Olin Stephens


Olin Stephens (1908—2008)

The doyen of American naval designers (born in New York in 1908, April 13) died recently in Vermont. Towards the end of the 1920s, the young Olin (endowed with a talent for tracing the waterlines of boats) and who, together with his brother Rod, had sailed for a long time on the Long Island Sound, sent a drawing to Yachting magazine. The design, a "day sailer," was published and caught the attention and keen eye of Drake Sparkman, then known as one of the leading brokers of leisure boats. He called young Olin and not only offered him a job, but even made him an associate at his studio. So it was that Sparkman & Stephens came about.

During the Depression (in 1929), Olin’s father commissioned a project (Dorade) from Sparkman & Stephens. From the moment of its launch, this boat was defined as the first modern "ocean racer." Everyone knows about the extraordinary success of Dorade at the Fastnet Race, when it crossed the finish line four days before the other competitors. Realising that, despite its many victories, Dorade had a tendency to roll a great deal, particularly in a high sea and stern winds, Olin Stephens studied its lines further to resolve the problem.

The opportunity arrived with the commissioning of Stormy Weather, to which Olin gave a different shape, especially in the submerged sections, slightly rounded-off compared with those of Dorade and with an increase in the main bay (the "rating" at the time penalized narrow hulls). Stormy Weather is probably the boat that has achieved the largest number of victories in the history of modern yachting. Olin Stephens has half a century of successes behind him, but the greatest was that of having contributed to no less than six victories for the "defenders" in the America’s Cup.

He began in 1937 with the powerful "J Class" Ranger, then moved on to the 12-meter Columbia (1958), Constellation (1964), Intrepid (1967), Courageous (1974), and Freedom (1980). Ranger, the project for which he collaborated with Starling Burgess and on board which Olin was responsible for tactics, marked the official entry of the great architect in the history of the America’s Cup.

Another great success for Olin was Finisterre, which won the Bermuda Race three titles running (an unbeaten record) and either won or was placed second in all the regattas in which it took part, also thanks to its advantageous "rating."

The busiest period for Olin Stephens was between 1950 and 1980; he worked on more than 2,500 projects before retiring. Stephens conceived, rather than designed, boats. He provided the designer with the displacement maximum width, and some of the lines of the stern and bow, a working method that his extraordinary, creative intuition and profound mastery of the profession made successful and decisive in every project.

In 2006 Olin was the recipient of the first Mystic Seaport America and the SeaAward.

Source - Serafini (2003)