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Olin Stephens -100th Birthday

Kent H

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I thought a thread about the boats and some stories might be interesting.


Flying Gull.


In 1938 Mr. John Simpson of Chicago and the United States Navy commissioned Sparkman & Stephens to design, and the Grebe Shipyard, Chicago, to build a 55' pilothouse ketch (S&S design 247) which Mr. Simpson named "AWAB". She was launched June 1, 1940 in the Great Lakes. From 1942 through 1945 she served in the Navy patroling both the Atlanic and Pacific coasts as a submarine recon vessel. She then returned to Chicago where she stayed in the Chicago and Great Lakes area until 1959 when Mr. Simpson commissioned another similar vessel and sold "AWAB" to Mr F. Ritter Shumway of Rochester, New York. Mr. Shumway renamed her "Flying Gull" and kept her until 1992. He always had full-time paid captains and took the boat to the Lake Huron area almost every summer. "Flying Gull" was purchased from the Shumway estate in 1993. Since 1994 she lived in New York, with some refurbishing and upgrades and remained in storage until 2004, when she was moved to Seattle where her restoration and upgrades continue this day.


This boat brings back a lot of memories. The Shumways invited my parents and me aboard numerous times. As a very young child I remember being scared to death to walk past the pilothouse and always had to be escorted from the bow to the cockpit. Once in the cockpit I would sit on the aft hatch right behind Mr. Shumway and not move until we got back to the dock. The thing I remember the most was that everyone was always happy on that boat. People who were new to boats felt very confident. Those who were not new were always thrilled to get a chance for a ride. Everyone and I do mean everyone would stop and stare when she got underway.


The boat really had two faces. She was just as good if not better than most powerboats and then when the sails went up it was as if we were on a different boat. The boat performed a lot better than most imagined and the ride was great. As one of the last sailing warships the details to keep a crew happy on a long patrol were many. Everything is made for comfort. I remember Mr. Shumway bearing down on a helpless C&C and we just stormed by. She could turn from solid pilothouse trawler to the boat you got out of the way for.


We did one blessing of the fleet. It was like being on the best float at a parade. Other boats honking their horns, people cheering and there I am all of about three years old in my lifejacket waving as hard as I could.


Great Boat, Great Memories


Thank You Mr. Stephens


Kent Hawkins


Flying Gull - S&S Design 247 - Currently in Seatle WA.



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In the June ('03?) issue of SAIL , there is an appreciation of Olin Stephens written by Roger Vaughan


Appreciating Olin


This story was shared with us by the Lightning Class:


At the 60th Anniversary regatta of the Lightning, sailors were standing in the boat park studying a brand new boat. Among them was Olin Stephens, a man associated—in the minds of many—with America's Cup defenders and high-end ocean racers. In the mindset of this group, however, Olin Stephens is The Genius Who Designed the Lightning.


Someone said, "Olin, you've been looking at the Lightning as long as anyone in the world. If you could design the boat all over again, what would you change?" There was a pause as he considered the question. After a long time he began to speak, "Do you think, (another pause) we really need that skeg?"


There was a round of laughter.


"You're supposed to know that," was the reply. Mr. Stephens just smiled, crouched under the boat, and ran his hand along the skeg, "Has anyone tried sailing without it?" he said.


His listeners were stunned. Fifteen thousand Lightnings into the run, the boat's designer was still open to a possible design improvement. Maybe that's what made Olin Stephens the giant of his generation. The guy's still looking for the next performance improvement. He can't turn it off. And that's why at age 95 he always seems like the youngest person in the room. At that moment, if anyone had produced a saw, we would gladly have hacked off a skeg and gone out for two-boat testing.


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Probably the best fun I have ever had was the month of classic racing (Prada Cup regattas) I did in the Med on Stormy Weather in 2002. We had great racing from Imperia to St Tropez particularly against the S & S sloop Sonny. surging along on a reach with a Mizzen staysail set with Don Street driving and a quarter wave as high as the rail (those old girls dig DEEP holes) . With an offset folding prop though I have never been on a boat so hard to maneuver under power. it was actually easier to sail into a marina berth! Just outside Monaco an italian yacht reversed under power out of a collision with another boat and I watched their transom splinter the little (and expensive) mahogany bulwark. I've never seen someone come so close to physically exploding as Stormy Weather's captain at that moment. with the judicious use of some clamps, resorcinol and wood stain though we had it looking passbale for the remaining regattas in Cannes and St Tropez. It is the only S & S boat I have sailed on and it is awesome!

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Filled in for a friend one weekend on Intrepid in Newport and got to do bow, sooo much fun what a great boat.


Have a copy of his limited release book as well, most "yacht" designer's these days just don't have the same flare for graceful hull lines as he did. Meet him once, what a great guy.


Happy one hundred!

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May Be VII - Design 979.


Sailed the May Be VII from Fauntleroy to Shilshole in some good breeze back in the 80's. She must have been a little loose at the time because the next morning the water was above the floorboards, close to critical mass. 5500 lbs of lead on an 8500 lb boat makes for a quick date with Davey Jones if it all goes sideways.


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