Passing Time Until Season’s First Sail

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A view of the bay with the boats still covered in shrink wrap, looking somewhat lonely. If you look closely you will see the American Flag on the little island in front of the boats.

Spring is here. We could say finally, but the winter hasn’t been all that bad. Even our Frostbiters had it a bit easy this year. But that doesn’t diminish the delight in seeing flowers start to bloom—and the buds on the trees are always a welcome sight. While the boats are still shrink-wrapped and looking rather lonely, soon the boatyards will be abuzz with activity and will replace wintertime gathering places—at least for the sailing community.

While on an early morning walk along the bay recently, your columnist began thinking of the summer and the wonderful boats that have been part of our bay’s history. What came to mind was the Manhasset Bay One Designs—those lovely wooden boats with a graceful shear line. Olin Stephens was the designer of these little boats. In fact, this boat was his first design as a 19-year-old apprentice when he joined the design firm that we now know as Sparkman & Stephens.

While all of us eagerly await our delicious first sail of the season, we can pass the time away thinking of past yachts that have made an impact on sailing’s history. There is a wonderful book about Olin Stephens called, Olin Stephens: The Man, The Myth, the Legend. One of the greatest boats ever, Dorade, is an Olin Stephens design, which Scuttlebutt, the online daily sailing newsletter (www.sailingscuttlebutt.com) highlighted in one of its newsletters. It is printed here, in part:

Youthful obsession filled the sails of yacht designer Olin Stephens II. When he wasn’t steering his family’s 16-foot dinghy off Cape Cod, he was diving into industry publications, soaking up stories from experienced sailors, and poring over his own sketches and drafts. The whole time, Stephens (1908-2008) was charting a course. “For years I had prepared for this time when I could do a design intended for what I wanted to do most, serious off-shore racing,” he wrote in his autobiography, All This and Sailing, Too.

The moment arrived in 1929, when the unproven, eager 21-year-old draftsman got the chance to design the boat of his dreams. Dorade, Stephens’ 52-foot racing yacht, was different. Its smaller size, narrower beam and different rigging system parted ways with older, heavier and less nimble oceangoing boats. And left them in her wake. Dorade, manned by Stephens and brother Rod, enjoyed an impressive string of triumphs, starting with 1931’s Transatlantic Race and Fastnet Race.

That year’s sweep prompted a rare New York City ticker-tape parade for the yachtsmen.

Considered the forerunner of modern ocean-racing yachts, Dorade made Stephens a much-sought-after naval architect. He went on to design more than 2,200 cruising and racing yachts—including boats that won eight America’s Cups from 1937 to 1980. Vanderbilts, Rockefellers and IBM’s Tom Watson came to Stephens for their boats. “He was internationally respected,” John Rousmaniere, author of The Annapolis Book of Seamanship and Stephens’ friend, told IBD. “His business was exceptionally demanding. He had to deal with some very strong egos.”

The naturally shy Stephens remained unaffected. “In a business dominated by big egos and forceful personalities, he was the exception,” said Matt Brooks, current owner of Dorade. “He had more winning boats than anyone else in the 20th century, but he wasn’t one to brag or rest on his laurels.”

Dorade, similarly, hasn’t rested. After passing through several owners, she underwent a meticulous restoration in 1997 by Italian businessman Giuseppe Gazzoni. At age 89, Stephens once again walked her mahogany decks. “For me, the most satisfying and exciting experience has been to see Dorade brought back to life,” he wrote. Stephens would not live to see Dorade, captained by owner Brooks, win the 2013 Transpac—a 2,225-nautical-mile race from Los Angeles to Honolulu—77 years after Dorade’s 1936 victory. “Over the past five years, we’ve demonstrated that Dorade is as ocean-worthy as she has ever been by repeating the races that she won back in the 1930s, and in each case bettering her performance dramatically,” Brooks said.

Upcoming events: The Nautical Advisory Council will host its third and last presentation on topics relating to Long Island Sound on Thursday, March 31, at 7:30 p.m., called Recreation on Long Island Sound. Members of Port Rowing will be on board to introduce their organization and programs. The audience will learn about their participants who range from juniors to adults, including rowers with special needs. Their mission statement reads, in part, “We hope that every rower will discover the powerful connection between themselves, their boat, their teammates and the water. We believe this connection builds cooperation and character and an abiding affinity for our environment.” Learn more about how they operate from their base at Hempstead Harbor, and hear exciting stories about how their high school teams, while training on Long Island Sound, were within 100 yards of a humpback whale. Refreshments will be served.

This program is free and open to the public.

The U.S. Merchant Marine Academy (USMMA) in Kings Point boasts one fantastic marine museum. If you haven’t been there, it is worth the trip to Kings Point as the beautiful and historic museum overlooks the bay and the surrounding land will be in full bloom soon. USMMA is pleased to announce that the American Merchant Marine Museum will present its latest exhibit, How to Abandon Ship: the Sinking of the SS Robin Moor, 1941, opening on May 20. A reception will be held from 6 to 8 p.m. More details to follow.

 

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Andrea Watson is a Port Washington-based maritime photographer and journalist. She writes Port Washington News' column On The Bay and is currently the Executive Secretary of the Yacht Racing Association of Long Island Sound (YRALIS).

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