The Pipe Smoker

09 November 2020 | Haunted houses, Your Stories, Your True Encounters

Just completed a sail from USA to Scotland. I visited many harbors and inlets around this gorgeous country. I was actually able to meet ancestors of my family clan “Fraser”. I have a strong family background in sailing. which basically began in Scotland and England.

One night, I had anchored off a small community named Portree. A beautiful seaport. I spent three nights on the hook and went in town with my dingy. I spent time walking the entire town taking in all the history and folklore. Incredible history and stories told by the locals. I have a 40 foot wooden Ketch, which was built in the USA around the early 1900″s and has thousands of miles of sea time on her hull. I woke up on the third morning and about to make coffee and prepare some breakfast, when I smelt this strong smell of pipe smoke. I thought maybe someone had boarded or maybe tied along side. I went up on the deck, there was no one in sight. I could not see any movement on the shoreline. As I was standing there on deck, the pipe smell went away. Thought this a bit strange, but basically forgot about it.

Around four in the afternoon, I was getting the deck ready to pull anchor and sail north out of Portree. I fired up the onboard engine (which was added thirty years prior to this adventure), and started to walk towards the bow and winch up the anchor. As I approached the bow, I could smell the pipe smell again, it was like it was blowing around my head. It actually scared me a bit, there was absolutely no person around me. I looked down at the bowsprit to start the long process of cranking the anchor up, when I saw the anchor was already up and secured to its roller and tied off. The hair on my arm was standing straight up. I now had to run back to the engine controls and maneuver my boat because I was now free and moving. In the surprise of this, I had just realized the pipe smell was gone.

I had an uneventful departure from that point on. I made my slow sail up to Lochinver and was able to dock at a public dock. I had friends meet me and bring me some provisions they had promised. We were standing next to my friends car parked just off the dock but a good distance away when my friend asked me who was my mate why did he not debark with me? I told them I had no mate with me, I was still sailing solo. He and his girlfriend said they saw an old man on deck looking our way and he was smoking a pipe. We all moved fast back to my boat and I remember my heart was pounding thinking someone had boarded my boat. We jumped onboard and I rushed down below in the thick smell of pipe smoke and I could not find anyone onboard. My friend kind of laughed and said, at least he has good taste in tobacco. I asked him what he meant by that. He said the smell is that of Condor, a very popular pipe tobacco in England. His dad smoked that brand, so he knew the smell.

We left for a short time to get dinner, and I found myself anxious and slightly nervous about returning. I asked my friend to come onboard with me to open the boat back up, not telling him I just wanted someone else there with me. I left the next day, My two friends came and waived me off, and did manage to poke a little fun at me by giving me a package of Condor mild. Knowing darn well I do not smoke anymore, let alone own a pipe. I tucked the package away below deck. Many weeks later I was sailing west back to the US making a passage to Nova Scotia. I ran into a really nasty storm. I was being over whelmed by the storm, trying to do everything I could to keep the boat upright and not destroy my boat. It became almost unbearable, I was doing everything I had learned and been taught to sail her, but I could feel I was not winning this battle. I started getting my emergency gear ready to deploy just in case. While crawling to the main mast area where my emergency raft was stowed, a wave came over the starboard rail and slammed me down on the deck, It had knocked the wind out of me and I felt panic over take me. As I was gasping for breath, the smell of the pipe came right to my face. I was able to breath again and pulled myself by the lifeline I had set up earlier that day. I made it back into the cockpit and I saw the lines being pulled and others released, like I was on autopilot. I was at the helm steering and watching a mate steady at the lines making constant adjustments.. The rain was stinging at my face and I tried so hard to see him, but I could not see his face. Only a long dark coat, drenched as much as I was. This went on for another hour, I was froze to the helm, afraid to leave. The mate worked these lines like magic. And I watched his every move for what seemed to be hours. I noticed he braced himself way before I actually felt the wave against the rails, so I learned to do the same whenever he braced himself. I was learning from him.

Things were getting more manageable and I heard the VHF radio cracking down below, I jumped to the companionway door and ran down the steps and grabbed the portable radio and back to the helm, I remember holding on to the radio so hard, I thought I might smash it in my grip. I looked up through the wind blowing rain to see what my mate was doing. I lost him. He was not there. The lines were secure and tight. My boat was tracking on a strong heel, but she was stable. I sailed out of this storm and into a moon lit sky with puffy clouds all around me. The wind was there still, but the waves had flattened out a lot. I arrived at my destination and anchored by myself. I found myself still looking for my mate. I went down below to make a pot of coffee and start cleaning up the total mess in the cabins caused by the stormy ride. Sitting on top of my navigation/chart table was the bag of Condor pipe tobacco. It had been opened and a small amount of loose tobacco was on the table top.

What a small award my mate got for not only being there with me during such a horrible ordeal but possibly saved my life as well. I am convinced he knew what was about to happen on my voyage. I still have the bag of Tobacco. I will keep it on my boat for as long as I can sail her. It’s there for him anytime he wants it.


Submitted by Lawrence Smith


© 2024, G. Michael Vasey & My Haunted Life (Unless indicated otherwise by author’s own copyright above). All rights reserved.

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