This wasn't a boat race," said Tom Conroy, commodore of the St. Francis Yacht Club, on Saturday afternoon, May 22. "This was a yachting event." And so saying, Conroy presented to Ted and Tom Eden, owners of Santana, a 91-year-old silver loving cup with curvaceous fin-de-si�cle sirens engraved on its sides. Earlier that afternoon on wind-whipped San Francisco Bay, the Edens' Olin Stephens-designed yawl, built in 1935, had defeated another famous Stephens yawl, the 52-year-old Dorade, in a match race, an event as anachronistic as the boats themselves.
The whole idea of such a match—one wealthy sporting gent challenging another with nothing at stake except pride—is romantic enough in this age of George Steinbrenner, but when you throw in two renowned beauties like Santana and Dorade, you have the stuff of legend.
The 55-foot Santana was built for cruising and racing by W.L. Stewart Jr., son of the founder of the Union Oil Co. After the 1938 Bermuda Race, in which Santana won her class, Stewart sold her and she passed into the hands of a series of owners, one of them Humphrey Bogart. Santana eventually ended up in the care of Tom and Ted Eden, twins, architects, yachtsmen, bons vivants.
Whereas Santana's fame grew with the passing years, Dorade had hers from the beginning. Dorade was the boat that made Olin Stephens' reputation as a designer and changed the face of ocean racing. Until Dorade, successful racing yachts were usually big, gaff-rigged schooners, longer, wider and heavier than the 52-foot, 40,000-pound Dorade. In 1931, Olin, then 23, and his younger brother, Roderick Jr., entered Dorade in the Trans-Atlantic race from New York to Plymouth, England and finished so early that there wasn't a committee boat to greet them when they entered the harbor. A month or so later, Dorade again astounded the yachting world by winning England's Fastnet race, and when the crew returned to New York, it was given a ticker tape parade.
After Dorade, some of the most famous boats of the century came from Stephens' drawing board: Edlu, Stormy Weather, Baruna, Bolero, Ranger, Vim, Courageous, Finisterre. But Dorade was both the first of that line and the only boat Olin Stephens ever owned. In the 1938 Bermuda race, seven of the first 10 finishers, including Santana, were Stephens designs. By that time Dorade had gone west to San Francisco and then to Seattle, where she remained until 1978 when she was bought by a retired airline pilot, Tony Gomez, and returned to San Francisco.
The idea for the Santana-Dorade match race was hatched in the fertile brain of 49-year-old Robert C. Keefe, a staff commodore of the St. Francis and frequently the tactician aboard Santana in the Master Mariners Regatta, an annual race for vintage boats on San Francisco Bay that Santana has won six of the last seven years.
"My old man had a saying that I grew up with," says Keefe. " 'Make something happen,' he always said. 'Go out and make something happen.' " With this advice in mind, Keefe chartered Dorade from Gomez last December and began to get her into shape for the Master Mariners later this month. In the meantime, looking for still more action, Keefe formally challenged the Edens. Once they had accepted, the war of the handicaps began; it was waged furiously for weeks in the men's grill at the St. Francis and out on the dock alongside the two boats. Finally, on the morning of the race, the race committee, headed by Keefe's older brother, Jack, announced that Santana would give Dorade 84 seconds, or 10 boat lengths to windward, according to Tom Blackaller, the helmsman the Edens signed on to steer their boat.
Blackaller, who will be at the helm of Defender, a new 12-meter that is a contender to be, well, the defender in the 1983 America's Cup races, stands out in any crowd with his mane of silver hair, bushy black eyebrows and massive neck and shoulders, but he's especially intimidating at the wheel of a 45,000-pound lurching, pitching sailboat. He rides it like an urban cowboy on a mechanical bull, hooting and hollering and roaring joyous obscenities over the wind in a voice that could shatter fiber glass.
"When Keefe started threatening to bring in John Bertrand to steer his boat, that left us no choice," said Ted Eden before the race, all wide-eyed innocence. "We had to have Blackaller."
Bertrand is an Olympic sailor who was helmsman for the St. Francis VII that won the American-Australian six-meter challenge cup last winter in Sydney. As it turned out, Bertrand was busy the weekend of Dorade vs. Santana, so Keefe himself stood at the wheel of Dorade, a courageous figure in a white dress shirt and narrow club tie.