Jim has spnt the majority of his life at sea or teaching students about the sea. His love for sailing started at North Carolina’s Camp Sea Gull and continues to this day. Recently, he was in Bangkok to launch Vela, the second Marconi-rigged schooner he has had built in Samut Prakan’s Marsun shipyard.

Born in Louisville, Kentucky, Jim’s father George Stoll Jr. was the black sheep of his family. Jim described his dad as a soapbox pundit with very strong opinions, who always thought differently than the rest of the family. Jim’s great grandfather, Charles Christian Stoll, had started an axle-grease company so he was well positioned when Henry Ford started rolling Model T’s off the assembly line. “CC” Stoll had four sons, among them Jim’s grandfather George Sr. who then started an oil company called Stoll Oil on the banks of the Ohio River, which was later sold to Sinclair Oil in 1953.

Jim’s mother died when he was six and his father decided to move his family to Florida a year later in 1957 where he soon remarried. In Sarasota, Jim’s father bought a piece of land, subdivided it, and then blasted a basin in order to build a canal through to Sarasota Bay. He started a small marina, sold gas and bait shrimp, and rented 14-ft aluminum boats for the locals to fish and oyster along the waterways. There was also a small motel with six rooms, though Jim and his family lived in three of them.

Recalling the times, Jim says back in the 50s, a big boat out on the bay was about eighteen feet long, and there weren’t any outboards with more than 40hp engines mostly built by Ralph Evinrude. But it was the advent of outdoor boating and there were clubs that cruised the waterways and needed to spot to buy gas and fill up on supplies, hence the idea for the marina. Jim, who was the second oldest of the family siblings (he has three sisters), says it was his father’s idea that he would bequeath one facet of the company to each child, e.g., one would get the marina, one would get the motel, one would get the gas station and one would get the sub-division to manage. Naturally, Jim only loved the marina.

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When Jim was in junior high school, he started attending Camp Sea Gull, a summer camp for boys in North Carolina. It was a seafaring camp, all about sailing. He took to it like a duck to water becoming the camp’s youngest Lightning Skipper. Two people from Camp Sea Gull had an enormous influence on Jim’s life: sailing instructor & camp counselor Jimmy Edwards and Tom Hart, a professor from the University of Florida Gainesville, who ran the camp’s sailing program. The knowledge that he accrued at the camp came in very handy as he was able to use it to start his family’s own Holiday Harbor Seafaring Camp. Jim’s professional nautical life had actually begun by running the marina as a teenager and rescuing people who had run into trouble on the bay, yet the Camp was a natural outgrowth of that experience.

Unfortunately, Jim’s father wasn’t a seasoned businessman, the sub-division didn’t sell well, and the marina and gas station weren’t making enough money to keep the family going. Eventually, the family finances hit rock bottom and Jim needed to leave college to come home and run the marina once again. A boatbuilder had left three 16-foot sailboats at the Stoll’s marina on consignment and then folded so Jim used those three boats, plus a few Sunfish that he had bought (that’s what he was using at Camp Sea Gull) and the marina’s outboards to teach sailing, waterskiing, and boat-handling for both power and sailboats. He had gotten into waterskiing in a big way as inspired by water-ski pioneer Dick Pope and his group who were only 90 minutes away at Cyprus Gardens.

Jim mimicked the syllabus at Camp Sea Gull and his time as a scout so sailors earned badges and worked their way up the ranks as their sailing ability grew. The camp ran from 1965-1970 with three summer sessions (125-150 students at a time) offering both a day school and overnight campers as the motel served as a residence for the visiting sailors and bunk beds were put in to accommodate them. The family used to advertise in the back of National Geographic so students would come from all over the Eastern Seaboard.

After two years of running the sailing camp, Jim’s father decided that given the sailing school’s success, they could run a full-time regular school, partly because he wanted a soapbox to promote his free-market economic theories. The school catered to kids of well-to-do families who needed a little more attention & care than they would normally receive in public schools.

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At about this time, Jim’s experience with big boat racing began when he started competing in the Southern Ocean Racing Circuit in Florida and the Caribbean, ironically starting off as a cook with Jack Eckerd’s Panacea. People like Ted Turner and Pat Haggerty of Texas Instruments were racing in that circuit. He caught a lucky break by bumping into Dick Bertram at a bar in Nassau called Charlie Charlie’s. Dick had started Bertram Yachts (selling Bertram 31s to the likes of the Aga Khan and the King of Norway), by then, Dick had already won every major offshore powerboat race and was a highly sought-after sailing maxi boat competitor as well. Fame came quickly for Dick after his lucky day seeing the first Ray Hunt design deep-V hull as a tender while running the foredeck on the Americas Cup boat VIM. Dick bought a design and proceeded to build a series of deep-V super-powered boats that quickly became the world’s fastest ocean racers. So well known in fact that at one point, Dicks image at the helm of a sailing yacht graced the largest billboard over Times Square in Manhattan blowing smoke rings into the sky for Camel cigarettes.

Long story short, Dick sent his five kids to Jim’s sailing school and in the process managed to get Jim on as crew aboard Sumner “Huey” Long’s Ondine. After a season of racing on Ondine, Jim was asked to join Kialoa II by Jim Kilroy, the best maxi boat in the world at that time. Over the years, Jim raced on Kialoa II, III, IV, V, all four, the top boats of the era. Fitted-out cruising boats were still racing in the beginning days, but Ted Turner’s stripped-out American Eagle changed all that, and boats gradually evolved to the racing sleds we see today. Back then, crew members weren’t even paid, they all had day jobs and they arranged their schedules as best as possible to allow them to do the most sailing possible, Jim included.

Jim ended up being a lifelong friend of Dick Bertram who he saw as a father figure even reading the eulogy as his ashes were cast into the Gulf Stream. Another father figure was Irving Johnston, who had sailed around the world seven times with young crew for National Geographic, which is exactly what Jim wanted to do. Irving and Jim corresponded and sailed on occasion together for over 35 years.

Along the way, Jim also met Mike Burke of Windjammer Cruises who had converted schooners into passenger yachts to take them on Caribbean cruises and introduced him to his dad. The elder Stoll then swapped Windjammer cruises for free tuition for Mike Burke’s six kids at the Holiday Harbor Seafaring Camp. Jim thus proceeded to take boarding school students and put them onboard a Windjammer for a month at a time giving them an education at sea.

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Serendipity struck when Don Patton, Dirk Bertram’s lead broker, found Te Vega, a 156 foot 1932 classic schooner, which had been used as an oceanographic research vessel by Stanford University. The Stolls lost out when they first bid on the boat to a group of 12 investors from Colorado. But the boat quickly fell into disrepair after the captain the group had entrusted with the boat took it to Mexico and mismanaged it horribly. So Jim bid on it again yet another investor promised more until they saw had much repair work needed to be done. So Jim’s bid prevailed, and he took the US$20,000 he had received from his grandmother’s inheritance and with the promise of the semester’s tuitions (US$100,000) was able to secure the boat, his first classroom on the water.

Jim credits Dick Bertram’s help and prodding together with Irving Johnson’s guidance, follow-up and knowledge for getting him his first schooner. The boat was in rough shape, but they had stacks of lumber on board and they were still repairing the sails and patching the decks and masts when the school semester started. Eventually, both Irving and Dick served as Jim’s watch captains aboard Te Vega, in the race from Bermuda and when the Secretary of the Navy awarded the three of them the plaque as “Third Best Ship” out of 200 participating in the USA bicentennial Tall Ships parade into NY harbor in 1976.

The school then switched its focus from one-month stints on Windjammer to whole school years at sea aboard Te Vega with George Stoll Jr. as the schoolmaster and Jim as the skipper and operations manager. The first 1970 nine-month trip started in Bimini where the kids were flown in by seaplane, and the Panama-flagged Te Vega then sailed down through the Bahamas, down to Brazil and up the Amazon River, thence back up to the Caribbean seeing the pyramids in Mexico and finishing in Fort Lauderdale. The whole 30-student crew stuck it out during the first voyage, with the option of returning home for two weeks at Christmas. The school was called “Flint School aboard Te Vega”, an homage to James Coburn’s Our Man Flint, where James was known to be able to do anything, a philosophy Jim and his dad were hoping to imbue in their students.
Jim had met a Dutch girl and fellow sailor named Els in 1969 while in Corfu Greece; they fell in love and were married in 1972. She had joined Te Vega in Gibraltar during the summer of 1971 as a French teacher, at a time when Jim’s dad and his stepmom were not on board.

Needing a second schooner in order to accommodate both couples, the Stolls went back to Don Patton who found a boat in the Bahamas called Black Douglas that was built for the family that built the Brooklyn Bridge. They bought it for US$20,000, without masts and Jim split the cost with his dad. The 175-foot schooner Black Douglas was refitted with the original rig of three masts that Jim designed and built in Holland, then renamed te Quest. For the next ten years she sailed side by side with Te Vega with Jim doing the navigating and operations. The boats were about the same size, they docked together and the students took classes back and forth between both vessels. There were 86 students and 23 staff on the boats every year with school graduates even attending such prestigious schools as Harvard and the US Naval Academy. For 11 years altogether Jim sailed students throughout the Caribbean, the Mediterranean, the North Sea, and the Baltic, roaming from ports as far away as Helsinki, Rhodes, and the heart of the Amazon. But Jim eventually became disillusioned with his dad’s philosophy, as the school was hard on kids who did not perform well and rebelled against authority so he stopped the program in 1981.

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Jim then found a buyer for te Quest, but the boat was in rough shape and would need to be gutted, taken down to the frames, and pretty much rebuilt from scratch. The new owner, Hans Schreiber agreed to pay Jim US$70,000 to do this job so in 1981 Jim took the boat to Abeking and Rasmussen in Germany and they accomplished a complete total yacht refurbishment for US$4.2 million; a new boat would have cost US$10 million at that time. The owner was charmed when he first saw the result as he stepped aboard in Martinique in 1983. The boat was the biggest volume sailing yacht in the world at the time and was kept in Nice, France. Many a superyacht captain today got their start aboard Aquarius, and with that job, Jim officially joined the yachting world per se. It was a dream job, he sailed as the ship’s executive captain, running the program, coming on board when the owner did in the Mediterranean or the Caribbean, and jetting off when on layovers. He remained friends with the owner for 35 years as well, eventually managing, as a courtesy, the owners Perini Navi replacement yacht after Aquarius was sold to the Moroccan Royal Family.

In 1986, Jim decided he wanted to return to training kids as it was more important to him to help kids build their own dreams than to sail for one owner with his own dream. So, he started ActionQuest in the British Virgin Islands, which soon earned a reputation as the best-known sailing, cruising, and dive training program for teenagers in the world, and still runs today training 600 kids a year (up to 220 at a time, divided into separate age groups). Jim was the driving force of the program until 2005 when Michael Meighan took over the helm full time. The company was one of Moorings/Sunsail’s best customers as it chartered up to 18 fifty-footers every summer.

In 1999, Jim bought a schooner named Ocean Star that had been earlier used by the magazine Ocean Navigator as a training ship for celestial navigation. This time around, he decided to work with a gap year and university students in a three-month Seamester program. It worked, but Jim knew that he still needed a customized boat from which to run the Seamester program if he wanted to voyage on the world’s oceans once again.

In 2005, Jim teamed up with Bill Langan of Langan Design in Newport RI (he had been a sailing friend plus the lead designer for Sparkman & Stevens and developed many Americas Cup boats) and their goal was to build Argo, as the biggest schooner they could build that would fit under the 24m load waterline rule (long overhangs didn’t count), which allowed it to be sailed by an Ocean Yachtmaster, and with a British flag (BVI), they could sail anywhere in the world. Her hull was to be the same classic style (although reduced version) as the sea-friendly three-masted Aquarius staysail schooner he had learned to love by sailing her in rough high seas over the years both when he owned her and as a yacht for years after that. He knew his new schooner would be sea kindly and safe at sea for the students who would sail her.
The original plan was to build the boat in Cape Town South Africa, but then in 2004, Jim decided to take his first trip to Asia, staying at the Shangri-la in Bangkok. Unfortunately, his wife got sick but there was a silver lining, as Jim decided to use his spare time to explore shipyard capabilities in the greater Bangkok area. He first visited Asimar but a fellow at Bureau Veritas also put him on to Marsun and the rest is history. Marsun first gave Jim a reasonable price for the hull with the understanding that they would figure out the rest of the costing later. Marsun had no expertise at building a sailing yacht in 2005, so Jim and his crew shipped in two containers full of equipment and assisted with the job. Argo took about 15 months to build and when she was first launched in 2006, the students flew in and jumped on board off of Pattaya’s Bali Hai pier; they sailed throughout Southeast Asia and even competed in the Phuket King’s Cup that year. Argo has now sailed around the world six times in the last fourteen years.

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Jim and his partners were so smitten with the success of Argo that they longed to have Marsun build her sister vessel Vela, yet Marsun was chock full of contracts for Thai Navy vessels and it couldn’t fit in the time and space. Serendipity struck when Khun Sompope, of Marsun’s marine operations, accompanied Argo on a deadhead run across the top of Australia. This was at the same time that Hurricane Irma ravaged the British Virgin Islands with winds so strong that it blew the masts down on Ocean Star. Sompope taking note of Ocean Star’s plight, conferred with Khun Boat, President of the Marsun shipyard. Ever since the Argo build, Jim had always considered Khun Boat and the entire Marsun Group as a family and the feeling was mutual. hun Boat found a way to work Vela into the schedule just to help Seamester Programs get back on their feet and thanks to his kindness and assistance, work was soon begun on Vela. The build took 24 months under the watchful eye of Travis Yates who was the marine superintendent, chief decision maker, and coordinator of the entire project. Jim watched over the ship as well, especially whenever Travis was away and she was launched this past July. She now has 24 students on board and is currently sailing in the Maldives, about to embark to the Seychelles and thence to Cape Town on the next leg of her journey.

Jim has thus sold his condo in Bangkok and will soon return to Florida with his “adopted” Thai son Anda. He still calls Sarasota home, describing it as being very different than the concrete jungles of eastern Florida - full of mangroves, scenic waterways, and beaches. “Just a laid back, nature-oriented place, perfect for being close to the water in a kayak or a laser” he says.

Jim has certainly lived a full life, sharing his skills and ingenuity with the movers and shakers of the power and sailboat world while inspiring thousands of young sailors the world over. And he shows no signs of slowing down. You can contact him at This email address is being protected from spambots. You need JavaScript enabled to view it..

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