Olin Stephens II: 2006

Most successful and admired yacht designer of the 20th century

Olin Stephens II was named the first recipient of the America and the Sea Award presented by Mystic Seaport, the nation’s leading maritime museum.

Widely recognized as the most respected, successful and admired yacht designer of the 20th century, Stephens was recognized at a dinner in his honor November 15 at the St. Regis Hotel in New York.

Mystic Seaport Chairman of the Board Bill Forster and Gary Jobson, master of ceremonies at the event, presented the award to Olin Stephens III, who accepted on behalf of his father, who was unable to attend the event.

By creating the Award, Mystic Seaport President and Director Doug Teeson said the Museum recognizes individuals or organizations that 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, creativity, competition and freedom that inspires us all,” Teeson said. “Olin Stephens embodies unparalleled personal and professional achievement. From America’s Cup boats to the Lightning class, Olin’s boats appeal to many and his scope is international. He has inspired a whole generation of boat designers–proving he is equal part designer and teacher.”

Olin StephensStephens, who began his design career as an apprentice to Philip Rhodes at 19, joined his brother, Rod, and Drake Sparkman in 1929 to establish Sparkman & Stephens. When Dorade, his first ocean-racing yacht, captured the 1931 Trans-Atlantic Race, Stephens attributed it simply to luck. More so, it was a sign of things to come.

Two-time America’s Cup winners Intrepid and Courageous were designed by Stephens, as were Freedom, Constellation, Columbia, and Ranger, the first America’s Cup yacht developed through model testing in a towing tank.

While Stephens may be best known for his Cup designs, as well as other vessels like Finisterre, Brilliant and Stormy Weather, his Lightning class design has had a significant impact on the world of sailing. The Lightning class is a mainstay of many youth sailing programs. It was also designed as an affordable family day-sailor and racing boat. More than 15,000 have been built, making it one of the most popular and competitive one-design classes in the world. More importantly, the Lightning class changed sailing in the 20th century from a sport for the privileged to a sport available to all.