The men who made the catboat
The men who made the catboat
The catboat has always been a niche boat, even for designers. Still, the type was popular enough that some big names did take a stab at it, as a sideline to their regular work. Nathanael Herreshoff designed several catboats, including a Newport Point boat with its characteristic deep keel, and a cat-yawl with easy-reefing batwing sails. William Hand and Sparkman & Stephens are some other big names who dabbled in catboat design.
Delve deeper into catboat history, and the names are revealed of those who devoted much or all of their talents to the boats, helping define and refine the type along the way. Among them:
• Marblehead, Mass., designer Fenwick Williams is credited with designing more catboats in the mid-1900s — cruisers, dayboats, racers — than anyone else.
• Francis Sweisguth is noted for designing big catboats with gaff- and Marconi rigs in the 1920s. His boat, Secret, was used as a basis for the fiberglass Americat catboat 50 years later.
• C.C. Hanley, working in New Jersey in the 1880s, is regarded as perhaps the greatest of racing-catboat designers. His catboat, Harbinger, beat two 30-foot cutters, boat-for-boat, in 1889, and rocketed him to fame.
• Charles Wittholz, a designer in the 1960s, first produced wooden cruising cats, then switched to fiberglass with the Hermann cat, gaff- or Marconi-rigged.
But the name most associated with catboats is Crosby. Starting in the 1850s the Osterville, Mass., family designed and built hundreds of catboats for commercial and recreational use.
It all started with Horace S. Crosby and his brother, Worthington, in the years before the Civil War, according to historian Howard Chapelle. As the boats’ popularity grew, so did the family. At one point in the 1880s, there were five catboat-building Crosbys. A rare family photo from 1888 shows Worthington, Ralph, H. Manley, Harold, Joseph and Wilbur Crosby —
and there was also a Charles, a Daniel,
an Eddie and a Herbert F. throughout
The catboat has outlasted the Crosby builders, but the Osterville (Mass.) Historical Society Museum has preserved the Herbert F. Crosby Boat Shop as a permanent exhibit. It was moved from its old waterfront site to the museum by America’s Cup skipper Bill Koch, and today houses the 1927 Crosby catboat Cayuga and a lapstrake dinghy built by Eddie Crosby, along with the original shop workbench and tools, the half-models the Crosbys carved (and from which they built their boats), and the pot-bellied stove.
The museum also has a 27-foot Wianno Senior, a one-design sloop designed by H. Manley Crosby and still actively raced in the region, along with photos of other Osterville builders and boats.
The museum is open from June to September, Thursday through Sunday. Call (508) 428-5861 for information. www.osterville.org
Other stories in this package:
Part I : Catboat moments
Part III: Catboats captured in words
Part IV: Catboat builders