As he sits aboard superyacht Amore Mio in glamorous Monaco, Tripp Hock’s mind wanders back to the moment his life flashed before him.
In 1992, then only a teenager, Hock was taking part in the annual “Running of the Bulls” festival in Pamplona, Spain.
Backed into a corner on one of the course’s notoriously dangerous turns, Hock frantically tried to escape as a 600-kilogram beast hurtled towards him down the narrow street.
With both horns — each a foot long and sharp enough to sink several inches deep into human flesh — pointed in his direction, the college student and Wall Street intern closed his eyes and feared the worst.
“As the bull hits me, it sees the wall coming and slips. The thing that saved my life was the wall behind me,” Hock tells CNN of his first — and only — attempt of running at the festival.
“The bull’s snout hits the wall and he can’t get the horn all the way into me, but then he stands up and the horn pinches my sweatshirt. He picks me up and drags me — I literally go down the street riding his horn.”
The dust had barely settled on the tiled street when Hock finally unhooked his university sweatshirt from the bull’s horn, the tip of which was now decorated with his blood.
More than two decades later, as he shelters from the Mediterranean sun on his luxury $28m boat, the 45-year-old is all too aware of how far he has come since that brush with death. He attributes almost all of his accomplishments to that hot summer day in northeastern Spain.
“I had kind of this awakening, my life was nearly gone so what am I doing commuting, getting on the 5 a.m. train and sitting with a bunch of gray suits,” Hock says, recalling his daily commute to the now defunct Lehman Brothers.
“So I quit and bought a one-way ticket to the Caribbean. I didn’t know a soul.”
Buying beers in the Caribbean
With his distinctive New York lilt and easygoing charm, it’s easy to picture Hock as a cheeky globetrotting adolescent.
He says his initial desire to sail the world came from being the poorest kid in college, jealously listening to rich kids retelling stories about their summer excursions to exotic lands.
“This industry is quite good because you can literally go find some place with yachts, like Fort Lauderdale, Antibes, or the Caribbean, and just show up there and start buying beers for guys in the pubs,” he explains.
“I was looking for my very first deck-hand position — this is 20 or so years ago — and that was the dream, to live in an exotic place and work on these beautiful boats. The system way back then was pretty easy, actually.”
The simple process of earning sea days while studying for exams was repeated until captains were happy with the size of ship their license allowed them to command.
After six years in the Caribbean, Hock tried for a job on board a boat in the Mediterranean, but his relative inexperience was met with cynicism.
“At 28, they laughed at me,” he remembers with a wry grin. “Too young, everyone wants to work on a boat in the south of France. ‘You’ve never worked, go away.’
A month later, however, Hock received a call from a crew agency which helps sailors find work and they offered him a position — but there appeared to be a catch.
“It’s got Russian owners, so nobody else would touch it,” Hock said.
“I thought, ‘Okay, try it, get my foot in the door and get at least a summer’s experience under my belt.’
“Now 17 years later, I’m working for the same owner, turns out to be a fantastic guy!”
An overnight celebrity
If listening to his rich classmates talk about their summer holidays planted the seed, the real motivation to change his life was his encounter with the bull.
After the incident, he became an overnight celebrity, both in Spain and back home in New York.
“It ran on CNN, it was on one of the inside pages of the New York Times and on the front cover of every paper in Spain,” Hock explains incredulously, recalling an age before social media and instant messaging.
“Meanwhile, back in the States, every single one of my friends is calling my mum and dad, asking: ‘Is he alive? We’ve seen him on CNN. What happened?’ And my parents said: ‘We don’t know, we’ve heard nothing!'”
Hock meekly made a call home three days later, leaving an answer phone message to say he’d had a “little incident.”
‘You’re the guy’
As the bull gored Hock, its horn tore off the travel wallet which was tied around his torso. It contained his passport, plane tickets and all his money.
Bleeding, penniless and without a passport, Hock made his way to the US embassy in Madrid. Fortunately, a sympathetic train conductor in Pamplona let him board for free.
“I walk in (the embassy) and say ‘you gotta help me, I lost my passport.’ And they’re like, ‘you’re the guy.’ I had no idea what they were talking about!” he says.
“They held up the Spanish papers and said ‘you’re the guy, right?’ It was me and that was the first time I’d seen it. They told me I had to go back to Pamplona because somebody has turned in all my stuff.”
With the Spanish newspapers now in circulation, the real fun started for Hock on his return journey to Pamplona.
“I get back on the train, again without any money, and the guys are like ‘ooh, it’s you. First class! Come on, join us.'”
Upon his arrival at the police station, much to his bemusement and relief, Hock discovered that all his possessions were still inside the wallet — down to the last peseta.
“‘This is Spain,’ the police officers told me. ‘You were gored and you lived, therefore it would be unlucky for anybody to steal your stuff!'”
Before leading the way down the narrow staircase to the yacht’s snug captain’s quarters, Hock takes the last sip of his fresh coffee.
He opens a folder on his computer and, sure enough, there are scans of various Spanish newspapers and the New York Times chronicling his near escape.
While flicking through, Hock picks out some grainy photos sent to his parents’ house in New York by a Spanish woman 20 years after his accident.
While the bull in Pamplona makes for a great story to tell at dinner parties, you get a sense Hock is grateful for where that experience has taken him.
“Being a captain lived up to everything I thought it would be,” he said.