No, not the cool fire-breathing kind. Sorry.
Okay, is it utterly ridiculous for me to whimper at this point?
Sailing geeks get it, of course. Here’s a (very) brief background as to why.
Johan Anker was a Norwegian sailor who won Olympic medals from 1908 to 1928 (the last gold was with his son and the crown prince, and future king, of Norway on his crew). So, we can accept that he knew a little about boats.
Anker & Jenkins soon became on of the premier boat design teams in the world. And Anker’s design of the Dragon became an Olympic event from 1948 to 1972. This made it the one of the three longest running keelboat classes in the Olympics, featuring in 7 Olympics over 34 years.
Today, it is still one of the largest one-design keelboat sailing classes anywhere with over 1,300 boats registered in 31 countries on five continents.
Okay, I can feel my wife is way ready for a subject change. I sailed all the time as a kid and through much of my twenties. Her experience with sailing was staying at her mom’s tiny houseboat in Sausalito, CA, where she moved after my wife went to college. When I get on a roll about sailboats, her eyes don’t just roll, they tend to roll right back into her head.
A few definitions
See that big fin underneath, below the water line? That’s called a keel. Even better, it’s called a full keel. (This is one of those points that cause endless debates in bars after sailboat races.)
Compare that with this “fin” keel.
The full keel is really good at going in a straight line. With all of that area underwater, it doesn’t get blown sideways very easily. Whereas the fin keel offers much less sideways resistance.
On the other side of the coin, the fin keel lets you twist and turn much faster as you don’t have to slosh so much water out of your way. The Dragon is actually what’s called a “modified full keel” because the underwater part doesn’t run end to end. Ocean-going ships will typically have true, full keels because they don’t need to turn except at either end of their journey.
The Lady was very slow to turn, but if I was headed in just one direction, she flew!
The modified full keel design of the Dragon is a compromise between “holding a line” and “turning on a dime.”
You’ll also notice that the Dragon and the Lady were very long and lean, compared to the Pacer. Lean means less resistance to the water, which means FAST! Sure, the Pacer 23 (23′ long) probably had berths for 3, a tiny galley and maybe a toilet. The 29′ Dragon has some room for sails down below, but not much else. The 50′ Lady could sleep six and had a galley and toilet, but it was all very tight.
Two of these boats are about sailing and one is about cruising.
Sailers, Cruisers, and Stinkpots
There are two or three types of sailors.
Those aboard Stinkpots, boats with no sails, just a motor, call themselves sailors…they’re wrong.
Cruisers aren’t in a big hurry. They’re glad to loaf along from one place to another. They’re comfortable, have the kids aboard, and are taking their hotel room with them.
Sailors who sail sailboats, especially long, lean sailboats like Dragons and the Lady, care about the ride. So what if our accommodations would make a nylon tent look luxurious. It doesn’t matter that we’re heeled over enough to be inundated by cold spray (or the occasional cold wave). We haul up as much canvas as we dare and we thrill at the ride.
My wife and I once toyed with the idea of taking our kid and going sailing around the world for a couple of years. We looked at big cruising boats. Perhaps as long as the Lady, but also half again as wide.
Suddenly the narrow pilot’s berth became a kid’s room with a guest bunk. The master suite wasn’t just a fancy name for the foam and plywood top laid over the sail locker. The galley wasn’t a charcoal grill dangling off the back rail and a battered cooler.
We ended up not going for a lot of reasons (money being one of them–big boats are very spendy), but I never quite recovered from all of that cruising space. I’ll take a long, lean, sailor’s boat any day.
That’s why I think that the Dragon is one of the most beautiful boats ever built. It looks like it’s flying even perched on a trailer. I came within inches of buying one years ago. I was traveling 8 months a year, remodeling a house, and had no time to even think about dating anyone. But I found one just sitting there, so pretty, so perfect. Walking away from it was actively painful.
I Still Dream of that Boat
I sold the Lady Amalthea after three years of rebuilding her and sailing on her every chance I got. I spent two months solo sailing her through the San Juan Islands in 1984.
I changed her sail color and gave her to the hero of Where Dreams Are Born (Where Dreams series #1).
The Dragon that I never owned? Well, you’ll have to wait until 9/29 to find out who gets “my” Dragon. It’s exactly the one I would have bought back in the early 1990s. You can pre-order At the Clearest Sensation now to be the first to read it, or jump in and read the first three in the series before the 29th so that you’re ready for this heart-warming series ender.