By Ron Breault
Editor’s note: Ron Breault of Old Lyme, CT has owned and successfully campaigned his Sparkman & Stephens Dolphin 24 Marionette for a quarter century. He’s written a book about his custodianship of this lovely classic, Voyaging with Marionette, soon to be released by Whaler Books.
The book will contain the historical record of how finding, buying, restoring, maintaining, and using a ‘classic’ small sailboat opens doors – not just to enjoying sailing in a boat you ‘saved’ but unanticipated experiences/rewards.
Using stories and pictures I want to share Marionette’s ‘rescue,’ and my pride in her performance and appearance in the 25 years I’ve been her caretaker. After her restoration under a blue tarp, designing and building her barn, building her dinghy in the barn woodshop, several years of mostly single handed cruising the coast of New England, and some successful racing, Marionette inspired me to save a piece of history, continues to do so, and leads me to even more interesting adventures.
I had met Olin Stephens and Bill Shaw (the S&S project designer of the Dolphin 24) at the S&S 75th Anniversary celebration at Mystic Seaport Museum in 2004 – both men were well along in years. Marionette was the invited Dolphin 24 class representative. When I read a couple of years later that Bill Shaw had passed away – Olin was already in his 90s – I realized something had to be done to collect and preserve the history of ‘our’ boat.
So, with little knowledge about what I was getting into, I decided to start a website (dolphin24.org) devoted to the Dolphin 24 that
a) researches and records the history and technology of a boat designed and initially built in the wood to fiberglass transition period
b) recognizes the people and early owners who made the Dolphin 24 happen, build a lasting reputation, and in its own unique way, helped usher in the next generation of racing sailboats (The J/24 and its offspring)
c) provides a meaningful technical resource to owners and would be owners
d) gives a deep sense of kinship/community to boat owners and readers
By exposing me to the stories of others in the Dolphin community the website led me to ‘explorations/tangents.’ and eventually into unanticipated and fascinating side trips – including writing a book based on the website, then (based on club demand) another book about my yacht club’s 75th anniversary, and now contemplating a third book about all these experiences. Marionette’s competing in the Sparkman & Stephens Association annual Global Challenge competition for the best performance by an S&S-designed yacht “anywhere in the world,” winning three times plus a second place finish – to Dorade, the winner – was a real eye opener.
As a 78-year-old single handed sailor in a 24-foot, 60-year-old sailboat, thinking about the next phase, reading John Rousmaniere’s article “Farewell to the Gulf Stream” was the ‘kicker’ into action. I like to write and have been told I’m not bad at it. Writing a book (with lots of photographs) that is interesting, and ‘successful,’ about something I actually know something about, would be a nice way to ride out my last few years.
Through the book I want to reach not just sailboat owners, but others who, approaching their retirement years may be wondering what the next 25 years have in store – not necessarily buying, restoring and sailing a ‘pretty’ older boat like I did, but undertaking a project that requires significant upfront effort, and ongoing support in a field/discipline that they enjoy or are learning. There are unknown experiences lurking in such a project that are fun and that can sustain and stimulate in one’s later years.
I hope my Marionette story and example will appeal to them.
Having a good crew for such an ambitious book voyage is important. Reaching the readers by having a well-known and respected ‘navigator’ on board to provide guidance to help stay on course, and who could possibly take the helm occasionally, lends credibility and attraction for potential readers – the reason I initially contacted John Rousmaniere. John’s experience with Marionette goes back to 2004 when he ‘inspected’ her at the Sparkman & Stephens 75th Anniversary at Mystic Seaport Museum for the “Best Restored Boat” – won by Bolero. ■
Ron Breault is a member of Niantic Bay Yacht Club (past Commodore), Off Soundings Club (past Treasurer), Eastern Connecticut Sailing Association (past Juniors Chair), and past President of the 420 Class Association.
This article was originally published in the Sparkman & Stephens 2020 Yearbook and is reprinted with permission. Look for a review of Voyaging with Marionette in an upcoming issue of WindCheck.