Yacht Style: Dorade
In Fine Company: In a fleet of classic beauties, Dorade, perhaps Olin Stephens' most famous design, still turns heads when her sails are set and the rail is down.
Any sailor worth his boots would be giddy to stroll down the waterfront of historic Marblehead, Massachusetts, while chasing down a promised berth on Dorade, the most famous wooden racing yacht of the 20th century. She’s the slender beauty that in the early 1930s launched Olin and Rod Stephens to half a century at the pinnacle of American yachting: Olin’s first offshore design, done at the tender age of 22; the springboard for the design and brokerage firm Sparkman & Stephens; and a smashing competitive success for two young brothers whose triumphs in her forever altered the American yachting landscape.
Ridiculed by the old guard as too slim and lightly built to go to sea, Dorade stomped all comers through the Great Depression and beyond, winning from one coast of the United States to the other and from England to Hawai’i. She won the Transatlantic Race of 1931, the Transpac, the Bermuda Race, and the Fastnet, and she remains a seagoing icon—“On one hand, lovely and dainty, and on the other, purposeful and determined” writes Douglas D. Adkins in his excellent new book, Dorade: the History of an Ocean Racing Yacht. “There is no other racing yacht with her enduring fame and public presence.”
I was lucky to score a two-day gig crewing on Dorade at the Panerai Classic Yachts Challenge in August 2012, but no one bothered to say exactly where she’d be. I’d never laid eyes on her, and I’d only been to Marblehead a time or two. But at 52 feet of gleaming wooden perfection, she shouldn’t be hard to find. I parked the truck, shouldered my seabag, and headed for the most prominent place in town, the public landing, and there she lay, pretty as kiss my hand, in fine company.
Dorade bobbed lightly at the fuel dock between a sleek, black, 50-foot Q boat called Nor’easter and an immaculately restored Herreshoff gaffer called Nellie. Nearby, the towering, fully restored, turn-of-the-century New York Yacht Club 50 Spartan and Donald Tofias’ 76-foot Herreshoff replica Wild Horses tugged at their tethers, all polished to a shine. In this crowd, Dorade didn’t even stand out. She simply held her own in a dignified way.
Her newest owner, real-estate developer Matt Brooks of San Francisco, spent a small fortune refurbishing the 82-year-old yawl after buying her from Edgar Cato in 2010, and it shows. Brooks was supposed to be aboard for the Panerai but couldn’t make it because of family issues. A pity, as he’d assembled a crackerjack crew to sail against 67 other yachts of various sizes and vintages, from creaky old gaffers to sparkling replicas.
Brooks brought in Brad Read, the executive director of Sail Newport, a nonprofit located in Newport, Rhode Island, and a great small-boat racer, to steer, and a cast of grizzled veterans, mostly from around Marblehead, to pull the strings. Bob Hood, son of Ted, trimmed headsails, for example, and around-the-world adventurer Cam Lewis’ young son Max was the Nipper, assigned to tend the mizzen. Max greeted me with a frosty Heineken to chase away the road grime and a crew uniform to parade around town in. Good one, Max!