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Slogging to Windward
by Chuck Merrell chuck@boatdesign.com

September 2000

Anybody who has built a boat of any size knows that more than money and materials, it takes a commitment, drive and organizational skills. The bigger the boat, the greater the commitment. By the time you get to something in the 30 ft. (or over) Bluewater Cruiser class, this same individual, if he successfully finishes the project, is literally one in a million, and is probably the type that could do almost anything he focuses his mind on.

In 1976, "Cruising in Seraffyn" by Lin and Larry Pardey, was published. The book described in idyllic terms the self-sufficient young couple and their building of a 25-ft. Bristol Channel Cutter designed by Lyle Hess. After completing the building phase, they then subsequently sailed the boat from California to England over a period of three years or so. As it turned out, three books later, the Pardey's wound up by circumnavigating and in the process became famous for their ocean cruising prowess. Hardly a month went by that one of their articles didn't appear in Cruising World or some other magazine, and their "how to do it" books started regularly pouring from the publisher’s pipe.

The cruising books and stories (as opposed to the how-to books) were written mainly from an adoring Lin's viewpoint describing their journey and constantly referring to Larry's amazing abilities as a boat builder and sailor. She always stressed the fact that their beautiful, little Seraffyn didn't have any means of propulsion (didn't need any) other than the wind and a 14 ft. long oar (called a sweep). After all, as we all know, the wind IS free! Not only that, but when the breeze died down, and they were offshore and out of sight, there were always those afternoon lovemaking sessions in the "honeymoon" bunk set up in the cockpit. They also affectionately named their homemade wind vane "Helmer" and their tiny dinghy "Rinky-dink". What atmosphere! What romance!

Well, whether or not you think all that is just too cutesy poo to stomach, Lin's prose certainly struck a chord with many wannabe’s and it wasn't long before the Samuel Morse Company was offering Lyle Hess designed 28 ft. Bristol Channel Cutters molded from fiberglass. Interestingly, on the strength of THE BOOK alone, and without further investigation, people were buying them in various states of completion, from bare hull to finished boat and were working feverishly and expensively intent on following in the Pardey's wake. Such is the power of the written word!

When Lin and Larry built 25-ft. Seraffyn, they did it in conventional wood construction, taking about three and a half years in the late 60's and spent about $8,000.00. Fast forward to the 90's and I saw a boat review by Katy Burke in Cruising World, which listed the price of a finished 28-ft. boat from Morse at $165,000.00 (Not a misprint!).

There have been many of these Morse boats completed and launched, including some not equipped with motors. From what I hear, these engine-less versions have not done well, nor gone on to do any voyages even close to those accomplished by Lin and Larry. I know of one that was nicely done, but because of the no motor feature and the unreliable winds around here, has probably less that two hundred miles under its’ keel, certainly not the thousands dreamed about by the builder. By now the boat must be around twenty years old and still has no engine. Personally myself, practical me would have hung an outboard on the stern to get me around, into port and out to where the winds abound (while I was deciding to install an auxiliary), but maybe the owner didn’t want to spoil the look of the transom with a bracket. Who knows?

Lin and Larry Pardey now live in New Zealand and have a new 30-ft. boat they built in California after their circumnavigation. Finished in the 80's, it’s also a wooden Hess Channel Cutter without engine, but I've heard from good sources that lately there have been some prodigious disagreements between the lovebirds about whether or not to install an iron spinnaker. Larry wants one because he's tired of waiting around until they get towed into or out of port, and Lin is adamant about not having one, because it'll compromise their legend and might be tantamount to admitting a boat without a motor isn't such a good idea after all. So far it's Larry 0, Lin 1.

I haven’t mentioned the obvious safety aspects of having an engine, especially in an age where they are easily available. There’s no need to beat that horse, but it seems to often happen that sailors who sail boats without them eventually come to grief.

Lifetime cruiser Peter Tangvaald was caught in the surf and driven ashore in the Caribbean. The boat was turned into matchsticks, and both he and his daughter were killed (although some think Peter had a heart attack and was dead before the boat hit the beach). I don't believe they ever recovered the bodies.

Not long ago around here, a Vancouver amateur boatbuilder took the Pardey's "no engine" advice and set off to Paradise in a heavy steel boat he'd built. Shortly thereafter, he wound up aground twenty miles from home and was rescued by the Canadian Coast Guard. They towed that guy to Victoria, and as far as I know it was the end of his odyssey.

Reminds me of that rhyme: For want of a nail the Kingdom was lost. Only in this case its: For want of a motor the dream was lost. Maybe that's worse.


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