Monday, January 25, 2010

Cruising in Seraffyn

Lin and Larry Pardey are yacht cruising "royalty". They've done it all: 200,000 ocean miles, most of those miles on their self-built, engineless cutters Seraffyn and Taleisin. Circumnavigated both east about and west about the world, and gone westward around all the great southern capes including Cape Horn.

Perhaps even more importantly, through their books, videos and seminars they have inspired a whole generation of young couples to do what they did: take up the live-aboard lifestyle and follow the Pardey mantra, "Go small, go simple, go now."

Of course I've been aware of the Pardeys for almost as long as I've been interested in sailing, but I have to confess that until recently I had never read any of their books. Then, the other day, while browsing in the musty, dusty shelves of our local public library, I came across a copy of the 25th Anniversary Edition of Cruising in Seraffyn. The first edition of this book published in 1976 was the first of a whole series of books by the Pardeys about their cruising life; this edition from 2001 is updated with many color photos and some new retrospectives by the Pardeys on the "affordable, attainable dream" of bluewater cruising.

I was excited to read this famous book and to understand why Lin and Larry had inspired so many and won so many fans. My good friend O Docker even fantasized that the Pardeys, The Pied Pipers of Newport Beach, may have been "the original sailing bloggers"! So I settled by the fireside with Cruising in Seraffyn at the TillerCottage on a recent wintry evening and prepared myself for a treat...

I have to say I was disappointed...

Maybe I took unnecessary offense at the stance taken by Lin in a new introductory chapter for the 25th edition entitled Anyone Can Go Cruising. Because she wasn't really arguing that "anyone can go cruising"; she was actually advocating that people should start cruising while they are still young. The chapter is peppered with put-downs of older folk (like me)... if you are 60 or 70 it might be too hard for you to get up at 3am to fight off a lee shore to a safer anchorage in 45 knots of wind... when you are 65 it will be hard to come by a temporary job to supplement cruising funds... you won't want to go cruising when you're older because you might not be there when the grandchildren are born... and so on.

I'm sure there's some merit in the argument, but it didn't endear me immediately to Mrs Pardey. But I thought to myself, "OK. Maybe she's right. The book is aimed at young couples. So let me imagine myself reading this book when I was 25, say. Would it have inspired me to drop everything and go cruising?"

So I plowed on and started reading chapter one of the original book, which is all about how Larry and Lin built Seraffyn. As someone who is hopeless at carpentry I stand in awe of someone who can turn trees into a working sailing boat. Except I couldn't understand half of what Larry was talking about. I have no idea what a deadwood, a cutwater or a rabbet are; I couldn't tell you the difference between buttocks and futtocks; and I have no clue how to scarf, nibb or where to find a ribband. And I was no wiser about these mysteries after reading this chapter than I was before.

I'm sure it's my fault. Larry and Lin have tens of thousands of fans. I'm just not wired to get excited about futtocks and rabbets.

But I kept on reading. To be honest the next few chapters are a bit more interesting, describing how Lin and Larry sailed down the coast of California Baja and into the Gulf of Cortez. Meeting other cruisers; eating local fish; getting to know the local people. There are useful pieces of advice for other cruisers from time to time: a recipe for chowder, a very technical looking diagram of trip lines and thimbles and shackles and chain that did something important. There's a picture of a very young Lin in a wide-brimmed hat; a picture of a Mexican dude called Jesus in a wide-brimmed hat; a picture of a very young Lin in a bikini; a picture of Lin in bed... after a while I found myself starting to nod off... the book wasn't holding my attention. It reminded me of one of those office bores telling me what a wonderful vacation he had had in Costa Rica and all about this marvellous little restaurant and this fabulous picturesque fishing village and how you just have to try fig brandy and look at this amazing picture of Jose in a wide-brimmed hat and my wife in a bikini and....

I'm sorry. I just didn't get it. I don't think this book would have inspired the young Tillerman to go cruising. It left me cold. I couldn't finish it. Sorry, all you Pardey fans.


Anonymous said...

Your library might also have this book:

George Buehler is sort of the anti-Larry Pardey

Steve in Baltimore

Tillerman said...

I'm not aiming to join an anti-Pardey movement. I was just confessing my own inability to "get" what other see in them.

Joe said...

I'm with you on this one. Just not my cup of tea.

Tillerman said...

Thank god I'm not alone. I thought I might be odd.

O Docker said...

I'm not completely surprised that you weren't jazzed by this book.

It's been years since I read it, so I should probably reread it before trying to explain why I liked it.

I have a pet theory that racers and cruisers are basically wired differently. For a while, I've felt this might make a good post, and may yet write something on it.

This was one of the first sailing books I read, and it had a lot to do with me getting more into sailing. While I'll probably never cross any oceans under sail, I'm intrigued by the idea of using the wind and one's own wits to travel to other places. Beating someone else to the weather mark doesn't really excite me as much as getting to the next harbor, which is lucky, since I'm not likely to ever beat anyone to the weather mark.

I'm no carpenter or master mechanic, either, but reading about their struggles in building a boat taught me a lot about what kind of people the Pardeys are - and about the dedication they had to see their dream through.

Also, I'd never really thought too much about what goes into designing a sturdy cruising boat before this. This helped me see the differences between a boat purpose made for serious ocean going and the production 'racer cruiser' boats most of us with limited funds and limited skills must settle for.

Tillerman said...

You make some good points O Docker. Different kinds of sailors are "wired" differently.

But out sport is incredibly diverse; it's an oversimplification to divide us into racers and cruiser.

After all (from what I can gather from your blog) you are more of a "day sailer in a cruising boat" than an ocean cruiser; and anyone who followed my 100 (actually 94) days of sailing in 2008 will have worked out that I'm as much "antisocial bastard who like sailing on his own in a little boat" than a hard-core racer.

I guess the real reason I don't "get" the Pardeys is ...

a) I don't have much interest in how a boat is built. To me it's just a tool/toy for enjoying the experience of being on the water.

b) I don't want to sleep and cook and poop on my boat; I just want to have fun on the water on it.

c) We have different conceptions of "small". To them a 24-footer is a nice romantic small boat; to me that's an unwieldy heavy piece of equipment that I can't put on the roof of my car.

Joe said...

Again, I'm with you.

I spent 6 years in the Navy. I recall with fondness taking 5 minute showers in slightly salty water, sleeping in cramped quarters, standing watch in gales and smelling my ship-mates. Oh the romance of life at sea!

Mind you, the best part was shore leave. "What do we do with a drunken sailor....."

O Docker said...

I guess if I had a Laser, I wouldn't want to sleep and cook and poop on it, either.

But you will never know the magic of waking in a new harbor, the morning mist shrouding verdant hillsides in ethereal veils, to the gentle music of a leaking portlight dripping its soft spray all over your new settee cushions.

Sam Chapin said...

Try Arthur Ransome's Swallows and Amazons.

Why am I sitting here reading all this stuff??

Tillerman said...

Good points Sam. Why does anybody read this stuff?

I do recall reading some of the Swallows and Amazons series many years ago. I think I read some of them to my sons when they were little. I enjoyed them immensely even though they were somewhat old-fashioned even then. I must read some Ransome again. I wonder if they would be too old and fusty for my granddaughter to enjoy.

Better drowned than duffers if not duffers won't drown.

Carol Anne said...

I've noticed that in some of the sailing magazines, many of the articles remind me of the boring slide show of yore, during which the guests struggle to stay awake as the hosts describe this or that (to them) interesting adventure.

I would not totally dismiss the cruising experience myself, but I would want a reasonably comfortable boat to do it upon, and I'd rather not deal with the boring bits in between ports. My idea of sailing "around" the world would be to fly to various sailing destinations, charter a nice boat, and sail around that part of the world.

As for whether racers and cruisers are "wired" differently ... I don't think it's that solid. Before I experienced racing, I was definitely in the cruising column. But then I tasted Tillerman's blog, and I tried racing, and I met Zorro ... and, well, I'm not so interested in far horizons as I once was.

(Verification word: frost. Who knows why?)

Pat said...

Apparently Arthur Ransome had quite an interesting life and I don't know if that story has ever been well told... some James-Bond-ish adventuring.

JP said...

I completely understand as had a similar problem with Arthur Ransome's Racunda's First Cruise. Alas while as Pat points out there was a great spy story in real life, the book misses it completely.

For a book to be a good read it has to be interesting and not just a list of places visited. I suppose if you are thinking of cruising an area you don't care if the book is dull as long as it contains useful tips.

But if you're just reading for fun then the book must have something to entertain, whether it be characters, disasters, strange places, historic times etc. It's not enough to just say we had such a wonderful time pottering around in the sun - that soon becomes the holiday bore style of story telling.

I'm just starting Lisa Copeland's third book of world cruising and worried it might be a bit too nice (will report back).

It's ok to say you didn't enjoy a sailing book - just because you sail doesn't mean you have to like reading about *everything* that happens on the water.

EscapeVelocity said...

I'd kind of like to try cruising--but it takes a willing and capable partner. For racing, all you need is crew (and for racing a Laser or Sunfish, obviously, you don't even need that). And you can't really go choosing a life partner based on shared activities, especially activities you haven't tried yet and aren't sure you'll like. So I think basically there's a lot of luck involved in being able to do it.

Tillerman said...

Well said Escape Velocity. I think if I had caught the "let's go live on a boat and sail around the world" bug from the Pardeys when this book first came out it would have caused enormous marital problems, as my wife is even less inclined to that lifestyle than I am.

My wife often points out that I wasn't a sailor when I met her, so I know how fortunate I am that she tolerated the changes in me when I caught the Laser sailing bug and that she does not complain about all the time I have spent selfishly pursuing my sailing ambitions for the last 30 years.

O Docker said...

I think after reading the Pardeys and other books about bluewater cruising, I realized I wouldn't ever go off cruising either - that neither my wife nor I wanted that. But I also realized sailing would be more fun if I could keep my wife involved.

So, for 25 years I've been trying to balance getting my sailing fix with including my wife. This has led us from dinghies to a modest cruising boat. And I think we've both discovered we like something 'in between' - a mix of day sailing, coastal cruising, and chartering in places we will never sail to.

But there are relatively few harbors on the California coast. To harbor hop. you have to get out on the ocean and probably do some overnight sailing, too. So, it's a good idea to learn as much as you can about what it's like 'out there'. I'd guess the Pardeys' readership is made up more of people like me than of folks who actually do go long-distance cruising.

Tillerman said...

Right OD. One suspects that the readership of many long distance cruising and ocean racing books are living their dreams through the books, and that they will never actually emulate their heroes. I know when I was a boy and a young man I used to love reading about epic mountaineering and exploring adventures (Everest, Annapurna, Antarctic etc.) and stuff like the first Golden Globe race. In real life I hiked up a few 3000 foot hills and sailed my Laser.

Zen said...

One should keep in mind that at the time of "the" book, there were still not that many "out there". I have read a couple of other books that are the cruising standards and they were also somewhat a boring read. Also Larry is not a great writer, he is a sailor who can write. The romance factor had a lot to do with the success of this book(s). Like Master O-dock says, a lot of readers are "want to be's". The Thought of the adventure is a big deal to many, the dream, the plan. Many are the boats that never leave the slip even for a day trip...

In the Pardeys' case they have done it, they have been there and done that. They are this generation, not some long a go far away time. That is what makes them special. Lin gives great lectures and has the personality, Larry is the quiet sailor who gets things done. They are a good combination. That is another factor that makes them and their books work for many. It is the dream and the knowledge they write on that makes the books sell. Having met them and been on their boat, it is an inspiring combination ...if you are of the being out there mind set...many are, yet many will only get as far as sailing via the books of others. What is what "makes" their story books. Having been there makes their technical books.

Pat said...

Gee it would be fun to come up with a "who is your sailing guide" quiz.

I'm not sure where I'd fall, because I'm not totally in one camp or another... almost anything on the water is okay with me, especially if it isn't a pig of a boat and doesn't make me miserable too much of the time ... and it would take a pretty lousy boat to make me miserable.

Cruising ... good
Racing ... good
keelboats ... good
sportboats ... good
dinghies ... good (except when excessively inverted in cold water)
Daysailing ... good
solo sailing... good
crewing... good
exploring new harbors ... good
sightseeing / observing other sailors / taking photos of boats under sail ... all good
kayaking ... good (when upright)
night sailing, watching constellations and wishing upon a star... veddy good indee
flat calm... good - for kayaking
topsail breeze... good
thunderstorms... okay if you're safe in the harbor
hurricanes, waterspouts... not at all so good
crewing/hanging out on someone else's boat... good
drinks and snacks in the cockpit while watching the sunset... mahvelous
fiddling around on boat ... good (most of the time)
paying for boat repairs ...not so good
noisy drunken hazardous powerboaters ... not at all good

jim said...

well even to those people that just did not "get it" , maybe you can understand how the books and articles they wrote made then enough money to really enjoy their own life style that they alone wanted and they do not care if anyone else liked it or not. they did what they could to bring in some money so they could live the life style that thay wanted, regardless if everyone else does not "get it". at least they enjoyed many years of their life style. people are different, at least they enjoyed and lived their dream!! how about ou?

tillerman said...

I'm living the dream too Jim. It just doesn't involve rabbets, futtocks and ribbands.

Dana Smith said...

I enjoy their books. I take it with a grain of salt. A great sailor came to California with his self built Lyle Hess cutter, a friend of the Pardee's, and a good man of many skills the best of them being a Kiwi sailor and emotionally big hearted man. His personality and Pardee's books when taken together produce a sublime result... instead of being put off by sufficiency you are inspired.... Best of luck, Dana Smith San Francisco California

Anonymous said...

if you ask me , I don't get why people drive for miles and act like a slob just to watch a bunch of lame ass men throw a weird shaped ball around a pasture with painted lines and numbers on it!! I couldn't tell you what a "touchdown" is or a "field goal" is! I have no clue what a "line backer" is !
it seems to me if you don't know what the terms are then you are not interested and never will be in that particular sport or interest! just stick to what you want to do and what your interested in and you will be fine!

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