Dorade: The History of an Ocean Racing Yacht
Why, one might ask, should a book about a 52-foot yawl launched in May 1930 belong on an Adirondack bookshelf? The short answer is: Olin Stephens.
Dorade was the first boat designed by Stephens when, little more than a teenager, his father decided to help him and his brother Rod design and build an ocean racer to compete against the finest offshore yachts of the day.
Lightly built, with spartan accommodations and berths like coffins, she performed well in her shakedown summer. But it was the 1931 Transatlantic Race, which, under Olin’s command, she won in sixteen days and an hour, that set her name firmly in the annals of yachting history – and changed forever the face of ocean racing yacht design.
When Olin Stephens died in 2008 at the age of 100, the obituaries made note, rightly, of the 12-Meter yachts he designed after Dorade.
Those yachts, which successfully defended America’s Cup races from the 1950s through 1980, helped make him one of the most prominent naval architects of the last century.
Missing from those accounts was the fact that he was introduced to boats and boating on Lake George. He retained an affection for Lake George throughout his life.
In 1902, Stephens’ grandfather, Olin J. Stephens I, purchased property and later built a house in Diamond Point.
In his autobiography, ‘All this and Sailing Too,” Stephens wrote, “My sailing education began inland as my grandparents spent their summers at Lake George, where several families of the next generation had cottages of their own. Although there was virtually no sailing on this Adirondack lake, motor boating was active and by 1914 our small family fleet included two launches. These were supplemented by several smaller boats including two beautiful cedar canoes made in Peterborough, Canada. As a boy I enjoyed these boats routinely and became fully at home in the water.”
By 1946, Stephens had not only designed Dorade and Ranger, a 135-foot J-Class sloop that Stephens designed with Starling Burgess for the 1937 America’s Cup races. He had also spent the war years designing amphibious landing craft and minesweepers for the armed forces.
But at the request of Lake George Steamboat Company Wilbur Dow, Stephens returned to Lake George to supervise the redesign of the Mohican and its conversion from steam to diesel.
According to a history of the Mohican by Matthew Dow, published in the journal of the Steamboat Historical Society in 2007, “At the end of the 1946 season, the Mohican was laid up. Under the supervision of Olin Stephens, the boilers and engines were taken out, four diesel engines were installed and a new superstructure was built. The cost of the renovation was $210,000.”
Wilbur Dow was an admiralty lawyer and was certainly familiar with the reputation of Stephens’ naval architecture firm, Sparkman and Stephens.
But according to Bill Dow, the current president of the Lake George Steamboat Company, Olin Stephens and Wilbur Dow were undoubtedly friends.
Both were members of the New York Yacht Club and Dow himself was the owner of a 12-Meter yacht he had acquired from the Greek shopping magnate Stavros Niarchos, and which he raced on Long Island Sound.
In 1958, the America’s Cup was held for the first time since World War II.
Olin Stephens designed and served on the crew of the Columbia, the yacht that went on to win that race. Dow’s yacht, the Narius, served as her stalking horse.
By then, one-design sailing was well established on Lake George, and although Stephens designed only one boat suitable for sailing on lakes (the Skeanatles Boat Company’s 19’ Lightning), he had a keen interest in Lake George sailing.
Chris Meigher, a New York publisher, Bolton Landing summer resident and long-time admirer of Stephens, recalled after Stephens’ death, “I’ve been very fortunate over the past 40 years to have raced aboard several of Olin’s classic designs, including the blue water sloop ‘Obsession’ and the 12-Meter, two-time America’s Cup winner ‘Courageous’ – two of Olin’s favorite boats. But what I found most endearing about Olin was watching his reaction when I would tell him tales about Lake George. (“Are the Rainbows still sailing on the lake; what about the Star fleet?” he would ask.) His already warm smile would light up like a little boy’s when we spoke of our beloved lake. It was ever apparent that he shared the same passion and deep memories that so many of us have for that first time we went ‘messing about in boats’ on our favorite body of water.”
A few days after Stephens died, Meigher wrote, “I saw Olin for the last time in July 2008, during the Centennial Regatta in Newport that was organized in honor of his 100th birthday. By co-incidence, I was leaving the bar at the New York Yacht Club as he was walking in (with his 86-year-young girlfriend!). He looked closely at the embroidered ‘Courageous’ on my sailing vest, and then took another hard look at my face, asking, ‘How’d we do today, Lake George?’ (He’d call me that in his later years. If he couldn’t always remember my first name, he quickly remembered my home port!) I proudly replied, ‘Two bullets, today, Olin… and that other boat of yours, ‘Intrepid’ picked up two seconds.’ His face beamed again, looking at his lady companion, and then back at me. I can still see his smile.”
“Dorade: The History of an Ocean Racing Yacht,” by Douglas Adkins, is the definitive history of the boat generally considered the greatest ocean racing yacht of the twentieth century.
If you doubt that, consider this item from the New York Times last week: earlier this summer, 77 years after Dorade first won the Transpacific Yacht Race, she won again, beating modern carbon-fiber ocean racers.
In the eight decades since her launching. Dorade has been actively raced and restored under the ownership of a host of colorful and devoted characters on both coasts.
“Dorade: The History of an Ocean Racing Yacht,” tells her story, from stem to stern, nautical history at its best and related with affection, accuracy, and eloquence.
One more reason why “Dorade” belongs on an Adirondack bookshelf: it’s a beautiful book, and libraries should be beautiful as well as useful.