Major Jim Almonds

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I was at school with his son in Singapore in 1953-56, living in the same cantonment at Nee Soon. Hemingway's The Old Man and the Sea had just appeared (courtesy of an enlightened English teacher) and I instantly recognised in Major Almonds the type of the true Hemingway hero - physicality and humanity conjoined in a spirit of serious playfulness.

Almonds had built an 18-foot dinghy from teak whose sturdiness came in handy during a "Sumatra" - a violent squall - off Changi naval base where he gave us lads our first sailing lessons. I recall with relish his salty language on that occasion when a police patrol boat put out to "render assistance" - he sent them about their business and got us safely back under a flying jib. (The next day a naval frogman was killed by a shark at the same spot.) It was a lesson in self-reliance.

His passion for building and sailing his own boats made him briefly a minor celebrity in 1958, when he sailed a larger boat back to Britain from West Africa single-handed - literally, because he broke his arm in a violent storm and completed the voyage after setting it in an improvised sling.