Olin J. Stephens shares the record with Nat Herreshoff of designing six America’s Cup defenders. Largely self-taught, he started his career by designing several successful daysailers, then built DORADE, with which he and his brother Rod won the 1931 trans-Atlantic race by two days.
Olin and Rod got their first taste of America’s Cup racing in 1934, an experience that was of great help later in perfecting their designs. In 1937, Olin and Starling Burgess designed RANGER, the last J-boat to defend the America’s Cup. She was also the first defender since VOLUNTEER IN 1887 not to be built by the Herreshoff Manufacturing Company.
RANGER was huge and powerful, easily defeating ENDEAVOUR in four straight races. She won thirty-two of thirty-four races by an average of 7 minutes. Olin Stephens served as tactician on RANGER while his brother Rod was deck boss. The fact that they were crack sailors helped them immeasurably when they joined with Drake Sparkman to form Sparkman & Stephens.
Recognizing the end of the J-boat era, Vanderbilt commissioned S&S to design his first 12-Meter yacht in 1939. With the aid of the newly-installed model-test tank at Stevens Institute in Hoboken, N.J., Stephens designed VIM, a boat that won 21 of her 27 starts against the best of the International 12-Meter fleet in 1939. Nineteen years later, VIM gave COLUMBIA, another Stephens designed 12-Meter, all it could handle before losing the final America’s Cup trials series by only 12 seconds. The average winning margin in the VIM-COLUMBIA series, called the best set of match races ever sailed, was only thirty-two seconds.
Olin Stephens later became the designer of practically all of the 12-Meter America’s Cup defenders, including COLUMBIA, CONSTELLATION, INTREPID, COURAGEOUS and FREEDOM. The most noted yacht designer of his era, his boats are winners throughout the world.