Sunday, September 14, 2008

Eight Bells: Olin J. Stephens

Olin J. Stephens, who celebrated his 100th birthday on April 13, 2008, passed away this weekend. Yacht designer Stephens was Member Number 1 in the NYYC’s seniority list, having joined the club in 1930, or 78 years ago. In Olin Stephens’s autobiography, "All This and Sailing, Too," he remarked, “I was lucky: I had a goal. As far back as I can remember I wanted to design fast boats.” His imprint on yacht design includes having designed the winners of a total of eight of the nine America's Cup matches between 1937 and 1980, with his portfolio of successful designs making him the most influential designer of the 20th century. For a complete profile of Olin J. Stephens, written by John Rousmaniere, click here

Click here for the birthday card that was posted during Stephens’ centennial celebration.

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At 8:17 PM, Anonymous Anonymous said...

I met Olin Stephens as a 19 year old in the mid 70's. It was my fist trip to NYC and, having loved America's Cup boats since I was old enough to read Yachting magazine, I made my way to City Island, having heard there were 12 meters there.

I found a busy boat yard and starting poking my head around. It didn't take long to discover a number of 12 meters up on blocks in a dusty old shed. I belive one of them was Columbia.

As I stared at the boats in wonder an old man walked up to me and asked if I liked sail boats. I told him of my love for the America's Cup and that seeing these boats was a dream come true. We spent about 15 minutes talking. He was very interested in what I thought about the boats. He was kind, gentle and curious and seemed to have nothing better to do than talk to a gawky 19 year old. It struck me that he had the same kid-like love of these boats as I did.

Eventually he walked off and another man came up to me and asked if I knew who I was talking to. I answered no and when he told me I was flabbergasted. I will never forget meeting the great yet humble Olin Stephens.

Stewart Hall

At 10:23 PM, Blogger fafrye said...

It was an honor and a privilege to meet and know Olin Stephens. My involvement with him came with the San Diego Yacht Club and Dennis Connor 's involvement with the America's Cup starting in 1979.
He made many visits to our Club in the intervening years. His imprint on the Cup and its history is legend.
His interest in boat design and his willingness to adapt and adopt new design ideas only emphasisizes his innovative approach to yacht design.
As has been said many times before he is the most infulential designer of the 20th century. Above all he was the epitomy of a Corinthian Yachtsman. Something that I feel is being lost as we move forward. I will always treasure my conversations and interactions with him
Fred Frye, M.D. Commodore SDYC 1987

At 8:48 AM, Anonymous Stephen A Van Dyck said...

It is unlikely that a more gracious, generous, modest and thoughtful man has ever put foot upon a sailboats deck. Nor is it likely that an individual has given more to sailing than Olin Stephens. My friendship with him began at 19 with a letter asking if I could work for him for a year. I still remember his generous and warm response, "yes." Five AC campaigns and countless other experiences we shared over 49 years. His recent 100th birthday celebration put a wonderful bookmark on a remarkable career. Mentor, counselor, brilliant designer, these all describe the Olin we knew. But most of all, we knew a huge man in a small body, quiet and thoughtful, with an ever ready smile. Like so many who were blessed to have Olin in their lives I am not sad today, I am grateful for his 100 years.


Stephen A Van Dyck

At 10:28 AM, Anonymous David Pedrick said...

It’s daunting to think of the number of sailors and industry professionals who have benefitted from Olin Stephens’ genius, whether through the adrenalin of racing or the serenity of cruising. Spanning from Lightnings to J-Class yachts, from blue-water cruising and ocean racing to virtually every important offshore racing event on the planet, Olin crafted designs that countless crews and the seas themselves have loved.

Olin always kept his sights on the next thing. He could see and admit publicly the weaknesses of any particular design, and was constantly figuring out the next improvements to make. When asked about why he didn’t copyright his designs, he explained that, if someone was copying your past work, that’s right where you wanted them – behind you. Nevertheless, he shared his ideas generously by contributing for decades to the technical development of the sport of yacht racing.

I’ve held a special fondness for Olin, who gave me my start as a yacht designer in 1970. He soon trusted me with an increasing share of creative and technical work on major projects, including the America’s Cup and emerging Maxi racers. With his office hours full of telephone calls and letter dictation, he used the quiet time of his evenings and train commute to advance his own ideas. Among the special memories that I have of Olin is often starting the day with an update on what he had been working on the evening before, and being asked to take it further during the day. I’d pass it back to him at the end of the day, and so it would go from one study to the next.

A few years ago, after I introduced Olin – my most significant mentor – at an event at the New York Yacht Club, he told a story about his early mentor, whom he called – even at age 97 – “Mr. Crane.” After a few more stories of his early years in the Six Metre Class, in crisp detail and with humor and humility, all of us in the room felt the special privilege of having had that time with him. Throughout his fifty years as an active and amazing designer, and thirty more in an active and amazing retirement, Olin’s standards of intellectual challenge and integrity never faltered, and will shine on every bit as brightly as all the trophies that his creations have captured.

At 11:19 AM, Anonymous T.J. Perrotti said...

You have left a sea of shining inspiration in your wake. Fair winds, Olin, fair winds ...

At 4:57 AM, Anonymous bruce parsons said...

I met Olin Stephens in the mid 90's when he visted the tow tank here in Newfoundland with John Marshal, Jim Teeters, and Duncan Mclane to recruit my colleague Rob Pallard and our instrumentation for installation and use in the tow tank in Bethesda for Young America. He didn't say much but I noticed when we shook hands that he had calloused hands at 90. In the tour of the facilities I finally realized why he had come, as ran his hands over the model yachts and said he couldd feel one radius of curvature changing to the next. I believe he was here to offer an opinion on the quality of the model construction. I asked him if he had ever been to Newfoundland before, and he told us, yes, once; and when I asked when, he said, well he was close to Cape Race in 1930. I realized this was in the race across the Atlantic in Dorade he was refering to. In the course of conversation that evening at supper, he told us that Intrepid had won her America's Cup 1% over measurement size due to a mistake of his - in those days ratings were from the designers drawings. He was very open and matter of fact about it, yet I have never seen this in print. This was only discovered when it was sold and the new owner had it remeasured. He was a very gentle and open man and I exchanged a few emails with him subsequently. We have a signed copy of his designs here in our library and we all compete for turns to take it home and enjoy it like the fine art coffee table book it is. If it is true I am still catching up with his thinking of fifty years ago, well, one could be on worse path. Bruce Parsons , St. John's Newfoundland

At 1:45 PM, Anonymous Paul Henderson said...

When I retired as ISAF President I received the most gracious letter from Olin Stephens. Of all the ones I received, his was the most cherished. The fact that he took the time to, then at age 97, to write and wish me the best in the future was such a wonderful tribute from a pillar of our sport. I saw him in Estoril at the ISAF AGM last November where he was in the first group of sailing icons to be inducted into the ISAF Hall of Fame. He demanded to talk to the gathered throng and thank them for the years of friendship. I thought at that time it would be the last time we would see him. Olin Stephens was above all a unique, dedicated, and wonderful credit to sailing. He had the love of all who had the privilege of knowing him. - Paul Henderson

At 5:42 PM, Anonymous Anonymous said...

I first met Olin in 1966 and as a part of the Intrepid Syndicate Crew for the Victorious America's Cup Campaign in 1967, got to wonder at his genius. I have sailed on many of his designs from 12 Metre Yacht to Cruising Boats and many in between. I will always treasure the things I learned just being around him.
Last year at the 40th Reunion of our Crew at Harbor Court I introduced him to my wife, and he was as gracious as could be. At only 99 my wife was impressed at the reverence shown by all of us in attendance. I will miss his wit and wisdom.

Jerry Silverman


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