Sailor restores Half Moon Bay fishing boat

October 3, 2008 12:00:00 AM PDT
A man came to Half Moon Bay, intending to spend just one night, and two years later, he's still there. When he does leave, he will have made a lasting impression on the community.

Some people just cannot help themselves. When they find a need, they get distracted.

"How long did you intend to stay here?" asked ABC7's Wayne Freedman.

"Overnight," said Leland Parsons.

"How long have you stayed?" asked Freedman.

"Two years," said Parsons.

If Parsons followed his original plan, he would be halfway around the world by now in a yacht that took him 20 years to build by hand.

But that was before he sailed into Half Moon Bay, saw an old fishing boat named Irene headed for the dump and bought her for one penny.

"I became involved in an old dream to put something back in the Pond," said Parsons.

So, for reasons that Leland still cannot quite explain, he went to work.

"He's been such a force here," said volunteer Karen Gross.

"And he's not from here?" asked Freedman.

No, but he gives and gives," said Gross.

The Irene isn't just an old fishing boat. In these parts, it is "the" old fishing boat. Back in 1925, it was the first to fish these waters and because it berthed for more than one year, Pillar Point became a harbor.

"So we're talking about the boat that made this place?" asked Freedman.

"Oh yeah, but I didn't know that at the beginning," said

All Leland saw, at first, though, was the kind of hand-crafted vessel he knew as a kid back east, the kind that has all but disappeared because struggling fishermen do not have the money to maintain them.

In that negative, Leland recognized an opportunity.

"And if there is no money to keep it afloat, there is no money for college or educational grants for their kids. And then I thought, there is no harbor tour boat in the harbor," said Parsons.

Not yet, anyway. But two years and tens of thousands of dollars later, Leland and group of volunteers are getting close.

Alex Becker is a retired professor of geophysics from UC Berkeley who knew nothing of old time ship building when he began.

So how do we maintain the shape of the boat? We take out every second one first. And then you put in the new one," said Becker.

If all of this seems too good to be true in a cynical world, believe it.

"Why did it take an out-of-towner to get this done?" asked Freedman.

I don't know, but he's doing it," said one volunteer.

It is worth noting that Leland Parsons insisted we shouldn't make this story about him. The more he said it, the weaker his argument became.

"Somebody asked me, Come on Leland, how much profit is in this? I said it's staggering," said Parsons.

Staggering, all right, as an unselfish gift from an out-of-towner, but Leland Parsons maybe deep down inside, he prefers boat building to boat sailing.

"Are you ever really going to leave?" asked Freedman.

"You bet," said Parsons.

"Sick of this place?" asked Freedman.

"It's time to move, there are other places to go," said Parsons.

"But you left your mark?" said Freedman.

"We left something, here. We'll see what kind of a mark it is," said Parsons.

So ABC7 salutes Leland Parsons, along with his volunteers in Half Moon Bay.

On Saturday, after two years in dry dock, volunteers will put the Irene back into Pillar Point Harbor, the place they all believe she belongs. We wish her another good 80 years.


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