Across the Bar: Tom Wells

On February 21, Good Old Boat lost its undisputed biggest fan. Tom Wells died peacefully and unexpectedly aboard his boat in Florida; he laid down for a nap and never woke. His public obituary is here.

I stood alongside Tom (and his wife, Sandy) in front of the Good Old Boat booth at the 2017 and 2018 Annapolis sailboat show. His love of the magazine was contagious and I referred to him as The Closer, for his ability to convey to anyone who stopped and talked to him the merits of our magazine. Most of the time they asked to subscribe on the spot.

And that’s when he wasn’t playing. For years, and long before my time, Tom was Good Old Boat’s Official Troubadour, a fixture in our Annapolis booth, singing and playing original compositions on guitar, putting a smile on passersby.

As much as he was a cheerleader, Tom was a valued contributing editor. Over the years, in addition to other stories, he wrote reviews of 18 different boats. My guess is that on the day before he died, Tom could have told you the names of all 18 boat owners, because he and Sandy became friends and stayed in touch with each one. It’s just the way they were. Tom was big in stature, gentle in demeanor, with a disarming wit. He was a lover of words and puns. When his Tartan 37 needed a name, only Higher Porpoise would do (his previous boat was On Porpoise). Tom was the author of Superior Run, the story of a writer and sailor who uses his Tartan 37 to help a friend escape a ruthless adversary, a deadly game of cat and mouse on the Great Lakes… Many reviewers on Amazon expressed an interest in a sequel. Tom was working on one, but his time ended.

I’m grateful that I got to know Tom, but our window was short. Good Old Boat founders Karen Larson and Jerry Powlas share a deeper knowledge and connection with Tom and their remembrances follow.

Karen writes, “Tom Wells was a big man with a big voice and an enormous personality to go with it. He was a big crewmember with big muscles who could winch in the sheets and budge the traveler car no matter the wind conditions. He sailed like there was no tomorrow.

“He was a big teller of jokes and always the one with the fastest and wittiest repartee. His creativity was legendary. He could write music and lyrics, author books, play any tune on his 12-string, write a boat review or technical article, and judge the safety of buildings and other structures. He was a big friend to all he met. This was possible because he had a very big heart.

“He was one of our closest friends. He was a big presence in our lives and in those of others. And with his quiet and unexpected departure, so out of character, he has left behind a big empty space.

“We will miss him always.”

Jerry writes, “Tom Wells saved my life at least once and he saved my bacon many times. He was a dedicated member of the Good Old Boat crew, writing reviews and doing “booth duty” at boat shows.

“Tom made a daylight crossing to Fiddler’s Green on February 21, 2020. Just to show off, he made the whole crossing in his sleep. Tom didn’t play the fiddle. He played the 12-string guitar. Nonetheless the fiddlers will be glad to have him. I’ve seen him write a song, music, and lyrics in less than half an hour.

“When ashore away from boats, Tom was a structural engineer, father of a daughter and son, grandfather to one lucky little girl, and husband to his best friend Sandy. He had a preference for dark and stormys when the sun was below the yardarm. The rum had to be Gosling’s Black Seal, and the ginger beer had to be Vernor’s. I got the rum brand wrong once and he let me know. He was a sport though, he drank up even though the drink was a bit off. I still have a bit of the rum left. It was waiting for Tom’s next visit.

“If the fiddlers can’t play in tune or they don’t have the correct rum and ginger beer there, perhaps he will come back for a tuning fork, Gosling’s Black Seal, and some Vernor’s ginger beer.

“If you hear the faint sounds of a well-played 12-string, playing a song you can’t quite place, you are being haunted by an old sailor who is good to have on your side.”

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