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Classic yawl Dorade is up for sale

Olin Stephens had no idea his creation would last so long when he designed her 75 years ago

Olin Stephens had no idea his creation would last so long when he designed her 75 years ago

There was no more impressive yacht in 1931 than the 52-foot yawl Dorade. With her young designer, Olin Stephens, on board and a crew of family and friends, Dorade trounced a fleet of larger boats to win that year’s Transatlantic Race. As an encore, she won the Fastnet Race.

Now Dorade is on the market with a $785,000 price tag, based on her 75-year-old pedigree and an extensive refit. But Stephens had no idea he was creating such a lasting treasure. “I thought a wooden boat’s life was 20 to 25 years,” says Stephens, 97, who with his brother Rod and Drake Sparkman founded the legendary Sparkman & Stephens design firm. Nor does he now think Dorade was that exceptional a creation. “She wasn’t really a good design. I did much better designs.”

Stephens says Dorade, initially built for Olin and Rod’s father, a successful coal merchant, was “a good boat in some ways and in some others a poor boat.” He has his own view of what led to his boat’s early successful racing career (more on that below), one that commenced with those contests on the Atlantic and continued when she eventually was sold to a West Coast owner. Dorade’s fame from these triumphs is one reason the yawl is still on the water, now in France, where her current owner, a retired shipping executive, has put her on the market.

This is the third time Dorade has been for sale in the last eight years. In 1996, she was a creaky, leaky senior citizen, having most recently worked as a training vessel for a boy’s camp in the San Juan Islands of the Pacific Northwest. The camp offered her for sale, and an Italian soccer impresario, Giuseppe Gazzoni, bought her, according to Mitchell Gibbons-Neff of the Sparkman & Stephens brokerage firm. Dorade was loaded aboard a freighter and shipped to the Mediterranean, where the new owner set about Dorade’s complete restoration.

The keel was removed and inspected, the lower frames replaced and sistered, and the planking below the waterline replaced, along with the deck. Dorade got new upholstery, wiring and tanks, and her wheel was removed so that she could be restored to her original tiller steering. The work was completed in 1999.

Even as the work progressed, however, Gazzoni was campaigning his yawl against the Mediterranean’s classic boat fleet. Dorade did well. The Sparkman & Stephens brokerage Web page lists her recent victories, including firsts in regattas in 1997, ’98 and ’99.

Gazzoni is a large man, says Gibbons-Neff, and wanted a boat that fit him better. But he didn’t stray far. His new boat is Stormy Weather, one of Dorade’s two sister ships, which he bought in 1999. He then put Dorade up for sale.

Peter Frech, a retired Dutch shipping executive who owns a house near Cannes, France, had chartered the classic 78-foot ketch L’Iliade in 1999 to sail during the Royal Regatta there. “The broker of my son, Jerry, gave [me], after a nice meal on board with nice French wines [and] on the right spot, right time, a full-fledged brochure of Dorade,” says Frech. “I read the brochure in bed of the L’Iliade and took the decision to buy her, not knowing her full history. We sailed her well with lots of prizes and still do.”

Frech says there are three reasons to sell Dorade now. First is his age — he is 68 — and second is the fact he has owned the boat six years, longer than even the Stephens family owned her. And third, “My wife and dog are not participating,” he says. “I bought last year [in] August an American lobster boat for the trips along the French and Italian coasts.”

Gibbons-Neff, Dorade’s current broker, calls her “masterfully” built. “The inner planking is almost as thick as the outer planking,” he says.

Perhaps that is a relative viewpoint. The point in designing Dorade, according to Stephens, was to make her lighter. “She was superior [to other boats in the ’31 Transatlantic] in the sense of the lighter weight of our structure, the same thing that is making boats go faster and faster today,” Stephens says. “In the early ’30s, the leading designer of offshore yachts was John Alden. His boats were relatively inexpensive to build and very attractive. But by using a more racing boat-type of construction — which was typical in City Island [boatyards], which was an area I knew well — she was a lighter boat.”

But while low weight helped Dorade sail fast, there were other, perhaps more significant factors, in her success, Stephens says. In that first victory, sailing across the Atlantic, Dorade benefited from a key decision, the age of her crew and luck, he says. In that race, she was the second-smallest yacht, competing against a fleet of boats that were more established.

“We were lucky in the long ocean race to choose a much straighter course, and we had a young crew that was enthusiastic to win, and we drove the boat hard,” Stephens recalls. “We pushed the boat very hard, indeed, and we were able to keep up with bigger boats that should have been able to win. We wanted very much to win, so much so that we did.”

Dorade finished the race in 16 days, 55 minutes — two days ahead of any other yacht, according to Lincoln P. Paine’s Ships of the World. “We probably were carrying more sail than we should have,” says Stephens. “We had an Englishman aboard for local knowledge, and driving across Bristol Channel he was absolutely convinced we were going to put the boat ashore. We were carrying a spinnaker when they [the rest of the fleet] weren’t, and we were going faster in relation to the size of the boat than we had any business going. It’s a complicated matter,” says Stephens.

The next year, Dorade won Class B in the Newport-Bermuda Race. Then the Stephens family sold the boat to a Californian, who went on to win the 1936 Honolulu Race from San Francisco to Hawaii.

“Not only is she a lovely classic yawl,” states the current sales brochure, “but a unique opportunity to own a significant piece of yachting history.”

Named for the dorado fish, Dorade comes equipped with a 40-hp Yanmar diesel, nine 8-year-old North sails, and six more recent European sails. There are three four-man life rafts and such equipment as a chart plotter, autopilot, radar, single sideband radio and satellite telephone — not to mention four Dorade ventilators, invented by Sparkman & Stephens and named for the first yacht on which they were installed.

Sparkman & Stephens brokerage is the listing agent. Contact Gibbons-Neff at (212) 661-6170 for more information.