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Stephens Jr., Roderick (1909-1995) USA

Category: SKIPPERS & CREWS

Above all, he was modest.

Roderick Stephens, Jr. (1909-1995) was a renown yachtsman of the twentieth century. Born in New York City in 1909 Stephens began his sailing career off Cape Cod in 1919. In 1928 Roderick Stephens left Cornell University after one year to work up through the ranks at the Henry Nevins boat yard on City Island.

In 1933 he joined the yacht design firm of Sparkman and Stephens which had been co-founded by his brother Olin Stephens, II and Drake Sparkman. As a member of the firm Roderick Stephens oversaw domestic and foreign construction of all Sparkman and Stephens boats, and later became president.

Rod Stephens’s New York 32 Mustang at dawn near the finish line at Bermuda, 1946.During World War II, he played a major role in the design of the DUKW, an amphibious Army vehicle that subsequently earned Mr. Stephens a United States Medal of Freedom.

In yachting, Roderick Stephens' racing career is legendary. One of his most notable wins was aboard DORADE, an innovative 52-foot yawl he and Olin designed and built in 1930. The yawl won numerous long-distance races, including the 1931 British Fastnet Race and in that same year, the Trans-Atlantic Race from Newport, R.I. With Olin as Captain the DORADE sailed a Northern route while the other contenders sailed South. DORADE arrived at the finish forty-eight hours before the other contenders. Stephens then proceeded to win the British Fastnet race. On the crew's return home, the DORADE crew was given a ticker-tape parade in New York City.

Roderick Stephens also aided in the design and sailing of the America's Cup defenders, RANGER in 1937; COLUMBIA in 1958, and CONSTELLATION in 1964, and was a member of the Society of Naval Architects and Marine Engineers. He belonged to several yacht clubs, including the New York Yacht Club, and was a former commodore of the Cruising Club of America. He was also an honorary member of the United States Naval Academy Fales Committee and was chairman of the New Ship Committee of the Sea Education Association.

While his brother Olin was the design genius at Sparkman & Stephens, Rod was the expert when it comes to the design of rigging, fittings and making things work.

Known for his muscle and agility, Rod Stephens was always ready to go aloft the mast to clear a halyard. His admirers were inspired to refer to him as "Rod God". He later sailed on COLUMBIA in 1958 and was the navigator on CONSTELLATION in 1964. Rod Stephens' sailing excellence was put to the supreme test during the Cup trials in 1964. Halfway through the summer trials, AMERICAN EAGLE held a commanding 21-0 lead. Rod Stephens is credited with noticing small mistakes that the crew of American Eagle began to make. He also noted that CONSTELLATION gained slightly on each tack, leading to a series of tacking duels that help defeat AMERICAN EAGLE by 6-1 in the final trials. CONSTELLATION went on to trounce SOVEREIGN in the Cup series of 1964.

Before he died in 1995, Rod had completed 100 pages of a book covers everything from anchors to swing tables to rigging. For an aspiring seaman, it’s as close to a Bible as sailing has to offer.

 

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