Those of you who have already read ‘Beer in the Bilges’ know that the authors of the book are not only experienced sailors but also very talented writers and all-around great guys always seeking new adventures in life. Alan Boreham, Peter Jinks, and Bob Rossiter – otherwise known as ‘The Professionals’ – were kind enough to answer a few questions about their memoir and, of course, sailing through the Blue Continent.
Pasifika Tales: ‘Beer in the Bilges’ is an interesting title for a book. Could you explain it?
‘The Professionals’: Beer is an important part of the provisions for many offshore sailors, and they want to keep it as cool as possible. When they aren’t lucky enough to have refrigeration on board their yacht, they follow the tradition that the British Navy established hundreds of years ago – store the beer below the water line, which is the coolest place on the ship. The deepest and coolest part of the hull is called the ‘bilges’, and hence the general practice of keeping the ‘beer in the bilges’.
When we were working on the manuscript, it was Bob’s friend – the actor Hal Holbrook, one of the people featured in the early chapters – who observed that getting a couple of beers from the bilges was a common occurrence throughout the book. The credit for naming the book, therefore, goes to Bob and Hal. I don’t think we could have hit upon another title as emblematic as this. We will have a challenge to find as good a title for the second memoir.
PT: For those who haven’t read your book yet: how did you meet and how did you come together for your great adventure?
‘TP’: 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 17th century. Like pirates meeting in Jamaica’s old Port Royal, Honolulu is one of the places around the world that offshore sailors meet.
So it was no mistake that the owner of the elegant yacht Ron of Argyll came to Honolulu looking for Bob, to entice him to sail his yacht up to Hawaii from the South Pacific for him. Where else in the Pacific would he be likely to find him? And it was natural for Bob to go looking for crew around the Ala Wai marina on Oahu where, by the greatest of chances, Alan was trying to put some distance between himself and an American mob he had run into on Maui. Bob was happy to accept such an eager and capable recruit, and one with such good survival skills.
In the meantime, Peter was enjoying the leisurely pace of the South Pacific while tending the Ron of Argyll for the owner in Tonga, and awaiting a new skipper and extra crew. Bob had crossed paths with Peter and the owner aboard the Ron of Argyll in Fiji, so Peter knew of Bob’s experience and reputation. He wasn’t surprised when he heard that Bob was going to be the new skipper, and he knew Bob well enough to know that he would choose another experienced hand.
Alan stayed in Honolulu to collect some of the equipment that was critical for the voyage and flew down to join Bob and Peter in American Samoa once they had relocated the yacht there.
When all three of us finally got together in Pago Pago, we quickly recognized 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 possibilities, rather than the obstacles to achieving them. This alone was to save our skins in more than one of our adventures together.
PT: The good, the bad, and the ugly of your voyage?
‘TP’: There were plenty of good times – more than we could possibly mention here – but the best part without a doubt was meeting the people of the countries we visited, especially those in the more remote islands. We were fortunate to be able to share stories with them and to learn about their lives and cultures, as they did about ours. And while we all enjoyed the island life, with the wonderful fruits and the diving and fishing, sailing through these beautiful and storied waters was a real thrill.
The bad part about sailing to a new country has to be the bureaucracy. No matter where we went, and how nice the people were, there was the unavoidable paperwork and expenses that went along with entering or leaving a country. For many of us sailors, it is the overwhelming bureaucracy that drives us to seek the freedom of the seas.
The ugly part about sailing is the drama that sometimes comes with it. Make no mistake, sailing can be a dangerous business. While we don’t dwell on the bad times, all three of us have had our own brushes with death while at sea, culminating with a storm that threatened to break up the wooden yacht we were on before making it into port, leaving us only three miles from land – straight down.
PT: You sailed the Blue Continent, which means you visited different islands. However, you don’t write much about the countries or their cultures. Why?
‘TP’: From our reading, we found that there is a lot written on that. While we do talk about some of the customs of the wonderful people in the countries we visited, our objective in writing this book was to highlight the sailing experiences and the unusual characters we met along the way.
It is also an interesting fact that many sailors don’t go far from the port, because they don’t want to leave their yachts unattended. All three of us have explored the South Pacific countries more than most yachties and feel we have a better understanding of the countries and their people than many sailors.
PT: If you could share your impressions now… What could you reveal about the islands? Was there anything that surprised or amazed you?
‘TP’: Yes, we were always amazed at how happy people were, even those with just the basics of life. We traveled to the South Pacific from the 1960s to the 1980s, when things were a lot simpler, even in the developed world, but it always seemed to us that the people we met didn’t have a worry in the world. People from other countries could learn something from the attitude of these seemingly care-free islanders.
PT: As we can read in your book, sailing the Pacific can be an amazing and fun experience. But it’s also a great challenge. What’s one piece of advice you’d give to amateur sailors wanting to follow in your footstep?
‘TP’: You’re right, blue water sailing is not for the novice sailor. We would advise any sailor dreaming of going offshore to make sure they have a suitable vessel and the necessary experience. If they don’t have much experience, or they’re not confident in their abilities, they should take someone along who does. There’s a saying: ‘There are old sailors and bold sailors but no old, bold sailors’. We want all offshore sailors to make it back to a safe harbor.
PT: Getting back to your memoir… It’s quite unusual, as you chose to use the third-person narrative. Why did you do that?
‘TP’: When we were preparing to write the book, we found that the telling of stories from one’s past is usually done from the writer’s own perspective, in the first person, and less often from the perspective of an independent observer, in the third person. In writing these memoirs, we had to decide how best to describe our individual paths that led us to join forces in American Samoa, as well as our shared experiences, while at the same time portraying the remarkable people and events that we encountered along the way. Our choice of using the third person narrator gave us the liberty of collaborating on the description of these episodes in our lives so that we could write in a consistent voice, hopefully making the flow of the chapters easier for the reader to follow.
PT: What was the writing process like for you?
‘TP’: 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. Peter 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 for us, that is what life is all about.
PT: Do you plan to write more?
‘TP’: Yes. We are doing the final edits to a novel entitled ‘Two if by Sea’, which is based in part on some of the amazing people we met but couldn’t expose in ‘Beer in the Bilges’. All of these people were hiding from someone or something, so we chose to embody their most interesting characteristics or experiences in fictional characters.
We are also working on a second memoir which will be a follow-up to ‘Beer in the Bilges’. The working title is ‘Just One More Round’, and it will certainly require more in-person collaboration like we did for the first book.
PT: And the last questions: have you had a chance to repeat your Pacific journey? If not, is it something you want to do in the future?
‘TP’: We all continued on with more sailing adventures after the events we describe in ‘Beer in the Bilges’, both together and individually, around the South Pacific and Hawaii. We hope that your readers will enjoy reading about those adventures as well.