The Lightning Class

Skaneateles’ Lightning class, Motor Boat Show 1939 Rosenfeld and Sons 1984.187.54224

In a collection spanning more than 100 years and one million images, it is interesting to pick a date and look to see what Morris Rosenfeld and his sons were photographing that particular day, week, or month. Every January in the Rosenfeld Collection, the majority of the images are of the National Motor Boat Show held in NYC. This image is of the Lightning Class introduction at the show in January 1939 with models posing and Rod Stephens at the tiller. The “water” around the dinghy was reported to be clear and blue cellophane.

A group of sailors from New York’s Skaneateles Lake and John Barnes of Skaneateles Boat Company wanted a boat big enough to daysail with several friends, but small enough to be a racer. They also wanted a design simple enough to be built at home. Olin Stephens drew the lines of the Lightning in 1937 (Sparkman & Stephens Design #265). The first Lightning was launched in October 1938 on Skaneateles Lake and Rod Stephens ran the length of the lake during the first officially recorded sail.

Although Mystic Seaport is the repository of the Sparkman & Stephens ships plans, you won’t find S&S Design # 265 as they sold the plans outright. As Olin stated in his autobiography, “As we watched the fleet grow we decided not to do that again.” By the time of the boat show, there were nine builders lined up with 20 boats already sold. There was enough interest in the boats that the Lightning Class advertised their first meeting at the show evident by the sign to the right of the photograph near Rod.

Mystic Seaport may not have the design for the Lightning but we do have Blitzen, Lightning #1 in our watercraft collection. She is currently on loan to the Skaneateles Historical Society where she is on display.

Negative number: 1984.187.54244 The image was published for the first time on the cover of the International Lightning Class Association’s publication International Lightning Flashes, Winter 2015/2016, Volume 75, No. 3.

— Carol Mowrey

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