Olin J. Stephens,  1908-2008
Scarsdale, New York, USA

Dorade First Across In Ocean Race
--Scarsdale Craft Owned by O.J. Stephens --
Reaches England From Newport in 17 Days

Only one boat... has a chance to beat her -- British Cheer Crew

"Special Cable. New York Times, July 22, 1931. page 1"


W
hen Olin Stephens, and his brother Rod Stephens won -- by a whopping two days on elapsed time -- the 1931 Transatlantic race in their yawl Dorade, it was front page news in the New York Times. Stephens became in that stroke one of the most celebrated racing yacht designers of the 20th century. He was 23.

His Dorade heralded the new world of the offshore racing/cruiser. She was small, 38’ on the waterline, and sailed by six amateur ‘young vikings’. With her yawl rig, deep ballast and durable, light-weight construction, she flew her spinnaker nearly the entire 3,172 miles across the great ocean as if she were a mere ten-foot dinghy.

Born and raised in the New York suburbs, Stephens often said that his dream was "to build fast boats". He came to the water by choice, the son of an enthusiastic father, a coal merchant who supplied Olin and his brother Rod with Cape Cod summers and Westchester weekends filled with racing small boats.

Stephens entered MIT at 18, but left within a year because of illness. Two apprenticeships followed, one in the office of the famous Philip Rhodes. At 23, he formed Sparkman & Stephens in partnership with his brother Rod and the highly successful yacht broker Drake Sparkman.

Stephens believed a beautiful boat was likely to be a fast one and he refined the new era’s ocean racer with the legendary yachts: Stormy Weather and Finisterre. Each shared Dorade’s Midas touch with speed and line. Before and after WWII, Stephens’ yachts claimed virtually every victory they sought: the Transatlantic, Fastnet and Bermuda Races; the RORC, the Admiral’s Cup, the OneTon Cup, and a host of CCA contests in the USA.

During WWII, his firm, Sparkman & Stephens, designed and built the famous ‘Duck’, the DUKW - a lumbering, amphibious truck which served a pivotal role in World War II’s Battle for Normandy. It earned Rod Stephens the Medal Of Freedom.

B
ut perhaps Stephens most astonishing run was his unparalleled success in defending the America’s Cup. The junior designer on Starling Burgess’ 1937 Ranger, the last great J-Class yacht, Stephens designed five more, all 12-Meters. His bevy of winners: Columbia, 1958; Constellation, 1964; Intrepid, 1967 and 1970; Courageous 1974 and 1977; and Freedom, in 1980, matched Nathanael Herreshoff’s outstanding record. Like Herreshoff, Stephens embraced the science of his day, ceaselessly experimenting with each design in the towing tanks of the Stevens Institute of New Jersey.

Small boats also captured his heart and many bob contentedly in home harbors still: among them, the Lightning, the Blue Jay and the Interclub Dinghy.

For all his extensive talent on the water, Stephens led another life. He studied painting, math, and wrote a tender and wise autobiography, "All This and Sailing Too" at 90. But his work on the water defines him as he recast an entire seascape for the twentieth century sailor. He insisted on safety, he insisted on joy and he insisted on speed. And so his yachts sail on, winning, vital and cherished by generations of sailors.

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