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After 45 years of running into each other at boat shows but uttering no more than a brief hello, Doris Colgate and Lin Pardey sit side by side in Newport, Rhode Island. They’re talking, laughing, giggling, smiling. And reminiscing about sailing and their lives.
They’re about to join an exclusive club of nautical notables that’s 114 members strong, all inductees into the National Sailing Hall of Fame, an honor that Doris’ husband, Steve, received in 2015. The Colgates are responsible for teaching 160,000 people how to sail and explore the world. Doris also founded an organization dedicated to furthering women’s participation in the sport and lifestyle: the National Women’s Sailing Association.
Lin and her husband, Larry, who died in 2020, are known for two leisurely circumnavigations aboard engineless, self-built wooden boats. They published extensively about their experiences, encouraging countless others to set off on their own cruising adventures.
Here’s what Doris and Lin had to say on the eve of receiving sailing’s highest honor this past November.
CW: You’ve made a significant and sustained impact on sailing domestically and abroad. What stories stick with you?
DC: For me, it is really all the people we taught and whose lives we changed. At the recent US 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 boatyard, 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 related to your careers?
DC: I do believe that 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.
And of course, the writing. It kept life so interesting. It gave us a really important thing—real stress—but not the constant stress of a normal life. I think that kept me healthy. Stress is good for you if you can let go of it completely. To have a stressful time on shore, then go to sea and relax for ten days, away from it all—I think that’s contributed tremendously to having very fortunate health.
Voyaging and the voyaging schedule is stressful but in a different way. You learn so much and you want to share it with people. You say, OK, I’m going to go to a boat show. Then, I remember Larry and I ended up doing 30 different cities in 3 months going to seminars and presenting lectures. It was exciting to meet people we could enthuse. It was wonderful that we were giving something back to people who had been reading what we wrote. We did raise funds for junior sailing programs, along with our writing. We ended up with pneumonia, both of us! But it was so exciting and wonderful. One of the things Larry told me early on after our first book came out and people started coming up to us asking us questions was to “take every question really seriously. You can break their dream if you don’t give them good, encouraging answers.”
CW: Bob Dylan is in his 80s… How do you keep it new, as was written in a recent New Yorker profile of him?
DC: Oh my gosh. There isn’t a day that goes by that I don’t think of a new idea that we need to be doing. It sometimes becomes a big bone of contention with our staff. Have you ever read Who Moved My Cheese? It’s about change. It’s a teeny little book (96 pages) but it’s “Oh, no, not something else?!” Not another thing. We’ve just gone through Hurricane Ian. We lost our offices, we lost all our memorabilia. Over 59 years of slides. Everything. I had the original Yachting magazines with an article I wrote in 1967. It’s gone—though I scanned it.
But, it’s an opportunity. An opportunity for us to start and do something new. We’re opening new locations, we’re coming up with new programs, specifically, some for women, some for men. Every day presents an opportunity.
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-foot-10. When I met Larry, I looked like I was 14 years old, and I was the only woman 99 percent 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: Larry said you’ve got to realize that no matter how carefully we get our communication right on the boat there still will be times when it’s going to get loud. 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 OK 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!
LP: One of my favorite New Zealand sailors—a gal named Penny Whiting—I’ve sent many people to take her courses. One of the things she always says is: If it’s hard, you’re doing it wrong. In many ways it’s true. I now do a little shorty course called “Yelling, Lifting and Pulling.” I start off talking about the yelling aspect. Women are not being addressed as well as they should be in the equipment and positioning of equipment on boats. Some of the ergonomics of making it easier for women aboard comes down to the fact that they don’t address the fact that men have more shoulder strength, women have more hip strength. If you could get it so that women don’t have to extend their arm fully, they can use a winch better. The minute a woman’s hand is straight up a guy has seven times the strength to pull back than a woman does. On some boats, they don’t make it easy for a woman to position herself above a winch, the recommended position.
I went aboard six boats at the boat show. Of those over 35 feet, there wasn’t one where I could easily step from the cockpit sole out onto the cockpit seat and over the cockpit coaming. Not one of them. This is crazy. Even a little footstep in the corner would have made it easier for the smaller person on board and safer for the big person.
DC: Another thing about sailing is that it’s a lifetime adventure. As you do get older, balance and strength become quite an issue. The newer boats don’t have handles where they should be.
LP: Tell me about it.
DC: The old racing boats; they did, because they knew what kind of condition you’d be in. For us, when we buy cruising boats for our courses, we look very carefully at the safety features because of our customers. They’re middle-aged, ranging between 40 and 85 years old, mostly. We’re getting younger people but that’s the bulk of it. When you get the mean, in the 55-60 range, they’re not all in super condition.
CW: When you were young, you were both sassy 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’d 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’d 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 was 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, had long blond 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 two were ‘break the mold’ young women.
DC: I wanted to be a journalist because I loved writing. I investigated topics like you do. Somehow or other I got off that path. Early on in high school, I got into the high school newsletter. I wrote controversial stuff; things that the principal didn’t like. I was writing that what they were doing was wrong.
CW: You both got called into the principal’s office.
LP: My mother said to me one day: “Lin what do you want to do? You’re such a butterfly—interested in this one week, that another.” She said “What do you want to be?” I just looked at her and said, “Different.”
LP: I knew I wanted something different. I never had any interest in writing, but I always loved storytelling. My mother was great; she was just very different from me in some ways. She was much more into security because she was a Depression child. When I was twelve, I got pulled into the principal’s office because [they thought] I was telling lies. They called my mother because I refused to back down about the stories I was telling. My mother came to the office and said “I’ll be back,” and walked out. My mother returns 20 minutes later, lays down a bunch of pictures on the principal’s desk and said, “there, that proves Lin’s story happened.” My parents did take us camping and to meet unusual people.
DC: We went to the lab every Sunday with my dad. He was clearly a driven man. So we did “supposements.” We called them supposements. He would give us indicators, little trays where you could put a different solution in each one. You dip something in each one and this one turns pink and this one turns yellow, this one turns blue and this one turns green. He did all that kind of stuff. He was always introducing my two younger sisters and me to something new.
LP: My father was a tool and dye maker, a specialist in tool measurement. He used to take me out to the garage and show me what he was making. He kept showing us things. I remember one of the adventures he took us on, when he was working for Hughes aircraft. He took us round to climb all over the Spruce Goose [Hughes’ H-4 Hercules commonly known as the Spruce Goose]. My dad showed me this other world…
CW: Both of your fathers.
LP: Both of our fathers.
DC: All the travels, the science, the art, music. He was a piano player. Classical music, he had walls of 78s.
CW: You have each enjoyed 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 would discuss them with Larry, but in the end, he’d say, “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 nonresponsibility 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. Steve’s the creative person in terms of our courses and how to do everything. That’s the difference between us: I run the company and he supports me. But when something needs to be decided on, or there’s a new course, how are we going to do this, that’s Steve.
LP: We had different spheres in decision making.
DC: My experience is some racing on our own boat and lots of cruising, but not the type of cruising that you’ve done. We’d get on a plane, go with 30 people, be with them, be in charge of them. (laughs) Poor Steve. “Steve would you get me a Coke?” —when he’s trying to navigate. You become their servants.
CW: Neither of you felt overshadowed by your spouses.
LP: It takes a special man. I remember when my writing was becoming popular. It was always Lin Pardey. I started putting Lin and Larry Pardey in the bylines and he said, “but I didn’t write it.” I said, “Yes, but I’ve discussed every bit of this with you, and I changed this area because you said, “Lin, you didn’t really tell them the details that might help them.”
Larry was wonderful on the technical details, so I put it in both our names. One day I said, “You know, Larry, you should try to do a bit of writing.” People would say, “Oh I’ve read about you in the magazine.” He was a terrible editor but very willing to be edited. So we worked together and he ended up writing some popular and useful articles. I found that was the only time there was an imbalance. I was starting to overshadow him and I didn’t want that. I wanted it to be equal. It worked out wonderfully in the end. It was very much a cooperative writing career. I wrote Bull Canyon. This was my memoir, and I told him, “If something really hurts you that I write then we’ll talk about it.” There was one section that he said, “Do you have to tell them that? I sound terrible. It sounds like I lost my cool.” I said, “Larry you lost your cool!” (laughter) But he came to love it.
I came into the game knowing that he was the professional sailor and he got paid to teach people to race their boats. One of our first weeks together, he was going racing with someone who said my boat is just not up to the fleet. It was a Kettenburg. It was very popular in California. This guy was going to sell the boat and get another one because he wasn’t doing well. He paid Larry to go out sailing with him. I was standing on the dock as they were getting ready to leave and he said, “Bring her along.” Larry said, “She’s never sailed before and we’re out here to win this regatta, the California state championships.” Guy says, “I’ve never won a race with this boat so what’s it matter?” So they dragged me along. I was wearing slippery tennis shoes. Halfway up to the windward mark, I’m sitting quietly as I’m supposed to, Larry turns to the skipper and says, “Do me a favor: Shut up and steer and trust your crew.” And we won the whole series. I said, “You just got paid several hundred dollars to tell a guy who owns the boat who was paying you to shut up!” He says, “That’s all he needed.” The guy went on to do wonderfully. He wrote Larry a Christmas card every year and says “I’ve shut up.”
DC: Steve overshadowed me for a long time because he’s the expert. He wrote all the textbooks. I’m a different kind of writer.
CW: It gradually evened out…
DC: But in the early days, he was the person out racing and very well-known and asked to be on winning boats. One day I said, “We need to get our own boat.” He said, “We can’t afford that.” I said, “It doesn’t cost anything to look.” And we bought the boat. (laughter)
LP: Right from the beginning, Larry was amazed at my mathematical ability. One time somebody came by and said, “Larry, you laid out the topsides on your boat so beautifully. How did you line them up?” “Oh, it was Lin’s idea, she did it.” By giving me the credit—Larry was a special man in that he was so willing to share the credit on everything, sometimes more than he should have, but it built me up. He never made me feel put down.
DC: I had the same experience.
LP: Yeah, it takes a good man.
DC: You have to understand each other. When I say compromise, you really do … have to give in when you need to give in. That’s how you stay together.
LP: You give in, and then you change them.
LP: Gently, gently.
CW: What other advice would you give to women who aspire to a career around sailing and the water?
DC: I want them to know that 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 that women need to be challenged and step up to the plate. If something’s a little bit hard, you can do it. Then the next thing is a little bit hard, and you can do that even better. For me, it all came from sailing.
LP: I feel that getting in a smaller boat teaches you faster because you actually see what happens when you pull the jib or main in. You feel it immediately. But what’s my legacy? 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.
LP: I do see more women getting out sailing. I’m loving that. I just wish we’d get more young people, keep them interested in sailing. And the way to do that is these small little foiling boats.
DC: Very young kids need to be stimulated by color and activity, and all we’ve had these years is little white boats.
LP: Little white boats!
DC: We start people off on the Colgate 26 because it is the way to really learn: You’re close to the water, you’re feeling the wind, you’ve got a tiller not a wheel…
DC: The wheel—you turn it, the boat finally turns and then it keeps turning too far. It’s harder to really learn the feel of a boat at the wheel. But then we move them right into cruising boats because the women who were taking our courses are not necessarily racing people. They want comfort—too much comfort—everyone “has” to have a private head. We’re teaching them that isn’t always the case. Originally we would take six people on a Bermuda 40, where four of us slept in the main saloon and two got the forepeak. Try that now, with one head. Nobody would sign up for a flotilla cruise with us if that was the case.
LP: That’s true. I want to share a quote from a friend: “The capacity to tolerate minor discomfort is a superpower,” Oliver Burkeman wrote. “It’s shocking to realize how readily we set aside even our greatest ambitions in life merely to avoid easily tolerable levels of unpleasantness. It is possible, instead, to make a game of gradually increasing your capacity for discomfort, like weight training at a gym. The rewards come so quickly that it soon becomes the more appealing way to live.”
CW: Are there any second, third, fourth fifth acts to follow in your lives?
DC: I’m gonna keep going!
LP: I’ve had the wonderful fortune, after Larry was no longer with me, of meeting an Australian sailor who came in looking for me to autograph our book. He stopped at our Kawau Island in New Zealand.
He came for a drink and we’ve been voyaging together. We’ve sailed the Tasman Sea, heading out to New Caledonia very soon.
DC: I’m not sailing as much these days but we’re forever pressing forward with the company and getting people sailing and taking care of our employees. We’re no better than our instructors. We can boast all we want about what we do but that’s the person who’s going to make or break us when they’re with the customer on the boat. We can do all the marketing in the world but if we don’t have the right instructors we’re doomed.
CW: Is there anything over the course of your long and successful careers, outside of sailing, that has made an impression on you.
LP: We became involved helping sailors with disabilities such as CRAB (Chesapeake Region Accessible Boating). Don Backe wrote to Larry to ask him to come up with some rigging to help lift people off the boat. We sailed down and did a big fundraiser with him. So we had a paraplegic in our hotel room. And I watched how hard it was. If he left his glasses on the wrong side of the bed, to get out of the bed and into a wheelchair, roll around the bed, because he can’t roll over on the bed on his own, he made the most wonderful jokes about it. I’ve never laughed more than when I shared a room with Don Backe and learning what true heroism was. He had a long, good life. It made my own life easier. When I had to have major surgery on my legs, and there was a chance that one would never come right completely, I said “Don would be thrilled to get around as well as I can.” I’d say it was such a profound thing: Sailing led me to it, but looking at those people who are so brave compared to anything I’ve ever done in my life.
DC: For me it’s the arts. I’m very involved in the Florida Repertory Theater as board secretary. We go to the performances. When I came back from Paris, I immediately jumped on stage. Acting can take you away from whatever’s bothering you. You go into another role and you’re just out there doing something different. At home I’ve decorated in Southwestern art. It’s very appealing to me, I like the colors that come out of it. We have a couple of rooms that are nautical, but the whole house is definitely not nautical.
Being involved in theatre and seeing actors assume roles, they come out of themselves and become something else. It’s very stimulating to me. Same thing with ballet. We’re mildly involved with the Florida Gulfshore Ballet, which is training mostly girls, some of who are going on to New York, San Fran. It’s cool to see people go off on tangents that aren’t part of their bodies. They become something else. It’s a creative thing which I really enjoy.
CW: Is there anything else you’d like to say?
LP: It’s never too late to start.
LP: I’m 78, I’m going to get in as much sailing as I can over the next few years. I’ve never gotten tired of sailing. And I will say there’s now color in my life; I’m sailing on a bright-red boat with a big, bold main.
This is all surreal to me. Sitting here in the National Sailing Hall of Fame on the East Coast. I’m a West Coaster, we’re uncouth! Sitting in this lovely museum.
DC: The museum’s fantastic. While sailing can be challenging, life is incredibly challenging. Business is incredibly challenging.
CW: I remember little things you’ve both said to me over the years.
LP: Did we say interesting things? (laughter) We have things in common: We both love the numbers in business and that’s really helped our lives tremendously and being involved.
DC: I like running it. I like being in charge.
LP: I used to take care of all the books. I keep a profit and loss sheet I update every two weeks. One day, Larry walks into my office. “Lin, are we rich or poor?” We’re doing quite well at the moment. We’re rich. He says, “Prove it.” I said “What do you mean?” He said, “I haven’t seen anything more than 10 dollars in the last year.” So I went to the bank and got my banker to loan me $10,000 cash.
DC: Oh geez.
LP: In small bills. I picked up this bag full of money, 10K in cash, most of what we had saved up. I gave it to him. He sat there, laid it out in piles, and looked at all this money and said, “Is that really all ours?” I said, “Yeah.” He said, “Great.” I put it all back in the bag, I gave him ten dollars and took it back to the bank—and my banker charged me three dollars for the loan.
Elaine Lembo is editor-in-chief of Caribbean Compass as well as an independent journalist, a former longtime CW staff editor, and a CW editor-at-large. Based in Newport, Rhode Island, she also develops content for the Sailing Museum at the National Sailing Hall of Fame, collaborates on book projects with America’s Cup tactician Gary Jobson, and contributes to publications of the New York Yacht Club.