ANNAPOLIS, OCT. 8 -- "Those eyes," said a man admiring the ravaged visage of Tristan Jones. "Think of all they've seen."
Not a pretty prospect. With his weathered mug, Jones, author of 12 books about the sea and veteran of 420,000 miles of ocean travel, mostly alone under sail, brings the cruel realities of open water to the U.S. Sailboat Show.
You wander the display tents and along the docks full of glistening new boats at the world's largest in-the-water show; you hear the patter of the salesmen, neat and trim in their blue blazers. You turn a corner and there it is -- an apparition from the sea.
Jones is here selling his books, most of which are wonderful. At age 64 he is a physical wreck, recovering from vicious bronchitis, sucking on one cigarette after another, his peg leg propped beneath him.
"You look great," say visitors, as if willing it true.
His trimaran, Outward Leg, lies in Phuket, Thailand, where he sailed it from San Diego, voyaging across Europe by going up the Rhine River and down the Danube, through uncharted waters behind the Iron Curtain.
But he's abandoned Outward Leg for now and taken up life on the Henry Wagner, a 40-foot Thai fishing boat named after his long-suffering literary agent.
Jones has sailed the Henry Wagner 600 miles across the Kra Peninsula in Thailand and into the South China Sea to Bangkok, traversing rivers never sailed before, including a stretch of dry bed over which the boat was dragged by elephant.
Next month, with a crew of three native Thai boys, all crippled by birth defects, Jones will sail up the River Ping into Laos, on to Kampuchea and down the Mekong River to Ho Chi Minh City, the old Saigon.
It is another dangerous adventure from the author of "The Incredible Journey," the book that chronicles his trip from the world's lowest navigable waterway, the Dead Sea, to its highest, Lake Titicaca.
"Have you any assurance that you'll be allowed across the border into Kampuchea?" he was asked.
"No," Jones thundered, "and if I did, I wouldn't go. That would just be commuting."
"I think," said Wagner, "he'd better wear a bulletproof vest."
As shows go, this one is smaller than last year's. The sailing market is "soft," show organizers say, and for the first time, next weekend's powerboat show will be bigger than this weekend's sailboat show, an ominous sign.
But as desirable as powerboats may be, they never seem to attract spirits like Jones, or like Jim Dickson, the blind Washingtonian who fell short in his bid to sail solo across the Atlantic Ocean this summer, and who may try again next June.
Dickson is here, too, with his specially rigged sloop, Eye Opener, tucked in among the gleaming fleet of yachts for sale.
The U.S. Sailboat Show at Annapolis City Dock runs 10 a.m.-7 p.m. Friday-Sunday, 10-6 Monday. Admission is $8, $4 for children 12 and under.
The U.S. Powerboat Show runs Oct. 15-18, 10 a.m.-7 p.m. the first three days and 10-6 the last day. Admission is $7, $3 for children 12 and under.