America’s most famous cruising couple, Lin and Larry Pardey, were dubbed ‘cruising royalty’ by their peers. When Larry died last year, Lin embarked on a documentary of his life which was launched at last month’s Annapolis Boat Show. She talked to Dick Durham about their life afloat.
Some things never change and after 200,000 miles of ocean sailing, two circumnavigations, and 53 years of crewing together, the motto of Lin and Larry Pardey remains what it was when they started in 1968: ‘Go simple, go small, go now.’
Let’s break that down…
Go simple: Their boats had no liferaft, no radar, no sat phone and no engine.
Go small: Seraffyn, their first cruising boat, was a home-built 24 -footer. Taleisin, their second DIY-built cruiser was just four feet longer.
Go now: Within weeks of her 1969 launch, they set off from San Diego in Seraffyn without waiting to be fully funded, using their skills as yacht delivery skippers, shipwrights and riggers to pay for their east-about circumnavigation. They returned 11 years later!
“We saw ourselves as professional bums,” Lin told Ocean Sailor, “but all Larry and I wanted to do was go sailing and everything was directed to that end.”
Although the couple were ahead of their time environmentally speaking, having no engine or electronics was not so much ‘green’ as clean. Meaning, they were clear of the extra debt an engine would impose and also free of the maintenance that went with it.
“Instead, we used a 14ft sweep to scull in and out of marina berths. We had rowing positions, too. It became like a sport, having no engine, it kept up the challenge and it provided cheap thrills,” said Lin.
“We reckoned that the fishermen of yesteryear had sailed into small bays, harbours and creeks as they had no engines, so we could do the same.”
On one occasion, short-tacking up the Rad de Brest in Brittany, they became so adept at manoeuvrability their bowsprit poked into the reeds on each bank.
They borrowed an 8 HP outboard to transit the Panama Canal, in Seraffyn, but as they approached the Caribbean, the wind funnelled in and the outboard was useless against it.
“We asked the pilot if we could sail her out? He said, why not, I’ve got control of the traffic…” They tacked her out while the ships waited!
The full-keeled, five-ton, Bermudian cutter could make up to 150 miles per 24 hours, a tribute to her designer, Lyle Hess, and she hove-to with ease as well.
The couple’s first at-sea storm in the Gulf Stream was a perfect example, wherewith a three-reefed mainsail, the tiller lashed to leeward, all the “stress on ourselves and the strains on the boat disappeared instantly.”
Their cruise was interspersed with delivery trips, but after 16 days from Bermuda to the Azores and a further 19 to Falmouth, the couple sailed up Channel and wintered in Poole, Dorset, where they met a young dinghy racing champion, Paul Lees, who went on to found the world-famous Crusader sail loft.
In 1974 they took more time off their first circumnavigation while Larry crewed for Leslie Dyball aboard his 30-footer, Chough, in the Round Britain Race. Although they came 14th over the line, on handicap they came first, securing an admiring bottle of champagne from Peter Blake, who became a friend. Later, Sir Peter Blake became one of the world’s most famous racing skippers before being murdered by pirates in the Amazon in 2001.
They cruised on south and in an anchorage in Galacia, a ‘short, chunky figure’ from a huge powerboat, Arturo, waved at them. They realised later that they had just been greeted by General Francisco Franco, notorious dictator of Spain, in his final year of life.
After sailing through the Med, and down the Red Sea, Seraffyn was caught in a typhoon in the Bay of Bengal, which blew out her mainsail and fired hail so hard that “my legs were polka-dotted with bruises,” said Lin.
But Larry’s expert navigation had put them on the ‘right’ side of the storm, ensuring they were driven away from the eye, unlike the less fortunate 50ft yacht, Crusader, skippered by an acquaintance, Don Sorte, who, along with his crew, was lost with all hands.
“Larry had surveyed the boat earlier and found some rot in her spreaders. But Don said he’d crossed the Bay of Bengal twice before and that he had to get to Singapore where repairs were to be made,” said Lin. Unfortunately, Lin believes, Crusader was on the wrong side of the eye and driven into it rather than away from it.
Typhoon Phailin killed 200,000 in South-East India with a tidal surge 10ft above normal.
Weeks later in Malaysia the couple were approached by the father of one of the missing crew who was not certain his son was aboard. Lin showed him the boy’s signature in Seraffyn’s logbook, confirming the dreaded news that he had been on Crusader.
“It was the saddest thing,” she recalls.
Passing Singapore, Borneo and Manila, they eventually left Yokohama, taking 49 days to cross the Pacific to Victoria, British Columbia. Their first circumnavigation was completed, 30 of those ocean-crossing days were in visibility less than 150 yards.
By now Lin had become a respected sailing journalist and she was commissioned to cover a 1982 hurricane that had beached 29 boats, including French global sailing legend Bernard Moitessier’s boat, Joshua, along Cabo San Lucas in Mexico. Moitessier confessed to Lin that the loss of his boat was more the fault of his smoking pot with film-making superstar Klaus Kinski than the storm!
In 1983 their second Lyle Hess designed boat, Taleisin, was launched at Newport Beach.
She was described by Patience Wales, editor of Sail magazine as looking like a cross between a ‘brothel and a fine Swiss watch.’
Lin laughs at the recollection. “We lived in a small space, but we lived in luxury with silk cushions, the finest crockery, crystal glasses and hanging baskets which is what Patience was referring to.”
Again, as soon as Taleisin was launched they set off for sea trials, but were soon side-tracked to help a fellow sailor.
Marlene Pugh’s husband, Bob, had been murdered aboard his boat, Matani Vahini, a Mariner 39 which had been beached. The boat was all his widow had to her name and so Lin and Larry refloated her and sailed her back to California.
“There was still blood under the cushions,” Lin told Ocean Sailor, “and there was also evidence he’d been tortured. Imagine the difficulty I had in being obliged to show the couple’s son where his father had been murdered.”
The pair set off again and explored Tahiti, Bora Bora and many other islands in the Pacific.
In 1985 Taleisin dropped anchor in New Zealand’s Bay of Islands where the couple ran into their old friends and UK sailing counterparts, Eric and Susan Hiscock aboard their last boat Wanderer V.
Lin noticed Wanderer V did not have a double berth and queried Susan about this. “She told me that if the pair fancied some nuptials, they set off out to sea, hove-to and with Beethoven’s 6th Symphony playing and a bottle of champagne they’d ‘enjoyed each other’s company on the cabin sole’.”
In 1986 they were hit by a cyclone in the Coral Sea and spent 56 hours riding to a sea anchor. Two fishermen were lost in the storm and when the couple eventually made port in Mooloolaba, Lin discovered she’d broken three ribs.
They had broken their own rule by sailing to a timetable: “We believed in the rule that sailboats have destinations, not ETAs, but were rendezvousing with friends for Christmas,” Lin said.
In 1996 Larry was presented with the Royal Institute of Navigators International Oceanic Award by Princess Anne at the London Boat Show, but the apex of their sailing career was still to come.
Inspired by their old friend John Kretschmer’s doubling of Cape Horn in Gigi, a Contessa 32, Lin and Larry set off in Taleisin in 2001 to also leave ‘Cape Horn to Starboard.’
They came within a quarter of a mile of wrecking the boat at night on a rocky lee shore in the Strait of Le Maire when an unexpected current carried them too close. Fortunately, Lin spotted the gleaming rocks in time and threw the boat about.
Once around Cape Stiff, as it is known, they kept the dangerous lee shore of Chile 150 miles to leeward, but spent three days hove-to and also suffered a knockdown off a 50 ft wave.
They later discovered that a 150-year-old church in Chile, on the same latitude, had been blown flat in the storm.
Their final ocean crossing was back to New Zealand, where the sale of Seraffyn had secured them a small cottage on Kawau island, 30 miles north of Auckland.
“We built a life together. We got along well. I loved Larry as much as I loved sailing. There were only ever tensions when we were in the hands of other people,” Lin told Ocean Sailor. “He was a great man who had youngsters treating him as their father. He told them to use their own abilities and to use them NOW. He told them university will never give you that.”
Lin is still sailing with her new partner, Australian, David Haigh, with whom she made a recent stormy passage across the Tasman Sea aboard their Van de Stadt 40, Sahula.
“I suffered eight fractures including five broken ribs,” Lin told me, “in Taleisin I knew every grab rail and handhold and I’d gone to reach them but they weren’t there.”
Larry would not have been impressed!
The Real Deal
Lin and Larry have written 12 books including Storm Tactics Handbook; they have made many films including Get Ready to Cross Oceans.
The Real Deal broadcasting officially launched The Real Deal Larry Pardey at the Annapolis Boatshow University in October. It is now available for download or to rent from YouTube, Vimeo or through the The Sailing Channel website.
Links to the online version and DVD of The Real Deal can be found by clicking the icons.