Olin J. Stephens II, one of the most prominent naval architects of the last century, a designer who created more than 2,200 cruising and racing yachts over decades of innovation in sailing, died Saturday in Hanover, N.H. Mr. Stephens, who lived in Hanover, was 100.
Carlo Borlenghi/Associated Press
Olin J. Stephens II in 2003.
Sparkman & Stephens
The Dorade, which won the 1931 Trans-Atlantic Race, was designed and sailed by the brothers Olin and Roderick Stephens.
From Mr. Stephens’s drawing table came the lines of yachts as diverse as Dorade, a 52-foot yawl that prompted a ticker-tape parade in New York after winning the 1931 Trans-Atlantic Race, and Ranger, a 135-foot J-Class sloop that Mr. Stephens designed with Starling Burgess for the 1937 America’s Cup races.
He was also instrumental in designing five other successful America’s Cup defenders: the 12-Meters Columbia in 1958; Constellation, 1964; Intrepid, 1967; Courageous, 1974; and Freedom, 1980.
“When you consider the changes in yacht design throughout Olin’s career, it’s pretty unbelievable,” said Jim Pugh, a naval architect whose firm, Reichel-Pugh, was part of the design team for the 1992 Cup winner, America3. “Looking at the history of Olin’s designs, it transcends the different eras.”
Mr. Stephens’s quiet demeanor and scholarly appearance cloaked a rugged determination where boats were concerned.
With his brother, Roderick Stephens Jr., Olin Stephens worked on most of the important yacht-racing projects of his time. During World War II, he was involved in designing amphibious landing craft and minesweepers for the armed forces, his son Olin III said.
Roderick Jr. preferred the hands-on aspects of boating — rigging a sailboat and organizing the deck layout. Olin was the office artist who worked with a slide rule and, eventually, a calculator.
Naval architects today develop yachts through three-dimensional computer graphics. Mr. Stephens mastered the computer and turned to the broader concerns of yachting safety only after his official retirement in 1978 from Sparkman & Stephens, the New York naval architecture firm that he founded in 1929 with the yacht broker Drake Sparkman.
Still active into his 90s, Mr. Stephens helped refine modern sailboat handicapping systems, which use mathematics and performance to judge a sailboat’s capability and, in particular, how they affected a boat’s seaworthiness.
Olin James Stephens II was born April 13, 1908, in the Bronx, but his family moved to Scarsdale, N.Y., five years later. His father, Roderick Sr., was in the coal business and was not particularly interested in boats. Yet several summers on Cape Cod prompted him to buy a 16-foot sailing dinghy for his sons.
In 1926, Olin Stephens enrolled at the Massachusetts Institute of Technology to study naval architecture, but within a year he became ill with jaundice and withdrew. His interest in yacht design stayed strong enough, however, that a year later, while working as an apprentice at the Henry Nevins boatyard at City Island in the Bronx, Mr. Stephens designed his own version of a 6-Meter. By the time he was 23, he had designed the yacht Dorade.
Mr. Stephens and his team are one of two yachting groups to have been treated to a ticker-tape parade in New York. The other was Dennis Conner and his Stars & Stripes crew, which won the America’s Cup in 1987.
Mr. Stephens was inducted into the America’s Cup Hall of Fame at the Herreshoff Marine Museum in Bristol, R.I., in 1993.
His wife of more than 50 years, Florence Reynolds, died in 1993. Besides Olin III, who lives in Newfane, Vt., he is survived by another son, Samuel R. Stephens, of Keene, N.H.; a sister, Marite Sheridan of California, Md.; and a grandson, Olin J. Stephens IV of Stratton, Vt.
Mr. Stephens continued to design boats in recent years and was putting the final touches on plans for a 36-foot coastal cruising boat two weeks ago, said Bruce Johnson of Sparkman & Stephens.
Yet Mr. Stephens was content to spend much of his retirement gardening and painting at homes in Vermont and New Hampshire. In the 1940s, he had studied in New York under Yasuo Kuniyoshi, a renowned painter.
Mr. Stephens, who never owned a boat after Dorade, said he did not find the transition to country life all that difficult.
“It’s really a matter of being too busy,” he said in a 1988 interview for Cruising World magazine. “To the extent I had the time and interest, I wanted to sail only in the new boats.”