Born at sea aboard his father’s hand-built sailboat and raised barefoot on her wood decks, Thomas Thor Tangvald’s oceanic childhood was full of beauty and wonder—but was also scarred by horrific tragedies that left him an orphan. Cast ashore into regular contact with human society for the first time at age 15, this intellectually gifted and uniquely educated young man at first reveled in his new environment but ultimately was led by his trauma into spirals of addiction and broken relationships. Thomas hasn’t been seen since he sailed away from French Guyana in 2014, and some believe he must still be alive.
THE BOY WHO FELL TO SHORE is an insider’s account of the Tangvald legend. Charles J. Doane—an accomplished bluewater sailor and longtime sailing journalist—tracks Thomas and his father Peter (a renowned but controversial sailor and author) across thousands of ocean miles through intimate interviews, personal correspondence, documentary research, and first-hand experience of the tropical anchorages and passage routes they frequented. This biography is by turns inspiring, terrifying, beautiful, and infuriating as Doane deftly explores the great cost of living freely at the whim of wind and water.
Praise for The Boy Who Fell to Shore:
"Yachting journalist Doane . . . does a fine job of piloting both sailors and wannabes into the world of Thomas Thor Tangvald, who disappeared with his boat off French Guiana in 2014. . . . [Sailors and non-sailors] will enjoy this narrative, rich with the joys and dangers of offshore seafaring, along with the tales of many who pursue that life so passionately."
--Library Journal, reviewed by Dorian Gossy
"His seafaring birth, life, and death was so unorthodox, Thomas Tangvald might as well have been a different species. Talented and tormented, he struggled to find love and fulfillment in a world with which he was wholly out of step. Doane has written an engrossing account of this remarkable and ultimately doomed young man, and in the process has given us a sprawling portrait of a remarkable community of bluewater sailors, a tribe of humans who prefer ocean to land."
--Mark Bowden, bestselling author of Black Hawk Down: A Story of Modern War and other titles
"A very thought-provoking read. Thomas was so at home on the sea that shipwrecked his youth, literally and figuratively, that his life on shore became a train wreck, in spite of all his good qualities. His old-school sailing parentage and pedigree was cool, but not cool enough to make Thomas whole, or his story any less heart-breaking."
--Tania Aebi, author of the bestselling memoir Maiden Voyage
"A fascinating chronicle of the life and voyages of a damaged yet brilliant iconoclast, and a gripping exploration of the dark tensions between minimalism and seamanship, between individualism and egocentricity, and between a storied, demanding father and an ambitious, orphaned son."
--Tim Zimmerman, contributing editor at Outside Magazine, associate producer and co-writer of the documentary film Blackfish, author of The Race
"In The Boy Who Fell to Shore Charles Doane dissects the freedom one finds at sea and in any life close to nature, a powerful siren call even to those who will never venture there. In an era when the term “Freedom” is bandied about by many who’ve never known it and have no idea of its real meaning and implications, this book asks serious questions. What are freedom’s costs and compromises? How does personal freedom without equal responsibility bear upon and limit the lives of others? Does it ultimately devolve into anarchy and disaster? Just how do each of us, sailor or dirt-dweller, strike a balance between a life with too many rules and none at all--between the benefits of civilization and a life devoid of them?"
--Steve Callahan, bestselling author of Adrift: Seventy-Six Days Lost at Sea
"The Boy Who Fell to Shore is lyrical, engaging, and true. Doane reconstructs the searing tragedy, apparent resilience, and ultimate vulnerability of a brilliant young man better suited to navigating the sea than life itself. It’s gripping--a thriller to the last page, and much more than just a sea story."
--W. Jeffrey Bolster, prize-winning historian and author of Black Jacks: African American Seamen in the Age of Sail and The Mortal Sea: Fishing the Atlantic in the Age of Sail
"The tragic life of Thomas Tangvald is like none other. Doane has teased out the tale with skill and tact. He recounts it for us in the raw in this well-researched book."
--Tom Cunliffe, BBC broadcaster, yachting journalist and author of In the Wake of Heroes
"I spent time with both protagonists of this story when my husband Larry and I sailed into Manila onboard our own engine-free cutter, Seraffyn, many years ago. The father charmed and intrigued me. The son, at the time only two years old, stole my heart. This book destroyed any romantic notions I had of the father; it made me almost weep for the son. With its amazing research, amazing cooperation from interviewees, and fine writing, Charlie Doane’s The Boy Who Fell to Shore kept me reading late into the night."
--Lin Pardey, award-winning voyager and author of Storm Tactics Handbook, The Self-Sufficient Sailor, and other nautical titles
"Charles Doane’s latest book is a mesmerizing account of a young man who was born at sea, was at one with the sea, and finally was lost at sea. From the first page you are drawn into the mysterious, terrifying, triumphant and tragic life of Thomas Thor Tangvald. This tale is impossible to put down; you just keep reading until it breaks your heart."
--John Kretschmer, author of Sailing to the Edge of Time, Cape Horn to Starboard and other titles
"In this fast-paced, richly detailed work of investigative journalism Doane invites us into the world of bluewater cruising by uncovering the life of one of its most complex characters. This is a must-read for every sailor and would-be global wanderer."
--Christopher L. Pastore, Associate Professor of History at SUNY Albany and author of Temple to the Wind: The Story of America’s Greatest Naval Architect and His Masterpiece, Reliance and Between Land and Sea: The Atlantic Coast and the Transformation of New England
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