Now 90 years old, Clarkson Farnsworth is still feeling pretty young these days, and it’s probably due to the company he keeps.
A Long Island native and Scotia resident, Farnsworth has been a member of the Schenectady Yacht Club since 1952. His visits there are usually to check up on another vessel with some age to it, a 100-year-old, 34-foot cruiser (motor yacht) called Clarede.
Put the two together — Farnsworth is a retired U.S. Navy chief petty officer, and Clarede was built back in 1912 to navigate the New York State Barge Canal — and you have nearly two centuries of seaworthiness.
The two have been together since 1957, and for the first 40 years of their 55-year relationship there was a third party involved, Farnsworth’s wife, Edith.
“I kept on saying to Edith, ‘I ought to get rid of it and get a newer boat,’ ” remembered Farnsworth, who lost his wife in February 1997. “All she would say was, ‘Forget it. It’s bought and paid for,’ so I did kind of forget about selling it. It’s an antique, but I love it, and I love working on it.”
Farnsworth says he usually spends around $300 a year getting the boat ready to head out on the Mohawk River, even though much of his time these days on Clarede is spent tied to the pier at the Schenectady Yacht Club marina.
“Unless I have somebody with me, I don’t go out much on the river anymore,” he said. “My legs are in pretty bad shape, but everywhere I do go people want to look at it. There’s that old saying that a wooden boat is a hole in the water that you pour your money into. Well, it does cost me some, but that’s OK. I’m not about to get rid of it.”
Always near water
A retired welder who worked for the General Electric Co. for more than three decades, Farnsworth has been living in Scotia since 1948, and he has always been near water. Although he was born on Long Island, he spent many summers at Lake Stoner just west of Gloversville and soon called the family’s vacation cabin his year-round home when the Great Depression hit in 1929. He tried to join the U.S. Navy in August 1941 but was turned away.
“They wouldn’t let me in because they said I had an overbite,” he remembered, still a little peeved at his treatment. “Then six months later, they didn’t give a damn whether or not you had teeth.”
That was after the Japanese attacked Pearl Harbor on Dec. 7, 1941. World War II was under way and the Navy happily accepted Farnsworth’s second attempt at enlisting. Still, even though he was finally in seaman’s clothes, Farnsworth wasn’t where he wanted to be.
“I went through boot camp and then they sent me to aviation metalsmith school in Jacksonville,” he said. “We were all hoping to go to the Pacific, but they took a bunch of us and sent us back to Norfolk [Virginia] to the assembly and repair department.”
Because Farnsworth was a pretty valuable worker with all kinds of tools in his hand, he stayed there. But he didn’t like it.
“We would repair and rebuild all the planes that would come in,” he said. “We’d fix them and send them back to the fleet. I kept on telling the chief I wanted to transfer, and he finally got mad at me and said, ‘Listen, if you turn in one more of these I’m going to throw you in the brig.’ I wanted to go where the action was, and so did some of the other guys, but they never let us.”
Being stationed at Norfolk wasn’t all bad. It’s where Farnsworth met his wife, the individual responsible for keeping track of the inventory at the assembly and repair base.
“I met a first-class storekeeper there,” he said. “I’d go into salvage and would ask her for a part. I also kept asking her for a date.”
Edith Taylor finally said yes and the two were married in June 1947.
Although Farnsworth was out of the Navy when he moved to the Schenectady area in 1948, he remained active in the Navy Reserve for a total of 39 years. Helping others learn more about boats and water safety was a big part of his life.
“He was really involved in the Sea Scouts at the yacht club, a group that teaches you to tie knots and how to ride on a boat, all of that stuff,” said Schenectady’s Leonard Sendzicki, a longtime friend of Farnsworth’s. “One time we went on a cruise all the way down to New York City on a destroyer. He was the scout leader and all that sort of thing was very important to him. Clarkson’s a very good man, and he does a good job with everything he does.”
It was Farnsworth who recruited John Jermano, former director of the New York State Canal System, to the Schenectady Yacht Club nearly 30 years ago.
“I went there to give a talk, I met Clarkson and soon after that he sponsored me to join the club,” said Jermano. “He’s very engaging, and he’s always been a breath of inspiration for the club. He’s always a lot of fun, he’s committed to the place, and he’s also very meticulous about taking care of his boat.”
Clarede, according to Farnsworth, is worthy of all the love and attention.
“We’ve been up to Canada, as far west as Buffalo, down to New York on the Long Island Sound, and we’ve been up to Lake Champlain through the Champlain Canal,” he said. “It’s a great boat that was built in Watervliet back in 1912 when they were building the state barge canal. It was an inspection boat, it’s had six owners and I’ve met all but one of them.”
USS Slater volunteer
Don’t tell Clarede, but there is another boat Farnsworth is spending some time with these days, the USS Slater that is docked and now on display on the Hudson River at Albany.
“I learned my welding in the U.S. Navy, and they needed some guys to do work on the Slater,” said Farnsworth, who has been volunteering his time there since 1999, usually at least once a week.
“I just do benchwork now. I can’t get down on my knees and crawl around a ship at my age, but if they can bring me something I can sit down and work on it. I don’t do tours. They have other guys for that, but working with the Slater has been a wonderful experience. I really just enjoy getting together with the other guys there.”