Back in the Race
by Rebecca Falzano
Photography Billy Black
After a year and a half of restoration, the famous Sparkman and Stephens racing yawl, Bolero, made her grand return to the water
She has been bringing wooden boat enthusiasts to their knees for sixty years.
She is internationally celebrated for her beauty and speed.
She is considered one of Olin Stephens’s finest designs.
Her name is Bolero.
The 73-foot yawl was originally launched in 1949 by the Henry B. Nevins Yacht Yard of City Island, New York, for the commodore of the New York Yacht Club, John Nicholas Brown. An exquisite engineering feat, her construction was the culmination of the efforts of a talented designer, a builder who worked to top standards, and a prominent owner who valued quality and performance. With a 51-foot waterline, she was as big as she could be and still qualify for the ocean races of her era. She was the first to finish in several Bermuda races, and held the record for elapsed time in the race until 1974.
With great respect for her history, Bolero’s current owners were committed to preserving the vessel’s beauty and integrity. They turned to Rockport Marine to restore the competitive racer. Over the course of twenty months, shipwright and project manager John England led a crew of up to twenty people in a complete restoration of the vessel, which had several broken frames. Further inspection revealed that the horn timber and the deck beams were also ready for replacement and that the original cedar deck had been covered with plywood and a teak veneer, resulting in unnecessary thickness. England and his team completely reframed the boat, replacing the original steam-bent frames with laminated oak frames. This effort necessitated the removal of the interior and most of the hull planking, which was replaced with double-planked mahogany over cedar, with epoxy glue between the layers. In addition, the roomy interiors were largely redone, and the systems overhauled. The main and mizzen masts were overhauled and repainted as well.
“One of the things that really struck me about this particular boat is that its design is just as suitable and appropriate for worldwide cruising now as it was sixty years ago,” says Rockport Marine owner Taylor Allen. “It’s a timeless design. Even though it’s a restoration of a sailboat with a lot of pedigree and history, it teaches us a lesson in what works in yacht design today.”
Allen also noted that, despite the vessel’s age, its shape was maintained fairly well through the years. “It was a real testament to the design and engineering skill that went into the original piece of work,” he says.
Thanks to the work of dozens of individuals, the restoration happened within a short time frame, so Bolero was able to return quickly to where she belongs. The water.