‘As Long As It’s Fun:’ the Pardeys are more than sailing purists

PardeyBookI’ve heard the names Lin and Larry Pardey my whole life. Awareness of them worked its way into my consciousness so early that I cannot remember a time when I didn’t know their names.

I knew of them as a couple who had sailed countless miles aboard a small, traditionally-built wooden vessel in the 19th century style of Joshua Slocum — that is, with kerosene lamps and a sextant, and just wind in the sails or oars for propulsion. I wondered about their relevance in an era of GPS, refrigeration, powered inflatables and satellite phones. Jokes about Lin and Larry’s old-fashioned approach are common.

But as my husband, Garth, and I prepared to go voyaging, we consulted their many books for guidance — “Cost Conscious Cruiser,” “Storm Tactics Handbook” and others — and realized how much Garth and I leaned toward the Pardey end of the scale, with our 31-footer and few modern amenities.

Recently, after meeting Lin and Larry at Port Townsend’s Wooden Boat Festival, I devoured Lin’s lovely 2011 memoir, “Bull Canyon,” which covers a brief period in the late ’70s and early ’80s, when she and Larry were boatbuilding in a remote canyon, off the grid in California. The book piqued my interest in learning more about this famous duo and I found myself curious for another perspective, to discover more of what lay behind the polished image that Lin has so carefully cultivated. Who better than Herb McCormick, their longtime editor at Cruising World, to shed some light on the rest of this accomplished couple’s story?

Herb McCormick’s new book “As Long As It’s Fun” (Paradise Cay Publications 2014) spans the couple’s impressive sailing history and brings to light some lesser-known aspects of their adventurous lives. He outlines how two very different people forged a union that has endured over five decades and evolved into a worldwide media brand. But more than that, he explains what makes them tick and why this first couple of sailing captured so much attention.

At a time when yachting was considered to be limited to the realm of wealthy hobbyists, the young Pardeys showed that grand adventures were within the grasp of the middle class. In the 1970s, as boomers like them came of age, the timing for such a message couldn’t have been more ideal. Among the Pardeys’ many accomplishments are east-about and west-about circumnavigations, through some of the world’s toughest waters, aboard two home-built boats under 30 feet and authoring nearly a dozen books.

But the Pardeys have done far more than just sail a lot of miles on a small boat and spread the gospel of simple living afloat. They are true adventurers in every aspect of their lives. Until I read Herb McCormick’s book, I didn’t fully grasp the extent to which they’ve pushed beyond the boundaries of conventional life.

Did you know that winning a dry-land sailing contest in the Sahara landed Larry on the cover of National Geographic in 1967? Or that despite political unrest in Africa, they undertook a sweeping African photo safari? Or that their single-minded determination transformed a dilapidated pier and shack in New Zealand into a thriving boat repair facility?

Or that Lin nearly single-handedly brought electricity and telephone and order to a nearly uninhabitable cottage in a remote treacherous California canyon, which helped them make a tidy little profit on their investment in a place where they could build their beloved Taleisin? I didn’t.

Nor that their creative money-making schemes have included not only refurbishing and delivering boats and writing, but also sign-painting, bookkeeping, importing rare teak and antiques and reselling them, and even becoming dealers for sail lofts and boat equipment manufacturers.

The Pardeys’ drive and can-do attitude infuses everything they do. Anything that would bring them closer to their goals they would tackle without reservation. McCormick deftly reveals that through this narrative. Their relentless drive has defied belief even among their greatest fans. A lighthearted poke at the Pardeys in a parody magazine called Yaahting in 1984 fueled a natural human inclination to topple this mythical couple from their pedestal. But thanks to McCormick’s thorough profile, I understand how their almost Forrest Gump-like naiveté and love for wooden boats and sailing combine with an entrepreneurial drive and hard work to explain their nearly superhuman accomplishments.

McCormick conveys their philosophy throughout his narrative: The Pardeys truly adore sailing for the fun of it, and while they strive for safety, their adventurous spirit interprets the risks involved with sailing as a source of continual cheap thrills. They believe that the best safety equipment cannot be purchased but can be found in knowledge, practice and a reliable partner; that it’s better to focus on prevention rather than a cure; and that ultimately what you learn in life is getting out of trouble. They worry that an overreliance on expensive equipment risks scaring people out of our sport. These sentiments stand the test of time. At least for me.

McCormick invokes the tone of the early ’70s when Lin and Larry met, as he describes their attempt to scrape together some “dough” to pursue their dreams. But he’s a little sketchy on details. I found myself hungering for specific dates and for more context in the form of outside events to anchor the story in time.

Still, McCormick aptly reveals how and why this first couple of sailing has earned their place in history. “As Long As It’s Fun” also offers readers a glimpse into what makes some people remarkable: pursuing their dreams with a single-minded passion to create the lives they want to live.

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2 Responses to ‘As Long As It’s Fun:’ the Pardeys are more than sailing purists

  1. Marilyn April 12, 2014 at 11:55 am #

    Wendy, I really enjoyed this article. It was interesting to be reminded of the impact of their adventuring as a bellweather for future generations seeking adventure on the water…

    “At a time when yachting was considered to be limited to the realm of wealthy hobbyists, the young Pardeys showed that grand adventures were within the grasp of the middle class.”

  2. Alan April 7, 2014 at 12:55 pm #

    This book should be mandatory reading for every high school senior preparing to embark on this world.

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