“I grew up at the bottom of Africa in a small town with a big name.” This is the line that starts my book, The Risk in Being Alive. I actually grew up in Pietermaritzburg which was then a fairly small town nestled in the foothills of the Drakensberg mountains about 50 miles inland from Durban on South Africa’s east coast. The town has grown into a thriving, bustling, multicultural metropolis and no longer resembles the place where I spent my childhood, but to me it’s still a place where I feel at home even though I have not lived there for almost 40 years.
In 1978 I left South Africa to sail across the South Atlantic to Uruguay. I had just completed a mandatory stint in the army and had a dream to sail around the world. My first circumnavigation was in 1981 in the Whitbread Round the World Race. I raced another Whitbread in 1985 and sailed part of a third in 1989. All three experiences were different and they gave me a love for the sea and for adventure. The writer Isak Dineson wrote; “The cure for everything is salt water - sweat tears and the sea.” I believed her.
After more than 200,000 miles offshore I found that sailing had lost it’s thrill. It was time for new challenges. I tried life on land but the daily traffic and jams were no match for the freedom and excitement of the open ocean. I wanted a big challenge and entered the Around Alone, a single-handed race around the world. Unfortunately my efforts came to an abrupt end on the reef that surrounds Bermuda, the entire saga now indelibly recounted in The Risk in Being Alive (rewritten and republished as Grabbing Life) and not worth repeating here. The only good thing to come out of it was that it forced me to change careers.
I self-published my first book, Spindrift which gave me the confidence to write more. I found that writing gave me the same enjoyment and freedom I had experienced on the open ocean and knew that my career had made a subtle, yet distinct shift. Hundreds of articles and seven books later (not all published) I am slowly finding my stride.
I have spent many years as a public speaker. In the past three decades I have spoken to hundreds of groups around the world from small yacht clubs in northern Canada, to a large outdoor crowd of 3,500 people in New Zealand. Telling stories and illustrating them with stunning images and video is my way of sharing the joy and fulfillment I have experienced as an adult.
When I lived in Durban I worked as a sailmaker for Elvstrøm Sails and have remained in the business since at times more involved than others. Five years ago I hung out my shingle selling sails under my own brand - Great Circle Sails - and it has been a joy and a success.
Finally, and I know it's a cliché, being a parent is the toughest and most rewarding job in the world. My children continue to bring wonder to my life and I am eternally grateful to them because having wonder really is one of the true gifts of life.
Me at 5 years old
Crossing the Pacific
My family - Eli Tory and Tom
Before I had a website I had a magazine about myself