Naval Marine Archive - The Canadian Collection
Library Catalogue Ships database Research Collections Bibliography About us Donate

7 August 1909 - 10 January 1995

Rod Stephens died in his sleep at his home in the suburbs of New York early in the New Year, at the age of eighty five. He will be remembered as as one of the greatest sailors and yacht developers of the 20th century.

Born in the Bronx, New York, the family moved to Scarsdale in 1913 where Rod attended High School and maintained his home all his life. From 1920 onwards his summers were spent at Barnstable Bay, Cape Cod, Martha's Vineyard or on Long Island Sound where, with his brother Olin, he taught himself to sail on a variety of small boats, some belonging to the family. In 1925 he was invited to sail on a couple of 6-meters, and Rod's experiences with Sherman Hoyt on LANAI, a Clinton Crane design, probably influenced his early love of the meter type hull form. He attended Cornell University, leaving in 1928 to work at Henry Nevins boat yard on City Island.

In 1931, on "Dorade", Rod made his first Atlantic crossing. With his brother as skipper, he won the Trans-Atlantic Race from Newport, won the Fastnet, joined the R.O.R.C and took the boat back to a ticker tape parade in New York. The following year, he took the same boat to a class win in the Bermuda Race. In 1933, as skipper this time, he returned on "Dorade". The citation for his Blue Water Medal reads: "A three month, 8,000-mile trans-Atlantic crossing from New York to Norway and return, including victory in the Fastnet Race. The 52-foot 3-inch Stephens-designed yawl returned home from England by the Northern route in the remarkable time of 26 days."

In 1935 Rod skippered the engineless "Stormy Weather" to a victory in the trans-Atlantic Race from Newport to Bergen, dodging icebergs in thick fog on the great circle route, stopped by the UK to win the Fastnet yet again, and bettered "Dorade's" time returning home.

In the years leading up to WW II, Rod, now a partner in Sparkman and Stephens, became deeply involved in the design and testing of the rigs, deck layouts and other aspects of S&S boats; his practical knowledge of sailing in general and racing, ocean racing in particular, was widely recognized; he participated, as a design engineer and crew, in the successful 1937 defence of the America Cup on "Ranger"; he left the yachting press searching for superlatives when, on the 11th of February, 1941, he skippered "Stormy Weather" to her fifth successive, and unprecedented, victory in the Miami-Nassau Race.

During the War years Rod won the United States Medal of Freedom for his development and testing work on the DUKW, an amphibious vessel for the Army, but returned to his world of sailing as soon as ocean racing started again. He purchased "Mustang", a New York 32, and from '46 to '52 raced every Bermuda Race, with a first and two seconds in Class and a second overall. He aided in the design of, and sailed on, America Cup winners "Columbia" in '58 and "Constellation" in '64.

As an associate designer, and later President, of Sparkman and Stephens, Rod's carreer spanned over half a century. He was involved in the design, development and campaigning of over two thousand boats, including eight America Cup winners, eleven winners in the Bermuda Race, two in the Whitbread Around the World, seven in the Fastnet, and many more in the Admiral's Cup, Sydney-Hobart, SORC . . .

Rod was a quietly eloquent man; his remarkable knowledge and memory allowed him to make firm decisions and recommendations on all aspects of sailboats; but above all he was happy to pass along his knowledge in order to help others. He never left a query unanswered and wrote extensively on many aspects of rigging, sailhandling, design, construction and maintenance. He recorded much on film and still photographs. As a sailing companion he was peerless.

Above all, he was modest. Writing about his '33 trans-Atlantic and Fastnet victories, he said: "I always strive for accuracy and I might mention that . . . I skippered "Dorade" as Olin was unable to get off for that one, but I'm sure that we would have done better if he'd been on board. However the boat did well for us, and we got there O.K."

Rod was a member of the Society of Naval Architects and Marine Engineers, the Royal Ocean Racing Club and the New York Yacht Club. He was Commodore of the Cruising Club of America in 1949 and 1950. He was an honorary member of the U.S. Naval Academy Fales Committee, and Chairman of the New Ship Committee of the Sea Education Association. He is survived by his daughter Betsy, his sister Marguerite and his brother Olin to all of whom we present our deepest sympathy.

Paul Adamthwaite
10 January 1995



Naval Marine ArchiveThe Canadian Collection
205 Main Street, Picton, Ontario, K0K2T0, Canada
Telephone: 1 613 476 1177
E-mail: for comments, queries and suggestions.

Copyright © 2024
Naval Marine Archive
The Canadian Collection

Revised: 15 January 1995