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.
|Designed in 1929 and launched the following year, Dorade today still maintains an active racing schedule, thanks to a loving owner and a thorough refit.|
The regatta format was two days of pursuit racing. Over the course of about an hour, the Race Committee would send smaller boats off first and bigger ones last, with the hopes that this would avoid any pileups at the starting line and that they’d all fetch up at the harbor finish in a colorful mass after 17 miles of sun-kissed sailing. It’s all about the spectacle at regattas like this, and it worked as planned, though the really good convergences were out on the course at government turning marks, where beauties overtook beauties overtaking beauties. By good fortune, southwest sea breezes held up all weekend under a classic New England sky, that unpredictable panoply of towering cumulus, rolling gray weather fronts, and brilliant bursts of sun.
For sure it was thrilling to be aboard one of the handsomest boats in America, yet it was hard to keep your mind on the teak and varnished oak, pine, and mahogany beneath your feet or the straining canvas aloft as a steady array of stars and starlets crossed your bow or fell astern. They say even the old dog quivers when he sees the quail; if you love boats and the sea and your heart still works, it will surely flutter at the sound of a bow wave chuckling under the meat-cleaver bow of an old wooden 6-Meter, 8-Meter, or 12-Meter, a dart-thin S Boat, or a one-off gaffer, close aboard. And so it did.
As we made our way to the starting line that first day, the master of Dorade’s latest refit walked us through some simple maneuvers. Greg Stewart, a partner at Nelson-Marek Yacht Design in San Diego, was hired by Brooks to update and upgrade Dorade over the 2011 offseason.
A 6-Meter owner himself, Stewart sails on Dorade whenever he can and will fly across the country to do so. He oversaw a ton of work to bring her back, including 21 new bronze winches; a new Yanmar diesel tucked away in an old bin that used to store coal; a new rudder; new offset folding Gori prop and shaft; epoxy-and-spruce main and mizzen masts and booms; a new oak stem; a massive, custom bronze stem fitting; state-of-the-art electronics below (all hidden in the original mahogany woodwork); the list goes on.
Dorade not only turns heads; she also brings home the hardware. A partial listing of trophies, taken from the dorade.org website, includes:
1930: Bermuda Race, Class B, second, first all-amateur crew
1931: Transatlantic Race, first
1932: Bermuda Race, first
1933: Fastnet Race, first
1936: Transpacific Race, first
1947-1979: 15 Swiftsure races, first in class AA 1947-1948, 1951, 1954, 1964
2011: Opera House Cup, Robert H. Tiedemann Memorial Award, most Authentic Yacht
2012: Les Voiles de St. Barth, Classic Class, first
2013: Newport Beach to Cabo San Lucas Race, PHRF class, first
Since many of the crew were new to the boat, Stewart wanted to show us how to do such basic things as setting the spinnaker pole, changing headsails, and the like. Crew boss Nate Burke had sent me up forward to work the mast, along with a strapping local named Jim Golden, and we were duly attentive. “I’m going to show you how to take the spinnaker pole forward,” said Stewart, a bespectacled engineer, who assigned me to one end of the pole and Golden to the other, then had someone else clip on and tend the topping lift so that when we brought the gleaming wooden stick forward, it would be fully supported, just in case some oaf stumbled or tripped.
The point was clear—when you’re taking grandma’s burled walnut hutch upstairs to its new spot in the master bedroom, you don’t just grab it and go. Stewart knew he couldn’t demonstrate how to do everything; he just wanted to make clear that this wasn’t somebody’s battered J/24, and every move required thought and care.
His point was reinforced as we hoisted sail and set off on our first practice run through the fleet while tacking, jibing, winging the big genoa out on the pole for dead downwind, or cracking off to a close reach. The wind piped up as Read spun her upwind, and Dorade, with a narrow beam of just over 10 feet, bent to the breeze and dipped her sparkling toerail in the brine. “High side,” the skipper ordered from the cockpit, encouraging mid-deck hands to put their idle weight to use as ballast. I stuck my legs over the gunwale out of habit. “Oh, no, no, no,” chided bowman Tommy Tompkins, who’d sailed the old-timers many times before. “Legs in. They ruin the sheer line for the photographers!”
The racing that followed over the next two days is jumbled in my mind. When you work the middle of a racing boat, it’s like being a lineman on a football team—you’re in the heart of it but out of the loop. Your job is to keep your head down and not mess up. You can find out later how you did. There were murmurings in the cockpit as Read, Stewart, and Burke conjured which way to go and how to get there, and occasional urgent directives came forward as they prepared to tack or jibe or change headsails, but for the most part, Golden and I were blithely oblivious to the big picture and keenly focused on not scratching the varnish or breaking anything.