FRESNO - Fresno in 1922 was a place to get away from. Even at 15 years of age Niels Thomsen knew that. He had been hawking The Fresno Republican Newspaper as a newsboy on downtown Fresno street corners at a nickel apiece.
In Summer he loved to head out to Fancher Creek five miles East of downtown Fresno. There he would read Conrad novels, catch fish, and dream the impossible dream. From his pay, he would save $13.00. Not enough to fulfill his dream but, perhaps, enough to take him far away.
So, one night, he left Fresno and his friend William Saroyan and jumped a Northbound Southern Pacific freight train heading for Frisco. Perhaps he could find a place on board one of Joseph Conrad's sailing ships at the wharf. He was right.
It took him three years to reach Victoria B.C., and the barkentine the Forest Dream that would take him on an exciting voyage in 1925.
In later life he would tell of his adventures. To inspire his children, then he always told them 'When I was a boy of 13 I delivered the Daily Republican in the mornings and the Evening Herald after school and mowed
lawns on Saturdays and Sundays.'
And so it was, that after leaving Fresno, Niels Thomsen lived a life of adventure and meaning in a span of more than 75 years. Now, at the age of 90, Thomsen has just published his memoirs. They are an amazing action-packed chronicle of the very last commercial sailing ship, the Forest Dream to depart from Victoria, B.C. in 1925 on a prolonged voyage around the world to Mauritius in the Indian Ocean.
In this amazing tale Thomsen works his passage to Seattle at the age of fifteen in search of tall ships. He would find more than he dreamed of back in Fresno.
After ten years as a seaman and officer in the Merchant Marine, he entered the U.S. Coast Guard. By that time the United States had entered World War II in the Pacific. Thomsen then served four more years in harm's way in the South Pacific. And under his command his ship was credited for ramming and sinking of a Japanese submarine in Southeast Alaska. He was promoted to Captain and received the Legion of Merit medal for his role in sinking the enemy submarine.
Captain Thomsen's memoirs retell this story in rich detail and chronicle his connection to the sailing ship Forest Dream as a runaway from Fresno in 1925.
Thomsen, crossed paths with ship Captain Huycke in 1992 who had come into possession of a portion of the journal of a Malcolm Chisholm, written while on the FOREST DREAM on the voyage to Mauritius in that same year, 1925.
This was the diary of a fateful voyage. As Thomsen read of those events, it dawned on him that he, himself, was the last survivor of that voyage, a-la a Joseph Conrad story-line.
Thomsen was driven by an inner compulsion to fulfill a duty to his former shipmates. He would present the story of this tall ship. The story of those who in command were lost and of those who served and were gone, and those like him who went down to the sea in ships and lived to tell about it. He could also tell of those who fell from the rigging to the hard cold decks below, and died at sea. He could tell what he alone had known and what he lived through in those momentous times. He would tell the story of one Fresno boy's search for manhood and finding it at an early age, of his search in later life for clarification, redemption, and a return.
The Fresno Republican Newsboy made good. His amazing story is the best read to come our way. Get this book.
[The Voyage of the Forest Dream Rosewind Press., 167 pages, w/photos & maps, Indexed. $25.00 post paid.Available from: Capt. Niels P. Thomsen, USCG(ret) 19222 Olympic View Drive Edmonds, WA 98020.
Related Links: Advance Press Release, and Forest Dream and Other Sea Adventures Web Site]