Tom Crichton

Tom Crichton

1941: The Last Year of ‘Our’ East Asia

Tom Crichton was born in San Francisco in 1918. He went to sea at age 15 as a deck-boy for American ships. Later he studied journalism at the Univ. of Missouri and has divided his time between the sea and writing.

At the time of the Pearl Harbor attack he was a news correspondent in Tokyo. He was interned for a year by the Japanese before repatriation.

After the war he fell in love with Spain, where he tried his hand at everything from running a floating night-club to fighting bulls. He put down his gangplank for all sorts of people who wanted to sail, and his uncomplaining boat, the Jack London, carried a wonderful array of bizarre characters-smugglers and nudists, a crooked German professor, and movie stars.

While this book was being readied for publication, Tom was mysteriously killed in Chiangmai, Thailand where he lived.

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3 Responses to Tom Crichton

  1. Willem Schroder says:

    Dear Friends of Tom Crichton,
    I met Tom at his age of 77 in Puerto Rico where he was living after he was kicked out of Cuba . I was looking for a chef cook position on the Island . As a dutch citizen without a proper greencard he helped me out and invited me to stay at his penthouse apartment. After 6 month he left for Cuba and later on to a veteran home in California. After that we lost contact.

    What remains is a tresure of memories about Tom .

    Who wants to chare information about Tom ,his death, when ? more books or stories.
    Willem

    • admin says:

      Willem — thanks for your comments on Tom. He lived such an interesting life.

      The GOOD NEWS— we will be publishing MORE of TOM CRICHTON.
      — First, we are republishing his book Our Man in Majorca for Kindle Edition in 2014.
      — Second, we have SEVERAL unpublished works, including his late-in-life manuscripts for his “Dirty Old Man” series. Tom loved to chase skirts and his interests in this never waned. These works are in manuscript form and will need some time for editing into book form. Not likely in 2014.

  2. john Newman says:

    In 1959/60 together with four friends we booked a ‘lads’ holiday to Majorca with Horizon Holidays. Tom Crichton was the company representative – he hailed from San Francisco. I think, though never asked whether there was Irish blood in his veins – he was full of the old blarney – or should I say charisma, loved a drink and the ladies, and they loved him.

    The yacht Jack London was Toms pride and joy, he informed us that he was in future making the vessel available for charter. We of course jumped at the chance to spend our summer holiday cruising around the Balearics.

    The following year we travelled to Majorca and joined Tom and his vessel Jack London in Palma harbour. The mooring was next to a sleek black schooner named Zacca. It was owned by Errol Flynn who passed away a few years earlier. Over the following days Tom recounted many of the antics they got up to. Errol Flynn’s history was legend, and we dubbed Tom the poor man’s version, although by the end of our holiday it might have been more correct to refer to Errol as the rich man’s Tom Crichton!

    Tom loved a party and it was almost a rite of passage that when anchoring off a beach we enticed some female company for the mandatory night time shindig –this was hardly a chore as an invitation to a party on board a yacht in the Mediterranean was not a hard sell.

    The hospitality nearly backfired. The following day we had a pleasant cruise to the Spanish mainland, and we anchored off a beach relaxing with a beer or whatever. Four nurses from Wolverhampton had joined the boat in Palma.

    The evening party was well under way when one of the nurses said she was going to the beach, stripped off, dived over to be followed by her friends and others. Tom was not happy with this nudity –surely not you Tom – he actually had a valid reason to worry. General Franco was still acting as a dictator, and nudity was seriously banned on beaches.

    It was a clear moonlit night with nobody else in sight. As the bodies reached the sand the sound of barking dogs was heard. From the elevation of the yacht two members of the strict Guardia Civil wearing their strange hats could be sighted moving along the beach. They were some way off but their dogs had picked up on the noise made by the swimmers. Tom was angry and shouting at the top of his voice for them to get back. The sight of white backsides ploughing through the water towards the yacht would surely have made the officers smirk, rather than using them as target practice!

    Tom was furious, and by the time all had scrambled aboard we had upped anchor and, under full throttle, headed for the open sea. The reason for the out of character outburst over naked bodies was the fear that if they found out the name of the yacht it might be impounded for what had taken place.

    We returned to Palma the following day to be greeted by Tom’s new crew member. He had somehow acquired a lovely statuesque Dutch girl – how does he do it – her name was Honey, and she was! That evening we were relaxing after our meal and wine, all a bit tipsy when Honey stood up announced that she was going for a swim to cool down, stripped off her clothes and dived over –I know everybody appears to be stripping off in this narrative but I tell it as it happened, and it was Tom’s boat – enough said!

    We didn’t move but Tom did, giggling away and the worse for wear he whipped off his shorts, shouted ‘I’m a coming Honey’ and plunged -I don’t think it could be classified as a dive- into the water. We looked at each other, not a word was spoken but we were all thinking, you shouldn’t have done that Tom.

    We moved to the side of the boat, looked over to see Tom nearing Honey then attempting to do, well, whatever was on his mind. Before he could act out whatever was on his mind the strong hand of Honey appeared on top of his head and pushed downwards. He surfaced coughing and spluttering. Had Honey finished with him – nope, so under he went for the second time. Lesson learned that evening – I doubt it.

    Our trip the following day was to visit a couple of Tom’s friends. We sailed along the coast and anchored off a rocky area devoid of a beach and life. The dinghy was used to ferry us to the rocks – whatever next we wondered – then we spied a small dinghy and outboard tied up out of sight from the sea. Tom led us into a cave where his two mates were supping a glass of wine. Tom told us that the guys use the cave as their secret getaway, and each Saturday would, with the blessing of their good ladies spend the day fishing, chatting, eating and drinking- nice! The entrance to the cave was only a few feet above the water but as the Mediterranean is almost tideless it was very accessible, but only by sea.

    They had a few home comforts, a larder, crockery, cooking utensils, a portable stove, radio and a good stock of wine. Two small makeshift beds were at the rear of the cave just in case a sleepover was required, which Tom said was often.

    At the end of our memorable holiday Tom stated that he would be unavailable the following year as he was departing to the American Virgin Islands. For his sake I hoped he wasn’t taking the name too literally! He casually mentioned that he was short of one crew member. Although having my career in the City mapped out I, against the advice of my bosses, family, friends and other sane people, jumped at the chance offered.

    ——————————–

    We set sail from Gibraltar later that year to cross the Atlantic via Las Palmas. My contribution to the voyage was, at Tom’s suggestion a crate of whiskey, some bottles of which were to change hands in the Canaries for a supply of tuna from a Japanese fishing boat .To say that whiskey and tuna would comprise part of our daily diet is close to the truth.

    The other crew members were Freddy a big Norwegian, Hans a Swedish guy on the run from the Swedish navy for striking an officer, and Richard a sophisticated American who seemed out of place in our motley crew.

    The Jack London was a fairly old Norwegian ketch, very sturdy though rather slow. Tom had been having trouble with the engine, which was out of commission. He decided to get the repairs carried out in Las Palmas as the expense would be much less than in Gibraltar. That almost turned out to be a costly saving of money.

    It was late at night, virtually no wind, which would pick up during the morning. I was on watch with Freddy who pointed out that aft there was a very low star moving in our direction, though still some way off. Neither of us had much sailing experience, but a moving star – no way. Ahead in the far distance we could make out a faint glow which had to be Las Palmas. So we were on course but it was only the current that was slowly moving us. The ‘star’ was obviously a ship heading for the island, so we at least knew that we were going in the right direction! I forgot to mention that we were without navigation lights.

    Panic stations. Our joint ocean sailing experience was close to zilch, and our idea of how to handle the situation was even zilcher. We should have woken Tom but felt there was nothing else he could do without power.

    We dug into the locker and extracted a robust torch. Yes, Tom had installed batteries.

    We continued flashing our light in the direction of the following vessel. We now could make out the shape but not the distance.

    We continued to wave our torch and eventually heard the clanging of the ship’s telegraph – sound really carries on a still night – and we guessed that we had been spotted. The vessel moved further from us. On this still night, as the ship passed some way off our starboard side we heard a barrage of obvious obscenities emanating from the bridge.

    A short while later the wash from the vessel hit us. Tom was thrown from his bunk, must have left the panels down. His head appeared from below. What the F—— hell is going on he fumed. He just looked at us and fortunately the hatch cover obstructed his view to either side .No problem Tom, the wind is starting to pick up and the sea is getting rather choppy – phew!

    That afternoon we reached Las Palmas and passed by a rather large Italian cruise liner. There was a lot of activity on and around the vessel, and Tom commented that it must be a recent arrival. Freddy and I looked at each other and smiled. Tom was never told the happenings of that night.

    A few days later we departed Las Palmas, destination Antigua and Nelson’s Harbour.

    The first part of the journey was relatively incident free and we saw only porpoise, flying fish and a sleek French yacht which was due to leave port four days after us.

    Being on the night watch was really enjoyable. The sky was a mass of stars, a true stargazer’s paradise. I took a great interest in learning the constellations from the book we had on astronomy. Another memorable event was when the setting sun seemed to disappear into the only cloud on the horizon which had the shape of an inverted top hat.

    I can only put the following event down to youthful disregard for safety or stupidity, probably the latter.

    I was at the tiller on a hot sultry day, no wind and not even any flapping of the jib. Hans was assigned to swabbing the deck. Throw the bucket over, bring the bucket up, throw the bucket over, bring the –woops no bucket! The bucket’s gone, cried Hans. I knew that it was the only bucket on board – yes, really – I looked over the side and saw it drifting towards the stern. Without clicking my brain into gear that if the bucket made it from bow to stern something is moving, I said that I would go for it, dived over, or probably belly flopped, and eventually grabbed the bucket handle. I turned around and saw that the Jack London was a little further away than I had anticipated.
    Even though I still have my 50 yard swimming certificate from school it was not of much help in the middle of the Atlantic. Trying to swim with one arm, the other being occupied with the bucket was beyond my capability so I relinquished my hold of said bucket. Tom was called on deck and threw a long line which after the third attempt I reached. To say I was knackered by the time I made the side of the yacht is using polite language.

    As I was slowly being pulled on board Tom leaned over and said ‘where’s the bucket’ I could hardly believe it! Speaking then from the position of a beached whale I yelled, F—- your bucket Tom I almost drowned –the bucket sank I blurted out . He then gave me a physics lesson using Isaac Newton’s law of gravity and motion, the Pythagoras theory, how many beans make five, time and tide waits for no man etc, etc – and he hadn’t yet had a drink.

    He went through all that instead of saying that the bucket would not have sunk because….

    It wasn’t until later that it went through my mind that had I not got on well with Hans he could have just carried on doing jobs on deck, and left me alone in the middle of the Atlantic holding the bucket!

    Tom took his daily sextant reading and announced that we would sight Antigua at four that afternoon, which we did.

    We moored in Nelson’s Dockyard, a very compact picturesque harbour, though apparently not so in Nelson’s day.

    I have omitted to mention that whilst in Las Palmas we were joined by a German girl, who apparently was an experienced sailor. We saw relatively little of her during the voyage. Tom said that she suffered from seasickness and needed to rest – oh, really Tom! That possibly was the explanation for Tom spending abnormal time below deck.

    That evening we had a farewell party on the yacht, very memorable. Each person was heading off in a different direction to do their own thing. After a couple of days Tom would head north to his Virgin Islands, Hans was to continue to be on the run from the navy, Freddy was off to the States as was Richard. I was to spend the next couple of months seeing a bit of Antigua, then hitching a lift helping out on various boats going to other islands – an inexpensive way to travel. Even though they might not have needed an extra body the yachting community is close knit and always aiding each other.

    Well, end of story.

    They really did break the mould when they made Tom. He was such a charismatic character, full of ‘joie de vivre’.

    The first post on his web page states that he was mysteriously killed in Thailand. I spoke with his sister quite a few years back and she informed me that he was in a nursing home in California, and not very well. That must have pre dated Thailand.

    I do know that given the choice of a confrontation with the man above from a nursing home in California, or overdoing it with the ladies in Thailand he would have chosen the latter means of departure.

    Tom, you rascal, it was a pleasure to have known you.

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