PARRY SOUND – Victor Carpenter and his wife Hazel built wooden boats with such passion and precision that they never leaked, and their hulls could be used for mirrors.
Remembering the boat builder, Victor Carpenter.
Victor Carpenter gives a wave while at work in his shop in this undated photo.
The American couple moved to the Parry Sound area in 1993 in pursuit of a love of Georgian Bay.
For decades the duo both made wooden sail and motorboats that are adored by those in the sailing community.
Now though, while his creations continue to sail the waters, Victor is at rest. Victor died January 25. He was 82.
Hazel, 82, was at her husband’s Belvedere Heights Home for the Aged bedside when he died. He didn’t open his eyes when she arrived after the doctor called, but said her name one last time. The couple exchanged vows while on motorcycles 61 years ago.
The great-nephew of legendary Newfoundland sailor and Artic explorer Bob Bartlett,
Victor built his first boat when he was 17.
“His uncle built boats as hobby and, as far as I know, my granddad just started reading books and sort of felt like he had a woodworking passion and he, with the help of his uncle built his first boat and it pretty much started from there,” said Brady Carpenter, Victor’s grandson.
Each boat took about two years to design and build, from the first line on paper to the last stitch in the pillows. The creations were given creative names including their own 65- foot sailboat Passing Wind, and another named Golden Goose.
“He wasn’t a boat builder but a super mechanic, he did everything mechanical about the boat, even we made our own cushions,” said Hazel. “Of course we had a super crew working with us, and it showed. Victor demanded excellence and perfection and it showed.”
Before meeting Victor, the son of a Newfoundland mother and American father, Hazel had never sailed a boat before, let alone been on one. He taught her, like he had so many, to sail and build boats.
Gordon Laco is a naval historian, naval officer and sailing skipper. In 1979 he was a crewmember on the Carpenter-built 28-foot sailboat O Race.
“I remember when I first set foot aboard O Race…I thought she was damned strange,” said Laco. “She had a plumb vertical bow, like a steamship, a wide shy stern and a round foredeck like an alligator’s snout. Once I sailed her I learned to love that snout, because although she was sharp where she met the water, she was wide up at the deck where I had to work handling her sails. Her mast was wooden…Vic would not tolerate (a common trait when talking about Vic) aluminum masts. Nearly all the fittings on the mast were custom designed by Vic and made by his master craftsmen.”
Laco described Victor as a pioneer, leader, teacher and innovator who lead the industry of yacht building in lamination, and recalled him wearing a Mohawk “when such things were only seen in old Last of the Mohicans re-runs.”
He was also a brilliant designer, engineer and builder, Laco said.
“Vic named his company Superior Sailboats and I have no doubt whatsoever that Vic Carpenter was certain that the masterpieces that left his shop were the best that could be designed and built, and that they were built by the best craftsmen in the world. And they were: Superior.”
That quality of work showed in boats that, 50 years after the last coat of varnish was applied, didn’t have a leak.
“There are some people who said their work is the best in the world, “ said Marianne King-Wilson, Sail Parry Sound past-president. “A boat from Vic Carpenter never leaked – a wooden boat that never leaked is a miracle. The inlay and the finish and the design were absolutely unparalleled and people came from everywhere and all fields to search out the best boat they could have – it had to be Vic Carpenter who made it.”
The Carpenters are recognized for their work, including with the Victor and Hazel Carpenter Recreational Boating Centre of Excellence at Georgian College’s Midland Campus Skilled Trades Centre, and a Vic and Hazel Carpenter Award for Sailing Excellence from Sail Parry Sound.
Of course Victor also sailed with Hazel. The couple took part in the Port Huron-Mackinaw race and often sailed to Florida.
The couple started boat building in Michigan, before they moved to Port McNicoll, Ontario, in 1964. From 1993-2004 the couple owned Hangdog Marina in Bayfield Inlet, where they continued building boats.
“We were in love with Georgian Bay and we sailed the Georgian Bay every year, every summer, finally we loved the Georgian Bay so much, ‘Why not live in Canada?’ (we asked ourselves),” said Hazel. “We came to Port McNicoll and we built boats for our clients, many in the States and many in Canada, and we just had a passion for boats and sailing.”
About 12 years ago Victor suffered his first of two debilitating strokes. He went first to live at the old St. Joseph’s hospital and then moved to Belvedere Heights.
While confined to a wheelchair, those he taught to sail and to build wooden boats and those he built them for kept his legacy on the water.
“The boats that they built I feel are magnificent. I know a lot of people do, and just the passion that him and my grandmother as well put forth to the sailing community and the building community like they were always willing to teach people, that was one of the things they were always bringing people in to gain skills to basically build boats, they just wanted to pass that along, keep the passion alive for wooden boats and just be on the water,” said Brady, of his grandparents.
A memorial service for Victor at Sail Parry Sound is scheduled for June 9.
“He wants his ashes, of course, in Georgian Bay,” said Hazel.