Freedom 1980


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Freedom Half Hull by Abordage Expand

America's Cup Defender,1980.  Sloop designed by Olin J. Stephens, Sparkman & Stephens. 

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Hand-crafted plank-on-frame wood hull. Freedom's hull is completely blue with 3 white cove stripes.

Hull size: 60cm.

Board size: 75cm X 20cm

Size75 x 20cm
Half Hull SizeMedium (75cm X 20cm)

In 1980, Olin J. Stephens II was 72 years old. He had never been out of the limelight of naval architecture and had been a yacht designer for over half a century. 

1980 was the year Olin J. Stephens chose to retire. But before leaving, he designed his last Twelve to defend the Cup, Freedom. Bill Langan assisted him in his work . Although there was nothing revolutionary about Freedom's hull, she was greatly inspired by the unfortunate Enterprise ( 1977 ), and was the result of in-depth research into reducing pitching and windage of the hull, giving one of the lowest in the water in 1980. Only one day was spent tank testing, with models of Enterprise and Freedom.

In the races, it was the professionalism of Dennis Conner that gained the upper hand. The pressure had never been so great after the outcome of the 1980 challenge. But the ever-elegant Olin Stephens was able to retire with dignity: out of eight Cup challenges since 1958, seven Twelves had come from Sparkman & Stephens !

With over 2000 hulls built, Nathanael Greene Herreshoff’s 1914 design for a “Buzzards Bay Boys Boat” – the Herreshoff 12 ½ – has been in production for 113 years and is likely the most popular small yacht ever. Versions include a fiberglass redesign – the Bullseye, from Cape Cod Shipbuilding; exact fiberglass replicas like William Harding’s Doughdish, and Joel White’s Haven 12 ½ – a centerboard design built to sail shallower water. Uncounted copies from custom wooden boat builders also testify to its appeal.


With a 12 ½ foot waterline, the H 12 ½ is16 feet long. Proposed as a children’s training boat, it handled the choppy seas and brisk breezes of Massachusetts’ Buzzards Bay with an easy motion and a comforting sense of security. The design is informed by Captain Nat’s critical, innovative eye and long experience building trophy winning sailing yachts. By 1914 he was in his mid-sixties and drawing some of his best-loved designs – the Buzzards Bay 25s, Newport 29s and his own Alerion. Instead of rule-stretching high speed sleds his pen now drew human sized, sweet-sailing and uncomplicated boats that spoke of his deep appreciation for the arts of sailing and naval design.


Herreshoff gave the H 12 ½ a short ballast keel for stability and a deep, spacious cockpit to carry multiple kids and/or adults. Sold initially with a gaff and later with a Marconi rig, the sail area is small enough to be handily managed by a boy or girl – steel biceps not required. In experienced hands, however, the rig is big enough to slip along with a bit of a bone in her teeth. Adults have been known to downsize from trophy yacht to H 12 ½ just to relish casual sunset sailing into their golden years. It’s ironic that no one alive sailed on Captain Nat’s masterpiece, Reliance – a brilliantly engineered, extreme racer – but thousands have memories of sailing his “children’s” boat.


Particularly popular in Southern New England, H 12 ½ s are found all along North America’s Atlantic coast. In some families they’re handed down through generations, and rarely is one in need of repair not rescued and relaunched. Surprisingly, they have also traveled quite far afield: they sail in Norway, New Zealand, Saudi Arabia and many countries far from Bristol, RI. The H 12 ½ truly has a hull shape and history for the ages.

Jeff Silva

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