TIGER LILLY's FRIEND TONY GREGORY
19 February 2011 | St. Johns River, Jacksonville, Florida
It is starting to warm up :-)
Tony Charles Gregory: Just as our canine friends come in many different shapes, sizes, and personalities, so do the maritime versions - the rascals, rogues, and denizens whom roam the world's oceans - commonly known as sea dogs. Perhaps my favorite sea dog is my shipmate Tony Gregory of the Yacht Tarnimara. Tony tends to the friendly Labrador retriever side of the sea dog spectrum. His engaging manner, ever-present smile, and self-effacing personality endear him to all; fellow cruisers in the anchorage, local folks ashore, and not an insignificant portion of the female population of the Western Hemisphere. No doubt the Reader's Digest would classify him as "A Most Unforgettable Character." Very fit for his 72 years, Tony is a man who has seen a lot of the world and experienced much in life; a hardy Brit, he hails from the Northwest Country of England, and proudly sails with a Red Duster painted on his wind generator. A personable man of many talents, he certainly adds flavor and interest to the international sailing community; as salt does to cooking. The pursuit of blue-water sailing not only expands one's geographical horizons, it also tends to broaden one's base of friends and acquaintances - which is really one of the principal reasons to seek this challenging life-style. It is my good fortune to have shared many anchorages with Tony from the Rio Orinoco Delta of Eastern Venezuela, to Chaguaramus, Trinidad, to the St. Johns River in Jacksonville, Florida, and the last we saw him was in Georgetown, South Carolina. Everywhere he sails he leaves camaraderie and good will in his wake. Like most remarkable people, Tony has a multi-faceted personality: Vagabond of the world; single-handed blue-water cruiser; itinerant musician; fascinating conversationalist, master shade tree mechanic; dumpster diver extraordinaire; and citizen of the world - Tony Gregory has attained the sublime degree of Sailorman.
The Early Years: As a young nipper in knickers, Tony remembers war-time England, and Germany's blitz on London during World War II. His dad Charles was a shoemaker, shopkeeper and a bookie, and his mom Hilda kept it all in check; but even at a young age Tony would have none of the family business, he just wanted to see the world. What really interested Tony were outdoor pursuits; after leaving school at the age of 15, he developed skills in canoeing, water skiing, archery, motor cycling, martial arts, and sailing. As a young man he supported himself in such diverse occupations as: a lorry driver, ship-right's helper, outward-bound instructor, and professional musician. Although he has a limited formal education, like many of his generation he is well-read, self-educated, and a graduate of the school of hard knocks.
de Boat: At age 45 Tony purchased his beloved Tarnimara, a Rival 32 - then this intrepid soul set off to see the world on a shoestring budget. The Rival is a solid cruising boat of English design and build. Tarnimara matches her owner and his needs quite nicely - she is well found, comfortable but certainly not luxurious, able to take care of herself in a gale, and squared away. Well, not squared away in the Naval sense of the word, but Tony has found a place for everything, and everything is in its place - according to him... Actually his vessel is a cross between a maritime museum, the Rock & Roll Hall of Fame, and a traveling junk yard; a requirement for boarding his vessel is an up-to-date shot card - including current tetanus and gamma globulin vaccinations... (Lilly sez: Oh Tom-Tom, couldn't we just surprise Tony one day and give his boat a good thorough scrubbing while he is off somewhere ashore?) In fact, Tarnimara's general appearance is not unlike Fred Sanford's truck in the old TV show Sanford & Son - or perhaps Jedd Clampett's overloaded Beverly Hillbillies jalopy (with a proper keel of course - Tarnimara goes to weather like a witch). Every possible surface on his boat is covered with some treasure, most of which Tony has dredged up from the depths of a waterfront dumpster. This man is the ultimate recycler; he can wring additional life from most any of "civilization's" cast-away stuff. Actually, it takes a solid understanding of mechanics, electricity, and chemistry to restore additional utility to what the "educated" world would call junk. For several years Tony supported himself as an itinerant musician; many sailors who cruised the Caribbean during the 90's remember the popular jazz ensemble Mood Indigo - Tony was their tall and handsome base player. His musicality has a much broader range then just accompaniment, and alone aboard Tarnimara he taught himself to play the keyboard, arrange music, and he developed himself into somewhat of a vocalist. If you know this gentle man, with a soft English accent, one cannot help but be taken aback when he holds forth with a singing voice which ranges from a very much Satchmo-like bravado, to that of an overloaded gravel truck on a rough country road! But then the great Louis Armstrong was a gentle man too... Tarnimara's cluttered weather deck is just a portend of what lies below; her interior includes only the bare necessities of living. His mess gear consists of an antique pressure cooker, a battered fry pan, and two each of unmatched forks, spoons, and bowls - any seaman worth his salt carries his own knife... It is hard to believe - or even imagine - but stowed below on his compact 32 footer Tony has carefully secured the tools of his musical trade: a double-base violin (it lives quite happily in the vee berth), two very large speakers with woofers & tweeters, a heavy audio amplifier, a digital computer / multi channel mixer, microphone, music stand, sheaves and sheaves of hand-written music, two keyboards, a digital 8 track recorder, a DVD player, and of course the ever-popular tambourine. It is all quite unbelievable, and there is literally no room to turn around! Could this be the reason Tony has had three wives? Tony sez: "Or at least I think that is how many have papers on me..."
Cruising: Tony has sailed his boat all over the North Atlantic Ocean and the Caribbean Sea, calling at such interesting places as: Ireland, Southern Portugal's Algarve region, Northern Spain, the island of Madeira, the Canary Islands, the Cape Verde Islands, Brazil, Guyana, Venezuela, Trinidad, the Netherlands Antilles, the Windward and Leeward Islands of the Lesser Antilles, the Island of Bermuda, the Azores Archipelago, and the East Coast of the USA from Florida to North Carolina. Tony describes bluewater passage-making as "boring routine, the highlights being cooking and going off watch - unless of course anything goes wrong, and it usually does!" In 2008 Tony (in his boat), and I (in my boat) - accompanied by Schatze the Talking Dog - set off to explore the Rio Orinoco Delta in the remote eastern section of Venezuela. We explored some 250 miles of jungle river, circuitous canos, and dense rainforest - inhabited principally by the Waro Amerindian tribe. Tony was like the Pied-Piper with the Waro children - they followed him everywhere while we were ashore, and were particularly interested to watch him meticulously roll his own cigarettes (just tobacco, of course). With about 2 meters of tide in addition to the strong down-stream current during the rainy season, this is a challenging area for ocean going yachts to navigate; more than once Tony pulled me off un-charted mud banks as the falling tide threatened to strand me. Tony is a thoroughly competent seaman and a trustworthy friend, the kind of fellow one can depend on in a pinch, and the kind of mate to have along when out exploring. Tony and Tarnimara have crossed the Atlantic 5 times, and he is currently preparing a spring passage across the pond as he heads back to England and home - probably for the last time. At 72 he says that he is getting too old for ocean passages, and he just isn't buying green bananas anymore. (Lilly asks: Doesn't he like green bananas? No Sweetie, he just may not be around long enough to see them ripen...) When we asked him what his favorite place was, he enthusiastically replied "The USA!" Tony loves our culture, our music, the American political system, our service oriented businesses, and the wonderful southern hospitality he has enjoyed in these United States. That is a ringing endorsement from a sailor-man as well-traveled as Tony Gregory.
Lilly sez: Well, you have heard what Tom thinks of his friend Tony - now allow me to tell you of my impression of him and his delightful wife Sandra. I feel like I knew Tony even before I met him; Tom's sea stories, and their telephone calls and emails alerted me to their special relationship; the more I heard about him, the more I wanted to meet this fellow. Last summer, when they sailed in from Trinidad and anchored next to Tom on Julington Creek I got my chance. OH MY GOSH! What a unique couple they are. Tony's wife Sandra hails from Trinidad, and she is of East Indian heritage - what a lovely, lovely, woman, both in her physical presence and her spirit - she captivated my heart, as did he, the very first time I met them. Isn't it ironic how God often blesses people of modest means with a spirit of humbleness that brings such value and worth to their character? These folks have gifts to give that money simply cannot buy. Tony never seems to be into himself, but always ready to help others; he makes-do with only the essentials in life, and at the same time makes you feel like you are a millionaire. Sandra is a godly woman who prays for her vagabond husband constantly. Although Tony is a self-described humanist, he is so obviously full of the Holy Spirit, yet he does not recognize God's hand on him. He seeks proof of God's presence, yet he himself is the very proof for which he searches... When I asked Tony what he would have done different in life, he thought about it and replied: I do regret not having served in the Royal Navy; and I wish that I had taken the time to learn to play the piano really well. That is quite a simple Bucket List; this man has lived life to its fullest, and has but a few regrets. While his sister Sue was visiting Florida from the UK, we spent an enjoyable evening watching and listening to Tony as he gave a free concert for the cruisers on the Ortega River - what a fun time! Tony really knows how to connect with his audience: his crazy colorful pants were certainly a surprise, and the only flamboyant element to this unpretentious man. As he returns home to the UK, to his boat club in the Northwest Country, his three children and their children, and his sister Sue, Tony looks forward to the simple pleasures that lure most returning seamen - reconnecting with those he loves most.
Yogi Berra once said "If you don't know where you are going, you might not get there." Well, Tony does have a plan for the next chapter of his life; he intends to sell Tarnimara, buy a canal boat, overhaul her, and motor about the rivers and canals of the UK for his golden years. (Tom ponders: Hmmmmm, how would a Viking funeral work with a canal boat and all those low bridges?) When they make the movie of his life, we think that the obvious candidate to play Tony would be that other irresistible sea dog - Captain Johnny Depp. Oh the friends we meet, and the places we see; this cruising life is so rewarding; we certainly are not in Kansas anymore Toto!
To view more pictures of Tony and his Yacht Tarnimara, simply click on PHOTO GALLERY in the upper right corner of this page and navigate thusly: Main / Crew, Family & Friends / TONY GREGORY