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Women of StFYC: Pam Rorke Levy, Dorade’s Better Half
Pam's journey has been nothing short of colorful. Born in the Presidio, she grew up internationally. She was a concert pianist and a successful television producer. When she met Matt Brooks, she took a whole new tack. Together, the couple restored Dorade and brought her back to glory.
     
  Dorade’s Better Half
Pam Rorke Levy’s incredible story of music, production, love and a classic yacht 
By Nancy Svendsen, Women’s Committee Chair


The Steinway grand gives the room a sense of intention laced with elegance. The music, displayed casually, hints at a long relationship with the instrument. Pam Rorke Levy has been playing the piano since the age of four, which is not surprising in a family in which her father played the trombone and her grandmother was a concert pianist. 

Daughter of a US Army officer, Pam was born at Letterman Hospital in the Presidio—just a few hundred yards from where she now lives—and moved to Japan soon after. Growing up she moved more than a dozen times but recalls, “there was always a piano.” Pam spent three years at the Mozart Conservatory in Augsburg, Germany, studying with an elderly teacher who could not speak English. They communicated only through music. 

She later attended Swarthmore College followed by graduate school at Berkeley. Along the way she got married, had two children and began a career in journalism and documentary film work. First at KPIX, then at KRON, she produced documentaries and covered live events including the America’s Cup in Perth. As Executive Producer of Programs at KRON when it was a flagship NBC station, she had her finger on the pulse of San Francisco, developing new series and orchestrating coverage of major sporting and entertainment events. In 1993 she left KRON to work independently, producing documentaries and TV series for KQED, National Geographic and other cable networks.

Following her divorce, Pam made a career shift toward more lucrative live events, working with such giants as HP, Cisco and Intel. She was on a fast track, traveling around the world.

Her life changed dramatically in 2009 when she met Matt Brooks. His triplet boys were about the same age as her girls.  The kids had gone to the same preschool many years earlier, and the couple felt an immediate connection.  

Together, Pam and Matt embarked upon their biggest adventure yet. Return to Blue Water is the working title of the book she is writing describing the restoration and return to ocean racing of their world-famous yacht, Dorade. Early in their marriage, the couple went sailing on San Francisco Bay. They realized how satisfying it would be to own their own boat and sail it together. In 2010, “when every classic boat in the world was for sale,” they began looking for a boat that would satisfy their desire to “bring something back”—a boat they could sail alone together on San Francisco Bay. Ironically, they “fell in love with an irreplaceable piece of yachting history—a boat 3,000 miles away that required eight people to sail her.”

Dorade needed a lot of work,” Pam admits. But her modest lines together with her pedigree “drew us in.” Dorade was designed in 1929 by Olin Stephens, who went on to design boats that won eight of the nine America’s Cups races between 1937 and 1980. Pam and Matt feel they are “custodians of Dorade,” bringing a modern discipline to the meticulously restored classic yacht’s sailing program.

In 2013 Dorade won the Transpac. Last year Dorade handily won her class in in Les Voiles de Saint Tropez and the Cannes Regate Royales. Pam learned to drive, took the helm during most of the Corsica Classic, and won first overall. This year, Dorade completed the Transatlantic in 14:22:55:57, over 26 hours faster than 1931, when Rod and Olin Stephens won the event on Dorade

This month Matt and Pam will race her in the Bicentenary Regatta at the Royal Yacht Squadron. “To be at this stage of life and take on something like this, on Dorade,” Pam smiles, “is such a privilege.” San Francisco sunshine streams through the windows and she sits quietly. “We set out to save a yacht, and ended up saving ourselves.”  

“This partnership works because we are forces in opposition that create balance. The keel keeps the boat upright and the wind propels it forward. I am solid and stable and Matt is all go.” Pam and Matt’s remarkable partnership is now intertwined with the story of Dorade

Back to Blue Water
is the story of a maritime Seabiscuit. Pam and Matt found an old boat that many considered past her prime and committed their talents and energies to bringing her back to glory. With Dorade, they carved their place in yachting history. I for one can’t wait to read the next chapter.