Honoring the Legacy of Olin J. Stephens II

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April 13, 1908 – September 13, 2008

Olin StephensOlin J. Stephens II, America’s preeminent yacht designer of the 20th century–died September 13, 2008–five months to the day after celebrating his 100th birthday.

Early that year, Mystic Seaport opened an exhibit honoring the life of Stephens, a longtime friend and supporter of the Museum.

The special exhibit features models, photographs, books and mementos chronicling Stephens’ astonishing personal and professional achievements. The exhibit is in the Cruising Club of America’s Olin J. Stephens II Reading Room in the Museum’s G.W. Blunt White Building. It opened to the public in celebration of his 100th birthday. In our continuing effort to honor Olin, this exhibit, now honoring the legacy he leaves, will be on display indefinitely.

Olin StephensWidely recognized as the most respected, admired and accomplished yacht designer of the 20th century, Stephens once said, “I was lucky: I had a goal. As far back as I can remember, I wanted to design fast boats.” And this is exactly what he did. He began his career at the age of 19 working as an apprentice for successful 6-meter yacht designer Phillip Rhodes. On November 11,1929, the 21-year-old Stephens joined forces with well-known yacht broker Drake Sparkman and Sparkman & Stephens, Inc. was formed. The naval architecture and yacht design firm’s first major design–a yacht named Dorade–won the much-publicized 1931Trans-Atlantic Race. She then went on to win the 1936 TransPac, finishing first in class and first overall. A new era of yacht design had begun.

Stephens’ name is most often associated with the prestigious America’s Cup Race. In 1937, he collaborated with W. Starling Burgess to design the Super-J, Ranger, which was later selected to defend the Cup after only seven races. Sparkman & Stephens went on to design many of the most revered 12-Meters that raced for the Cup, including Columbia, Constellation, Freedom, Intrepid and Courageous. In 1993, Stephens and his winning designs were honored when he was inducted into the America’s Cup Hall of Fame.

When not designing yachts, Stephens and his colleagues spent their time designing all other types of boats–from amphibious assault vehicles and patrol craft for World War II, to timeless vessels such as Mystic Seaport’s own schooner yacht Brilliant. He also proceeded to give himself to the sport well beyond his professional activity. Stephens has been a member of the New York Yacht Club since 1930 and also a member of, or consultant to, the International Yacht Racing Union Keelboat Committee since 1963. He headed the committee which developed the International Offshore Rule and was active in the creation and maintenance of the International Measurement System.

Olin Stephens exhibitStephens has been honored with numerous awards throughout his career which have recognized his indelible contributions to sailing. On November 15, 2006, Mystic Seaport named him the first recipient of the Museum’s prestigious America and the Sea Award — an honor that recognizes individuals who have demonstrated outstanding achievement in the maritime world. “This award honors and celebrates America’s relationship to the sea and the spirit of exploration, adventure, competition and freedom that inspires us all. Olin embodies everything this award symbolizes,” said Douglas Teeson, former Museum president and director.

Stephens designed more than 2,000 boats throughout his career, many of which still grace the water today. After eight decades of brilliant work, he has left a lasting impact on the maritime community. His numerous designs, contributions and commitment to the worlds of yacht racing and cruising are cherished, as is he.