A few weeks ago I was given an opportunity to join Dorade on her migration south to the Caribbean for the 2013 winter season. I was floored when I arrived at her berth, noticing the lines that have been emulated by designers ever since, the beginning of “classic”. I could imagine Olin Stephens first drawing, watching her constructed, then sailing her across the oceans. This would be my first time standing in the actual footsteps of “the” legend and I knew this was a great time to reconnect with my sailing roots.
After rolling my tongue back up inside my mouth, the second step was to help commission her after a long truck ride across the country from California. Needless to say this was a lot of hard work, but also a great way to become better acquainted with the boat. The rigging tuned and sails bent, she was a proper sailboat again and begging for open ocean. Our eyes turned to the weather and at the first opportunity we would leave. As luck would have it, we didn’t wait long and a few days later we were off.
As we raised the main I had a euphoric moment, thinking “this is it we are really doing it again”. Then a verbal reminder from Ben snapped me back into work mode and we went about the business of quickly raising the rest of the sails and turning off the engine. Departing Newport, RI for me has always been a treat, and this time I felt like we were taking a piece of the history and classiness with us.
As soon as we exited the protection of the harbor the decks started getting a bit wet, slowly at first. About ten minutes after that we started getting little wet. In short order we were sailing at a thirty degree heel with the rail buried and waves sweeping aft along the deck, depositing themselves directly on us huddled together in the cockpit.
I had the first watch and the rest of the crew retreated into the dry warmth of the interior, leaving me to experience the tiller for the first time. I would consider myself a good helmsman, but Dorade is a much different kind of boat than I’d ever steered before. I spent that entire watch trying different techniques, trying to get in the groove. My revelation came when I decided to let her decide her own path. With my hands loosely holding the tiller like a Ouija board I got my answer. This boat was designed to do most of the work herself and if I left her to her own devices, only the occasional input from me was required. Ahh, now I understand.
The first two days were a bit rough and uncomfortable, the last assault from New England before releasing us to pass through the Gulf Stream and into calmer, warmer waters. Gradually we all started spending more time on deck together though, talking and getting to know each other. The wind finally went aft and we were able to fly five sails simultaneously which is an amazing sight. The miles quietly ticked off the log as we closed in on Bermuda, we had landfall after a trip of four and a half days.
Tied up to the arrival dock in St. George’s we had the final task of clearing in. When the customs official asked us the value of the boat we all looked at each other and without hesitation Ben answered “priceless”. Welcome to Bermuda!