Racing “vintage” boats in the Newport Bermuda Racing is changing. By Chris Museler
Once upon a time, racing for an award like the Dorade Trophy for boats “25-plus years of age” was mostly for classic wooden boats such as the ubiquitous and sinuous Concordia Yawl, which sailed in the race for decades. But by time Dorade, herself, began racing again in the Newport Bermuda Race in 2012, the types of boats in contention were rapidly evolving.
In recent years, many of the contenders and trophy winners are of the “new” breed of vintage yachts: classic plastics. This year, gorgeous 1930s S&S yawls Dorade and Black Watch were again bested by fast, fiberglass sloops built on the West Coast in the ’60s by Jensen Marine and Columbia Yachts. And beyond emerging as the winner of the Dorade Trophy, the Columbia 50 Grundoon also won the St. David’s Lighthouse Division, the largest division in the race.
“In 1978 when I first saw Grundoon, it was a cool race boat moored in Cape May,” recalled Owen Miller, a first timer in the Bermuda Race and Grundoon’s bowman. The boat was refit with a carbon rig and new sails in 2017 to help boost its performance specifically for this race. But even though these updates could have helped propel the 1968 boat to the head of the fleet, there remained a few vintage challenges.
“There are no headstay foils. It’s all piston hanks,” said Miller, referring to the headsail setup on Grundoon. “You’re stacking the new ones under the old and stripping each hank as fast as possible. Clip on the halyard and you send it. We’re bald headed for about a minute with each sail change.”
This method used to be the only way to change a headsail, and Miller has become almost as good as the best bow crew were back in 1968, when Grundoon was built. “There are 22 hanks on each sail, I think,” he said. “I lost count.”
Miller still has a problem with the massive bolt that holds the tack within the stemhead fitting. Unscrewing the stainless nut, then holding the bolt and nut in his fist, is a process that is more than stressful, he said, as he has almost lost the pieces several times. There are spares in a drawer nearby, though.
The Dorade Trophy is named after the deck vent designed by Olin Stephens that appeared on the famous yawl. And the trophy itself is a beautifully aged vent and box mounted on a piece of decking. There are also awards for yachts older than 15 years old named the William C. Finley Trophy and the Maritime Museum Prize. They were won this year by Grundoon and Nicole, a Cal 40.
The pair of Cal 40s in the race, Nicole and Flyer, finished second and third, respectively, in Class 4, and are representative of a rich history within this genre. The Cal 40 Sinn Fein won the St. David’s Lighthouse Division in both 2006 and 2008. The Cals are considered vintage by this trophy’s definition, but the spade rudder and long, flat runs in her hull have proved efficient and modern and fast. Flyer won the Dorade Trophy in 2016.
Decidedly less modern are Black Watch and Dorade, which have now competed several races in a row against an increasing number of newer boats in the running for the Dorade Trophy. “There’s no rating rule that can capture the performance of these boats,” said Pam Levy, who owns Dorade with Matt Brooks. “It’s nice to have another similar boat out there. It makes the race interesting for us.”
Levy and Brooks sailed in the Fastnet Race against Stormy Weather, a beefy S&S yawl designed in the ’30s to beat Dorade. There were 355 boats in that race, but Levy says it was a match race between the two that mattered.
This year, Dorade and Black Watch, a near-sistership to Stormy Weather, finished within hours of each other and quite competitively in their classes, 4th and 6th, respectively. “The guys on the boat definitely think about Black Watch,” she conceded.
Who knows what new vintage boats will be racing in the years to come. Many yachts built by Swan, Hinckley and Morris are certainly eligible. But Oysters and even J Boats are on the horizon. Whether we like it or not, 1993 is actually a long time ago.