Tuesday, March 30, 2010

An Awfully Big Adventure

Jonathan (Pip) Jackson has officially retired. But his life has always involved adventures, often at sea, or involving pubs and music. Now 68, he is still recovering from living ashore and being married.

He met his future wife (he calls her Flowerpot) 13 years ago. Pip was 56 to her 38 years and neither had been married or had children. But within 3 months she'd moved down to Cornwall. “I fell for her curls,” he says with a grin, “but I also wanted the adventure of being with a partner. I’d never had that before.”

Pip started his working life in London but soon decided that self employment was the way ahead. “My sister wanted me to join her in the States, but I’d always dreamt of coming to Cornwall.”

In 1960, at the age of 19, he became partner in a landscaping business, then bought a violet farm in Zelah. His brother joined him and they took over a local nursery, built a bungalow and opened a shop.

Four years later the Jackson brothers felt there was more money in speculative building, and started designing houses and landscaping the gardens. That proved profitable, but after a while Pip had wanderlust. “Sir Francis Chichester sailed round the world, followed by Robin Knox Johnston,” Pip says. “I was inspired to go sailing.”

Deciding that a working boat was suitable for cruising, in 1968 he bought St Meloris, a 28 foot wooden Falmouth oyster boat, and spent a year preparing her for sea. “There was a bet in the pub that I couldn’t sail a working boat across the Atlantic,” he recalls. “So I had to do it.” And he did, with no engine, no electrics and no experience of deep sea sailing. He did take rum, tobacco, a shotgun and two torches, one of which rusted, and the other fell overboard.

“I didn't have a radio so I pinched my brother’s Roberts radio. He’s never forgiven me,” Pip said ruefully, “and it didn’t even work at sea.”

In 1970 he left Mylor Harbour waved off by bemused family and friends, and set sail for the West Indies. 32 days later, having mended a broken mast, been becalmed, then involved in high storms, he arrived in Antigua. “I wanted to go to the Pacific, but my father was dying so I sold the boat and went home,” he says. “When word reached Mylor that I’d made it, everyone went to the pub and drank the money!”

Over the next twenty years, Pip set up numerous businesses with his brother, delivered yachts around America and in 1975, he designed and built Heritage, a 36 foot ocean going boat. But he needed money, and accepted a job in Turkey.

“I was asked to recover a British yacht found with a dead body on board,” he says nonchalantly. He ended up being chased up a river by Turkish villagers brandishing guns. “I was very frightened,” he said, “but I managed to head for sea and escaped.”

His next job involved working for a German millionaire. “He was a lovely villain but I dread to think what he was involved in,” Pip says. “I came home to sober up!”

Back home, Pip sold Heritage, made wooden model boats for the Greenwich Maritime Museum and started playing for the Quaker Hall Jazz Band.

“Playing cornet in a jazz band gives me the same adrenaline rush as sailing a well found yacht in robust conditions,” he explains. As a result, his next adventures were more sociable, and of a musical and alcoholic nature.

In 1991 the recession bit hard. But the Jackson Brothers set up a jewellery making business using tin from South Crofty, the last working mine in Cornwall. Two years later Pip fell in love with White Heather, a 32 foot working boat, and in 1994/5 he took time off to fulfil a long held ambition – to have a season oystering his own boat. “It’s physically very demanding - I lost three stone!” he says. “But I was proud to learn about this unique industry.”

In May 1996, Pip had another upheaval. “I met Flowerpot the month before mother died, and my whole life changed,” he says. Several years later, he sold his precious White Heather and married Flowerpot in Gibraltar.

So it seemed the adventurer was settling down. But Pip was diagnosed with prostate cancer, then pulmonary fibrosis. “It was a terrifying time,” says Flowerpot. “We had great support from our Oncology nurse, but the prognosis didn’t look good.”

Six months later, Pip's conditions were stabilised, and the Jackson Brothers decided to sell the tin business. Pip's next ideas were taken up by Trevor Baylis, the inventor famous for his wind-up radio. Unfortunately keeping up patents is an expensive business, and reluctantly the Jackson Brothers put that project to one side.

Now Pip’s retired he finds his days are fuller than ever. “I’ve started playing jazz again, and I'd love another boat,” he says. In the interim, he and Flowerpot have traded their car for a van so they can go exploring. “Life with Flowerpot is one big adventure!” Pip smiles. “I never know what’s going to happen next.”

Cornwall Today 2009

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