Transatlantic Countdown Day 6: Reflection by John Burnham

“It’s a treat to sail a boat with her history that still sails so beautifully. It’s a fast boat and can obviously sail quite well.” — John Burnham, Editorial Director Boats.com

“I did a lot of offshore sailing when I was younger and then stuck to inshore one designs when I started a family, but as editor of Sailing World at the time, I still focused a lot on offshore racing and certainly knew about Dorade’s Transatlantic victory in 1931 and how she went boat-to-boat against bigger and supposedly more seaworthy boats.


Video from the 2012 Newport Bermuda Race (Credit: John Burnham) 

“I got invited to sail in the 2012 Newport Bermuda Race with Dorade and was so excited about the idea. I’ve been sailing Shields and International One-Designs – the latter are based on a 6-metre boat design fairly similar to Dorade. But sailing Dorade was a constant learning curve. Leading up to the Newport Bermuda Race, we sailed two regattas in the Caribbean and then did the New York Yacht Club Annual Regatta for practice and learned a lot. We sailed in some very light winds and some heavy winds. I thought she would have trouble in light wind, but because she’s so narrow she cuts through the water pretty well in light air. If the seas are bigger than the wind, she can have a big problem. As it turned out, going to Bermuda we had a strong northeast breeze to start and the breeze never really let up—it was a very fast trip down there. I was really pleasantly surprised at how fast the boat went. We had a problem with our electronics early in the race, so we couldn’t download weather files—which meant we were sailing the old-fashioned way.

“When it comes to steering, Dorade has a very long tiller, eight feet if I recall, and it comes out from the back of the cockpit in a covered area. The foot-well in the cockpit is narrow, so you can actually only swing the tiller so far. When you tack you’ve got to be patient. The hairiest moment for me was actually in the Heineken Regatta in St. Martin. I steered one day and we came around a mark with several charter boats, and they were all match racing each other. We ducked behind one boat, and but then I realized another one had tacked right behind it. That fact that we didn’t have a collision, well, I was quite happy about that. Dorade is not a boat you can spin on a dime, you have to plan things a little bit ahead of time, but otherwise she just sails very sweetly. It’s a treat to sail a boat with her history that still sails so beautifully. It’s a fast boat and can obviously sail quite well.

“Dorade is an early example of using a hull design offshore that had proven itself around the buoys and it surprised the conventional wisdom of its day when it did so well. She proved that you could race across the Atlantic in a boat that wasn’t a heavy displacement schooner and not only be competitive but also kick butt. As a result of her 1931 Transatlantic victory, she introduced a faster hull shape to offshore racing and launched the career of the pre-eminent yacht design firm of the 20th century, Sparkman & Stephens.

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