Tristan Jones

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Tristan Jones at book signing, Annapolis Sailboat Show 1987

Arthur Jones, pen name Tristan Jones (Liverpool, 8 May 1929 – 21 June 1995) was an English author and mariner who wrote numerous books and articles, many in the first person, about sailing. His stories tended to be a combination of both fact and fiction in the tradition of Welsh story tellers and it has often been difficult to tell these apart. Indeed, he was a consummate story-teller, but as far as his account of his naval service in WWII in particular goes, any old salt would have regarded him, at best, as a 'rum gagger'. rum gagger n. [late 18C-mid-19C] (UK Und.) a confidence trickster who raises money on the basis of telling fraudulent tales of supposed suffering at sea.[1]


Tristan Jones, whose real name was Arthur Jones, was born in 1929 in Liverpool. He was the illegitimate son of a working-class girl, and was brought up mainly in orphanages, with little real education. He joined the Royal Navy in 1946, after the end of World War II, and served for 14 years. Then he bought a sailboat, tried whiskey smuggling, and scraped a living sailing the Mediterranean Sea.

According to Anthony Dalton's account,[2] "Then came a midlife sea change. Arthur Jones looked into his future, imagined greatness, and began to claw his way to it. Having taught himself to sail, he taught himself to write. He was a natural at both. As Tristan Jones, in his mid-forties, he sailed out of Brazil's Mato Grosso and into a Greenwich Village apartment to write six books in three years and reinvent his past."

His imagined past included being born on his father's tramp freighter off Tristan da Cunha in 1924, leaving school at 14 to work on sailing barges, and wartime service in the Royal Navy as a boy seaman.[3] [4]

His books recount numerous feats. The most famous is recounted in The Incredible Voyage: how he took a sailboat to the Dead Sea, the lowest open water on earth, and then sailed and trucked a sailboat to Lake Titicaca, the world's highest lake, thus establishing "the altitude record for sailing". He then hauled his sailboat across Bolivia to the Paraguay River, and sailed down through the Mato Grosso to Paraguay and Argentina. He was not allowed to launch his sailboat in the Dead Sea, though he did make a brief sailing voyage in a boat belonging to an Israeli naval officer; and while en route to Lake Titicaca, he sold the sailboat he had taken to Israel, and bought another.

This account was his first book.

His left leg was amputated in 1982, as a result of health problems and accidents. Despite this, he resumed sailing, in an effort to inspire other people with disabilities. He sailed the trimaran Outward Leg from San Diego to London by way of Colombia, Panama, and New York; the story of this voyage was told in his book Outward Leg. He then continued across central Europe by river and canal to the Black Sea, as told in The Improbable Voyage, and then around south Asia to Thailand, as recounted in Somewheres East of Suez.

He lost his right leg in 1991, and with that his incredible spirit began to die too, although he returned briefly to sea.

In his later years, while living in Phuket, Thailand, he converted to Islam and took on the name 'Ali'. Although he seem to not have informed all his older friends of this fact, he did sign his name as 'Ali' for instance to Rafiq A. Tschannen, a Swiss Muslim living in Bangkok at the time, with whom he corresponded by fax about Islamic topics. This is also confirmed in his Biography by Mr. Dalton.

Films about Tristan Jones[edit]

  • Tristan Jones: the Psychology of Adventure (1990)
  • The Incredible Tristan Jones (1990)

A few years after his voyage from San Diego to Thailand, Jones visited New York, and spoke about his travels at the New York Open Center. This talk was recorded, and has been released as a videotape and DVD, titled Tristan Jones: the Psychology of Adventure. Later, the producers of The Psychology of Adventure sat down with Jones at a pub in Greenwich Village for a videotaped interview, which became The Incredible Tristan Jones.

Books by Tristan Jones[edit]

Bronze portrait bust of Tristan Jones, sculpted from life, by William Barth Osmundsen during the 1987 Annapolis Sailboat Show. Bronze cast in 1988.
  • The Incredible Voyage (1977)
  • Ice! (1978)
  • Saga of a Wayward Sailor (1979)
  • Dutch Treat (1979)
  • Adrift (1980)
  • Aka (1981)
  • A Steady Trade: a Boyhood at Sea (1982)
  • One Hand for Yourself One for the Ship: The Essentials of Single Handed Sailing (1982)
  • Yarns (1983)
  • Heart of Oak (1984)
  • Outward Leg (1985)
  • The Improbable Voyage (1986)
  • Somewheres East of Suez (1988)
  • Seagulls in my Soup (1991)
  • To Venture Further (1991)
  • Encounters of a Wayward Sailor (1995)


  1. ^'&f=false
  2. ^ Anthony Dalton (2002). Wayward Sailor: In Search of the Real Tristan Jones. McGraw-Hill Professional. [1]
  3. ^ Peter Kinsley (2002). Bogged Down in County Lyric. Amherst. , Kinsley. "Tristan Jones". Retrieved 18 June 2010. 
  4. ^ Meet Tristan Jones

External links[edit]