I saw DORADE. In the Flesh.

Back when I was a yacht design student with The Westlawn Institute of Marine Technology, which I wrote about here, one of the toughest skills to learn was drawing a set of lines by hand.

If Drawing of Lines were a Hogwarts class, it would lie somewhere between Defense Against the Dark Arts and Potions. For me at least, it was somewhat mysterious, completely intimidating, and maddeningly difficult to accomplish.

If you aren’t familiar with this practice, check out this pic. It’s an old shot. But that’s ok. If you were to draw lines manually today, you’d be doing the same thing, except you might not be wearing a high collar and a tie. You can see his drawing board with a big sheet of paper or vellum on it. See those oblong shapes? They’re called ‘ducks’. They are heavy weights, flat on the bottom and covered with felt so as not to mar your working surface. There is a bent pin on the front of each duck, and their purpose is to hold in place that skinny thing you see on the drawing surface, which is called a ‘spline’. This gent’s spline is probably made of wood, today you would probably use a strip of plastic, grooved on top to accept the duck’s pin. He holds a pencil or a pen, which he uses to draw the line by holding its point against the spline. The line is drawn excruciatingly and carefully in order to keep the pencil point steady along the curved line described by the spline.


I think I can get inside this man’s head at the moment this picture was taken. He’s cradling his head in his hand, likely because a) he’s tired or b) exasperated, or both, and he’s looking at the camera with a not altogether pleasant expression. I surmise this is because he has discovered one of his lines isn’t fair, and he is coming to grips with the fact that he has to erase this line, and at least parts of three others. This is because a proper lines drawing has three views, profile (from the side), plan (looking down from above), and section view (viewed end on).  If there is a mistake anywhere, that means the line won’t agree in all three views, meaning they must all be changed. And, more than likely, this change will waterfall to the adjacent lines, requiring further adjustments in order to make all ‘fair’. All of which can take many, many hours. This happened to me countless times during my studies. This is really important because these are the drawings that, once a table of offsets is produced, dictate the shape of the boat to the builders. Any mistake in the lines plans transmits directly to the real thing, and that’s bad. Yes, I’m getting in the weeds here and haven’t even mentioned anything about DORADE. I just wanted to share my pain. Onward.

One of my favorite books of all time is pictured here. It’s a compendium of lines drawings by none other than Olin Stephens himself, the man who drew DORADE. It’s a large format book so you can really lose yourself in the drawings. I would open the book frequently during the Westlawn studies to get inspiration and motivation, especially when I was ham fisting a crappy lines drawing.


Here’s a lo-res image of his lines drawing for DORADE. If you’re into this sort of thing like I am you can spend a great deal of time studying it. You could even take a square to it and look for any lines that don’t agree in all three views. (spoiler alert: you won’t find any) And yes, this was drawn manually with ducks and splines and a set of french curves.


It’s a work of art from a man who created so many timeless works. I marvel at these drawings because I know how talented you have to be, like I wasn’t, to draw this. It’s a stunning tour de force… So, after a time looking at these drawings I would go back to my drawing board, recharged, and try again.

So here, finally, is the point. Last month I was in Newport for a boat ride. I was walking around the waterfront with my wife and some friends. We turned a corner, and this is what we saw.


DORADE, in the flesh! I was absolutely stunned. Here she sat, still sailing, and competitively at that. Her lines were drawn in 1929. What a testament to her designer, and her builders, (and loving owners) that she is still around. And, surprising no one, she is still a stunner.

As a side note, nobody does lines drawings manually nowadays to produce a boat. It’s all done by computer. Most designers will start with manual sketches to put ideas on paper, but soon all moves to Computer Aided Design (CAD). I do think, though, that learning how to do it manually does give a very solid appreciation for how significant a set of lines drawings really is. If for no other reason than to make other students feel the pain. And speaking of which, what if DORADE were to be designed completely by CAD? What if you fed the end result you wanted – displacement, LOA, LWL, beam, draft, underbody shape, sail plan and general arrangement, etc, into a computer? Would you get DORADE? In a word, nope. But that’s a topic for another day.

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