‘Dorade: The History of an Ocean Racing Yacht:’ A storied and influential vessel

“Dorade: The History of an Ocean Racing Yacht”
by Douglas D. Adkins
David R. Godine, 240 pp., $65

Dorade is a fine tribute in the form of a coffee table book that features well-crafted stories and photos of this majestic girl through her many glories and darker days.

For a boat to be treasured and revered for 82 years, it would have to be something special. Dorade was indeed that.

Dorade was the boat that launched Olin Stephens’ stellar career as a naval architect at the ambitiously young age of 21. With his younger brother, Rod, he shared a passion for sailing; their father encouraged his interest in boats and naval architecture. Yet Stephens lasted only six months studying naval architecture at MIT before jaundice and disillusionment urged him homeward. His sweetheart probably played a part as well.

Upon his return, at only 19 years old, he designed his own six-metre. Shortly afterward, he teamed up with 29-year-old enterprising yacht broker Drake Sparkman to form Sparkman & Stephens yacht design company. Dorade, envisioned as a fast cruiser and offshore racing yacht for the family, was only his seventh design.

Her keel was laid just weeks after the stock market crash of 1929 — inauspicious timing. She was launched in the spring of 1930 as the country slid into the Great Depression. Before the arrival of Dorade, ocean racing yachts were sturdier, like the working schooners of the day, which were heavily-built gaff-rigged vessels.

When she entered the nearly 3,000-mile Newport to Plymouth race, many thought Dorade was not “appropriate for the ardors of ocean racing.” Yet she proved them wrong. Dorade not only made it, she beat the next fastest yacht by two days (four corrected). Dorade‘s impressive string of wins by her handsome crew captured the attention of a weary public and she became a media sensation on both sides of the Atlantic and both coasts of America.

The boat featured many innovative techniques; for example, it was the first to use a vent that let air in while keeping water out (if designed correctly). The term “Dorade vent” has entered boaters’ lexicon, though some may not know its origins. Her success transformed ocean racing and boat construction for decades to come and initiated the long reign of Sparkman & Stephens as a dominant yacht design firm of the last century.

Throughout his life, Pacific Northwest resident and author Doug Adkins admired Dorade from afar and even raced aboard her one Swiftsure in 1979 — a race he could hardly forget after Dorade ran aground, rammed and then sank a competitor and broke his finger in two places. Adkins not only raced again, he devoted years to meticulously researching Dorade‘s race pedigree, the times the boat changed hands and endured countless refits.

The book price is steep at $65, but for the lover of classic yachts and sailing heritage, it makes an ideal gift. This tightwad plunked down her money and doesn’t regret it. Adkins offers historical context that enriches the story, and he’s a natural storyteller with a wry wit. This book makes for a delightful and informative read.

2 Responses to ‘Dorade: The History of an Ocean Racing Yacht:’ A storied and influential vessel

  1. Douglas Adkins April 19, 2012 at 12:31 pm #

    Dear Wendy, Aren’t you nice to publish such an upbeat review! Thank you very much. It is tough to ask $65 for the book but it is the only way to pay for a special interest publication with lofty production goals. Thanks for your kind words and I hope to see you soon. Doug

    • Profile photo of Wendy Hinman
      Wendy Hinman April 26, 2012 at 1:34 pm #

      Well-deserved accolades for a book I’ve thoroughly enjoyed. Thanks, Doug.

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