Written by Elaine Lembo, Newport, Rhode Island-based journalist and Cruising World Editor-At-Large.
Photo credits, Offshore Sailing School, Lin Pardey, photographer Dan Nerney, The Sailing Museum and the National Sailing Hall of Fame.
A Conversation with Class Acts
On the eve of their induction into the 2022 class of The National Sailing Hall of Fame, Doris Colgate and Lin Pardey take five from their busy, successful lives.
After 45 years of running into each other at boat shows and uttering no more than a brief hello, Doris Colgate and Lin Pardey sit side by side on an unseasonably warm and sunny Friday morning in November 2022 at the high-tech Sailing Museum of the National Sailing Hall of Fame in Newport, Rhode Island.
This pair of well-dressed and coiffed ladies — Doris, the French Vanilla to Lin’s Fudge Swirl — are relaxed and finally taking their time with each other — talking, laughing, giggling, smiling. And reminiscing about sailing and their lives.
In another 24 hours they’ll join an exclusive and renown club of nautical notables 114 members strong. As an inductee in the 13-member NSHOF class of 2022, Offshore Sailing president and CEO Doris follows in the footsteps of husband Steve Colgate, whose grand prix sailing career placed him in the 2015 class. Lin’s honor for globe-girdling and writing is shared with her late husband, Larry, the mirthful explorer and acclaimed wooden boatbuilder.
With so much fame in their wakes, to detail every outstanding and exhaustive individual and collaborative accomplishment of this group isn’t impossible, but it takes up too much room for a magazine article. Google it — better yet, peruse Offshore High and As Long as It’s Fun by CW editor at large Herb McCormick. Relish the reading and top-notch storytelling and reemerge green with envy.
In the meantime, for the uninitiated, suffice it to say, there’s nothing in the world of sailing and boats these folks haven’t encountered or conquered.
The key points of what Doris and Lin and Larry have done to deserve such long-overdue honor include that Doris, with Steve as curriculum developer, is responsible for teaching 160,000 people how to sail and explore the world. She also founded an organization dedicated to furthering women’s participation in the sport and lifestyle – the National Women’s Sailing Association.
As for Lin and Larry, they’re famous for two leisurely circumnavigations aboard engineless self-built wooden boats and publishing extensively about it, inciting countless others to set off on their own cruising adventures.
All told, aside from Doris and Lin and Larry’s exploits writing articles and books, they’ve given countless seminars and lectures, and have engaged in good causes for sailing and beyond. For this writer, whose marine career put us in the same place at the same time repeatedly over the decades, these industry titans also represent qualities that underpin their marquee billing: courage, patience, persistence, accountability, accessibility, follow-through, the ability to laugh off defeat and mistakes and keep on keeping on. Chutzpah.
While fresh adventures continue to unfurl, here are the pair’s insightful, candid, and at times surprising observations on the eve of their walk on the red carpet to sailing’s highest honor.
CW: As NSHOF inductees, you’ve made a significant and sustained impact on sailing domestically and abroad. Can you take this to a personal level and pick a story that sticks with you?
DC: For me it is really all the people we taught and whose lives we changed. At the recent U.S. Sailboat show, there must have been at least 50 people who came up to us and these are the words they use: ‘You’ve changed my life.’ Some of them say, ‘You cost me a lot of money!’ but that’s because they’re buying boats. That’s the good part, but it’s really the gratification we get from the graduates of our courses that makes us feel good every day.
LP: It’s amazing how many people say, ‘I read your book when I was a youngster and it just helped me.’ It wasn’t always that it got them out sailing, it was that it got them out trying something new.
After a tsunami in Thailand, there was a boat at anchor, just outside the breaking waves that had destroyed a lot of boats. There was a doctor on one of the boats, who, after finding his wife and son, spent the next three weeks helping with medical care and ended up getting an award from the government.
They then sailed to New Zealand for boat repairs. I ran into him in a boat yard and he said, ‘You’re the reason I went sailing. I never realized the adventure it would give me and my family.’ Before that I’d never realized how far it keeps spreading. When people get away from their own comfort zone and get out and do things, they end up doing something as big as we did. It was terribly gratifying.
CW: Themes that are integral to this award include longevity and volunteerism. How are these qualities also related to your careers?
DC: I do believe working in the sailing industry has kept me and my husband, Steve, young. We’re in our 80s. I don’t know where all the years have gone, but they’ve all been good — with a few little hitches.
Regarding volunteerism: When I started the NWSA, there was no way that I or anyone else was going to make a living off it. But it was so important to get more women into sailing, to get women to enjoy sailing the way I have enjoyed it, there were no ifs ands or buts, it was going to happen.
LP: Longevity is the unbelievable magic. I met Larry when I was 20, and he was building a little boat. He took me to see his etchings on our first date – his loft floor and his keel timber. By the end of the evening, I thanked him for such an amazing date. He said, ‘Stick with me baby and you’ll go a long way.’ It’s been 55 years and I’m still sailing and voyaging, and the longevity was that there always seemed to be something new and interesting added to our lives because we were sailing.
CW: Let’s talk about women and sailing.
LP: I came into the sailing world as an utter novice. I’m not a normal size – I’m 4 feet 10. When I met Larry, I looked like I was 14 years old, and I was the only woman 99% of the time on charter and delivery boats. Not one man put me down. Every single one was willing to give me a hand. It was only me who could stop me from doing things.
Larry said, ‘You’ve got to realize that in a sport like sailing, yelling is part of it.’ Women immediately associate yelling with fear or they’ve done something wrong. Guys think it’s all part of the sport. They go out on the football field, they yell at each other to make sure they’re heard. They yell at each other because it’s getting exciting. They yell at each other because of frustration. And they walk back off the field, pat each other on the back, and say ‘what a great game.’
DC: It’s like lawyers in court. They’re against each other and then they go have lunch together.
LP: Don’t take it personally. Get on with the job. As I started sailing more, I started trying to encourage other women I saw to enjoy it more. Women are gradually finding out that it’s okay to get dirty, messy. Women have to get out and do it themselves and try it and learn. It’s wonderful to see how many women are getting out on their own and buying their own boats and introducing their partners to sailing.
DC: There’s a difference between the learning process for men and women. Women like to really learn why and how something works. Men will just go straight into it. When we started all the NWSA programs, we really wanted to give them that background information: the whys, the hows, not ‘just do it.’
There are tendencies for the man to grab the line because he feels that maybe it’s too much for the woman. That happened to me on one of our flotilla cruises and that was the last straw. That poor guy took that line out of my hand – I’d had it. I am sorry now for what I said to him! (laughing)
LP: That’s good! (laughing)
DC: But that was it! Enough of that. (laughing)
CW: When you were young, you were both very sassy, smart alecks even, with volatile mother-daughter relationships.
LP: My mother and I had a terrible falling out when I was 14 and I ran away from home at 17. I was a civil rights activist – I thought. Later, my sister Bonnie told me that we were alike and that my mother wanted me to do what she dreamed of doing. We became very close friends after I’d been off sailing a few years. I wish I’d been more patient with my mother when I was younger. On the other hand, it forced me to grow up and realize that you better take care of yourself, or you can get into trouble very easily.
DC: My father was a very well-known biochemist and microbiologist and when I was 17, we went to Paris. That was the first thing that changed my life. I’d never traveled like that before. We walked in circles where everybody adored my father, so we got introduced to Nobel Prize winners. It was pretty cool. Those were the best years between my mother and me.
It also gave me the feeling that I was better than my classmates when I came back, which is a huge mistake. That’s not something you want to express. I started going into acting and writing and ended up at Antioch college. I was a beatnik. I wore black all the time, long blonde hair, all the way down. I smoked for a while. At Antioch men could be in the women’s dorms, and you didn’t have to go to class. That was my undoing.
CW: You each have unique partnerships with the men in your lives. What’s the secret to this success?
DC: Compromise. And doing things you like together.
LP: I would say having overlapping skills — overlapping skills where we very comfortably divided up our lives. I made all the financial decisions. I discussed them with Larry, but in the end, he said, ‘It’s your call.’ He made all the mechanical, physical decisions on boats, strength and design. Other qualities that made it work were having a sense of humor and taking a break. I’d say, ‘Larry I’m taking a non-responsibility break.’ I’d go off with a girlfriend for four or five days. Larry raced around Britain – he was six weeks off racing. I took the boat – for the first time ever – I singlehanded Seraffyn around England.
DC: I made a promise to Steve that I’d never interfere with his racing. And I’m glad I did that. And I think the longest he was gone was three weeks, then of course he was in the America’s Cup, so he was away all summer and I’d go back and forth during the trials. Those breaks allowed me to do what I wanted to do as well, and it gave me the full responsibility of the company.
CW: What other advice would you give to women who aspire to a career around sailing and the water? What do you want them to know?
DC: I want them to know it’s one of the best things you could ever do in your whole life. Get on a boat, learn how to make it go where you want it to go with wind power alone. Sailing is challenging and I do think women need to be challenged and step up to the plate. If something’s a little bit hard, you can do it. And then the next thing is a little bit hard, you can do that even better. For me it all came from sailing.
LP: Don’t make sailing a man’s thing or a woman’s thing. It’s a wonderful human thing and the magic is the people it introduces you to. I have thousands of friends I still haven’t met. Sailing got me to foreign countries; it helped me make friends everywhere we went. It opens up a whole world to you. You can learn to accept discomfort.
DC: It doesn’t matter if you can’t shower every day.
LP: It doesn’t matter if your muscles get sore.
DC: Probably then you know you have some muscles.
A condensed verison of this interview was originally published by Cruising World magazine.