MAINSHEET 22 November 2011
By R.C. Keefe, Curator & Historian
Jim Flood brought “Dorade” to the St. Francis Yacht Club in late 1935. At the time she was the most famous racing yacht in the world. The 53’ yawl was designed by Olin Stephens for his father’s account, and built by the Minneford Yacht Yard, City Island, Bronx, New York City. With his brother, Rod’s close supervision, “Dorade” was launched in the spring of 1930. The objective of her creation was to win the Trans-Atlantic Yacht Race scheduled for the summer of 1931. Against a fleet of much larger yachts, she not only won the race but finished first on a boat for boat basis; a clean sweep.
She then went on the win that summers, Fastnet Race, Britton’s premier yachting race. The new little radical yawl, very narrow resembling a meter boat, designed and built by two very young unknown men had just set the yacht racing world on notice that the day of the of the big gaff rigged schooners was not quite over, but very close. She wasn’t quite yet a benchmark, but very shortly would become one by which all others are measured. She returned to New York with her crew on shipboard, and upon arrival was greeted and celebrated with and by a Broadway ticker tape parade. “Dorade” raced locally on the Eastern Seaboard in 1932 placing second in that years Bermuda Race. One of John Alden’s new gaff rigged schooners won, but the handwriting was on the wall. The brothers had little time for yacht racing, and “Dorade” spent a great deal of time on her mooring. They were very busy with their new design firm of Sparkman & Stephens. Orders for new designs were forthcoming as a result of “Dorade’s successes. Two of note were the 54’ sloop, “Edlu”, and the 55’ yawl, “Stormy Whether”. Both were developments of “Dorade” with noticeably more beam. Both were ready for the 1934 Bermuda race which “Edlu” won. “Santana” (1934) was also a design of this period, but built as a schooner way out in Southern California. A few years later she was to be converted to a yawl.
In 1933, Olin and Rod with the guidance of Drake Sparkman knew they had to keep their momentum going, and “Dorade” was still the catalyst. “Dorade” was very well known in Europe, and it was decided to return her to England to defend her 1931 Fastnet victory. There was no Trans- Atlantic Race in 1933, but rather than shipping her across, Rod Stephens would sail her across the Atlantic, sail in the Fastnet race, and then sail her back to New York; all in one summer. Olin was to stay with the firm in New York. “Dorade” won the 1933 Fastnet Race. Now, she really was the most famous yacht in the world.
That winter at the Annual Meeting of the Cruising Club of America, Rod Stephens was awarded the Clubs prestigious, Blue Water Medal. Enter Jim Flood; a native San Franciscan, member of the St. Francis Yacht Club, and the owner of one of the San Francisco Bay Bird Class yachts. He knew of the coming 1936 Honolulu race, and the next in 1939 which was to start in San Francisco. He had it in his mind to commission a new yacht for the 1939 race. There wasn’t time to build for the 1936 Race. He knew of Sparkman & Stephens and their recent successes, and on his way to Europe that summer he stopped in New York, and discussed a new design with both Rod and Olin Stephens. His only imput was that he wanted a new yacht capable of winning the 1939 Honolulu Race. They suggested any one of their several new designs, but recognized that none had been specifically developed with the Trans-Pacific Race in mind. They left it that while Flood was in Europe they would study the matter, and develop a design suitable, and specifically for the Pacific race.
Seven weeks later Jim Flood got off the Queen Mary to visit again at the S & S New York office. That meeting presented a basic design concept to Flood, but was going to require a great deal of time to develop into a finished set of plans. Basically, what was proposed was a 58’ yawl, a little bigger than the new “Stormy Whether”, but with a mast head fortriangle. Flood now had to make a very important decision which he found difficult as he made no secret that this was his first adventure into the world of serious yacht racing design.
A day later at lunch at the New York Yacht Club Drake Sparkman mentioned that “Dorade” was in commission but not active, and that she could be purchased. He also pointed out that she could be delivered to San Francisco in plenty of time for the 1936 Honolulu Race, let alone the 1939 race. In other words, she was immediate, and in first class racing condition, needing little work prior to the start. That afternoon, they drove out to City Island where “Dorade” was being decommissioned for the coming winter. The next day Jim Flood took title to the most famous sailing yacht in the world. Drake Sparkman was to look after and arrange for the shipping of the yacht to San Francisco, which depending on available shipping schedules, was estimated to take six weeks to two months. Jim Flood now had 5 days on the train home to draw up plans for the rapidly approaching 1936 Honolulu Race. By phone, he notified Lester Stone that the yacht was on her way West, and to stand by to receive her. And, to Myron Spaulding to be ready to put her into commission, and get her sailing. And by the way, be the yacht’s Captain and Sailing Master with responsibility for winning the 1936 Honolulu Race.