By any measure, a man who has lived 100 years has lived a full life. But some centenarians live fuller lives than others. Olin J. Stephens is a case in point. Mr. Stephens was still building on a legacy when he died last month. This remarkable man began his legendary career in the 1920s with seminal early offshore racing yachts such as Dorade and Stormy Weather, and carried through countless small-boat designs, the influential J-Class America's Cup yacht Ranger and a number of the most revered early 12-Meters including Columbia, Constellation and Intrepid.
The first two sentences of Olin Stephen's autobiography, All This and Sailing, Too, gives us an insight to the most successful and influential designer of the 20th century. "I was lucky: I had a goal. As far back as I can remember I wanted to design fast boats." Stephens was raised near New York City and, as a boy, was introduced to boats on family vacations at Cape Cod. Along with his father, Roderick, and younger brother, Roderick Jr. (called Rod), he learned to sail in a series of family-owned boats. Fascinated by sailing and its technology, the boys absorbed all they could from yachting magazines and their own experience and were encouraged and supported by their father.
Throughout his career, Stephens produced successful racing boats, including the winners of a total of eight of the nine America's Cup matches between 1937 and 1980. Other than Ranger, the most remarkable of these boats was Intrepid, the defender in 1967 and, after alterations by Britton Chance Jr., again in 1970. She had a rudder separate from her keel to reduce wetted surface and improve steering. The separate rudder was not new, but Stephens made it work on a number of increasingly large ocean racers (most notably Thomas Watson's Palawan) in the mid-60s before successfully using it on Intrepid.
While designing America's Cup defenders and ocean racers, Stephens also produced a number of powerboats, motorsailers and cruising boats. Stephens also was active in the design of day-racing boats, the best known of which is the Lightning, a 19-foot three-person centerboarder designed in 1938 and raced worldwide. Other successful day boats included the 13.5 foot Blue Jay (a small version of the Lightning), the 11.5 foot Interclub Dinghy and the 30-foot Shields keel boat. On his retirement in 1978, Stephens had designed or supervised the design of more than 2,000 boats or classes.
Olin J. Stephens II was elected to the Bermuda Race Roll of Honour on the 80th anniversary of the first of his many races to "the Onion Patch." No yacht designer has produced more prize-winners over the race's 102-year, 45-race history. The overall winners of 13 races, the first-to-finish boats in 11 races, and 45 class winners are all Stephens designs, as are the race's only multi-race winners-the 72-foot yawl Baruna (winner in 1938 and 1948) and the 38-foot yawl Finisterre (1956, 1958, and 1960). Baruna is one of the largest boats to win a Bermuda Race, and Finisterre is one of the smallest. The inscription on Stephens' Bermuda Race Roll of Honour plaque reads as follows: "Since first racing to Bermuda in 1928, Olin Stephens has competed in boats both large and small, has designed more overall and class winners than any other naval architect, and has done much to make sailing yachts fast and seaworthy, and sailors safe. We feel lucky to have him as a friend and inspiration not only to the Bermuda Race community, but to all who love the sea and boats."
Olin Stephens had other boat designs to his long list of well-known boats. While maybe not as famous as Dorade and Stormy Weather, these boats are well known in our area. Olin was only 19 when he designed the Manhasset Bay One Design. This first MBO, originally called the Sound Junior Class, was for the junior sailors at Larchmont YC, and was his first design as a new associate at the firm of Sparkman and Stephens. When the boat first was seen sailing on the Sound in 1929, Yachting magazine wrote a review, describing the boat as "a well modeled little craft with nice sheer and moderate overhangs. The iron keel and buoyant flaring sections indicates stiffness and dryness. The modern efficient rig should make for good speed and ease of handling in all weathers." According to Francis S. Kinney, in his book, You Are First: the Story of Olin and Rod Stephens of Sparkman & Stephens (1978), this design gave Mr. Stephens "the greatest pleasure to know. The MBOD was the first of many successful designs by this very talented man. A few years after designing the MBOD, he gave the Knickerbocker YC a boat that is still raced today, the Knickerbocker One Design, with a graceful sheer line, raced by devoted fans of Olin J. Stephens.
Mr. Stephens is no stranger to our bay. He has been a member of Manhasset Bay YC since 1933 and has followed the development of the MBOD class since its inception. In July 1989, when the MBOD fleet marked their 60th anniversary with a weekend long celebration, the honored guest was, of course, Olin Stephens. More than 80 former MBOD skippers attended the event, and more than 200 people were present to see Mr. Stephens receive a large poster-sized color photograph, autographed by all the attending MBOD skippers, past and present. Then in 2001, with the re-launch of Bob Prokop and Jack Antinori's lovely restored MBOD #3, Olin Express, Mr. Stephens at the young age of 93, drove to Port Washington from his home in New Hampshire. He was warmly greeted by many and received a jacket designed especially for him with the new name of hull #3, Olin Express, embroidered on the front.
The other significant events in Olin Stephen's life that are connected to our beautiful bay took place at Mystic Seaport, during a weekend called Designer Recognition Rendezvous, where Stephens, as one of the original co-founders of the preeminent design firm of Sparkman and Stephens, was honored. Approximately 75 S & S-designed boats were displayed on land and dockside for visitors to view. Owners were available to talk with the crowds, and it is hard to determine who was having more fun during the conversation - the owners who are so very proud of their boat - or the visitors eager to hear about the design of the boat and the adventures she has experienced. Headlining the rendezvous was the Mystic Seaport's own S &S-designed 61-foot schooner used as a training vessel Brilliant, which had just returned from a 12,000 mile, 10-month trans-Atlantic expedition. Also in the line-up were the 12-meters Courageous and Columbia; Gulfstream 30s and 36s; NY 32s; Swans, Tartan 27s and 34s, and Nevins 40s. Several Manhasset Bay area boats were part of this historic weekend. Pam/Bob Prokop and Susan/Jack Antinori, co-owners of the MBOD, Olin Express, the longest continually sailed S & S -designed boat, shipped their boat to Mystic where it was prominently displayed for all to see. Manny Greene, at the time the owner of an S & S -designed Knickerbocker One Design (KOD) tried valiantly to be part of the weekend, but he encountered unprecedented fog and little wind, so he managed to get as far as Clinton, CT and sailed into port as dark was descending on the third day of his adventure. For his efforts, Mr. Greene received a Special Mention at the Awards Ceremony on Saturday evening. Jack Antinori and Bob Prokop also received an award for their Olin Express, as she is design #1 for Olin Stephens.
The last page of Stephen's autobiography, All This and Sailing, Too - neatly summarized his view of life. "In all phases of my work I was conscious of the need for balance, and I did my best to find balance in both the long and the short view. Broadly I think I can say that I applied the principles of balance in design, in business and in the pleasures I enjoyed."