Tompkins Jr. did not attend his high school graduation because it coincided with a prior commitment he had made to crew in a sailing race. Whereas the elder Tompkins never went to sea on his own until college age, his son took off halfway through his high school freshman year to crew on a schooner traveling from the Atlantic through the Canal to San Francisco. His devotion to the sea was such that when his draft number came up, he tried to arrange it so he could sail to Hawaii in the Trans-Pacific Race of 1953, do his two years of military in the islands and sail back on a boat returning from the 1955 race. "A cute idea," he says, "except that it didn't work."
In service he might have risen to the rank of motor-pool corporal or some equally exalted rating except that in those dark years, when the shadow of McCarthy was still across the land, his salty independence was not what the Army wanted. After being sworn in verbally, at first he refused to sign a loyalty oath. The military spooks investigating his case asked him if he favored revolution. Tompkins Jr., never one to give a simple red, white and blue answer, messed up his career by replying, "The question is ambiguous. There are several ways of thinking about revolution. Our country was founded on a revolution. It was saved despite a revolution. And I personally think the industrial revolution was pretty groovy." Eventually he did sign, but with reservations.
After military service he tried to give up sailing, considering it an anachronism. He took a job in Los Angeles with the Pacific Wire Rope Company. As he worked up from apprentice to foreman at the company, his record for truancy exceeded one his father had set on the Paris Herald 30 years earlier. In little more than a year he took off from work to sail in a race to Hawaii, in another to Acapulco and in another to Tahiti. For all his talents, Pacific Wire Rope finally decided they could not afford a foreman who kept disappearing over the horizon.
Remembering the ambition that grew in him as a high-schooler, Tompkins Jr. says, "I never wanted to make a million or change the world. My goals have always been simple: to be a good sailor and be healthy and live with a beautiful woman." Considering his devotion, the skills Tompkins has refined and his good health explain themselves, but it is wondrous that the beautiful woman with whom he lives considered marrying him or any sailor. The first time Mrs. Warwick Tompkins Jr. (n�e Janet Mosure) went to sea she endured 26 days of prolonged horror.
At the end of a Hawaiian vacation in 1954, Janet Mosure decided to return to California in dreamy style, as paying guest on an old 74-foot schooner called Idalia. In her declining years as a sea tramp Idalia had received about as much loving care as a medieval leper. When Janet Mosure set sail on her, the refrigerator had been repossessed and the radio and generator were not working. The cook who had signed for the passage did not show up. By the fourth day out of Honolulu, Idalia's head was leaking into the bilge, and the bilge was lapping around the bottom of Janet Mosure's bunk. By the 26th day, the Idalia had made less than 400 miles easting toward the mainland, was out of food and was derelict. By luck a Navy transport wandering out of the normal sea-lanes stumbled onto her.
After surviving the Idalia, Janet Mosure went back for more. Two years later in French Polynesia she signed aboard a schooner called Viveka that had raced to Tahiti and needed a cook for the return passage. While Viveka was readying for the return, Janet Mosure met Warwick Tompkins, who had sailed on another ship in the race. Tompkins was singularly unimpressed by the slovenly crew of the rival Viveka except for Janet Mosure, the dutiful, beautiful brunette who slaved to get her craft shipshape Bristol-fashion while her male companions were gadding about ashore. Tompkins was so taken by Janet that occasionally when he rowed out to sink his ship's garbage in weighted bags in deep water beyond the reef he asked her to accompany him, and she accepted. Most shipboard romances that start in a Polynesian Paradise last about as long as a hibiscus blossom. But when a man and a woman find happiness dumping garbage together, it is true love.
In the early '60s Warwick and Janet Tompkins tried charter sailing as a way of life and gave it up within a year. The charter boat on which they served as master and mistress was a posh, steel-hulled motor ketch, Caravan, described by Janet as a "35-ton sea cow." Despite many deficiencies Caravan suited the Tompkinses well enough, but the guests who paid $1,000 a week to be hauled around the U.S. and British Virgin Islands were a disappointment. Most of them brought their worst land habits aboard. In a series of letters to San Francisco friends, Janet Tompkins wrote, among other things, "After a couple of charters we concluded that what Caravan really attracts is a species of wealthy cripple.... They adore sailing, provided you don't get them wet, the boat doesn't roll, heel or spill their drinks...."
After giving up on chartering, Warwick Tompkins Jr. made his way as a one-man sailing service. If a rich man in Bangor wanted to cruise in his own boat in the Grenadines, Tompkins would sail it south for him. In addition to delivering boats, he counseled novices, intermediates and experts on how they might get better performance out of themselves, their sails and their hulls. At present he is a sales representative and counselor in the Northern California office of North Sails. He took the job at less salary than originally offered in exchange for a flexible work schedule that allows him to sail as he likes.
As his wife points out, although Warwick Tompkins enjoys the Lewis Carroll world of sailing hypertechnology, his tastes and interests far exceed it. In an ordinary day he feels the need to talk of many things: of ships (of course), but also of shoes and sealing wax and cabbages and kings. In this respect he is the replica of his father. Today the elder Tompkins spends much of his time in a Southern California desert retreat 75 miles from the sea—and still 30 miles beyond the tongues of smog that lick ever inland. On the bookshelves in the elder Tompkins' place in the Morongo Valley there is sea lore and also a stimulating collection of books that are 100% salt-free. Four hundred miles to the north, on the bookshelves of his son's home, there is an equally broad range of reading matter. At the end of a meal during which the talk has ranged from birds and bees to birth control, the elder Tompkins excuses himself to take the dinner scraps outside to feed the coyotes of Morongo Valley. Two nights later, 400 miles away, in the middle of a dinner where the conversation has gone from ships to optics to opera to unethical medical practices, Tompkins Jr. excuses himself for a moment to put niblets of cat food outside for the errant raccoons of Mill Valley. Thoroughly salted though they are, both Tompkinses, p�re et fils, cherish the fact that the world still supports an extravagant variety of land creatures. Not to mention an expanse of sea where a man can go when he wants to chuck it all.