Stephen Van Dyck epitomizes the skilled and successful Corinthian yachtsmen who crewed Cup boats during most of the 12-Meter era (1958-1987) as well as a new breed of tactician. Born in Rochester, N.Y., he grew up sailing in Southport, Conn. and as a youth learned extensively from involvement with America’s Cup Hall of Fame member Briggs Cunningham who sailed the 1958 defender, Columbia.
Van Dyck sailed on two Cup defenders: Constellation as a trimmer in 1964 when a college student and Intrepid in 1970 as tactician for skipper Bill Ficker. While Ficker concentrated on steering the small-ruddered boat and never looked at the competition, Van Dyck called the tactics and directed the sail trimmers. This was in part necessitated by Intrepid’s deck-sweeping boom (grinders were below deck), which prevented the skipper from seeing to leeward when steering upwind. The modified 1970 Intrepid was not as fast as she had been in 1967 and in the light-to-moderate conditions in which all but the first race was sailed, she was clearly slower than the Australian challenger, Gretel II. Intrepid won in 1970 because of the superior tactics employed by the cockpit team. Steve was not aboard for the second race in which the famous collision at the start resulted in the disqualification of Gretel II . He had an allergic reaction to a bee sting on the tow out to the start and was removed to the hospital by a helicopter. His place was taken by navigator Peter Wilson, while Toby Tobin was brought on board to navigate.
Van Dyck, who had been employed at Sparkman & Stephens as a “rookie draftsman” before college, contributed to Constellation’s deck layout and is credited with inventing the sheet lock-off or clutch which significantly improved the ease and speed of headsail and spinnaker changes. At Steve’s suggestion a full-size, inclinable mock up of Constellation’s cockpit and part of the deck was built to test layout ideas. He was also involved in the design of the 1974 Sparkman & Stephens defender Courageous. In the late 1970s, Van Dyck, though running a shipping company, became deeply involved with Dennis Conner and his 1980 two-boat campaign that culminated in the S&S-designed Freedom’s successful defense. Freedom’s low freeboard was one of his design contributions. During two years of practice sailing on both coasts, Van Dyck planned to serve as tactician, but business simply would not allow time. He did continue to coach and assist with syndicate management.
After 22 years as a deck hand, tactician or advisor in seven campaigns, Van Dyck retired from the America’s Cup after 1983, but his involvement with the sea continued. He actively raced two 48 footers named Wonder to Bermuda and along the East Coast in the 1990s. Now retired from the Philadelphia-based shipping company he ran for many years, he heads INTERTANKO, an organization working to protect the marine environment.
He is once again competing in meter boats, the one-man 2.4-Meter miniature 12-Meter. Thirty-five years after beating Gretel II in Intrepid, he is still identified as a Cup winner. “When I am introduced giving speeches these days, I am still a little amazed at how people still refer to me as an America’s Cup tactician,” he said.