States inland, so for the next couple of years, we roamed around out west, through the Grand Canyon and the Rocky Mountains, eventually settling for a year in Mount Shasta, just south of the Oregon border.

I camped, hiked, trail-biked, white-water-rafted, kayaked, climbed, skied and snow-shoed all over the Rockies and the Cascades and I have to admit I grew to love the wild mountain forests as much as I love the ocean. I hope to share my time between the two in the future. Gee, maybe I could write a book: "Ready for the Road! - How to Outfit the Modern Cruising RV." Well, maybe not.  

As of this writing (year 2002), I'm back to selling boats, this time in Rhode Island, halfway through another 5-year plan. I'm a worldwide dealer for Valiant Yachts semi-custom cruising sailboats and Nova Scotia-built Cape Island trawlers these days, and an Internet-focused yacht broker for all kinds of other used cruising sailboats all over the world. It's good to make a living helping sailors find and sell their dreamboats. I believe that you can get everything in this world that you want if you just help enough other people get what they want.

So, what's next? Who knows? Another boat, for sure, and maybe a slow poke through the South Pacific and the Indian Ocean, alternating with some more RV time in the Northwest and Canadian mountains and some rucksack traveling in Asia and Africa. So many places, so little time. Life is good.

Just as I wrote songs in my rock-&-roll years, I eventually started writing stories and articles, mostly for boating magazines, when I took to the sea. After a while, it seemed natural to write something longer. The many boats I've outfitted for cruising and for offshore deliveries, and the years I spent helping my customers, Pacific Seacraft, and Valiant Yachts outfit their cruising sailboats, together gave birth to this book. It's much of what I know on the subject and I hope it proves useful to you.  

 

And now a word from our sponsor:

Ready for Sea!
How to Outfit the Modern Cruising Sailboat and Prepare Your Vessel and Yourself for Extended Passagemaking and Living Aboard

by Tor Pinney (with illustrations by Bruce Bingham)

 

Available at book stores, online, or by calling toll-free: 

1-888-SHERIBK (1-888-743-7425)                       Sheridan House Publishers


 If you're even thinking about setting sail for distant horizons, read this book!

 
 

Please report any web site problems, like missing photos or dead-end links. Click here to email the webmaster.
.