The 52-foot racing yacht Dorade careens in a very stiff following wind on her way to a record performance in the 1931 Transatlantic Race, with the spinnaker sheet led to windward of the forestay and eased out. This is “knife-edge sailing, where you need all your skills to prevent a standing jibe and subsequent broach,” says artist Tony Blake. “I put her in mid-ocean, showing the conditions they were sailing under, surfing with spinnaker up in good-size seas.”
A young, up-and-coming naval architect named Olin Stephens designed Dorade, which the Minneford Yacht Yard built on City Island, New York, and launched in 1930. In the race, Stephens was skipper of the seven-man crew that included his brother Rod and their father, Rod Stephens, Sr. The mahogany-on-oak yawl beat nine opponents by a full two days boat-for-boat, and almost four days on corrected time. The design firm Sparkman & Stephens was suddenly the talk of the yachting world.
Big ocean-racing yachts, and America’s Cup boats in particular, have inspired Blake as an artist since the New Zealander was a youngster. “I have always been passionate about yacht design, and I followed all the S&S yachts that raced from the late 1950s into the 1970s,” he says. “They were the top ocean-racer designers at that time.”
Blake’s own offshore sailing career keeps his art fresh and immediate. “I like to think my paintings portray, very accurately, what it is like to race a yacht in high winds and with a following sea,” says the artist, whose work is on display at Ocean House in Watch Hill, Rhode Island, through early February. “The crew are hanging on in the wild rush down the wave, spray is flying across the foredeck. Hopefully people looking at this work—especially those who have been there, done that— will appreciate the feeling portrayed in the painting. I have always loved the thrill of surfing down a wave in a yacht.”
This article originally appeared in the December 2018 issue.