The Boy Who Fell From Shore
The Extraordinary Life and Mysterious Disappearance of Thomas Thor Tangvald
By Charles J. Doane
This is a strange and sad story, in which the hero, Thomas Tangvald, led a short and tragic life almost from beginning to end. His mother was shot to death by pirates while he was still an infant; his stepmother was mysteriously killed at sea, perhaps murdered by his father, the well-known (some would say notorious) sailor and author Peter Tangvald. A shipwreck on Bonaire’s windward shore then killed the senior Tangvald and Thomas’s seven-year-old sister Carmen; Thomas, just 15 years old, narrowly escaped with his life by jumping into the sea with his surfboard. Over the course of the book, we come to realize that Thomas never really grew up, likely as a result of the trauma of his childhood. He reared a young family of his own, only to be lost at sea on a reckless solo voyage from French Guyana to Brazil in a leaky, lightly-ballasted, and ill-equipped wooden sloop.
Beautifully and sensitively written and meticulously researched, The Boy Who Fell From Shore is also a gripping narrative. Doane’s story of the short and enigmatic life of Thomas Tangvald pulls the reader along from the harrowing and tragic opening shipwreck scene through the young wanderer’s struggle to find himself through the subculture of the bluewater cruising community in Europe and the Caribbean. After the shipwreck, Thomas was subsequently schooled in Andorra and England, lovingly cared for by the well-known sailors Clare and Edward Allcard, whose attempts at nurturing Thomas inevitably fizzled because of his addictions and dangerous proclivities. Thomas was always evading conformity, finding success at his studies yet never achieving real success. While earning top marks at university in England, he never earned a diploma for his failure to show up for final exams. He sailed single-handed across the Atlantic, but he shipwrecked several times as the result of careless errors. This is the thematic crux of the book. Thomas is extraordinarily talented but, apparently haunted by the ghost of his mercurial father, he is unable to quite put the pieces together.
Doane provides an insider’s glimpse into the fascinating life of the tight-knit ocean voyaging crowd, skillfully weaving the Tangvald story through interactions and interviews with the characters of these far-flung communities. Thomas and Peter Tangvald were deeply flawed, but also endlessly fascinating. This is an incredible story, well told.