Paul Austin’s article on Dorade, in the 18 April 2014 issue of Duckworks Magazine, reminded me of a time I saw that venerable lady. I admit that I was a bit star struck at the time. Nobody else seemed to know what I was jabbering about. Somehow, “…but, that’s D-O-R-A-D-E,” just didn’t strike any particular note with the folks aboard my own boat. Anyhow, it was a memorable event. With, a completely unexpected ending.
Time dulls the sense of date and season for me. But, as I recall it was pretty nice weather, and in Seattle. So, it had to be that day they call “summer” up thataway. Many women of my acquaintance, seem to bracket dates in their past with recollection of which ever boy friend or husband they might have had at the time. Guys usually remember what car they had. Or, better, what boat they had.
It must have been about 1975. We were aboard my first Ranger 26, Velvet Turtle. Heading west, or seaward, through the Hiram Chittenden locks that connects Lakes Washington and Union via the ship canal to the giant estuary known generally as Puget Sound.
The Hiram Chittenden Locks
It must have been some sort of holiday period, because we were sandwiched into the large lock with scads of other pleasure boats. When I say large lock, I mean REALLY BIG. The drill is to get the larger craft along the walls, and raft the progressively smaller boats toward the middle. Pretty routine, with a few variables.
My own boat had a rather unfriendly motor-control system. Basically, I had to lay facing aft across the mainsheet traveler and grasp the shift with one hand and the throttle with the other—an ailing 9.9 hp Chrysler outboard. There was a certain amount of voodoo involved in these contortions with the choke and recoil starter. This meant that I was facing the wrong way, and steering with my shins and feet which were facing the “right way.” So, going into and out of tight maneuvering and crowded places took a certain amount of alacrity.
As I recall, we were settled into the lock about midway, and outboard several layers of boats. It helps to have people along to adjust fenders and handle lines to both port and starboard. And, there are the inevitable tangled fenders, hooked BBQ’s, and fouled dinghys that can cause problems on the jack rabbit start required to leave against a stiff current. But, I’m getting ahead of my story a bit.
Dorade was in the echelon ahead of my particular raftup. And, one boat outboard from the wall. Her 50-some feet of wooden hull seemed rather dainty and—well, old fashioned—to this product of the golden age of fiberglass sailboats. I guess she was only about 45 years old then. But, at the time, a relic of a long gone era. Nonetheless, amid the jostling and juggling needed to keep things seamanlike aboard Velvet Turtle, I certainly took time to steal a glance over that way now and then.
When the far gate is opened, the water levels are not yet quite equilibrated. In fact, a small tsunami is generated inside that concrete canyon. All boats must have their engines running ahead and meet the surge with as little upset as possible. So, I would have been lying prone, facing the “wrong way,” peering back over a shoulder at the scene ahead. The idea is to drop your lines and roar out on command from the dock worker high on the wall above. But, we weren’t moving, yet. Much like a stop and go commute on the freeway. I scrambled up to see what was the hold up.
Dorade had a modest sized party of folks on deck. She had “steam up” and was attempting to get underway from her raft-up with a large flush-deck motor yacht. The skipper had his bow angling off to port as it was caught by the current. Like all of us in similar situations, he was adding rev’s to counter what he thought was simply the effects of current against his bow. The real cause was only apparent to those in the lineups astern.
Dorade still had a quarter line made fast to the motor yacht. The gang of folks sitting and standing about the decks were much too much into the party mood, apparently, to be paying any attention to what was transpiring. I may have been one of the unlucky few to see the entire train wreck happen. And, like most train wrecks, it plays in slow motion to this day.
By the time Dorade had swung past 45 degrees to the inrushing current, the skipper had his engine running flat out. Rudder hard over. Still unaware of the quarter line. Like the Caped Crusader, a crewman from the motor yacht sprang from the galley wearing a chef’s hat and brandishing a meat cleaver!
I’m still dumstruck when I realize how this drama played out. If only.
Well, the chef parted that line like he was preparing medallions of beef bourguignon. Dorade was running at full ahead. Sadly, she was also pointed straight ACROSS the lock. In a split second she buried her bow into the ribs and planking of a modest-sized wooden power boat. I remember seeing the stemhead splinter and the forestay part. The sound of planks and ribs cracking and crunching simply makes me flinch to this day.
By then the lock keeper was insisting that all my echelon skeedadle out of his lock chamber, so he could deal with the collision-just-happened. I never saw her again.
Until, Paul Austin told us about her win in the Transpac, yet another 35 years hence. What a happy ending to my sad story…