The Legacy of the Wooden Boat

The Original Crosby Shipyards, a brief history

Brothers Daniel and Jesse Crosby, Jr., came to Osterville from Centerville in 1798 and leased sixteen rods of land on the shore of North Bay with the right to build a shop and dock. For this lease of sixty years they paid James Parker nine dollars.

North Bay, at the foot of Bay Street, is quite deep and there is a channel running through North Bay and Cotuit Bay, and then out to Nantucket Sound. There would be no West Bay Cut in Osterville for another ninety years.

The Crosby brothers must have built a number of vessels here, but we have a record of only one, the “Warrior.” The “Warrior” was a two-masted topsail schooner built in 1804 and lost on Block Island‘s north reef in 1834 during a violent storm. The “Warrior” was a “packet” running between Boston and New York on a more or less regular schedule as packets did, depending on the weather.

The Hinckley Shipyard

Oliver Hinckley, born in 1792, was an apprentice to the Crosby brothers. He took over the shipyard at the foot of Bay Street, probably in 1816-1818.

Following the Crosby brothers, he continued to build coasting vessels in this yard until 1857. His last vessel, the “Leanara,” was reported lost in the early 1900s. This vessel was a packet between Boston and Hartford, Connecticut. Hinckley built at least 23 vessels. There was one sloop, the “Echo,” (for which the Osterville Historical Museum has a rare hawk’s nest model), nineteen schooners, and three brigs. His schooner, “Page,” built in 1831, sailed down the coast of South America, around Cape Horn, and up to San Francisco where it worked as a lumber schooner into the early 1900s. He also built the “Spy,” a three-masted schooner, for Captain Jonathan Parker whose house the Museum now occupies. The logbook for the “Spy” can be seen in the Museum’s permanent collection.

East Bay

A small number of coasting vessels were built by Seth Goodspeed in East Bay. His home is still standing and is located on the west side of East Bay, directly opposite the town landing. He built one of his vessels in his yard and then moved it to the bay. That was considered a remarkable feat at the time.

The Smaller Boat Industry

By 1850, the need for coasting vessels declined. The last vessel built in the Hinckley yard was constructed in 1857. The yard, however, continued operating with marine work until the late 1860s.

The descendants of Daniel and Jesse Crosby, Jr., built boat shops in several places around the bay. In 1850 the first Crosby Catboat was built, and its utilitarian design was quickly recognized. Since then the Crosby family built over 3,000 wooden catboats.

As a matter of interest, after WW II the Crosby family at Crosby Yacht Building & Storage built 230 wooden boats of various designs before the business was sold in the late 1970s. Today, the art and craftsmanship of boatbuilding continues at Crosby Yacht Yard–located just down the road from the Museum. Likewise, Ned Crosby is a ninth-generation boatbuilder at E. M. Crosby Boatworks in West Barnstable.

Click on a picture to find out more about the boat on display at the museum.

Wianno Senior: #85 Venture
Wianno Junior: #77 Whallop
Catboat: Frances
Beetle Cat: Mistake
Crosby Curlew: Ida
Catboat: Cuyuga
Wherry: Li’l Jen

The Wianno Senior: #85 Venture

Except for catboats, the Wianno Seniors are the best-known Crosby sailboats. The Seniors are built for one-design racing, so they are constructed to be as nearly identical as possible. To achieve this, they are built around a frame or “mold” that is used over and over in building each hull.This differs from the method used in building cat boats, principally because the ribs or “timbers,” when they are steamed and flexible, are bent up, around, and clamped to the outside of the mold.

The first Seniors were launched in 1914 and the Wianno Senior Class remains an active class–over one hundred years later. H. Manley Crosby, working with his brother, Wilton, and his cousin, Ralph, a marine architect, designed the Senior and is the “father” of the Seniors. 

The Wianno Junior: #77 Whallop

Whallop is a Wianno Junior, a one-design racing sloop designed by Horace Manley Crosby. The centerboard daysailer is the little sister to the Wianno Senior. First built in the Crosby baoatyards in 1922, the Junior was originally conceived as a training sailboat for children. Serious sailing was reserved for adults only. The Juniors introduced sailing to beginners. The Juniors were similar to the Seniors, only smaller. Initially, they were gaff-rigged but were soon switched to Marconi rig. Compared to Seniors, they were easier to handle and not as fast. By 1941, 67 Juniors were built and 46 of them were racing in Osterville. Very few Juniors exist today. Most have been lost or scrapped.
Built in 1961, Whallop was one of the last Wianno Juniors ever built. As a teenager in Hyannisport, Whitney P. Wright, her original owner, raced her. He remembers sailing her solo to Nantucket and Martha’s Vineyard, following in the wake of the ferry as his only form of navigation. “The Junior sailed close to the wind and was w”wet,'” Wright recalls. “when there was any sort of chop you always had foul weather gear. The guy up front was always soaked.” Wright donated Whallop to the Museum in 1997.

The Catboat: Frances

See the Catboat Frances on display at the Osterville Historical Museum.

The Curlew: Ida

Ida is a Crosby Curlew, a 23-foot sloop built in the 1960s by Chester A. Crosby & Sons Boatyard in Osterville. William Daniel Knott, a well-known local marine surveyor and designer, designed the Crosby Curlew as a day sailer and overnight cruiser. Knott designed a number of custom boas for the Crosby yard in he 1960s. The Curlew design features a mahogany hull, oak framing, and a shallow draft, ideal for sailing in local waters. It was not very popular and only seven Curlews were built over the ensuing decade. Out of the seven, Ida is the only on built without a cabin.
Ida was originally built for Paul Mellon and his family, summer residents of Osterville. She was owned for a time by former Senator John Warner, IV, a relative of the Mellons. Many locals have memories of seeing the Senator and his then wife, Elizabeth Taylor, sailing Ida in and around Nantucket Sound. She was restored by E.M. Crosby Boatworks in West Barnstable, prior to joining the Museum’s collection in 2012.

The Catboat: Cuyuga

See the Catboat Cuyuga on display at the Osterville Historical Museum.

The Beetle Cat: Mistake

Mistake is a Beetle Cat, a one-design small craft with over 90 years of history. The class is named for its original designer and builder, John Beetle, whose boatyard in New Bedford was famous for the Beetle Whaleboat. The Beetles developed a method of pre-fabricated construction in which they could build a whaleboat in a single day.
Beetle made the first Beetle Cat for his children in 1921 by downsizing a 20-30-foot Cape Cod cat design. People were impressed by the 12-foot-long, gaff-rigged boat’s handling in local waters. As the whaling industry declined, the Beetles needed to reposition their boat building operations. They began building the Beetle Cat, applying the same manufacturing techniques used on their whaleboats. This also made boats more affordable. The boats have been built by a succession of well-known builders, including Leo Telesmanick, “Bunny” Howard, and the Concordia Company. The beetle Boat Shop in Wareham now carries on the legacy. To date, around 4,000 Beetle Cats have been built.
As a racer, beach cruiser (it can be launched directly from shore) and a family sailer, the Beetle Cat packs a lot of versatility in a small package. A generation ago, it was a popular choice for Cape Cod children learning to sail. It has since been replaced by the Optimist in that capacity, but fleets in Barnstable, Chatham, West Falmouth, Orleans, New Bedford, Hyannis still maintain a robust regatta schedule in and around Cape Cod every summer. The Beetle Cat is one of the few classic one-design boats still raced today and may be the only one still made exclusively out of wood.

The Crosby Wherry: Li’l Jen

Li’l Jen is wherry, an old, European design used most notably in England. In Elizabethan times, the wherry was used as a water taxi on the Thames in London. Its long, overhanging bow allowed for passengers to step off the boat onto dry land without getting wet. In North America, wherries were popular in the 19th century in the Penobscot Bay region of Maine, where they were the preferred boat of the Atlantic salmon fishery. Typical features include its wineglass stern, its long and narrow shape, smooth sides, and its ability to be rowed or sailed. The wherry’s flat bottom –  its most defining characteristic – allows the boat to ground out in the upright position and makes it easier for dragging up and down a beach. It is a fast boat and well suited for Cape Cod waters.
Using a Pete Culler design, Edward M. Crosby, of the Chester A. Crosby & Sons Boatyard in Osterville, built Li’l Jen in 1969 for his family’s use. Captain R. D. (Pete) Culler was a legendary Cape Cod boatbuilder and designer, active from the 1950s-70s. Entirely self-taught, he was known for his ability to adapt old, traditional designs, modifying them to be lighter, faster, and more suited to pleasure boating. With an unabashed love for traditional small craft workboats, Culler designed boats known for their simplicity, beauty, and modesty. The wherry was one of his favorites. He emphasized craftsmanship, detail, and simple finishing touches in his plans, although he rarely specified exactly what to do and left the to the artistry of the builder. On Li’l Jen, notice the decorative carving on the rudder head, the “proud” shape of the stem head extending above the deck, and the beadwork on the clamp and seat top.

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155 West Bay Road
PO Box 3
Osterville, MA 02655

Osterville Historical Museum

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