Celebrating Larry’s Life

 Halloween, for 52 years the 31st of October has been the most important day of my year. It came to be so because Larry was born on Halloween. He suggested we get married on October 31st so he wouldn’t forget our anniversary. We decided to keep to tradition when both of our boats reached completion in time for a Halloween launching, Seraffyn touching saltwater for the first time on Halloween 1968, Taleisin two days after Halloween 1983. Thus, it seemed fitting to hold a celebration of Larry’s life on Halloween. And fortunately, here in New Zealand Covid19 has been virtually eliminated so it was possible to truly celebrate, with a house full of friends from all the years Larry and I have been based in this country. Unfortunately, our overseas relatives and friends could not attend. For those who could not be with us, I hope this probably over-detailed recap helps make you feel included:

Long before Larry became ill, he had told me how he admired the final celebration the famous Broadway choreographer, Bob Fosse created through his will. Before Bob had his first major success, he and a group of would-be actors, dancers, and playwrights met at a favorite Broadway café every Wednesday evening to eat drink and encourage each other. It became a game, trying to be the one who actually paid the bill each week, for that meant the bill payer was, at that moment, “in the money.” A week after Bob died, his Wednesday evening friends assembled at the café. Of course, stories flowed along with drinks and food. When it came time to pay the bill the café owner stated, “Bob has gotten the last laugh. His will has a bequest that covers the bill for this Wednesday evening gathering - in perpetuity.”

In memory of that story, I waited for Halloween to create the kind of gathering I knew Larry would have liked, one that included lots of laughter, music, a wide ranging group of friends and lots of time to enjoy each other’s company. On Thursday the 29th I headed over to the mainland very early (taking the 7am shuttle) to shop for food then pick up the first guests, Elspeth MacDonald and David Cregan who had flown in from Nelson on New Zealand’s Southern Island. By the time we got back to Sandspit where David was waiting for us in Bubbles (pronounced Boob – lay)[1] my station wagon was so loaded with food and supplies that my guests had to carry some on their laps. When we motored into North Cove, we had to slow down to greet guests who had already sailed in on three different yachts, one from Whangerei, another from Bay of Islands, the third up from Auckland.  Taleisin was already there. Since returning from Tonga, her owners Annie and Eben have made North Cove their base of operations. As we passed her, I could almost hear Larry saying, “yes, I built her to last for 50 years, she’ll definitely make it.”

Friday saw Bubbles doing cargo duties, rounding up extra chairs and a marque from Maree Zylstra who runs the café at the Mansion House Reserve, two bays away from my home. And when that was finished, I packed her crew off for a walk across the island so I could have the kitchen to myself. Meanwhile I set to work making Larry’s favorite company dish, 18 kilos of lasagna including two trays full for vegetarians and one light on cheese for those watching their weight. The deck and house had the buzz Larry had always loved, the laughter of friends stopping by to offer help, flowers, fresh garden greens. Rain was in the forecast for the next day, Halloween and with about 66 people expected, I did have a bit of concern as our cottage, the one Larry built entirely from plantation grown Lawson cypress, is small, only 600 square feet upstairs,  and we needed room for the two musicians too! But Larry’s words came back to me, “we’ll just make it work!”

[1] Bubbles, a 4.85 meter (16 foot) Buccaneer runabout built here in New Zealand in 2013 and now outfitted with a brand new Yamaha 70 four-cycle outboard, is a replacement for my old workboat, JayDee. I didn’t name her, David did saying, she looked a lot like a Bubble.

What a fun hive of activity from 7am on Saturday. As I began serving breakfast guests started arriving by ferry and by dinghy from the boats at anchor.  By very good fortune, Leanne Graham who owns a guest lodge across the bay from us, had offered to let me use 5 of the rooms for any overnight guests, the same with the holiday house with two bedrooms next door. By noon 14 overnighters were installed in their respective rooms. Several came over to help string brightly coloured flags the length of the jetty. Sahula looked splendid in her berth alongside the pontoon, her red hull gleaming, flags flying. Soon her bunks were filled with gear from more overnighters. I could imagine Larry urging our visitors to take little Felicity for a sail, or use little Cheeky for a row around the cove, or come downstairs for a game of pool.  

Then my only concern came to the fore. Rain began to spit down. Fortunately, I’d borrowed a 3-meter (10 foot) by 6-meter (18 feet) marquee. More fortunately, the half dozen folks who worked to put it up, finally stopped and read the instructions. Willing hands helped remove all the front room furniture and stack it in the bedroom or on the verhandah.

 Keini arrived carrying Larry in a small wooden box

Larry himself, in the form of a tidy wooden box filled with his ashes, arrived mid-afternoon. He was carried lovingly by Keini Tollemache, the wonderful woman we’d met almost 37 years before on the isolated Tongan island of Nuiatoputapu. She and her two sons have been like family since she moved to New Zealand in her early twenties. 

At 4:30 PM the wonderful Mark Mazengarb, who had played his guitar for our big 45th anniversary gathering, arrived on the mid-afternoon ferry. With him was one of the finest violinists in New Zealand, Jess Hindin. Greetings exchanged, I took them over to my little office which is just 20 meters away from the house. We could soon hear the lovely sounds of their final rehearsals as the house began filling with guests and lots of duct tape was used to keep the rain hitting the  marquee then running into the open sliding doors leading into the house.

By 6 PM the drinks table was almost overladen with wine, sushi platters (thank you Lyn Hume), nibbles of all sorts brought by guests.(I’d specified I’d bake up some lasagna, and asked folks to bring something to add to the meal.) One side the kitchen was filled with salads, the other with deserts.) The verandah and marquee were abuzz with friends catching up with each other, just the sort of hubbub Larry liked best.

Then, to make the evening flow better, the rain stopped. The skies cleared and the wind dropped right off so we were able to set up folding chairs the length of the main room of the house, out onto the verandah and onto the back deck. Mark and Jess were amazing together. Fiery fiddle against driving guitar rhythms, sweet violin solos followed by intricate finger picking. A medley of Beatles music, followed Chet Atkins specials, Irish jigs chased slow traditional American melodies. Jess sounded like New Zealands version of Stephane Grappelli, Mark matched her with his finger style playing. All music Larry had loved, especially when he could watch the musicians who played it. 

Mark and Jess played the first set, all music Larry loved.

A pause while friends insisted I get out of the kitchen and let them sort out dinner – tables laden with lasagna and pasts and salads. With a late ferry scheduled at 10:30 to pick up those who had to get back to the mainland, I was concerned that we should call everyone to order, get settled and hear the second set of music. But then I was reminded the ferry driver, in fact the ferry company owner, Rueben Zylstra was there and enjoying the evening, so the last ferry wouldn’t leave till folks were ready.

Michael Marris, a close friend and neighbor is a fine amateur photographer and acted as the perfect master of ceremony. He had created a slide show of photographs he’d take of Larry and I through the 35 years we’ve had a home base here on the island. These were projected onto a screen behind him as he encouraged everyone to settle in to contemplate Larry’s life. Michael invited me to bring Larry over to join us at the microphone. I held the wooden box tightly against me as I related the story of Bob Fosse. Then Michael invited David, the man who has become such an important part of my life, to say a few words. And when David began to speak, my eyes began to fill with tears. The tears were soon running down my cheeks as I remembered a discussion Larry and I had a few years before the first signs of Parkinson’s Disease forecast his decline and demise.

Michael Marris brought the second half of the  evening to order, and with Larry in my hands, I told the story behind our weekend long celebration

Larry’s father had spent a very long time in a nursing home unable to speak or move after suffering a massive stroke. One day, as we left his father’s bedside Larry stated, “If ever something like this happens to me, I want you to make sure I have good professional care, then go out and grab ahold of life. Find someone to get you out sailing and stretching that brain of yours. I think my Dad would want my Mom to do the same thing.”

Now I listened as David, who is helping me fulfill those wishes, thanked everyone for making him welcome and stated his respect for Larry and Larry’s legacy. “Larry would have liked David,” I thought. “Even though they are both so different, they would have become good friends.”

Michael's photographs of Larry through the years, were the perfect backdrop to the eulogies that flowed.

Several other friends stood up to share stories of the Larry they remembered. John Sinclair got a good laugh when he told of bringing a slightly battered but well-loved wooden dinghy over and asking Larry to restore it. John is a great architect, but not a craftsman. He really admired Larry’s practical abilities. When he asked if he could watch Larry work, the answer was, “My rates are $50 an hour. If you watch $75 an hour. And if you want to help, $100 an hour.” Others who had raced with us on board Taleisin at various times, recounted Larry’s amazing ability to be exactly on time at the starting gun.

Mark and Jess started the second set with a lovely rendition of “China Blue,” a song written by Mark with his partner Loren Beringer.  A modern sea chanty, we’d first heard it at a music festival in the woods of western Maine where we originally met Mark. (We’d gone there to listen to Larry’s the guitarist Tommy Emmanual. And I must admit to be a real Tommy groupie.) Then after a wonderful 30 minutes of music Mark announced, “Lin asked me to sing Larry’s absolute favorite song, but my voice isn’t really good enough. So I hope this works.” Then Jess slowly drew the opening phrases of Jennifer Rushes “Power of Love” from her violin. As the sound of violin soared with the beautiful melody, I looked around the room to see tears in the eyes of almost every one who had come to share this special time with me and wished that Larry could have been with us in reality as this was exactly the scene he loved, fine music good food and camaraderie.

Sunday morning started more slowly. The sun was out, the morning absolutely still. By 9am the grill was on and the first plates of apple pancakes with maple syrup and bacon  were being devoured. After 15 overnighters plus a few folks who had sailed in were sated, I left everyone chatting comfortably on the back deck then gathered Larry in his wooden box and set off in Bubbles. I took only two other people with me, the two who had known Larry the most intimately, Keini and Doug Schmuck. Together we motored out through Maori Channel until we were in open water. Then I shut down the motor to drift quietly on the amazingly still water. The three of us shed some tears, and shared some memories as I opened the bag containing Larry’s ashes. I put a small handful of ash in a separate bag so that I could bury it on shore, then slowly poured the rest into the sea. A huge grey blossom seemed to form beneath us. Then slowly dissipated as the current caught it. Only when there was nothing left to see did I re-start the engine and motored slowly back to North Cove. Not a word was said by any of us until we were once again secured alongside the jetty that Larry had rebuilt so many years before.

I felt surrounded by a sea of good wishes as I recalled the amazing years I shared with Larry.

About four dozen friends and islanders joined us by early afternoon. Together we climbed into small boats to motor across the cove to Camp Bentzon, the outdoor recreational childrens camp. Peter and Erin, the managers of the camp, showed us concept drawings of the new covered pavilion area and open firepit that will soon be built at the beginning of the track leading to the Larry Pardey Memorial observatory. Thank you to everyone who has donated to the Observatory Fund. Over $22,000 NZ dollars are in the fund, the equivalent of $15,000 US. Part of the money will be used to upgrade the four telescopes. Part will purchase the materials for the new pavilion. Volunteer labour will soon have construction under way.

We all wandered up to the observatory platform which has room for a whole school group and there is a small building which houses the four portable 10 inch telescopes and a dozen very good star observing binoculars. As a coda to an almost perfect weekend, Mark played a few melodies on his guitar. Just pure acoustics, no electronic boost. The sound of his strumming, light breezes stirring the leaves of the trees, tui’s warbling. Mark was joined by Daniel Tollemache for two final melodies. Then in almost total silence, we all walked through the wooded areas of the camp and back down to the beach where a ferry was waiting next to our smaller boats to take everyone home.

Mark and Daniel playing the final music of the weekend on the deck of the Larry Pardey Memorial Observatory

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There have been many heartwarming tributes written about Larry. He would be utterly amazed to find he was remembered not only in sailing publications but in national newspapers such as the New York Times and London Times UK. But I would like to end this celebration by sharing my own thoughts, the tribute I would wish he knew I’d write:

The Larry I Remember


“An amazing sailor. He did it all,” wrote one magazine editor.  “Raced boats, delivered boats, built two boats, sailed them engine-free around the world, both eastabout and westabout. Rounded the great southern capes against the prevailing winds…”

“Amazing boatbuilder,” wrote another. “But he’ll be remembered for his motto: go small, go simple go now. It inspired thousands of would-be sailors to get out there and try it.”

Since Larry took his final voyage a few weeks ago, I have been almost overwhelmed with the tributes his admirers have shared with me. Many bring tears to my eyes as I recall the 55 years of our hugely rewarding partnership. I use the words partnership instead of marriage for two reasons. We were only legally married for 52 of those years. And second, if there ever was a true partnership, it was the one we shared, from building our boats together, to working as a delivery team, wandering the world for more than 38 years in the intimate space of boats under 30 feet in length, building a home base in New Zealand, and then writing 10 books as a team.

Larry truly earned the accolades that I read. But these tributes describe the man other people saw: big, bold, determined, generous. The Larry I knew so intimately was far more complicated than this.

Larry was a man who kept every promise he made, and a doer who knew how to dream. On our first date in Newport Beach, California, two days after we met, he took me to see his keel timber, the first piece of the boat he was building. He sat me down on the loft floor saying, “You are in the cockpit.” Then he walked along the 30-foot long, full-sized drawing of the boat plans, stopping to point out where a coachroof would someday sit, where the mast would be, then the bow. He extended his arm forward and, with a faraway look in his eye stated, “And then there will be a seven-foot-long bowsprit to point towards the horizon.”

“That was a wonderful day, almost like an adventure,” I said as I prepared to leave and head back to my home near the edge of the California desert, 100 miles to the north.

“Stick with me baby and you’ll go a long way,” he replied.

He definitely lived up to his promise.

When we’d been living together for about three months (I moved in with him a week after that second date), Larry was working three days a week on the boat, and four as skipper on a 20-ton charter ketch. I was working as a computer tech five days a week and a boat-builders’ apprentice—Larry’s—two days. One of his mates came by, who’d sailed as engineer on the 85-foot schooner, Double Eagle while Larry was first mate and the late Bob Sloan the skipper during a four-month charter trip to Hawaii for a movie shoot. The two men began recalling stories of their voyage. “Did Larry ever tell you he was dating a movie actress and she almost convinced him to come back to Hollywood with her because she had arranged for him to get some acting work?” Ken went on to tell me how Larry had dated Diana Hyland for a while. (Diana soon became John Travolta’s partner.) Later that night I asked Larry why he hadn’t taken her up on her offer. “I didn’t want to pretend to do things. I wanted to actually do them,” was his succinct reply.

Where other men might be ego driven, Larry wasn’t. Math and geometry are easy for me. Not for Larry, who took an extra year to graduate from high school. One day he was trying to line out the topside planking of the boat we were building. I asked him what he was doing. He explained how hard it was to get the right spacing so the lines would look fair and handsome. I thought about it for a few minutes and suggested a mathematical solution. “Let’s try it,” he said. A few months later I happened to be inside the boat shop cutting wood plugs when one of Larry’s mentors came by to check our progress. “Nice job of lining out,” Roy Wildman said. Larry didn’t hesitate: “Lin showed me how to do it.”

Larry was the master of quips. One day when I was trying to drive four-inch nails into my very first wood-working project, a set of saw horses, I threw the hammer half way across the boatyard in frustration. He calmly picked it up and said, “If it was easy, everyone would be doing it.” That became the motto that underlay our lives together.

Larry had very high expectations of himself and encouraged the same in me, while at the same time being very careful not to dent my self-esteem. After three-and-a-half years of working together we finally set off on our first ocean passage on the boat we’d built, the 24-foot Seraffyn. The second day out, a hundred miles south of San Diego, I became horridly seasick. I was laying on the cabin sole, bucket nearby, feeling sure I’d ruined both our dreams. He set the windvane, came down below and sat on the floor stroking my hair. “Remember, Lord Admiral Nelson got deathly seasick every time he went to sea,” he said.

Larry was first and foremost a sailor. Where other people went cruising to see the world, Larry went to sail. Nowhere in the world was he more relaxed, at peace and fully alert than when he untied the lines and felt the boat begin to move away from shore. He loved every aspect of keeping a boat moving under sail. He seemed to be able to sense exactly what was happening to the wind, the sea and the sails, even if he was down in his bunk. “Lin, how about checking to see if you can ease the headsail just a bit, I think the wind has backed,” he’d often say when I popped down below during a night watch. He was always right.

Though he grew impatient with long, drawn-out conversations about politics, and avoided what he called “self-indulgent intellectualizing,” he was a voracious reader of history. “That’s why I love going to sea,” he often said to me. “Only chance I get to dive into books like this.” Like this meant Winston Churchill’s history of the English-speaking world, or any of Barbara Tuchman’s probing tomes.

“I’d make a lousy teacher,” Larry often said to me. But in the end, that is how some of his most loyal friends saw him. He taught literally hundreds of young boatbuilders tricks to keep them motivated. He refused to splice anyone’s wire rigging, instead teaching them how to do it themselves. In spite of being uncomfortable with public speaking, he gave wonderful seminar talks on subjects really dear to his heart, from how to make a boat easier to sail, to how to weather storms at sea. I asked three of the men he mentored when they were youngsters dreaming of building boats, “What do you remember most about Larry?” Each one said it was his generosity as a teacher. When I mentioned Larry’s reluctance to be seen as a teacher, Peter Legnos, who came to live with us on board Seraffyn for six weeks when he was just 18 said, “But that was Larry’s genius, he chose his students carefully.”

Larry had a fine sense of the humor and could be amazingly adaptive and supportive. As my writing career grew and people began recognizing me when we sailed into a new port (before he began writing too), we happened to run into one of his old friends, a woman who was highly engaged in the emerging feminist movement. “Lin, you are losing your own identity,” she stated firmly. “Every sailor I meet refers to you as Lin and Larry. You have to change this.” I shared this with Larry. “Why try and change it?” he said. “I like you being first.”

The Larry I knew was a complex man, complete with flaws such as his impatience with any paperwork; any bureaucracy that stood in his way; and a low tolerance with people who saw only stumbling blocks when he saw that the same blocks were ones that could be used to build a solution. His determination was one of his best attributes…and also one of his worst. It could sometimes drive him to exhaustion when, if he’d backed off for a while, he might have found an easier tack to take. 

At the same time, he was fully aware of his good fortune in life, like being raised by loving parents, and with grandparents who introduced him to spirituality and inventiveness. The luck of having hands which naturally seemed to know how to shape wood to his will. And the blessing of finding a life that let him conclude, near the end, “I did everything I ever dreamed of doing and more.”

I had the good fortune of sharing Larry’s life and gained tremendously along the way. He showed me how to make and keep friends. He taught me to have confidence in myself, to stretch my horizons, to start both small and big projects and actually finish them. I remember one time when we had just brought a large ketch alongside a rough jetty. He climbed off and turned to give me a hand. I hesitated as I looked down at the three feet of water separating the boat from the dock. “Jump,” he said. “I promise I’ll catch you,” I did, then, and many times afterwards. He always caught me.

Lawerence Fred Pardey October 31, 1939 – July 27, 2020