It is a vanishingly small group of people alive today who’ve had the honor to race Dorade in a major ocean race. On a personal level I’d like to thank them because every one of them are the caliber of person to whom I entrust my life. While we might often have people we really trust on a crew, it is also a sad, and vanishingly small rarity to have such trust in an entire crew. I comment on this and things to come because I believe that on several levels Olin Stephens would approve. Anyway, that is not what this is about.
I, personally, have been honored to sail Dorade, and to do so with as fine a crew as I can imagine. But I’ve also had the pleasure of being owner Matt Brook’s watch partner. And I’ll just say that a few weeks of standing watch together let’s you get to know a guy, where he’s coming from, and why he might think the way he does.
And as far as Dorade goes, he started with a rather simple premise – that Dorade is both seaworthy and capable. He had a vision that Dorade return to major ocean racing rather than act as some ornament to our sport. But that’s not what anyone else thought three years ago when he started and in fact, that’s not what I thought.
You see, we did a lot of sailing and using the Islands race as training, found ourselves in what can only be described as survival driving – still racing but only just barely. Matt Brooks was unable to participate in that race and amongst ourselves, we felt we may have done Dorade an injustice, having placed her in harms way and by all measures she is a jewel – not just a treasure within our sport but a true national treasure.
Some would claim that she fundamentally changed and defined our sport. But this, I think, is not so true; I believe her to be the first manifestation of one man’s vision of what sailing could be. Really it was Olin Stephens’ vision that defined our sport. Yes, Dorade is a jewel, but a jewel sparkles due to its many facets – I’ll touch on only a few.
Not only did she win major ocean races of her day, she did so in the most sound and seaworthy way which I can attest to after sailing her hard for several thousand miles. Sadly, that’s not something we find in nearly as great a measure today; fast, winning boats, yes; seaworthy and competitive in 84 years, not a chance.
Dorade has been well maintained and now meticulously restored by Matt Brooks. While her “bright-work” is left patina-ed, it is only so we may focus on the truly important, on her structural integrity, on her capability. And this is a rarity in today’s world which often places more value on the appearance than on the fundamental function. I comment on this because while some might say unpolished bright-work is not proper, I most certainly agree with Matt Brooks not only that it is in keeping with Olin Stephens vision, but also because nothing is so vital as proper focus of attention.
She is not exactly an easy boat to sail. Certain wave angles will push her around dramatically, regardless of wind speed or direction. With up to five sails up, there’s a lot going on. Apparent wind speeds increase linearly with true wind speed, and so on. Doing things right and proper is not so much “important” as it is vital for her and her crew’s very survival. The ocean is unforgiving and there are damn good reasons for those traditions.
We’ve chosen to honor those traditions by taking celestial sites every day, by keeping Dorade in as original condition as possible, and by any number of smaller decisions. These are generally not things that matter to winning sail boat races today. Rather they are matters of style and great pride, great pride in the seafaring traditions that date back not just before any of us were born but to the very origins of man putting to sea.
As I see it, there are five things or facets if you will, that paved the way for Dorade to be on the podium today. Of course luck must be present. The wind never did exactly what we expected, the smell of burning electrical never amounted to a fire, and so on. Preparation is vital, as is the courage and skill of a crew not just to put to sea but to push her as hard as possible. But long before that came the hard work of building the boat – Olin Stephens didn’t just have the vision, he undertook the hard work of making that vision a reality. And of course, most fundamental is the vision.
And that comes in many forms. Of course it started with Olin Stephens. But it was also the vision of all those who maintained her over the decades. And it was Matt Brooks vision that Dorade return ocean racing.
When he first spoke of it virtually everyone thought it crazy. Mid-way through our Islands race I thought it was crazy. But mid-way TransPac people began to use the term “audacious” – which is only a slightly more polite term for “crazy”. This is in fact apropos in as much as it is crazy. It is audacious. But it’s far beyond that. Dorade began long before even my parents were born. What Matt Brooks envisioned and what we’ve done here at the 2013 TransPac will become a part of Dorade’s legacy and the history of sailing long after we are all long gone and forgotten.
Without crazy visionary projects, nothing in this world would amount to much. At some level, this is the most fundamental aspect or facet of Dorade and what she can teach us – that a crazy, visionary project combined with the hard work to see it through, and a little luck can change history.
Dorade shines as the manifest vision of racing boat that places more value in fundamentals, in the solid construction of seaworthiness, and in the delicate balance between visionary and traditional. While she is in fact quintessential beautiful, that facade is but happy coincidence to her underlying beauty which is at heart, a race boat that can be pushed hard, and with a little luck, win.
Dorade has returned to ocean racing.
– Eric “Chewy” Chowanski