The Old Girl’s Ready to Dance Anew
Doted over by Maine craftsmen and devoted owners during a 20-month refit, the Sparkman & Stephens-designed yawl Bolero is savoring her new vitality. From "Yachtsyle" in our December 2010 issue
It was the fall of 2004 when I last checked in with Bolero, the breathtaking, 73-foot, wooden yawl that’s generally considered to be near the apex of the Top 10 list of the great designs of Olin Stephens II. At the age of 55, she was coming off a major restoration of her hull and a summer of glorious racing on the Classic Yacht circuit, winning six of 13 races and the Concours d’Elegance at the Sparkman & Stephens 75th-anniversary gathering at Connecticut’s Mystic Seaport. As a member of her racing crew then, I have a lively memory of the pleasure Bolero brought to her sailors and anybody who caught sight of her slim, black hull and towering rig.
I later told the story of this thoroughbred and her community of designers, builders, owners, sailors, and restorers in the book In a Class by Herself: The Yawl Bolero and the Passion for Craftsmanship. By the time the title was in bookstores and on Amazon.com, Bolero was in Europe for four years of cruising in the Mediterranean and the English Channel with her owners, Ed Kane and Marty Wallace. When I caught a glimpse of Bolero at Valencia during the 2007 America’s Cup match, she looked as gorgeous as ever. On board, however, there were worries. “We were cracking frames,” Kane recalls glumly. “We noticed a broken frame, then another, then another. We put a fiber-optic camera down there and found more cracked frames. I don’t know if the cracks were old or new, but we had a lot of rough weather in Greece and Turkey. The boat wasn’t sinking, but it was a real problem.”
Deciding that another restoration was in order, in the fall of 2008 Kane brought Bolero to Rockport Marine, a boatyard in Maine that specializes in wooden boats. When she emerged from the shed this past spring, Kane told me, Bolero looked almost exactly as she did before, even though a lot about her was brand-spanking-new or restored. On the outside, she was the same Bolero, only polished up with a new deck, new sails and electronics, and newly painted spars. But lift the floorboards and everything’s different: new laminated frames, new planking, new systems, air-conditioning, and more additions.
“The whole boat’s been redone,” said Kane. “If you took a big, brand-new, state-of-the-art cruising boat, it would look exactly like this. We were basically rebuilding the boat.”
The 61-year story of Bolero is one of many dreams, some frustrations, one near-death experience by abandonment, and a miraculous recovery occurring in three stages over the past 15 years. As close to royalty as an American yacht can be, she was designed by Sparkman & Stephens and built in 1949 by the Henry B. Nevins Yacht Yard. The owner was John Nicholas Brown, of the Rhode Island Browns. An art historian, a technology buff (he was the civilian head of the U.S. Navy’s air operations), and the soon to be commodore of the New York Yacht Club, he had standards at least as high as those of the designer and the builder. In my research for the book, I came across a copy of the yacht’s final specifications in which it was stated that the hull was to be painted with “two coats semi-gloss, best grade yacht black.” Brown crossed out “semi-gloss” and inserted “high gloss.”