A Sailing Innovator's Seiko Chronograph:
A Seiko 6139 "Deep Blue" Owned by Bram Dally
Every watch – in particular vintage – has a story to tell; some are short tales, and some long. This mid-1970 Seiko 6139 "Deep Blue" here has a great story to tell, and the journey begins with a case back inscription…
I sourced this May 1970 Seiko 6139-6019 “Deep Blue” from an estate sale in mid-2021. I was immediately drawn to the case back inscription – “Bram Dally, My Captain - July 5, 1971” – but the 6139 was quite beat up, with a heavily scarred crystal, dirty case, and decidedly not in working order.
After I acquired it, the 6139 sat ignored for months awaiting its turn in the watchmaker queue. Once our watchmakers worked their magic on the Deep Blue, my curiosity was once more piqued – so I started researching...
"Bram Dally, My Captain"
The Swift Solo
But first, some background on Dally, per his own words in a Summer 2003 edition of Epoxyworks magazine - "In the 1970s, I raced in a large Seattle fleet with very good sailors who eventually won three Olympic gold medals, a silver and two bronze…In 1975, my crew and I received one of the fastest hulls to come to the U.S. during that era. The manufacturer had asked if I’d be interested in an aluminum honeycomb-cored hull they were experimenting with.
"While Seattle had many better teams than ours, for three years none was faster. The boat was a rocket and remained fast…[but] business demands forced me to quit sailing for 18 years until I retired from homebuilding in early 1998. Sailboat racing was never a sport that I could do half-way and coming back to a fleet of 49ers rekindled my fire for the sport."
Dally goes on to describe his efforts to "entice" his wife Jane - whom I imagine as the individual who gifted this Deep Blue to Dally, replete with case back inscription - to attend sailing regattas extended to include encouraging a latent interest in sea kayaking. Dally describes, along with his neighbor, building two sea kayaks. Clearly a man passionate about sailing.
Dally's 1970 Seiko Deep Blue
Thankfully, I quickly discovered the name Bram Dally wasn’t a terribly common one, and one aspect kept surfacing – a Seattle-based individual named Bram Dally who had been the inventor of the Swift Solo, a type of sailboat.
Initially conceived as a single-handed trainer for 49er sailing, Dally's Swift Solo is a single-handed trainer monohull sailboat first built in 2000, a 14.4 meter sloop-rigged skiff. Bram, per sailing magazine articles, “loved to sail the high-performance 49er, an Olympic class known for speed and spills. But it was tough to find qualified crew."
"July 5, 1971"
February 1969 Seiko 6139-6010 SpeedTimer (L); Dally's May 1970 Seiko 6139-6019 Transitional (C ); May 1970 Seiko 6139-6010 Proof/Proof (R)
However, a few years subsequent and shortly after the June 2008 issue of sailing periodical Southwinds Magazine (featuring more laudatory commentary on the Swift Solo) published, Bram announced his retirement from sailing, noting health issues – in particular, arthritis – had been taking its toll, rendering it difficult to continue sailing.
Bram noted, “It has not been easy to come to grips with reality and where I go from here. Every other element of my life is going far better than I or anyone has the right to expect. I never dreamed that I’d be sailing high performance boats well into my 60’s when I was young."
"Still, my passion for skiff sailing has outlived my joints. Short of a major turnaround, today will be my last day.” Even with above, Bram noted his intention to devote his free time to coaching aspiring sailors.
Dally goes on to describe the evolution of his Swift Solo invention for the magazine, “The chain of events that led to my development of the Swift Solo single-handed sailing skiff started in July 1999, after a day of competing in a 49er skiff regatta in the Columbia River Gorge. While watching Kris Henderson sail his 49er alone in about 4 knots of wind, I was taken by how fast a 49er can move in really light air with just one person on board. Since the jib was self-tacking, he kept the main and spinnaker sheets in one hand and was able to jibe quite easily." Various design issues remained...but Dally would persist to overcome these, and the "search for a solution led me to develop the Swift Solo."
Dally's invention quickly proved popular, in particular in Southern California. Dally decried what he observed to be sailboat manufacturers catering to low-price market demand to churn out inferior sailboats, with the assessment a significant part of the worldwide market would rather pay $16,000 for a boat that’ll remain competitive for a year than $19,000 for one that will stay at the top of the game for ten years. Naturally, he aspired to rectify this:
"Given the early success of the Swift Solo, I now have more ambitious goals in mind. In addition to wanting to produce the fastest easy-to-sail single-handed skiff in the world, I feel circumstances are right to build an international class for racing this boat.”
Dally, center in white polo, during a circa early 2000's sailing outing
Sailing culture runs deep in Southern California - and yes, even in DC. Dally's Deep Blue now has a solid place in my 6139 line up, and I love wearing it; I can easily imagine Bram wearing this watch during countless Swift Solo brainstorming sessions, subsequent construction, and sailing activities during his lengthy sailing career - maybe even up to his retirement from the pursuit.
But this is why I, and many of our customers, are drawn to vintage watches - for the stories they tell, in particular when they can be researched and quantified. As Hodinkee’s Cole Pennington has been known to say, “always read the case back.” Wise advice, indeed...