Stanley Dashew’s Favorite Boat of All
Stanley Aaron Dashew couldn't wait to show off his boat. The careful engineering. The attention to detail. It was all ready for some long-distance voyaging, but, frankly, he’ll never get to do that again, because at this point he can't walk, and he can't talk. Ninety-five years of living and a nasty case of Parkinson's disease have seen to that. But the man is not through. No, what I had before me was one more love-it-to-bonkers sailor who just couldn't wait to show off his boat. I'd seen the like before. This one just had to work harder at it.
About 50 weekends a year, Dashew loads up—actually, he gets loaded up—to sail the inviting waters of Southern California. As he steers his boat out of Marina del Rey, the view over the transom takes in mountains 40 miles distant that wall off the Mojave with its Joshua trees and rattlers. Over the starboard quarter lie the celebrity-haunted crags of Malibu. Beyond the bow (the more inspiring view, you might agree) there is open ocean, broken only by the long spine of Catalina, the last rock before Hawaii.
ABOARD DEERFOOT II
On my day aboard, right there, on deck, voices were hushed as all 72 feet of Deerfoot II slipped along under full sail, quietly, so near the city's roar, but so far. Add the occasional dolphin, an unusually persistent wingman of a seal, a few relaxing, deep breaths on the deck of a boat of name and reputation, and I could see why Dashew treasures these days for himself, and for his guests, who come in great variety.
As a sailor, I rated a full tour of Deerfoot II, one of a long line of fast custom cruisers from Dashew's designer-son, Skip Dashew. The tour necessarily extended all the way to the 145hp Isuzu mounted in the engine room alongside the gotta-have-it workbench. Deerfoot II was launched from the Walsted Baadvaerft yard in Svendborg, Denmark, in 1983 and sailed on her own bottom to California. Thanks to the many grip points below, Dashew could maneuver on his feet to lead our tour. With even more effort, he forced out a few understandable words here and there—to talk to him, be patient, and show the man the respect to keep him working until you understand. But it didn't take a running narrative to appreciate what I was seeing. Deerfoot II is a boat that speaks for herself.
Back on deck, where he needed more help to get around, Dashew was attentive to his international scholars, recruited through the Dashew Center for International Students and Scholars at the University of California, Los Angeles. On the day that I rode along, there were graduate students from India, Norway and China: Suneel the infection biologist, Raginhild from geo mapping and Jianhao the statistician. Their presence spoke to Dashew's enthusiasm, not only for sailing, but for the cross-cultural mission of the Dashew Center, his brainchild, where in spite of his disabilities he continues to serve as chairman of the board of directors. In addition to promoting cross-cultural learning among students, faculty, staff and friends, the Dashew Center has some down-home practical aims, such as helping people understand immigration laws and employment opportunities.
"Friendship building" is also mentioned in the mission statement, and from what I saw of it, it was working.
Dashew's lifetime of success as a businessman and inventor has provided the wherewithal for his big-boat sailing and philanthropy. Growing up in rural New York, he was a teenage entrepreneur and then, during the Depression years, a reluctant but productive salesman who, as he puts it, evolved to selling solutions, not products. For the purposes of this story, his life becomes interesting when he made a life-altering decision—when he jumped at a job on the shores of the Great Lakes because he wanted to sail those waters, because he wanted to sail a big boat and because Grand Rapids, Michigan, fit the bill. So did a 46-foot ketch, Royal Fortune. It was Dashew's third boat. It served him for two seasons on the Lakes and one in the Caribbean.
And you know how it is when you're onto something good. You want more.
Rather quickly it was time for boat number four. Constellation was an Alden schooner, a sweet ride, 78 feet on deck and aggressively, intensively, almost obsessively refitted and prepped for a long ocean voyage. The dream was to set sail for exotic places, to see in life what others saw in books. The year was 1949, making this a much more adventuresome, unlikely and "individual" choice than it would be today. But what came along next was—a second baby.
What to do? Little Skip was 7 years old. Baby Leslie was one month old, two months old, three months old and then—
"In 1949 I embarked with my young family on a 15-month, 15,000 mile transoceanic journey," Dashew would later write. "At the time I took the, ahem, plunge, I was at the top of my career – the top selling salesman in my company’s history. So why did I leave it all behind? Simple. I made the calculation that if I were ever going to pursue my dream of a transoceanic voyage, I couldn’t wait any longer."
You'll guess rightly that not everyone approved—in fact, some were appalled—but the discovery that surgical dressing makes an effective diaper became the surprise-enabler of the voyage, and wherever the family made port, they made news. Looking back, Dashew reports, “It was the best decision I ever made."
Dashew as a young man had once sought a career as a journalist. During his voyage aboard Constellation, he wrote accounts of the journey for Motor Boating and Outdoor Life. A pitch to McCall's Redbook drew a telling response:
May 10, 1949
Many thanks for sending us the piece on your decision to get aboard that boat and go away from it all. We have gone over it and are inclined to believe that, for our readers, it is just too perfect a way of life. Come to think of it, why am I here instead of cruising the Caribbean?
Cordially, William Allison
The vision, Dashew relates, was to "not sail to any schedule; we would stop when whim and winds decided." And so it went, not without trials and not without incident, because that's how cruising is. But in sum, with the negatives weighed and mostly forgotten, through the Caribbean, the Canal and up the western face of the Americas, the journey was dead-flat wonderful.
Sea legs? Baby took her first steps at sea. In Port Antonio, Jamaica, Stan and his wife, Martha, were bowled over when the chief mate and the ship's nanny announced that they were leaving—to be married. Mr. and Mrs. Dashew had no idea there had been goings-on. Underway, young Skip absorbed everything under hand, under foot and aloft, becoming a seaman from the inside out. Is that enough living for you? A plan to explore the Galapagos was set aside when—passing through regions with poor communications—the outbreak of the Korean conflict made the world seem uncertain and possibly perilous. (Not until 34 years later, bringing Deerfoot II home from Denmark, did Dashew see the marine iguanas and giant tortoises of the Galapagos for himself.)
BACK ON DRY LAND
Constellation, once arrived in California, docked in Newport Harbor at the Balboa Bay Club, at the time a tiny affair with few boats and even fewer structures. With his first great voyage behind him, Dashew quickly realized that he would not be returning to his previous employment, much less seeking promotion to the company headquarters in Ohio. He based that decision upon arguments of "mental health."
Instead, Dashew moved the family into a house in Benedict Canyon, in the hills above Hollywood, and launched a business importing mechanical hand calculators from Mexico. It was a business he would later sell Constellation to save, but a different and far more important business would grow from inventing a method of embossing highly-legible metal plates at 20 times the speed of previous methods. Stanley Dashew had created a precursor of the credit card.
In the buildup, he sold one machine before a prototype had even been built—he just knew the thing would work—and proved that his machines worked on plastic as well as on metal. In 1958, Bank of America began rolling out a test of a credit card system in Fresno, California, incorporating Dashew's technology, and when that proved out, "rolling" was the operative word. The full story takes a lot of telling, and there were many players, but you know already that it turned out well for Stanley Dashew.
Over time, Dashew has acquired 14 U.S. patents, and through his companies he has been responsible for creating more than 50 other patents in business data, shipping, mining, transportation, water purification and medical health. When Parkinson's threatened to immobilize him, he invented a new personal-mobility and exercise device that allows him to walk, when circumstances are right, on his own. You get the idea that, as long as the man can sail, his fundamentals are sound, and of course it means something to get his sailing time on a Skip Dashew design. Family is important to the Dashews.
We've established already that Skip was a seaman before he grew into a man. He went to sea instead of first grade, and as a grownup circumnavigated before he ever designed a boat. But that first design, when the time came, was an exercise in proving what matters when you're cruising shorthanded "without insurance." That first design also was drawn and built for papa Stan, and as the story goes, someone wanted one just like it, then someone else. Suddenly, Skip had a business that, in the family tradition, just keeps rolling, and the boats keep coming.
Stan, however, settled down when Deerfoot II came along and never lusted after a new boat again. He's owned his beauty now for more than a quarter century. His captain, Errol Perling, has been with the boat exactly a quarter century. There's a comfort zone here. Events aboard Deerfoot II flow with natural ease. The boat is simple to sail shorthanded. She goes well in light to moderate air. She goes well in a breeze and answers smartly to the helm. I believe I mentioned, the boat speaks for herself.