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Posted by on Jun 19, 2012 in Antique and Classic, Sailboat Racing, US |

Dorade Log 6: Finished! Just After Midnight

The S&S 52-foot yawl Dorade completed her first race to Bermuda since 1934, finishing in just over 3 days, 11 hours.

A few days ago, I wrote Dorade Log 5 late in the afternoon of our second day of racing the 635-mile course from Newport to Bermuda. The communications link subsequently went down, so reports for Sunday and Monday follow below to give readers the flavor of the rest of our race.

We finished last night as the breeze eased way off, crossing the finish line at about 1.5 knots of boat speed. Provisional results are already on the website. At this point, Dorade is listed as finishing fourth in our class—not as well as we’d hoped, but respectable for a 1929 design.

Dorade exited the Gulf Stream still on port tack.

Dorade exited the Gulf Stream still on port tack.

Sunday—48 hours into the race

Port tack to Bermuda. That’s not a typical angle of sail when racing from Newport, Rhode Island, to the Bermuda Onion Patch. We started on Friday in a good northeasterly breeze and have sailed under spinnaker and reaching headsails for two days.

When we reached the Gulf Stream, Dorade began bouncing a fair amount through rough seas, but she handled them without difficulty. A couple of precautions we took were to ease off and even remove the boom vang at times to reduce the chance that we’d snap our wooden boom when the end of it hit a particularly big wave—something that happened a few dozen times as the boat rolled to starboard in a particularly large and awkward sea. We also employed skirt-lifters, attaching a line from the mast to the foot of the jib that raised it several feet, to reduce the amount of white water that would smack into it periodically, thrown out by the bow.

Through Saturday and Saturday night, we sailed 15 miles to the east of the rhumbline, at higher angles and slightly slower speeds than those on a direct course toward Bermuda. Navigator Jess Sweeney’s goal was to position us for the best wind on Monday, a day when less breeze was forecast near Bermuda.

Today, after sailing through a pretty wet but not too windy rainsquall, we moved five miles farther to the east and are now paralleling the other boats; presumably most of them are to our west. The weather has gradually improved as we emerged from the Gulf Stream, but an expected wind shift to the east didn’t kick in completely, and a series of clouds with rain squalls in them passed us to the east and left us still sailing in the northeasterly breeze we’d had the whole race.

Complicating matters for Jess is the fact that the SatNav is having a problem, so we’re without her usual forecasting models. We also don’t have access to the Yellow Brick race tracker, which by now is keeping anyone with an Internet connection informed of our position and every other boat’s position.

So we can tell where we are and how fast we’re going, but otherwise we’re sailing much as Dorade did on her last race this way, back in the 1930s. Except we’re on port tack, and have been the whole way so far.

Belowdecks, as I write, it’s steamy, although reasonably dry otherwise. The Dorade vents, which were invented by Rod Stephens to help ventilate this boat, are helping, supplemented by electric fans over many of the berths. The old-style galley near the companionway has been supplemented by modern boat refrigeration and freeze-dried food, currently in preparation by Ben Galloway. More crew were seasick last night, but today all are recovering and the approach of dinner is being welcomed by all.

Monday—120 miles to Bermuda

We jibed from port to starboard tack last night a couple of hours before dawn. We’d been sailing all night under the A3 (reaching spinnaker) in moderate winds and sloppy sea conditions, which caused the chute and main to occasionally roll the air out of them when we were trying to steer too low a course and a big swell came along.

Generally we had been steering a course of about 160 degrees during the night to parallel the rhumbline, some 20 miles to the east. At times, though, we had to sail higher to keep the chute full, and after midnight, the breeze shifted more northerly and even began to tick to the west side of north. I came on watch at 2 am with Steve Foraste, and we were headed down again a few times, but then the wind switched to 350 and 340, lifting us to a course close to 110 degrees—not the direction of the finish! Soon it was more like 100, and Jess called for the jibe.

With only five on deck, we took our time making sure the lines were clear and each of us knew what we’d be doing through the jibe, and finally I turned the boat. Jess handled the main, and Jamie ran one sheet out and wound up the other. The jibe worked well except that after the chute filled, I allowed Dorade to wander low and the chute wrapped back inside the headstay as we sailed by the lee. Fortunately, by sailing down the lee again, we were able to quickly unwrap the chute and fill it again.

The other problem is that the lazy spinnaker sheet went under the bow, and we ended up with a strange line crossing the cockpit in the dark. Fortunately in this case, also, we’d practiced what happens when the lazy sheet goes under the boat while racing in St. Maarten last March. Our inshore “solution” to prevent the problem from recurring – a batten sticking out off the bow – had worked well with a full crew, but it hadn’t been up to a shorthanded jibe with no tension on either sheet.

Once that was sorted out, we were suddenly off and running, Dorade aiming straight at the finish line at about 175 degrees on starboard jibe. And that’s what we’ve been doing ever since. We experienced quite a bit of rain before dawn, but it’s gradually become drier and by the middle of our 10am to 2pm watch, the sun was out. The breeze, which was often 17-23 knots overnight from the northwest, has gradually diminished to the 10-15 range, and the wind has slowly backed to the west.

Most of our photos and videos have been taken today, I have to admit. We were working a bit too hard to manage the boat and get enough sleep for the first two days. As a result, today’s images, taken under idyllic conditions, will look as if it’s been a speedy trip under ideal conditions. They will be right on one count – we’ve made great time. With less than 50 miles to go as the afternoon winds down, we could finish in the early hours of Tuesday morning. That’s still a few hours slower than Dorade made the trip in 1932, when she smoked down the course in three days, nine hours. And with the wind forecast to lighten as we approach the island, we’re apt to finish much farther off her pace when she was just a three-year-old design.

The big question facing the crew is whether our move to the east has played well against the rest of the fleet or if those who sailed a more direct course are ahead of us. Since our SatNav went down we have been in the dark, while our competitors and family and friends at home know the answer already. So for now the suspense eats at us, but spirits are good and the sea state is pleasant. The wind has moved into the southwest a bit more, so we are close reaching very fast under a big medium-heavy genoa jib, and Dorade is still marching along at 7 to 8 knots, making good time towards our destination.

Dorade's Bermuda race crew paused for a photo just before leaving the dock in Newport.

Dorade's Bermuda race crew paused for a photo just before leaving the dock in Newport.

Newport to Bermuda 2012 Results (provisional until all boats finish)

Read our previous stories about Dorade:

John Burnham