No wonder Matt Brooks is smiling. Not only did he win his division in the riotously windy St. Maarten Heineken Regatta last month, but he did so aboard his new pride and joy, the classic S&S yawl Dorade — arguably the most influential sailing yacht ever built.
Launched in 1930 at City Island, New York, she was the first, and perhaps most famous yacht ever designed by Olin Stephens, cofounder of the legendary firm Sparkmans & Stephens. When the Great Depression hit only months after that partnership was formed, Olin and his brother Rod’s father ordered the 52-ft yacht, in order to keep the company afloat. Little did he know at the time that the innovative lines his 21-year-old son would soon draw would influence yacht design for decades, and by extension, help popularize both the racing and cruising segments of the sport.
Not long after her christening, the slender Dorade competed in the 1930 Bermuda Race, taking second in class with Olin at the helm and Rod crewing. (They would return two years later with a win.) In ‘31 the brothers entered the Transatlantic Race to Plymouth, England, competing against a fleet of larger boats that were expected to skunk her. But to the amazement of both organizers and competitors, Dorade took line honors (16 days), crossing the finish line two days ahead of the second-place boat — and four days ahead on corrected time. The win signaled the end of big-boat dominance of offshore racing. The brothers stuck around to do the Fastnet that summer and won that race also. After arriving at New York aboard a steamer, the Stephens boys and Dorade were saluted by a ticker-tape parade down Broadway — an unprecedented honor for yachtsmen. (Dorade would score another Fastnet win in ‘33.)
By the summer of 1936, Dorade had been sold to St. Francis YC member Jim Flood, who entered her in the Transpac that summer against a fleet consisting primarily of large schooners — the S&S-designed Santana among them. With the late Myron Spaulding as Dorade’s primary helmsman, she battled her way to Diamond Head (in 12 days) in one of the most hotly contested Hawaii races ever, eventually pulling off a trifecta that only one or two other boats have ever duplicated in the Transpac’s long history: first to finish, first in her class and first overall,
In 2010, 80 years after her launch, San Francisco adventurer/businessman Matt Brooks took possession of her — and we’d bet he was smiling as broadly then as he was in St. Maarten. Brooks wasted no time in organizing a thorough, stem-to-stern refit of this sleek, 10-foot wide classic, during which he would spare no expense. “Make her as near to perfect as you can!” he reportedly said to the refit’s overseer Joe Loughborough. The work was done at the LMI yard in Newport, RI, and, like most refits of old woodies, soon became more complex than originally anticipated. In addition to internal stuctural repairs, Dorade now has new main and mizzen masts with all new bronze hardware, new winches, a new rudder and all new electronics. Her interior has been returned to its original configuration, just as it was when launched in 1930.
Brooks, a member of the St. Francis YC, will be racing Dorade early this month at Les Voiles de St. Barth (April 2-7), followed by the Antigua Classic Yacht Regatta (April 19-24). In June, she’ll do battle in the Newport-Bermuda Race, where she last competed 78 years ago, that time taking class honors. “Our team feels honored to be sailing aboard the S&S flagship,” says Brooks, “and, after the fun Caribbean season tuning up Dorade, we want to show what an 80-year-old lady in top form can really do. Our goal is to attempt all of the races Dorade won in her prime, beginning with this year’s Newport-Bermuda Race.”
Hopefully Brooks will eventually make room on Dorade’s busy calendar to bring her ‘home’ to San Francisco — before next year’s Transpac perhaps? — because there are a whole lot of West Coast sailors who’d love to have a look at her!