Design Guru, Olin Stephens 100 years young

Olin Stephens (Photo: Billy Black)

April 13 marks the 100th birthday of American design doyen Olin Stephens. (born April 13, 1908) Olin retired from the design business in the 1980's, after designing over 2,000 boats, including eight America's Cup winners, in career lasting more than 50 years. To celebrate the work of this designer with few peers, Sail-world.com has put together a few pictures covering the major design successes that he and his brother Rod Stephens produced from 1929 onwards.

At the Sparkman & Stephens office left sitting Starling Burgess, Olin Stephens, Drake Sparkman and Rod Stephens duirng the design stages of the J-class Ranger in 1936/7
Their prolific design firm, Sparkman & Stephens Inc (S&S) was formally created on November 11, 1929, with five partners, Drake and James Sparkman, Olin and Rod Stephens. and James Murray and is still based on 5th Avenue, New York, was responsible for designing such diverse craft as the World War II DUKW amphibious landing vehicle, their own Atlantic and Fastnet race winner Dorade, a string of 12 Metre America's Cup winners from Columbia to Courageous, and iconic maxi yachts like Kialoa III, and early Whitbread round the world race winners Sayula II and Flyer.

The Sparkman side was a Yacht brokerage and so today there are the marriages of two departments, one focused on design, naval architecture and marine engineering and the other handling the brokerage.
The Fastnet

Dorade was one of the first offshore yacht designs drawn by Olin and Rod for their Father Olin Stephens Snr. Built in 1929, this 52ft yawl did most to establish Olin and Rod at the forefront of yacht design.

She not only won the 1931 Atlantic and Fastnet races outright, but gained a class win in the 1932 Bermuda Race. The yacht was recently restored in Italy and Olin was guest of honour at her re-launch.


Mark Twain (Photo Credit: Offshore Magazine CYCA)
The Sydney Hobart

Challenge II a 45ft S&S design, bought by Lou Abrahams in 1979. won the 1983 Sydney to Hobart.

Mark Twain a 39-foot S&S,in 2002 became the first boat to compete in 25 Sydney to Hobart Yacht races Over the years, Mark Twain has had three-second places and two thirds in division and she successfully completed the storm conditions of the 1998 Telstra Sydney to Hobart Race finishing 17th overall on IMS handicap.

Mark Twain and her sister ship Pilgrim now known as Perie Banou II and now owned by Jon Sanders, had major battles on the race course in their time, and when they last meet, the competition started as though it never stopped. Mark Twain beat Perie Banou II by the same margin to Hobart, last time they met - 4 hours.


Finisterre design no. 1054 the Bermuda Race champion
The Bermuda Race

The biennial Bermuda Race has long been a proving ground for Sparkman & Stephens designs. Their own yacht Dorade won Class B in 1932, followed by Edlu which won overall honours in 1934.

Baruna did the same in 1938, Blitzen won Class B the same year, Good News won Class A in 1946 and line honours in 1958, Mustang (owned by Rod Stephens) won Class B in 1952, Bolero won line honours in 1950 and set a record time in 1956.

Finisterre won Class D together with the Lighthouse Trophy in 1956, and '58 and Running Tide won Class A in 1970 and '76, together with the overall honours.


America's Cup

Olin Stephens' most famous America's Cup yacht is undoubtedly the 12 Metre Courageous which successfully defended iin 1974, skippered by Bob Bavier and helmed by Ted Hood, and she was again steered to victory in 1977. This time by Ted Turner. This evergreen design was still competing for the Cup in 1986/7. Other S&S Cup designs included the J Class yacht Ranger, and 12M yachts Columbia, Vim, Constellation, Intrepid, Valiant and Enterprise.

RANGER Leeward Beam

Design 77 Model Testing 1
Olin - the Father of modern tank testing

Olin Stephens did much to develop the methodology for gaining accurate model test tank results by comparing the full size results of two 6-Metre designs, Jack & Jill against those gained from running models in the tank testing facility at the Davidson Laboratory, Stevens Institute of Technology, Hoboken, New Jersey.

From 1958 to 1967, this lab tested the America's Cup 12 Metre designs of Columbia, & Constellation - all Olin Stephens designs.


Jon Sanders and Perie Banou
Circumnavigations

Jon Sanders with Perie Banou a S&S 34,was first man to circumnavigate Antarctica, circling the continent twice in 1981 – 1982. During the voyage, he passed south of the three great capes: Horn, Good Hope and Leeuwin, before rounding Cape Horn a second time. He turned north to Plymouth, UK and returning south around Good Hope and returning to Fremantle

* The first single-handed sailor to remain continuously at sea twice around the world
* First single-handed sailor to round the five southern most Capes twice on one voyage
* First single-handed sailor to round the five southern most Capes twice
* Longest distance continuously sailed by any yacht: 48,510 miles.
* Longest period alone at sea during a continuous voyage: 419 days: 22 hours: 10 minutes


S&S Maxi yachts

Kialoa III, the 79ft S&S design maxi owned by Jim Kilroy broke the Sydney to Hobart Race record in 1975 and held that mark for 21 years. She also won the Transatlantic, Transpac, China Sea and dominated the Maxi World championships during the early 1980s. Other equally notable Stephens designed ocean racing yachts included the Swan 65 Sayula II, winner of the first Whitbread Round the World Yacht Race, and Flyer, another S&S designed ketch which Dutchman Conny van Rietschoten won the 1977/8 Whitbread Race.

Kialoa III