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
In her six years under Brown and his family, she was one of the super-star racing yachts of her day, regularly winning major races on elapsed time and often on corrected time, too. The racing record was a small part of her allure. A subsequent owner, Gunter Sunkler, her first restorer, spoke of “the magical qualities that she always had.” The word “sleek” could have been invented to describe this boat. On board, in any decent breeze, she was a thing of tremendous, urgent force.
Brown told Olin Stephens that “the greatest of all sensations” was “the Bolero feeling under sail.” One man who truly appreciated those qualities was Carleton Mitchell. Hearing in 1954 that Brown was thinking of putting her up for sale, Mitchell seriously considered making a bid. “I thought it would be a wonderful thing to race Bolero until your money ran out,” he once told me. In the end, he chose to build a smaller, and also fabled, Sparkman & Stephens boat, Finisterre.
After selling Bolero to a leading Swedish yachtsman, Sven Salen, Brown, according to one of his crew, Dick Goennel, suffered a hard bout of seller’s remorse.“He missed her hugeness and her glamour, and he missed those times when people were always circling around her with their cameras.” Today, Bolero is still close to the heart of the New York Yacht Club. Its Newport clubhouse, Harbour Court, is the Brown family’s former home, and the informal dining room there is named The Bolero Grill, complete with a replica transom hung on the wall.
Bolero had a fine racing career over many years in Sweden and San Francisco, across the Atlantic, and on the U.S. East Coast, where Ted Turner took her helm for a while. But by 1990, she was abandoned and rotting away in a Florida canal, with her masts and winches in hock and her condition described by one observer as “positively decrepit.” Sunkler bought her and did a partial restoration in Maryland before selling her to Ed Kane, an experienced cruising sailor from Boston who’d acquired an itch for classic boats.
Soon enough, Kane discovered that owning Bolero would be both a joy and a burden. The boat’s surveyor, George C. Welch, wrote in his survey: “She requires of her owner a custodial obligation and responsibility that has absolutely nothing to do with financial return on investment or annual cost of maintaining and operating her.”
In September 2001, Kane took Bolero to Brewer’s Pilots Point Marina, in Westbrook, Connecticut. While master craftsman Hans Zimmer was replanking her, replacing the stem and forefoot, and making other repairs, the Bolero alumni association energetically lobbied Kane to have the boat restored to her precise, perfect, original condition. Kane complied in almost every way, but he resisted pressure to paint the transom the original glossy black and had it varnished. “The contrarian in me made me do it,” he said with a grin. This was his boat.
Kane is contrary in another way: He’s not much interested in competition. To quote his wife, Marty: “Racing’s not what gets us up in the morning.” Their tastes run to cruising to Newfoundland and living on board for a week or two at Edgartown, on Martha’s Vineyard. It’s not that he doesn’t enjoy sailing fast. “You know how it is when a boat gets going? Like using a passing gear on a car?” Kane says. It’s just that he doesn’t derive a whole lot of personal satisfaction from shifting into that gear against other boats. After the starting gun fires, he’s likely to go below and do some reading, even take a nap. Despite all that, after the repaired Bolero was launched in 2004, Kane and Wallace insisted that she must compete. He felt he owed a summer of racing to Newport, to the New York Yacht Club, to the memory of John Nicholas Brown, and above all, to Bolero herself. “This boat wants to race.”
The summer after Bolero’s successful 2004 racing season, however, she was cruising in Greece. The fact is, Bolero was conceived as a dual-purpose boat. Commodore Brown asked Olin Stephens for “a comfortable cruising boat with a turn of speed.” Brown got his speed, all right, but some people today may be amazed by the definition of comfort. This 73-foot, 94,000-pound boat has a beam of but 15 feet one inch. By modern-day standards, the accommodations—which were designed to the Browns’ requirements—are a little cramped, with an owner’s cabin that’s strikingly modest for such a yacht. Kane and Wallace are, by nature, quite modest, and they wouldn’t have it any other way. The refits over the years have left the original accommodations plan intact except for a little more counter space here, a different door there.