She’s a real a museum piece. On occasion, you might hear a similar phrase when you walk the docks where you do your boating. In the case of Brilliant, it’s no exaggeration. She is a museum piece, owned and under the care of Mystic Seaport – The Museum of America and the Sea. Brilliant is also an amazing yacht. Even better, she’s a greyhound of a sailboat that still heads to open water, her sails raised, her hull heeled over as she makes way with both speed and beauty.

After spending a long New England winter in the water, cozied-up under her green canvas cover, Brilliant has been prepped for the season, her spars ready to be stepped.


This handsome schooner was built in the depths of the Depression in one of the finest yacht yards ever – Henry B. Nevins of City Island, NY – and her designer, Olin Stephens, went on to an illustrious career. Her owners, Walter Barnum, then Briggs Cunningham, and later Mystic Seaport – and her captains – maintained Brilliant to the high standard she deserves. The result is a museum artifact that is utilized and enjoyed, both as an exhibit and for her purpose – sailing.

For those who might want to keep count, that means that 83 years of sailing – and we’re talking about “put the rail in the water” sailing.


An astonishingly young Olin Stephens first gained recognition with his 1929 design Dorade, which famously campaigned in the Newport-Bermuda and Fastnet races. His designs resulted in the production of 2,200 boats, and his work can be seen in a long list of America’s Cup winners, including Ranger, Columbia, Constellation, Intrepid, Courageous, and Freedom. And among his top designs stands Brilliant, which is regarded as one of the most beautiful classic yachts in the world.

I find it interesting to think of the lasting impact of the shipwrights at the Nevins yard, or of her designer. If Stephens or Nevins were writers, you would list them among the greats. And in one important regard, Olin Stephens and Henry Nevins share a common trait with the likes of Faulkner, Wharton or Hemingway – their work extends beyond their mortal lives, their art remains and is consumed by those who appreciate their endeavors.

For those who enjoy these works, we are indebted to the librarians, curators, and, in this case, shipwrights who keep these works alive.

Early next month, Brilliant will head down river, out under the raised Bascule Bridge, beyond the Amtrak swing bridge, and into Fisher’s Island Sound and beyond, commencing and another season under sail.

All that, and a museum piece, too.


by John M. Urban

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About John Urban

Like his protagonist, John Urban has worked as a college professor and he sails the waters of Southern New England on an old wooden sailboat that he restored. He is a regular contributor to the blog Write On The Water, and his short stories have appeared in the anthologies Seasmoke and Deadfall. The ocean was his desired destination from an early age. As a boy living a landlocked life in Western Massachusetts, nights were dedicated to reading about boats and watching Flipper and weekends were spent boating and fishing, April-to-October, on Long Island Sound. Thoughts of a career at sea ended early after a stint at the Massachusetts Maritime Academy, but the circle of life has come around some years later in the form of the fictional world of Steve Decatur. Urban lives just outside Boston and spends his summers near the waters edge of Buzzards Bay and Rhode Island Sound. A Single Deadly Truth, published on Amazon Kindle, is Urban's debut novel. As second Steve Decatur mystery, Masters of Rhode Island, is due out later this year.
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