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OBITUARIES / Olin Stephens, 1908 - 2008

America's Cup yacht designer

September 16, 2008|Aaron Kuriloff | Bloomberg

Olin Stephens, a naval architect who designed eight America's Cup winners, along with thousands of cruising and racing yachts, has died. He was 100.

The senior member of the New York Yacht Club, Stephens died Saturday in Hanover, N.H., US Sailing reported on its website, without giving a cause of death.

Stephens produced designs for more than 2,200 boats, including Dorade, which won the 1931 transatlantic race, and America's Cup defenders including Ranger, Columbia, Constellation, Intrepid, Courageous and Freedom.

"I was lucky: I had a goal," Stephens wrote in his 1999 autobiography "All This and Sailing Too." "As far back as I can remember, I wanted to design fast boats."

Olin J. Stephens II was born April 13, 1908, in New York City and learned to sail during family vacations on Cape Cod, according to John Rousmaniere, who wrote a chapter on Stephens for "Encyclopedia of Yacht Designers." He enrolled at the Massachusetts Institute of Technology before dropping out after his first year because of jaundice.

Stephens sailed regularly at Larchmont Yacht Club in New York, racing 6-meter yachts. His first published design appeared in the January 1928 edition of Yachting magazine, and he worked as a draftsman and apprentice to other designers until 1929, when he joined with Drake Sparkman in 1929 to form Sparkman & Stephens Inc.

The company's fourth boat, the 52-foot yawl Dorade, won the 1931 transatlantic race by two days, then won the United Kingdom's Fastnet Race with a crew that included his brother, Rod. When they returned to New York, the family received a ticker-tape parade.

Stephens worked on a failed America's Cup campaign in 1934 before Harold Vanderbilt hired him to help design a boat for the 1937 race. Ranger was the last of the J-Class yachts to compete for the Cup, beating Endeavor II.

Stephens eventually designed boats that won eight of nine America's Cups between 1937 and 1980. He also produced ocean racers that won numerous other regattas in Europe and the U.S., and helped create day-racers such as the Lightning, a three-person dinghy still used in international competition, and the Blue Jay, a smaller version of the Lightning still used for youth training.

He retired in 1978 and moved to Hanover, where he took mathematics classes and helped teach an engineering course on sailing at Dartmouth College. He continued to design boats and was inducted into the America's Cup Hall of Fame at the Herreshoff Marine Museum in Bristol, R.I., in 1993. In 2004, he received US Sailing's National Sportsmanship Trophy.

He is survived by his sons, Olin Stephens III and Samuel R. Stephens; his sister, Marite Sheridan; and his grandson, Olin J. Stephens IV. His brother, Rod, died in 1995.

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