This Friday, Dorade will take on another major challenge in her ocean racing campaign, joining 164 other boats in the 49th Newport to Bermuda Race, a journey of 635 miles. At 84, she will be one of the oldest boats in the race, if not the oldest, and given her TransPac win last year, the stakes seem especially high. In the last Bermuda Race two years ago, we were congratulated for simply finishing the race. This year, the yachting press are asking, “can Dorade win the Bermuda race?” The pressure is on.
At times like these we like to remind ourselves of our original mission.
Four years ago, we were middle-aged empty-nesters in search of a classic boat to go day sailing in San Francisco Bay. After looking at dozens of other boats, we fell in love with Dorade at first sight.
We loved her for her looks, of course, who wouldn’t? But frankly, compared to many other wonderful classic boats that were on the market, she was on the modest side. Olin and his brother Rod were barely out of their teens when they designed and built Dorade, and she was built to go fast, not to be luxurious or even comfortable. She was a vessel of great utility and economy, purpose-built to compete in the major ocean races of the day.
In the 1931 TransAtlantic Race, Olin and Rod raced their little white yawl against some of the finest yachts and yachtsmen in the world — men with bigger boats and much deeper pockets — and they did so with a blithe optimism that’s deeply inspiring. Watch the home movies posted on our website (yes, they took a film camera!) of that race and you will see Rod playing the accordion on deck, awaiting fresh biscuits from the coal-burning stove.
And that’s what cinched the deal for us. Dorade and her makers were novices who had completely unreasonable expectations, but perseverance combined with Olin’s genius and Rod’s skill made them formidable competitors. Those two young boys — and their little white boat — could teach us a lot about setting ambitious goals, and what it would take to reach them.
It was immediately clear to us that Dorade wasn’t designed for day sails, or even buoy racing. Watching her sail around the harbor in Newport was like watching a race horse charge around a paddock. And that was the genesis of “Matt’s Crazy Idea,” preparing an 80-year-old boat to compete once again in major ocean races, repeating the races she had won in the thirties, and adding new races to the list.
We were new to the world of classic boats and ocean racing, and just like Olin and Rod, our naivete carried us forward, making us believe that it was possible for her to race again, and win again.
At first even Dorade’s biggest fans were doubtful. We could break her. Sink her. Dry her up in the Caribbean sun. And she certainly wouldn’t be winning any major races. And we did break her. More than once. The main boom on a delivery to Southern California. A winch sheered off the mizzen mast mid-regatta. Groundings in harbors here, there, and everywhere.
The refit we thought would take 10 months is now on-going. Dorade works hard, and every part of her needs constant attention. The punch list for the final two weeks before the upcoming Bermuda Race had 150 items. Two years after the electronics failure on our first Bermuda Race, we’re still struggling with the modern technology under her hood. We plan to be custodians of Dorade for the rest of our lives, racing her on a regular basis, and we now know that the work will go on endlessly.
Since that day four years ago when Matt outlined his crazy idea, Dorade has sailed more than twenty thousand miles on her own bottom.
She has already proven that she can race and perform well in the open ocean: in last year’s TransPac, the Cabo Race, the Around-the-Islands Race, the Bermuda Race and the Caribbean 600. Over the next several years, she’ll continue to repeat her early races and add new ones to her resume. Later this summer she’ll be in the Med competing against hundreds of other classics including those of Olin’s design like Stormy Weather and Skylark, followed by the inaugural RORC race from the Canary Islands to Grenada in the fall, then in 2015 the TransAtlantic and Fastnet.
We will set out to win every race we enter, preparing the boat and her crew to the best of our abilities, with every resource we have. Striving always to perform better no matter what the conditions or the competition.
But regardless of the results in any one event, including this week’s Bermuda race, Dorade and her crew have already achieved far more than we ever dreamed possible.
When we set out on this journey four years ago, we thought we were saving an old boat by restoring it to its proper use. In fact, Dorade has saved us, giving us a new sense of purpose at a time when that seemed improbable, and connecting us with a vast extended family of sailors who know and love the boat and her makers. And judging from her fan mail, there are thousands of other people who have been inspired by Dorade’s return to blue water, and who knows… might someday find an old boat that will change their lives.
We could never think of Dorade as anything but a winner.
Pam & Matt