When Annapolis sailor Dave Dodge went to the U.S. Sailboat Show on City Dock last year, he was seriously looking to purchase a 35- or 36-foot competitive racing sailboat to replace his Contessa 33 Blue Thunder.
He didn't find what he was looking for. Instead, he found an adventure of a different kind, and this year he's working at the sailboat show instead of visiting it.
"I looked at a lot of boats that time," Dodge said. "But either I had raced against them and beaten them, or they weren't built to the standards of quality I'd expect."
Perplexed and a little disappointed, Dodge ran into an old friend and neighbor, sailmaker Jim Allsopp, who suggested he get together with Rhode Island boat-builder Barry Carroll of Carroll Marine.
As Dodge laid out the details of the kind of boat he had in mind, Carroll's interest in building such a boat was piqued, and they began talking to yacht designers.
"I told Barry I wanted a boat in the 36-foot range to race in IMS, but I also wanted to cruise it," Dodge said. "We talked about the project and then began talking to a number of designers. Some of the people we were interested in working with were booked up and couldn't take the project on, and then we met with Bill Tripp and he did a set of preliminaries. They looked great, but then I had to go out and find a couple of partners, because I wasn't going to be able to take on the whole thing myself."
Dodge, whose "real" career is working as vice president of engineering of the Oracle Complex Systems Corp., found fellow Annapolitan George Cowan and Californian Chuck Koushell.
The three boat-biz civilians formed a partnership, incorporated as Mid-Atlantic Racing Yacht Sales, and went into a joint venture with Carroll to build Tripp's 36-foot design.
And for Dodge and anyone who's been following the IMS-II race results since this year's early-August Yachting Governor's Cup Race from Annapolis to St. Mary's City, the rest is history.
Dodge's own Tripp 36 Privateer, which is Hull No. 2 in the new line, has been performing awesomely ever since that first race -- an overnight 70-miler for which there had been little or no time to practice or get to know the new boat.
"My wife was worried when we did the Governor's Cup," Dodge said. "She was worried every minute until we got the gun."
As we waited out Thursday's rainstorm in the cabin of Cowan's bright red Hull No. 3 tied up on N Dock at this year's Sailboat Show, Dodge said, "It's beyond our wildest expectations. Every sanctioned race we've done we've gotten the gun, and in a lot of them we've also saved our time and finished first on corrected time, too. It's just so fast."
But Dodge's Tripp 36 -- and Koushell's Hull No. 1 Vamp, which has been beating up on the PHRF competition up north in New England this summer -- have earned more than just trophies with their performances.
The new Tripp 36 also was nominated to the prestigious Sailing World magazine 1990 Boat of the Year list, and late Thursday afternoon was looking like a clear winner in the 35- 40-foot class -- as well as a serious contender for the overall title.
That's because the boat is more than an instantly proven performer. It's just plain beautiful, too.
Although it's abundantly clear that this is a racing vessel, inside and out, and practical efficiency has clearly been a major consideration, the Tripp 36 is comfortable and pleasant, too. It's pretty civilized for a racing machine, but the ample amenities are all planned and executed to stand up to the demands and rigors of racing -- even offshore -- without sacrificing comfort and aesthetics.
"It's not a rule beater," Dodge said. "The intent and the spirit of the IMS rule -- that was the whole intent when we gave the design commission to Bill Tripp."
The hull shape is sleek and pretty, as pleasing to the eye as it obviously is to the water given its speed and performance, and there are no rule-fooling bumps and distortions along the way to ruin the look of the boat.
Topside, the wide, shallow cockpit takes up about a third of the boat's overall length, and the deck is clean, open, and uncluttered, with lots of space for the crew. The equipment layout, hardware (by Harken and Barient), and running rigging arrangements border on the ingenious, so that even a short-handed racing crew of five or six probably could handle it all easily, but there's plenty of room for more hands and bodies without pileups and traffic jams.
This is a lightweight racer with an interior to handle lots of rapid, wet sail changes without getting messed up, but it's also bright, spacious, well-finished and pretty on the inside for all of the clean simplicity of line and practical considerations. It's as easy to imagine spending pleasant weekends cruising aboard as it is to visualize winning plenty of races.
The big galley, unusual and immensely practical in its clever placement at the forward end of the main cabin, includes a large sink and cooler, as well as a two-burner stove with oven, and the lightweight center-cabin table nearby removes easily for racing.
Putting the galley forward may be unorthodox, but it helps with critical weight placement, and it leaves more room around the companionway and nav station for the racing crew. The cook can also work in relative peace without being accidentally assaulted by frantic sail changers.
Even the berths are fairly deluxe without being bulky and heavy. The settees cleverly convert to large, comfortable upper and lower berths on each side for four at the dock or two to windward on a beat, and there is a huge quarter-berth aft. The woodwork and finish carpentry below is sleek and simple, but very pretty and clearly well-done. It's not as opulently exquisite as the inside of a luxurious custom cruiser, but then that's not what it's for.
"It's a pleasant boat to sail and race," Dodge said. "My wife races every race with us, and the boat doesn't require 'rock stars' to win. It handles just like a big dinghy, and it's so forgiving. It's so easy to just put it in the slot and keep it there. It's not a high-tech, complicated boat. Ordinary people can sail it, and sail it well."
Dodge gives a great deal of credit for his race-course successes -- including overall class victories at Audi-Yachting Race Week at Solomons and CBYRA/Annapolis Race Week as well as topping out the IMS fleet for the Van Metre Trophy in this year's Hospice Cup -- to his regular crew. They have sailed with him as a team for about five years, and he points out that they are all "civilians," and do not sail for a living.
The boat's list price of $116,000 includes everything except sails and electronics, and it seems to be an excellent value.
"It literally comes out of the box ready to race," Dodge said. "Just add your favorite sails and electronics."
But Dodge hinted at some mixed emotions about the success of this exciting new boat he has been instrumental in creating.
"Of course we're interested in selling a lot of these boats. But we're also interested in continuing to win races," he said wistfully, confessing that right now he's rather enjoying being the only Tripp 36 racer on the Chesapeake.
With such a good all-around product, that situation is likely to change soon and solidly justify its founders' optimism.
Check out the Tripp 36 at the show for yourself, or contact Mid-Atlantic Racing Yacht Sales through Dodge (267-6950) or Cowan (757-6950). It looks like a winner to me.
Nancy Noyes is a member of the Chesapeake Bay Yacht Racing Association and has been racing on the bay for about five years. Her Sailing column appears every Wednesday and Sunday in The Anne Arundel County Sun.