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Wally Chapin, 1949-2017
Sailmaker, Father, A Part Of Oriental
April 8, 2017

arly Saturday morning – at 4:20am – Wally Chapin passed away. Wally was a sailmaker in Oriental for decades, after migrating from Massachusetts, where his father had also been a sailmaker. He had turned 68 on Valentine’s Day.

Sympathies to Wally’s family, including son Ben and daughter Carey and companion Kelly. Carey Chapin shares the memorial plans,

We will be doing a memorial service at the Tiki Bar on Friday, May 12 at 6p. Then our plan is to head to Cape Lookout on Sunday to scatter his ashes. We used to go there every Memorial/Labor Day weekends with other boats from oriental and thought he should enjoy one last cruise. We are inviting anyone that has a boat and would like to join us.

Have a memory of Wally you’d like to share? Email them to info@towndock.net.

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Wally onboard at Whittaker Creek
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Wally and son Ben at the original sail loft on Hodges Street (now Oriental Dental.)
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Wally and Mr Big
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Wally and Mr Big discuss sails
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Wally (center) with friends Mike Craig & Wilma Kennedy (Pat King photo)
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Wally and the Oriental Sailmakers crew in 2006. At left daughter Carey Chapin, right Laura Turgeon.
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Wally working with a sail in the later loft
Remembering Wally Chapin

From son Ben Chapin:
My father, Wally Chapin was not only my father, but my teacher in the world of sailmaking, canvas and anything sewn together. We would attempt to work together often, but often it turned into turmoil, like family businesses often do. The biggest legacy he instilled me wasn’t sails, canvas or sailing. He instilled in me a sense of customer service and community.

Reading the words left here on this page of TownDock (very grateful for this wall) and hearing directly from so many from our community (Oriental, boating and otherwise) has reinforced that. Some folks I know he bumped heads with a time before still reach out to tell me of a time he really came through for them, even though they didn’t always get along. He would let bygones be bygones and just do whats right. Not without adding a poke/jab into it, but helpful none the less.

When I came on board with West Marine as a store manager, I didn’t even understand how this corporation could embrace me so much when I had such very little experience in retail. I didn’t know the first thing of retail, honestly. A few years in now and after making my own place in the company among my peers, it became known to me that I was given good standing not just because I was a “boat guy” (certainly not for retail expertise), but because of my dedication to the customers and fellow associates. I may not be in a sail loft, but I carry that legacy of my father’s. And my mother’s, because she taught me that, too. Probably the biggest thing they had in common besides friends, their kids and of course sailing.

Dad, Wally. We didn’t always see eye to eye and I’ll resent a few of his actions, but he was my father, my teacher, a helluva drinker and on many occasion my best friend.

Thank you all for the great pictures, kind words and reminders of what an icon he really is for this town we love, Oriental. I hope many of you will join us at the Tiki Bar Friday May 12 and for Dad’s last trip to Cape Lookout bight.

And a PS from Ben Chapin:
I decided to share the attached photos for two reasons. He loved sailing on our friend’s boat Windigo and because I like to think that my father, mother, John and Linda Lee are all sailing together somewhere today. I know Carey and I will have them with us in spirit every time we take the water.

Us aboard Windigo (I believe during a Wednesday Night Race), Dad toward the bow
Probably from the same sail – I’m guessing he took took the photo of the rest of us

From Mary Boudreault:
When Al & I first came to Oriental, we were told to look up this guy named Wally..he came from Cape Cod, where we were from! He was our friend’s Sailmaker for years in Falmouth MA…we looked him up, and Wally and his wife Sue took us under their wings, embraced us, and introduced us to “Life in Oriental”.. He was always our connection to Cape Cod, but our TRANSITION to this wonderful Small town living.
Rest in PEACE dear friend…

From Charlie Garrett:
We were all at the Whortonsville Yacht and Tractor Club after a Summer Solstice race. Everyone was supposed to bring a dish or food item to share. Wally strutted in with a watermelon, plunked it on the table, and joined the party. No knife, no paper plates, mission accomplished. It was still sitting there when we left. I still smile every time I think of this! Pure Wally.

From Wilma Kennedy:
Wally, my friend, you will be missed. I had a lot of 1sts with you – first time kayaking in a hurricane, first time running from the police (you have to admit – they were some great fireworks!) first time getting hopelessly lost for 5 hours in Ocracoke, first time rescuing grown men from a sewey hole, and there was even a first or 2 in sailboat races. It was always an adventure, we had a lot of fun times, some great conversations and you gave me a lot of good memories.

Wilma sent along some great Wally photos: wally chapin
At left, kayaking in Wally’s living room during Hurricane Isabel. At right, Wally gives Wilma a finger signal, either indicating his appreciation at being photographed, or that Wilma is #1.
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Wally and Wilma kayak Hodges Street, Hurricane Isabel.
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Mike, Rob, Wally.

From Kevin and Suzy Bryan:
Wally was one of the first people we met in Oriental. He saw us towing our J-24 and followed us to Teaches Cove in his Porsche. For some reason he drove across the grass and over the parking lot curb before stopping to introduce himself. The Porsche, which was outfitted with custom canvas, did not seem to mind the abuse.

Wally found a slip for the J-24 and became a permanent crew member. He sailed all of the regattas and Wednesday night races with us. We had some great times at the Trawl Door after sailing.

Wally was serious about racing, but occasionally refused to tack because he had just opened a beer.

Later, after we got a Tartan 34, Wally would give me his “dumpster” sails because he knew I was too cheap to buy new.

Wally, Sue, Ben, and Carey always made us welcome in their home. They never had to send an invitation, everyone knew they could stop in for dinner or a party anytime.

Wally was an Oriental icon and he will be missed by many.

From Bert Quay:
Wally and Sue were one of the first couples to come to Oriental from “away” to work and raise the kids. Wally’s quick laugh and easy disposition got the loft going in a hurry. His toughest task was charging the recreational sailors enough for work done during the week to get them sailing for the weekend.

The house and loft were right down town, so they were the center of some activity from the start. One summer afternoon, I came out of the Harborside grocery store (where the Provision Company is now) and ran into Wally. I suggested that we go to the Tiki Bar. And he was eager.

He said, “I’ll go get my car keys.”
“Wally, you don’t need your car keys . . . we can walk, its just right there,” I pointed to the Marina.
He shook his head, “No, I’m gonna get my car keys.”

I took my groceries to the truck and Wally re-appeared pretty quick. I was really curious about these car keys. “So let me see your keys.”

Wally looked at me like I was some kind of rube. “I’ve got ‘em on.”
Sure enough, he had a pair of pressed khaki shorts on.
“Can’t go without my car keys.”
So I learned to speak Wally.

Wally was in the leading edge of the golden era of Oriental, and part of my memories of the incomparable sailing scene that made this town home to me forever, regardless of where I “stays at.” He was one of a kind, and I am grateful to have known him in the best of times.

Rest at last, Wally.

From Sky Wiseman:
I can’t even remember how I met Wally, I knew he was a sail guy but never went to his shop. But over the last 11 years every time we ran into each other we would stop whatever missions we were on and have a 10 minute conversation as if we were really close friends who had known each other our whole lives. That probably happened 50 times. I don’t even remember much of what we talked about, except I do remember clearly the day we met up and he told me he had lost Mr. Big. He always had Mr. Big with him. When I think of my early days in Oriental I think of Wally. I will call him a friend. And I’m really going to miss him.

From Marvin Bullock:
Wally was one of the first people I met when I moved to Oriental – - followed shortly thereafter by what seemed like at least 5000 other people who worked on (or towed) boats. One day he was working on a nearby boat and saw me staring, perplexed, at the burgeoning spool on my roller furler. I had attempted to replace the line and before I got the entire line spooled, the spool was full.

When I explained the dilemma, he tilted his head to one side and after a moment he told me to pull the line back out. I did, and he measured off the first third of the line, and with the tools that he had in his pocket he pulled the kern through the mantle, snipped it and withdrew the core of the line. He then explained that the tail of the line needed more strength and that the sheath would be plenty strong for the light winds when the sail was fully extended. He then went on to point out that as I furled, the intact line would have several wraps for the heavier winds. That worked for years; he would not let me pay him.

Whenever I asked him to make repairs, he would first offer to tell me how to do it myself; sometimes I took that challenge and enjoyed his instruction. Wally always had a smile.

After one of the hurricanes, Wally was kayaking through town. I will never forget him floating in the water as he told me that he had pulled his kayak from the back porch through the house and got in it while he was still in his living room then paddled out the front door and into the street; his house had flooded. Even then he wasn’t lamenting – - I think he was boasting.

Wally you were good people. You will be missed.

From Doug Sligh:
There are so many Wally memories, as befits a man so firmly implanted in our lives. Two I remember vividly:

Wally kayaking through his house on Hodges Street during Isabel.

Wally telling me my sail was beyond repair, then repairing the sail to give me several more years of use. I loved that he was willing to try hard to make things works for his customers who were trying to make their money stretch further than it should. Maybe I just liked Wally.

From Sarah Lupton Winfrey:
I have known Wally for most of the time he has been in Oriental. In the late ’80’s I had a daycare that was located in the back portion of the Pamlico News Building. Wally and Sue would bring Carey to me daily while they worked in the sail loft. On the days Sue would bring Carey I knew we would have a good day. On the days Wally would drop Carey off, I knew the tears were coming. And would last 1/2 of the day. Carey was very much a daddy’s girl and never wanted to stay with me on the days he brought her to day care. During those days Gray and I spent quite a bit of time with the Chapins, Wally and Sue being the first non-family we told about our first daughter before it became public. Wally always had a smile for me no matter where I ran in to him. Most of those times seemed to be the Dollar General parking lot. Wally was a great guy and I will miss running in to him.

From Sheila and Roy Harvey:
We’ve had a sailboat in Oriental for the past thirty-eight years, not counting the six years we were cruising….Wally worked on all our sails, one time or another….Wally’s dad was one of the last sailors to have a U S Navy rating of “Sailmaker’s Mate” ….the art and craft was in Wally’s blood…Wally had his loft in several different locations in town over the years but one constant in each was a friendly little dog that greeted you.
We miss Wally and his pets…

From Madeline Sutter:
A Sitka Spruce spinnaker pole hung from the porch ceiling at Wally and Sue Chapin’s home. I asked Wally for first option to buy should he ever sell. “I NEVER WILL.” said he.

A message reached us at Dinner Key. We were getting ready to cross the stream. “The #€*@&$¥ pole crushed Sue’s table. It’s YOURS!” Big pole, from an eighty-five foot Schooner, The Lady Helen, Wally’s photo.

Dear husband said, “You’re not bringing that into my house!” Lived over the bar at the Steamer, festooned with burgees. Wally and I toasted it there. When dear husband left this earth, Graham and Carla Burns’ daughter, Beth Bucksott lovingly refinished it preserving its character. Al Beaudrault and Richard Brashear figured a way to hang it, yes, in my home. I dutifully agreed to use binoculars to check for stress cracks the first of every month.

From Cathy Winkler:
Wally is the reason I finally moved to Oriental.

Back in 2009 I was living in Rochester NY but really wanted to be living in Oriental (had visited here in 2003 and fell in love with the town and people). I was browsing Towndock, when I saw an ad Wally had posted for help in his loft. I was working at a canvas loft in Rochester at the time, so emailed Wally back in hopes of lining up a job which would give me the impetus needed to undo my dock lines and move the boat down to Oriental. I knew living aboard here would be LOTS better than living aboard where the water freezes around you in the winter :-).

Well, things didn’t work out with Wally, as the position had “been filled” (I’ve since heard a different story, remaining untold here). But started thinking there had to be other possibilities … and there were! So happily packed up my “moving van”, had Triton with Ralf at the helm transport my boat, and escaped the winter of 2009 to move down to Oriental that October.

Ran into Wally a fair amount once I was down here, since we were both at Whittaker Creek when he was on his boat and had his loft here. He always had a smile on his face and a friendly greeting. Thoughts and hugs go out to Kelly and Amy, Ben and Carey.

From Don and Kathie Mau:
Wally treated people right…it was his way. He educated people about sails and sailing without being condescending. He could take a piece of junk sail and make it work for you when you couldn’t afford a better one…it was his way.

An amusing memory of Wally was when he dressed up as Father Guido for a Trawl Door Halloween party. Priceless. You had to be there and know Wally. Wally was a good friend to many…it was his way.

Wally, rest in peace our friend.

From Bob:
We all pass to soon ! I met wally 15 years ago when I moved here .Shared a beer or 5. Waited on him and friends when I worked the restaurants . I met the kids later on .
Ben , Kari so sorry for you’re your loss, I share in your grief .

From Chris Craig:
I remember when Wally and Sue first moved to Oriental. We met, hit it off, had beers, and that’s the way it was for many years before I left Oriental. His quirky energy was welcome in town, and sorely needed. I last saw him last fall when I came back to visit Oriental, and his attitude not changed a bit.

I suppose I should weigh in a bit more about my old friend Wally. Lots of good times came our way after he moved to Oriental. We remained good friends ever since, although we only saw each other occasionally after I left Oriental in 2000. Everyone who knew him will tell you of his tendency towards sarcasm and wit. But deep in all that he was a loyal and constant pal. We drank, sailed, and teased women together. He was never shy about flirting with women. He always claimed he was just kidding around but you could see a flicker of hope in his eye. Ever the optimist, which, for him, was an essential part of his life.

He liked goofing on people, again part of his overall character. This once earned him the Sandbagging award at the Green’s Creek regatta. I sailed by him once when he was tucked up in the weeds, sitting on his sunfish sipping on a beer during the first race, hoping for a last place finish so he could get a first in the second race. (those of you who don’t get this will have to read the rules).

He hired me on occasion to install furling systems for him, and I sent him business as well. And there was always the banter of fun and friendship.

I have many other tales of Wally somewhere in my memory banks, many unreliable and fogged by beer, but lots of good ones as well.
Thanks for everything Wally.

From Pete and Barb Ritchie:
Oh boy, so many Wally memories, it’s hard to pick one. I think Wally and Sue moved to Oriental about the same year Barbie and I did – 1987. Back then there was a fairly small cadre of us doing boat work and we were all friends and would hang out at the Topside or the Trawl Door on weekends. The town was filled with characters at that time and Wally was one of them.

Anyway the Chapin house was one where you didn’t need to knock and were always welcome. So, one of my earliest memories of Wally and Sue was I believe the Christmas of 1990. We were planning on traveling to Charlotte for the holidays but Mother Nature intervened and there was a serious snow storm. Barbie and I were stuck out at Teaches Cove apartments. Wally, knowing we were stuck called and invited us to Christmas dinner. I said ‘Wally thanks but I can’t get my car out of the parking lot ‘. He said no problem John Faulds said he would come get you in his 4wd pickup. John did and it was one of those memorable times spent with friends.
Rest In Peace Wally Chapin!

From Pat Stockwell:
A brief story that will probably make no sense:

Once on a trip to a marina in little Washington, one sailor heard i came from Oriental.
He said.“The thing about Oriental is no one there is from there.”
Attempts to correct him were not going change his mind.
Then he suddenly had a flash of insight.
“Wait a minute. I did meet a guy once that was from there. What was his name?”
He kept trying to think of it.
“He worked on boats.” Well there are a few folks over there that do that.
“It was only one part though. Like a specialty. What was it?” Hmmm
“I know. He made sails! And his name started with a W.” Wally?
“Yeah. That’s it. Wally. He is the only guy i ever met in Oriental that was from Oriental.”
That says quite a bit about Wally.
Rest in peace, friend.

Share your memories of Wally. Email them to info@towndock.net.

Posted Saturday April 8, 2017 by Keith N. Smith

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