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Stormy Weather

Part 2 : The concept

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Between 1932 and 1936, Ken Davidson started testing yacht hulls, first in a swimming pool, then in a testing tank (the testing tank at the Stevens Institute of Technology in Hoboken, New Jersey, is now named after him). Some of this testing involved Stormy Weather (it has been said that Stormy was the first boat ever to use modern model testing, but Olin has stated that this testing took place later for comparison with other models) and further experiments with Gimcrack led to Davidson's famous paper "Some Experimental Studies of the Sailing Yacht", 1936, Society of Naval Architects, Vol. 44 Transactions. This and other studies by Ken Davidson promoted the era of tank-testing smaller models of sailing vessels (as small as 3' on the waterline), which, for the first time, measured the hydrodynamic effects of heel and leeway and led to the vindication of tank testing with Ranger (the 1937 J-boat designed by Starling Burgess in collaboration with Olin Stephens [2]).

So, by the early 1930s Olin and Rod Stephens were firmly established in the world of yachting, designing, building, sailing, and racing. They loved their chosen lifestyle - Olin perhaps more studious, Rod more practical - and even the Great Depression would not slow them down. Between them, the Stephens brothers would change the face of twentieth-century yachting.

A New Era in Yacht Racing

Ocean Racing started at one o'clock in the afternoon of Tuesday 11 December 1866 off Sandy Hook, New York. Three gentleman-owners of fast schooners, the smallest of which measured 105', each wagered $30,000 that their yacht would win a race from New York to the Isle of Wight. The owners of Vesta and Fleetwing bid farewell to their crews and stayed warm and snug at home - after all it was the gale season - but James Gordon Bennett Jr. was aboard his Henrietta with Bully Samuels [3] the ranting, roaring ex-master of the Liverpool packet Dreadnought - and a crew of thirty men. In just under fourteen days, Henrietta claimed the $90,000 and the race; Fleetwing was second, minus four crew and two quartermasters who had been swept overboard and Vesta was third after losing her way at the Needles. Such was the "Great Race of 1866".

In 1905, the tiny Scotsman Charlie Barr skippered the 185', three-masted schooner Atlantic, a William Gardner design to a transatlantic - 3,014 nautical miles from Sandy Hook to the Lizard - record of twelve days, four hours, one minute, and nineteen seconds which held for well over half a century until the advent of modern multihulls (and Mari-Cha III a 145' ketch which completed the current monohull record passage of seventeen seconds under nine days on 24 October 1998). The Fleur de Lys, Dr. Lewis A. Stimson's schooner of 86 tons, 108' overall and 87' waterline, designed by Edward Burgess, was considered a "toy" for the 1905 Transatlantic race, and the sailors "brave fellows". In fact, just after their arrival in Falmouth, Cornwall, the following exchange demonstrated the spirit of the amateur and professional crew alike. "Two men came rowing up and surveyed the yacht. They spelled her name out - Floor dee Liss. 'Hi sye, is this the yacht busted in the man's ribs and the boat in? You must 'ave 'ad it something rough?' This to Mate Cody, who apparently did not hear. So they repeated the question: 'Must 'ave 'ad 'eavy weather, sir?' The mate did not reply, but it happened then he called to one of the crew: 'Oh, Dominico. Draw a bucket of fresh water, and go aloft and wash the salt off the mastheads'." (James B. Connolly, Harper's Weekly)

Thomas Fleming Day, editor of The Rudder was without question the pioneer of ocean yacht racing. In 1904 he organized a race of 330 miles between Brooklyn and Marblehead for boats with a waterline length of less than 30'. The race was won by Charles F. Tillinghast aboard Little Rhody, designed by George Owen, while the arrival of the race organizer, in last position, with his Seabird, a hard-chined yawl of 19' on the waterline, gave the inspiration to circumnavigator Harry Pidgeon for building his Islander in 1918.

Despite press warnings about the dangers of high-seas navigation on such small boats, the idea took root and in 1906 Tom Day launched the first Bermuda Race. Truly this marked a departure from the old ideas and must be considered the origin of Ocean Racing as we know it today. Suspended during the two world wars, the Bermuda Race, basically for small boats and amateur crews, is still held today on a biennial basis.

And, of course, there was also the Transpac, which was run ten times between 1906 and 1934 and which also brought influence to bear. Its entries diminished progressively in size, the smallest being the Walsh-designed sloop, Common Sense, in 1934, which measured 24'8" on the waterline and 27'10" overall.

For a long time Europe merely watched these goings-on and only created the offshore Fastnet Race in 1925. The route was perhaps chosen for the sound reason that it offered the possibility of finding a port of refuge within a race distance of 630 nautical miles. But it also included difficulties of navigation in the currents, tides, and rough conditions that have always made it Europe's premier Ocean Race. Organized by George Martin, owner of Jolie Brise, Weston Martyr who had sailed the 1924 Bermuda Race aboard Tom Ensor's schooner Northern Light, and Malden Heckstall-Smith, writer and naval architect, together with some other sailing enthusiasts, the Fastnet Race was an immediate success that has never since been diminished. It became an international event in its second year with the first American entry, Primrose IV, a 50' Alden schooner. And, at last, the Ocean Racing Club (ORC) was formed, with a "completed Fastnet" as the only condition of membership. By 1931, the ORC had become the Royal Ocean Racing Club, and it was announced that the Fastnet would become biennial. This '31 Fastnet was won by Dorade, a 52' American yawl that had just won the Transatlantic Race to Plymouth in a very convincing manner. After winning class B in the 1932 Bermuda Race, Dorade returned in 1933, and with Rod Stephens Jr. as skipper in lieu of his older brother, Olin, she again took first place.

A typical 1920s ocean racer.

A quick analysis of offshore racers from the 1920s shows some typical traits. Bermudan rigs were almost unknown except on the smallest of boats. Masts were not hollow; spreaders measured as much as the beam; multiple spreaders were rare. In Europe the gaff cutter ruled the waves, whilst on the other side of the Atlantic the schooner was the clear favourite. Yawls, sloops, and ketches without bowsprits were not unknown but were extremely rare.

Hull forms were derived directly from workboat types: in North America, the trends came from the Grand Banks fishermen whilst in Europe it was from the pilot cutters. John Alden's enormously successful Malabar schooners, for example, may have been designed specifically for racing, but their closest relatives were the New England fishing schooners. (Although Dorade won Class B, the overall 1932 Bermuda Race winner was Malabar X and though this hardly spelled the end of the Alden schooners, it may have been the last true demonstration of their capabilities.)

Hydrodynamic research into sailing models by naval architects was virtually unknown - tank-testing facilities for sailing vessels were not then available [4] - so most "new" hulls were merely modifications of known types. In fact, in Europe in the 1920s, most racing yachts were over ten years old.

Although steel was beginning to be used in larger boat construction, regionally grown timber was still used for most builds. Aluminium and stainless steel were still unknown; most fittings were in galvanized iron, and winches were still very rare.

Handicapping, mostly based on length measurements alone, [6] had led over many years to some of the less desirable extremes - in England the "planks on edge", and in North America the "skimming dishes".

Much thinking went into the fledgling science of handicapping, and by the early thirties, Dorade represented a new wholesome approach at 52' on deck, 10'3" beam, 37'3" LWL, 7'8" draught, and a displacement of 37,800 lbs., with a sail area of 1,150 sq.ft. In fact, she weighed in at some 3,000 lbs. over designed displacement and floated some 3" low, but she was so successful that by the summer of 1933, the yachting establishment in the guise of the Cruising Club of America, keepers of the racing handicap rules, introduced major changes based on a "normal, wholesome" boat. Olin Stephens supported the rule and never thought of it as aimed at Dorade specifically, rather that it targeted Dorade's type.

A major part of this Lippincott CCA rule, that first came into effect for the 1934 Bermuda Race, was that it penalized any and all deviations from the norm, including a narrow-beam penalty. [7] The severity of this particular part of the rule hit Dorade hard and slowed her in her quest for trophies.

At the same time as the CCA was modifying the handicaps, Olin Stephens had a client who wanted a new yawl and Stormy Weather was born; by the time of the 1934 Bermuda Race, the first in which Dorade and Stormy raced against each other, Dorade rated 44.92', and Stormy rated only 40.32'. But Stormy Weather was very slightly longer and a full 20% beamier (although Stormy was still slightly less beamy than many American yachts, she fitted the rule pretty well and suffered only a minor narrow-beam penalty). Although she had a more powerful turn to her bilges, and a little tumblehome to her topsides, a straighter run from bow to ballast, and a more refined rudder design, triple spreaders and jumpers supporting a 7/8 rig, and a boomkin to take the mizzen running backs, Stormy Weather is nonetheless Dorade's direct descendant, and reflected Olin's life-long love of deep, narrow boats.

Stormy Weather

Sparkman & Stephens design No. 27 (1933)

  • LOA 53' 11"
  • LWL 39' 8"
  • Draught 7' 11"
  • Sail area 1,300 sq.ft. (working)
  • Sail area 3,316 sq.ft. (max)
  • Maximum Beam 12' 6"
  • Waterline beam 11' 6"
  • Design displacement 42,990 lbs. (empty)
  • Length to displacement 307
  • Prismatic Coefficient 0.534
  • Block coefficient 0.344
  • Coefficient of Fineness 0.693
  • Mid-section coefficient (canoe body) 0.644
  • Mid-section coefficient (total) 0.347
  • Centre of flotation 1' 5" aft of LWL mid point
  • Centre of buoyancy 54% of LWL aft
  • Area of waterline plane 317.7 sq.ft
  • Pounds per Inch immersion 1,695
  • Centre of gravity 1' 9" below design waterline
  • GM lateral 3' 9"
  • GM longitudinal 39' 3"
  • Wetted surface 527 sq.ft

(Please note that most of these numbers are a result of the author's calculations based on Sparkman and Stephens original drawings, and were not published by S & S)

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[2] Much has been written, surmised and guessed at on the subject of this collaboration. In recent correspondence with the author, Olin Stephens wrote that "there MAY be some factual history but little I would call definitive. I suppose this is a philosophical point of view. Ranger was built in a model called Starling's as he either drew or directed the draftsman who drew the lines. Mike Vanderbilt wrote publicly that the model was done by me and I wrote to him and the magazine that it was not. (I think the "Sportman" was the magazine that published an article by Harold S. Vanderbilt that I corrected, but I have been told that Sportsman was closed before Starling's death and I know Mike's article was after that. I am vague about the date but no doubt about the sequence. Maybe early sixties). I was and remain happy with two or three personal aspects, most for getting Starling to accept the model program, second for the fact that in some ways the model resembled things I had been doing, and third that when Starling had war work to do in Washington he invited me to come and work with him. The combination had worked and that had been the object of the exercise." [Back]

[3] Captain Samuel "Bully" Samuels was Master of the Dreadnought for her first ten years and wrote in his memoirs, From Forecastle to Cabin, "The Liverpool packet sailors were not easily demoralized. They were the toughest class of seamen in all respects. They could stand the worst weather, food and usage, and put up with less sleep, more rum and harder knocks than any other sailors." But he added, "They had not the slightest idea of morality or honesty, and gratitude was not in them. The dread of the belaying pin kept them in subjection. I tried to humanize their brutal natures but the better they were treated the more trouble my officers had from them."

Dreadnought, of the Red Cross Line, was maybe not the fastest, but was probably the best known of the transatlantic packets. Built 1853 at Newburyport, Massachusetts and at 1,413 registered tons relatively large for her day, Dreadnought once sailed from Merseyside to New York in nineteen days. She was wrecked off Cape Horn in 1869. The shanty "The Dreadnought", of which three verses were first published in 1896 by Rudyard Kipling in Captains Courageous, was a forebitter and a capstan shanty and closes with the verse:

Here's a health to the Dreadnought and to all her brave crew,
Here's a health to Captain Samuels and officers too.
Talk about your flash packets, Swallowtail and Black Ball,
But the Dreadnought's the clipper to beat one and all.


[4] On the subject of Shamrock II being tank tested for Sir Thomas Lipton, Herbert Stone wrote that the designer, George Watson, conducted a series of "exhaustive series of tank experiments". Stone also notes that this was quite common for steam vessels, and suggests that this might have been the first time for a sailing model, ("The America's Cup Races", H.L. Stone, T. Werner Laurie Ltd., London, 1913, first edition). However his comments about "the angles of heel and courses when on the wind forming elements that complicated the problem" have always led to the assumption that Ken Davidson was the first, in collaboration with Olin Stephens, to attempt to resolve the mathematical aspects of these "complications"

A recent communication from Olin to the author has reopened the subject: "Within the last year I have been surprised to learn that Watson made model tests of Shamrock II model at Denny's tank in Dumbarton, which were widely known (upright) but only recently described to me [by M. B. of England], at leeway angles compatible with the side force generated by the heel angle. I'm sure that Davidson was completely unaware of this last. I believe the models were about 8 or 9 feet waterline, an unreliable size run without stimulating turbulence which I don't think Watson or Denny realized and might have been misleading, and related to Watson's reported comment that he wished Herreshoff had used a model - presumably why the tests have been so little publicized." Olin Stephens, January 1999. [Back]

[6] A slight detour into some of the elements of handicapping in the 1920's and early 30's helps to understand a certain part of the design evolution from Dorade to Stormy Weather. Tonnage and displacement were either unknown, uncertain, or just ignored. In the US around 1908, the Universal Rule introduced a notion of "room below the waterline" but this was a set of measurements that rarely reflected true displacement and as Herreshoff said "definitely ended the chances of a heavy displacement cruiser from winning races". So, in 1923, the Bermuda race introduced some rules designed to avoid "extremes" and to promote safety and that ephemeral idea of "seaworthiness" - a mixture of performance, comfort, and ease of handling that were considered desirable in racing yachts until very recently. Also in 1923, the Cruising Club of America's (CCA) handicap rule became more sophisticated. It introduced an additional rig allowance of 5% for schooners, ketches, and yawls as compared to cutters and sloops (these allowances became more complex in 1930). Large rigs and light displacement should no longer be allowed to race against the "cruisers" that made up the majority of the fleet on every start line. By 1926, the UK's ORC had introduced a more complex rule using Length (L) and Sail Area (SA), an approximation of displacement from beam (B) and quarterbeam depth (D):

( L x  SA x .2  )   /   (  B x D  )    =     Rating

The British measured the waterline length according to girths, but following the use of that system in the 1928 Bermuda Race, Nathaniel Herreshoff introduced the "4% waterline plane" rule that quickly became the standard on both sides of the Atlantic. [Back]

[7] Narrow Beam Penalty: if the maximum beam on the 4% WL plane be less than .23L + 2', the difference is to be multiplied by 2 and inserted in the formula as a plus quantity. If such beam be more than .23L + 2', the difference is to be divided by 2 and inserted in the formula as a minus quantity. [Back]

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© The Skipper, 1999-2024


Stormy Weather
Sparkman and Stephens design no. 27, 1933.


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31 March 2012