Tom O’Neil, sail maker of Pequod, is based on a real person I had the honor of interviewing during a visit of Boothbay Harbor, Maine: Nathanial Wilson, possibly the premier sail maker in the United States, who patiently took time out of his day to give me a tour of his loft and talk about his craft.
Tom had been blond and tall when he was younger; now he is still tall and lanky but with a shock of white hair. In Death in a Dacron Sail, Rhe visits Tom at his loft, recalling she had a crush on him when she was a teenager and spent a lot of time in his loft while the sails were being made for her boat, the Glass Trinket. Sail makers who work by hand leave their signature on each sail, and Tom recognizes the one in which a young girl’s body had been wrapped as one of his.
“I recognize that stitching. Corner patch at the tack. Guess you did, too. Headsail, dacron, old.”
“Head sail?” I asked.
“It’s the smaller sail on a fractional rig sloop, bet you haven’t seen one. Forestay doesn’t run to the top of the mast and the main sail does most of the work.”
Tom O’Neil is a great character, and I hope I can bring him back in a later book.
How do you envision Tom?
Here is a picture of Nat Wilson: