For American voters the year just begun will be one of presidential elections; for American athletes it will be one of Olympic competition; but for American yachtsmen it will be most of all a year during which they will be called upon again to defend the America's Cup.
In England one challenger, Anthony Boyden's big, blue Sovereign, already has tested her sails in competition, and another—Kurrewa V, financed by Australia's temporarily expatriate Livingston brothers—is nearing completion in a Clydeside boatyard. Any one of four veteran U.S. campaigners—Weatherly, the 1962 champion; Easterner, the perennial also-ran; Nefertiti, the dark horse of the last trials; and
, the ousted champion of '58—may be called on to face whichever of the English boats proves best. A fifth craft, commissioned by Pierre du Pont from the drawing board of A. E. (Bill) Luders, will be trying hard for the honor. But the odds-on favorite to defend the cup at this point is the boat now being tank-tested by the man who knows his job better than any other—the man who designed every one of the famed racing yachts pictured on this page and many more besides.
It is not surprising that in searching for a designer capable of building a better cup defender Yachtsman Walter Gubelmann and his friends of the Constellation syndicate should have turned to a man who has built two of the best. He is, of course, Olin Stephens, the creative genius of the yacht-designing firm of Sparkman and Stephens, whose Ranger won in 1937 and whose
won in 1958. He was little more than a boy when he worked with famed Starling Burgess on the blueprints for the last great J boat. Although Olin stoutly denies it to this day, Harold (Mike) Vanderbilt, who paid for the boat, claims that Burgess gave his young partner major credit for the design. This was not his first triumph. Stephens already had made his mark on racing with another boat—the 52-foot Dorade. This little boat struck sailors in the 1930s with much the same impact as the schooner
60 years earlier. In a single season, Dorade lifted ocean racing out of the clumsy age of heavily timbered, mostly schooner-rigged clunkers that buffaloed across oceans instead of sailing over them. Such boats needed big crews to handle their unwieldy gear, and their bulbous hulls were seas away from the relatively efficient slivers that raced around inshore courses.
Dorade was different. In her Stephens combined the light, long-flanked efficiency of the inshore racers with enough ruggedness to survive almost any deep-water danger. Traditionalists were, as usual, skeptical. Some felt sure Dorade would never make it across Long Island Sound, let alone the Atlantic. Others questioned her racing efficiency. They were wrong about her toughness, of course, but at first it seemed they might be right about her racing prospects. In her first big trial—the 1930 Bermuda Race—because of a navigational error Dorade did no better than third place on corrected time.
The next year, however, Dorade began to win, and win big. With 23-year-old Olin in command and his younger (by a year) brother Rod as mate, the little boat headed north out of Newport on a race to Plymouth, England. Counting on the fact that more cautious skippers usually prefer to follow the safer, southern route, Olin chose to steer Dorade along the ice line. This gambit paid handsome dividends. Dorade sailed the 3,000 miles with such speed that she arrived at the finish line before the committee boat was there to welcome her. The other boats were nowhere to be seen, and the biggest one of all, Landfall, did not make port until two days later.
Before ocean racing pundits could regain their composure, Dorade sailed off on the Grand National of ocean racing: the race around Fastnet Rock. The Fastnet is noted for the menacing shores that line its course, the English Channel fogs that blind its skippers, the gales and the hardships it puts on boats and sailors. But Dorade took all the punishment the course had to offer and won that race and many others after it, leading the Times of London to call her "the most wonderful little ocean racing yacht that had ever been built."
Dorade established Stephens as a revolutionary designer of ocean racers; the 135-foot cup defender Ranger established him as a giant in naval architecture; but the little 19-foot class racer called Lightning brought Stephens' talents as a yacht designer closer to more individual racing sailors than either Dorade or Ranger ever did.
Inch for inch and pound for pound the best little class boat of her time, Lightning's fame crisscrossed the world. Nineteen feet long, with a semiflat V bottom and considerable beam, this centerboard sloop was many things to many people: a day sailer, an effective one-design racing boat and a family boat good for training kids. Its success was such that there are now more than 8,000 Lightnings under sail. But, to the businessmen in Olin Stephens' firm, Lightning was an economic tragedy. Never guessing what their new boat would become, Sparkman and Stephens sold the plans outright with no provisions for a royalty fee to the designer.
The ancient schoolmaster in James Hilton's novel Goodbye, Mr. Chips used to see long parades of his former pupils and hear their names as he sat dozing in old age. In similar circumstances, Olin Stephens might see a fleet of graceful sailing craft go by in almost endless procession, and hear names like Bolero and Baruna (the Joe Louis and Max Schmeling of ocean racing, dueling each other in pitiless rivalry whenever their tracks crossed, though each was too handicapped by measurement rules to win races outright); like Stormy Weather (a modification of Dorade with an equally spectacular racing record); like Finisterre (the pert little centerboard yawl that won the Bermuda race three times and set another new style in ocean racers); like Goose (a long-winded beauty that won every cup the 6-meter class had to offer, save one).
There would be others less famous in the parade: powerboats and motor sailers like the 94-foot Wayfarer and Mike Vanderbilt's 88-foot Versatile, and class boats like the New York Yacht Club "32s"—famous for their speed to windward and infamous for their wetness. There would be a long line of fiber glass one-designers tailored to the postwar technology: Dolphin, New Horizons, Knickerbocker, Rainbow, the Shields class, and the 35-foot Chris-Craft Sail Yacht. And there would be the famed Vim, still one of the finest 12-meters ever built. Least but not last, there would be Lightning's 13-foot baby sister, the Blue Jay, quite possibly the handiest little racing trainer in existence.