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Classic Wooden Boat Rendezvous and Race has a timeless appeal

Annapolis event draws sailors who have a firm hand on the tiller – building and restoring their vessels

By Don Markus

The Baltimore Sun

2:16 PM EDT, September 15, 2012

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Rick Carrion has never met Lin and Larry Pardey, but the retired high school science teacher from Cecil County and the couple who met in California and have spent the past six decades not staying put share a special passion for sailing in general and wooden boats in particular.

Carrion, who retired in 2005 after teaching earth science and environmental science at Elkton High for 30 years, and the Pardeys will be among the wooden boat aficianados to descend on Annapolis Sept. 22-24 for the third annual Classic Wooden Boat Rendezvous and Race on the Severn River.

Carrion bought what was then a mostly broken-down 35-footer named Elf as a mostly broke 19-year-old college student in 1971 before restoring the historic then-nearly-200-year-old vessel to its original condition more than a quarter-century later.

"I was putting myself through Salisbury State College, and I was working as a dockmaster at a place on the Sassafras River," Carrion recalled. "The boat came in in 1970, and the owners wanted $8,500 for it. I couldn't afford that. I found out afterwards that if no one bought it that summer, it was going to be taken across the river and burned."

Carrion later made an offer of $1,500 that was accepted, and a lifelong love affair with Elf began.

Initially, neither Carrion nor its former owners knew exactly of the boat's origins. In 1973, he eventually found the vessel documentation number on a beam that had been obscured by another beam behind the mast and began doing research at the National Archives in Washington. Carrion learned that the boat was built in the late 1800s.

"I found actual photos of her from 1888," Carrion said. "As we began working on the boat, we would take the pictures and blow them up and take all the information and build accordingly. The boat is historically accurate to a quarter or an eighth of an inch of all dimensions. … When I first saw the pictures, I thought, 'She's gorgeous and she needs to be put back right.' "

Originally, Elf was built to race, mostly in New England.

"She did so well that they changed the racing rules in 1890 to make her obsolete for the racing," Carrion said. "There was always contention between the Boston Yacht Club and the New York Yacht Club as to who had the fastest boats. Her second owner actually took her from Marblehead, Mass., to Halifax, Nova Scotia, and she is credited with initiating offshore cruising in small yachts. In 1906, the Boston Yacht Club started a race from Marblehead to Halifax as a result of Elf taking a cruise along that route."

Carrion didn't begin fully restoring the boat until 1991, around the time his 10-year marriage ended. The restoration process, which took more than 15 years and an estimated cost of more than $550,000 (raised mostly through donations and grants to a nonprofit foundation he started in 1982), eventually affected other personal relationships, including a recent breakup with a girlfriend of two years.

"When I was in college, everyone wanted to come down and party on it," said Carrion, who has lived on the boat and now docks it at the Chesapeake Bay Maritime Museum in St. Michaels. "Eventually I had different relationships, and when I got married it became a [point of] contention. When you have a first love, the spouse feels a little shorted. My girlfriend broke up with me in May and felt she was second fiddle, so to speak. By the same token, it's opened a lot of doors to meeting interesting people. I'm very fortunate in many respects; there were a couple of snafus there, too."

That has certainly not been the case for the Pardeys, whose own relationship goes back to their first meeting in "grungy little bar" frequented by local sailors in Newport Beach, Calif., in 1965. Larry Pardey, who grew up in British Columbia, was 26 and working as a skipper on fire and race boats; Lin Pardey, then 21, was working as an early computer programmer for the Bob's Big Boy hamburger chain and was looking to buy a "little sailboat" when she met her future husband.

"I ran away with him three days later, much to my mother's chagrin," Lin Pardey recalled. "We were young kids who were thinking of running away together to the sea. He was building this boat and I figured if I could work with him for a year or two building this 24-foot sailboat, we could get away for more than three weeks of vacation — we could maybe take of four or five months."

The Pardeys finished building their first boat, Seraffyn, a couple of years later and their second, Taleisin, more than 11 years after that, and sailed nearly 200,000 miles in them. Lin Pardey wound up writing an award-winning nonfiction novel, Bull Canyon, named after the remote location on edge of the Mojave Desert 60 miles south of Los Angeles where she and her husband "cut down the trees" to build their second boat.

It was the 11th book written by either Lin or Larry Pardey, to go along with five instructional videos and documentaries.

"When we built our first boat, people starting giving us work fixing their boats," Lin Pardey said. "It feels good. It was a joy to build. It took us halfway around around the world. There's a romance about wooden boats that drew people to us everywhere we went. It helped us make friends. The local fishermen around the world still use wooden boats. And you can fix them anywhere."

It has made the Pardeys guests of honor when the community of wooden boat owners get together, as they did for the first time in Port Victoria, British Columbia, and Port Townsend, Wash., for their inaugural wooden boat festival in 1977. The Pardeys have been to similar gatherings in 14 countries, including one in France in 1996 that drew some 3,500 boats.

At the most recent Port Townsend festival, there were 30,000 in attendance and more than 350 boats.

"People didn't look at wooden boats one way or another, or as unique, until fast boats coming in," Lin Pardey said. "People were holding on to their wooden boats and passing them down through their families. When the first regatta was held, it took off. People started realizing that these were very special heirlooms."

The Pardeys have been to Annapolis a number of times over the years, mostly through their work with the Chesapeake Region Accessible Boating, a nonprofit organization that raises money and awareness to help those with disabilities get on the water.

The Pardeys — as well as Matt Rutherford, who this spring completed a round-the-world voyage in his 27-foot dinghy — will speak at a C.R.A.B event Oct. 3. They also plan on showing their boat at the annual Annapolis Boat Show, which runs Oct. 4-8.

"When the people heard that, they said, why not come sail with them," Lin Pardey said of this year's wooden boat regatta. "It was the first time we've heard about it."

Lin Pardey said she and her husband split their year living between New Zealand's summer and the United States'.

"We're in what some call our golden years, and we have so many summers left, so we try to double up," Lin Pardey said.

Larry Pardey, who grew up on the edge of an Indian reservation, came to boating accidentally. When he was 17 years old, he was charged with driving under the influence and lost his license. Rather than hitchhiking, Pardey started using the boats provided by some of the locals. He eventually started restoring boats and recently completed the restoration of a boat that dates to the 1800s.

The Pardeys estimate they have spent some 8,000 hours building their two boats.

Lee Tawney, executive director of the Annapolis-based National Sailing Center and Hall of Fame, said "we felt it important to call attention to sailing's contribution to the American experience, and part of that contribution are the the sailboats that have been involved in it, and in this case, the classic wooden boats that are on the Chesapeake Bay."

Four years ago, Tawney met with naval architect Paul Miller at the nearby U.S. Naval Academy with the idea of starting a wooden boat regatta similar to those held in other parts of the country.

"He, being a wooden boat owner and afficianado, jumped right on it," Tawney recalled.

Tawney said there are fewer wooden boats on the Chesapeake than in other parts of the country mainly because of the water temperature. The boats are more popular in New York, Connecticut and New England, as well as in Northern California and other places in the Great Northwest.

"The issue with wooden boats in the Chesapeake Bay is that the water is too warm and worms can grow quicker and better," Tawney said. "If you go up to Maine, there are wooden boats all over the place. Our effort here is and continues to be to tease out the wooden boats on the Chesapeake Bay."

Lin Pardey said she is hoping a new generation discovers the pleasures of building wooden boats.

"A lot of young people are told that they can't use their own hands to build things," she said." They can't afford to go sailing. They discover that they can build a 12- or 14-foot wooden sailboat with almost no money and they can get out on the water. And that leads to bigger things. In today's world, there's a shortage of people who know how to do things with their hands. They go on to fulfilling careers and they're using their hands."

don.markus@baltsun.com

More information about the Classic Wooden Boat Rendezvous Rendevous and Regatta can be found at http://nshof.org.