Stormy Weather

- A Star is Born -

© The Skipper, 1999

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The building of Stormy Weather started late in 1933 at the Henry B. Nevins Yacht Yard, City Island, New York, and was completed within four months. While in the yard she was known simply as "Mr. X" as her owner, Philip LeBoutillier, owner of the "Best" stores based on Fifth Avenue, New York, had not yet thought of a suitable name. The story goes that just before the launching, Philip and some friends were dining at "The Manor" in Montauk, Long Island, when a young singer sang a new song by Harold Arlen. Liking the tune, Philip called the singer to his table and asked that she give an encore. Afterwards, she asked if he liked it. "Like it?" he said, "You've just named my new boat." Lena Horne's career became just as famous as that of the yacht she had unwittingly christened.

Although Uffa Fox later referred to Stormy Weather as a "cruising" yacht (Second Book, London, Peter Davies Ltd., 1935) - maybe from the plan title of S&S drawing No. 27-2  "DESIGN No. 27 39'-8" L.W.L CRUISING YAWL — LINES —"  - but there was no doubt in anyone's mind, particularly that of Olin Stephens and owner Philip LeBoutillier, that Stormy Weather was an out and out ocean racer. Olin has said with typical modesty: "I agree that at the time Stormy was built the distinction between racer and cruiser/racer was blurred and the plan title reflects that fact. But I think it was true that both the owner and I were making our best efforts toward a no compromise approach to a winner. In my opinion the label was fortuitous. I think we all liked to say "oh this boat is really for cruising, isn't it nice she's so fast". A nice back up position but I'd rather say that Stormy did what she was designed to do."

Nevins' scantlings, well respected at the time and still used as a yardstick today (see Skene's Elements of Yacht Design, F. Kinney, editor, published by Dodd Mead, New York) were scrupulously followed throughout Stormy's construction. Essentially, she was built of Philippine mahogany (tangile, Shorea Polysperma) on New England white oak (Quercus Alba). The steamed frames were at 12" centres, sided 2 1/8" - 3 1/2" in way of the main maststep - and moulded 1 7/8" at the head, increasing toward the keel, these tapering frames emphasizing her racing aspect. The planking was single thickness 1 3/8" fastened with Everdur bronze screws (one of the first silicone bronzes), with all strakes laid parallel to the sheer so that there was no garboard strake in the classic sense, but each strake was hood ended. Where the strakes were not full-length, they were butted with full width, through-bolted oak blocks, chamfered to prevent water retention. The keel - sided 23" and moulded 6" - stem and sternpost were of white oak, while the horn timber and deadwood were of mahogany. The 19,400-lbs lead ballast was bronze-bolted to the keel with the centre of gravity corresponding to the boat's centre of flotation (Olin Stephens has said that this "would be only by accident"; the author can only believe that some accidents are happier than others). The eight floors supporting the main maststep and all the hanging knees were bronze. The shelf and clamp, both 3 x 5" tapering towards the ends were of Douglas fir (Pseudotsuga menziessii or taxifolia). The bilge stringers (called ceilings in the original specifications) were composed of four strakes of Philippine mahogany, 1 x 4", caulked, and puttied, while the remainder of the hull for approximately the waterline length, was ceiled with 1/4" Philippine mahogany. The deck beams were of spruce (Picea glauca), except the mast partners and those at the fore and aft ends of the skylights, hatches, and coach roof, which were of oak. The deck was planked with Port Oregon cedar (Chamaecyparis lawsoniana) in order to save weight, the strakes being 1 3/8 x 1 7/8" payed with Jefferies #1 black glue except in the cockpit seats which were payed in white-lead putty out of deference to the ladies' skirts. Noblesse oblige!

Both masts and booms were hollow, manufactured from Sitka spruce (Picea sitchensis), and glued with resorcinol. The mainmast carried three sets of spreaders - to allow the use of a genoa jib - and a set of jumpers while the mizzen had one set of spreaders and a single jumper. Two sets of running backstays were provided on the mainmast, only one set on the mizzen. Both the hull and the deck were diagonally strapped with bronze, to avoid distortion of the mast partners. The main chainplates were massive - 3/8" x 1'4" x 5'4" Everdur-bronze plate - and were let into the frames next to the planking. The lugs (which most readers will probably think of as the chainplates) were then through-bolted to the planking, main plate, oak backing piece, and the shelf and clamp where possible! (It is no wonder that there is no sign of movement sixty-five years later.) The mast steps were oak, in two pieces with the squared-off mast heels coming between them. The mizzen step spanned three floors, while the main maststep spanned eight floors cast in bronze with heavy web angles.

Three mooring bitts of oak, bronze capped, were partnered through the decks and bolted to the floors - one Samson post forward and two mooring posts at the after end of the cockpit coamings. The rudder was a Philippine mahogany blade on 2" solid bronze with mahogany padding pieces bringing the diameter up to 3 ½" Two 3 ½" x 3/32" Everdur plates were added, one each side to bring the trailing edge down sharp to prevent chattering. The rudder port was a threaded bronze pipe serving as a bearing for the rudder stock and screwed through the horn timber with a packing gland and locking screws at the top end. The tiller, about 4' long, was of steam-bent ash.

The original powerplant was a Graymarine, four-cylinder, petrol engine of 35 hp driving a 12 x 17" folding, two-blade Hyde propeller via a V-drive. It is interesting to note that in 1935 Rod Stephens removed the engine for the Transatlantic and Fastnet Races in order to, in his words, "make more room for coal". Phil LeBoutillier Jr., who was on board for both races, subsequently wrote, "The engine was removed to save useless weight - I don't think we used the space for coal, probably clothes and duffels. We had no electricity once we took the engine out and we never put the engine back in during the last year my father owned her in 1936. Yet we participated in all sorts of races and cruises and I sailed her single-handed from Oyster Bay to City Island to lay her up."

All the deck and spar fittings, including the winches, were manufactured from Everdur bronze in the foundry at the Nevins Yard [8] although within a very few years the patterns from the foundry had been taken over by the Merriman Company who were already producing some Herreshoff fittings from patterns they bought when the Herreshoff Company was sold in the 20's, all parts being interchangeable.

The remainder of the equipment was typical of the times - tiller steering, trailing log, coal-fired galley, and so on. But there were innovations: the inner forestay was quickly removable by a lever system to allow faster tacking of the genoa jib; a thermometer was permanently installed for sea-water-temperature readings; the aft companionway was protected by a canvas hood to allow better ventilation in bad weather, although there were many Dorade-type ventilators; and there were lifelines, but no bow or stern pulpit. Uffa Fox was so impressed that he devoted quite some space to what he called these "gadgets" in Uffa Fox's Second Book where he went on to say,

"Stormy Weather is one of Olin Stephens' favourite designs, and her lines show her to be beamy and powerful, yet very easily driven and therefore fast. She has moderate overhangs and is exactly the type of vessel favoured by the new American Rule for Ocean Racing, a type that should gladden the hearts of those who go down to the sea in such small ships.

Her diagonals are very fair and sweet, and her buttocks have that easy sweep that speaks of speed easily attained and maintained. Stormy Weather should glide along with the effortless grace of a bird soaring through the air, totally different to the clumsy, brutal way in which the 'wholesome, sturdy cruiser' smashes her way along at half Stormy Weather's speed.

Her sections show her high, easy, yet powerful bilge, which tells of easiness in a seaway, for though Stormy Weather will sail fairly upright she will not be stiff and jerky in her movements. The waterlines, it will be noticed, are sharp at their fore ends above and at the load waterline, gradually getting fuller as they get lower, until the lowest, through the lead keel, is virtually a true streamline."

Her layout below decks was traditional: coming aft from the forepeak and chainlocker there was the galley including stove, sink, and iceboxes, then the main saloon with gimbaled table; next was the lobby [9] below the starboard companionway, with heads to port and navigation table to starboard, and then the owner's cabin. Aft of this, beneath the cockpit companionway, was the engine, then more storage below the cockpit, and finally a mizzen lazarette. Only the saloon and lobby, in Mexican Mahogany (swietenia mexicana) as was the coachroof, were finished bright, with the remainder of the accommodation being painted with cream enamel. Five Dorade-type ventilators were fitted, one for the forepeak and two each for the galley and the saloon, which also had opening skylights.

All in all, Stormy Weather's construction and equipment were strong, efficient, and functional, albeit somewhat lightweight and spartan if compared to some of the "gingerbread" of typical contemporary American yachts. Rod Stephens - who was working at Nevins yard through Stormy's construction and had been closely involved with the project - had an extraordinary eye for detail, particularly in the deck layout and equipment: that sea-water thermometer would be of enormous use in Gulf Stream crossings - as every Bermuda-race navigator will know; her cleats lined up exactly with the fall of lines off the winches; there were hand rails exactly where needed.... it all contributed to what would become perhaps the best-prepared ocean racer of the age.

Stormy Weather was launched into a hazy morning on 14 May 1934, and was christened by Miss Polly LeBoutillier, the daughter of the owner. On seeing the yacht out of the water at Nevins Yard John Alden is quoted as saying, "In my opinion a better design would be impossible to achieve." In 1973 Olin himself said, "In all respects, I liked her not only for her success, but because she was attractive and had a certain character. For her time she was a good all-round boat, best in strong winds, but highly competitive in light going."

Olin Stephens II has designed more than 2,000 boats in a career spanning more than half a century. He has designed eight America's Cup winners (one in collaboration with Starling Burgess), eleven winners of the Bermuda Race, two Whitbread Round-the-World winners, seven Fastnet winners, and many more in the Admiral's Cup, Southern Ocean Racing Conference (SORC), and Sydney-to-Hobart. Yet in an interview in WoodenBoat No. 98, January-February 1991, Olin's favourite designs were revealed as just four: the Six-Metre Goose, the Twelve-Metres Intrepid and Courageous, and, top of the list, Stormy Weather - a favouritism that he re-confirmed to a hundred or more avid listeners at a talk he gave at the International Yacht Restoration School, in Newport, Rhode Island, in September 1998.

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[FOOTNOTE 8: Nevins was consistent in using Everdur, CDA873 - Copper 95%, Silicon 4%, Manganese 1% - which is in fact considered a "casting" bronze. It has been suggested that the foundry may have found that a different alloy flowed more easily, but Henry Nevins wrote in Yachting, May 1935: "Everdur is a very strong metal…reaching a tensile strength of 100,000 pounds to the square inch and one which lends itself to making into castings. It is about as expensive a metal as one can afford to put into a boat." END FOOTNOTE 8] [Back]

[FOOTNOTE 9: The term "lobby" comes from the plans, although the specifications refer to the same area as the chart room.. END FOOTNOTE 9] [Back]