Ned Crosby Sails on the Winds of Eight Generations
Below the hill there was a mill,
For want of water it stood still,
And when it turned it made no noise,
Because ’twas built by the Crosby boys.
This ditty in part, of uncertain origin, refers to James and Samuel Crosby who initially set up shop in Centerville in the years surrounding the American Revolution. Since 1744, there has been a Crosby building boats on Cape Cod. That’s eight generations. From the earliest days of their endeavors, their work has met with praise.
Family patriarch Jesse Crosby’s progeny were as prolific as they were talented. Sons Nathan, Jesse Jr. and Daniel moved operations to Osterville in the 1790s. Fast forward to the present day with a quick accounting of the generations in between: Daniel Crosby begat Andrew, who begat Joseph Crosby. Joseph begat Chester, who begat Edward Crosby. In 1969 Edward Jr, known as Ned was born.
Ned continues the Crosby tale and more importantly,
the legacy of innovative design his family established
Launching His Own Legacy
Ned Crosby Sails on the Winds of Eight Generations
In the early 1800s Andrew Crosby sought a design to build a stable boat better suited to fish local waters. This boat would have a centerboard as opposed to a keel, which to date had been the prominent design. Before the new design could be perfected, Andrew died. His sons, only teenagers at the time, were at a loss as to how to continue. Their mother hired a local medium to hold a séance and according to family folklore,
the medium was able to contact Andrew twice. The Crosby boys employed the
technique imparted from beyond. Thus was born the famed “Crosby Catboat.”
The origin of the name? While local fisherman laughed at the new design, odd in appearance with wide sides and the sail high upon the deck, the prototype 22-footer sailed faster than any boat on the bay. One man commented, “She comes about as quick as a cat!”…And they still do.
In the years that followed throughout the lineage of the Crosby brand, the “Catboat” was joined by the equally
successful “Crosby Wianno Senior,” a slightly larger boat, but still capable
of impressive speed. The first fleet of “Seniors” met wind and water in 1914.
In 2010, almost 100 years later, Ned Crosby secured rights to build the
“Crosby Wianno Senior” in fiberglass, and is now the third generation Crosby
to manufacture the popular design. Ned grew up with the trade. His earliest days were spent at his grandfather’s boatyard in Osterville (Chester A. Crosby & Sons)
sweeping sawdust. He was no more than 7. As 7 turned into 10, he was fitting planks, applying paint and absorbing all he could
from masters of the craft. By 13, Ned was an experienced waterman, and in serving his grandfather’s clients with his new-found skill made an acquaintance that would one day change his life.
Osterville resident Bunny Mellon, who married into the Pittsburgh banking and steel fortune was one of those clients. In Meryl Gordon’s biography titled Bunny Mellon, she is described as “an art collector, landscape designer and best dressed list regular.” Bunny designed the White House Rose Garden for her close friends President and First Lady Jacqueline Kennedy.
Ned’s grandfather Chester Crosby had assisted Bunny and Paul Mellon for years, tending to their sailboats and often accompanying them
on excursions through Osterville’s Three Bays and beyond. In 1982 Chester passed on the job
to 13-year-old Ned.
Ned soon became a fixture in the Mellon’s life, and they in Ned’s.
Ned would take Bunny out in the boat several times a week.
Ned also spent time with Paul Mellon, both on the water and at
home in the years before Paul’s death in 1999. Included among
a host of generous bequests, Mellon honored his love of the water
by granting Dead Neck Island at the mouth of the “Three Bays”
to The Massachusetts Audubon Society.
On a summer day a few years after Paul’s loss, Bunny invited Ned
to lunch, a meeting that it turns out would have a great impact on Ned’s future. Bunny granted Ned the harbor front land she had
allowed him to use to dock his boat. Bunny explained the 11/4
acre gift was in appreciation for all the Crosby family had done
for her and Paul through the years.
Sitting down to speak with Crosby in his shop as a Nor’easter
raged outside, he fondly remembers his relationship with the
Mellons. “Mrs. Mellon said to me, as she informed me of her gift,
that a Crosby ought to have a place on the water….”
When Ned launched EM Crosby Boatworks in 2001 in West Barnstable, he started with 3 employees and one building. By 2009, the count was up to 9 and included a service yard with over 100 boats. As with previous family incarnations, EM Crosby Boatworks is a family affair. Karen Crosby, Ned’s sister, is the shop administrator. Cousin Charlie Crosby, who holds a Coast Guard “500 ton masters license” came on board in 2008. The remainder of the crew – many of whom Ned has known since his high school years – all bring their own area of expertise to the operation. Owen Croughwell is the shop foreman. Tripp Grohe is the head painter. Bob Wastrom is both master boat wright and chief carpenter. Mark Williams has been sailing since
he was six, and Paul Wring has worked in boatyards in both Britain and Bermuda.
In 2016, confident that his business was in
capable and trusted hands, Ned took his
family on the trip of a lifetime. An ocean
odyssey is a better description. Ned, wife
Kelly, and their four daughters Hadley, Finley,
Tilly and Scotia spent over 11 months onboard
the 53 foot Yankee Lady covering 7,500 miles
of Atlantic Ocean visiting the Grenadines,
British Virgin Islands and the Bahamas.
In recanting the joys and challenges of the
trip, Ned credits the support of his wife, Kelly.
“Not many would agree to live on a boat for a
year at sea,” he remarks with a prideful smile.
“Her thirst for adventure equals my own...
I couldn’t have done it without her, and the
kids too. It was hard for the girls, leaving their
friends at their age.” When at last the Yankee
Lady pulled back into Osterville there wasn’t
a dry eye among the family of 6. Their tears
comprised in equal part of an overwhelming
appreciation to be home as well as a heartfelt
farewell to freedom they had never felt, and
may never feel again.
What does the future hold for Ned Crosby,
EM Crosby Boatworks and the Crosby heritage?
First, Ned has plans to expand operations
to the Osterville waterfront, hopefully in the
“We’ll keep some of our work here, as we have
the space,” he said, “but I’m looking to move
at least part of operations back to Osterville.”
Plans are in the works for a building that can
showcase the Crosby craft.
Ned took time to muse on his future design as
we chatted under the rain on the roof. “I’d like to
incorporate some of the historic feel of the boatyard
on the Osterville waterfront, but also add a modern
touch, a wall of windows where people can see what
Again, Ned credits family in supporting the process.
“We’re considering a number of ideas, and there’s
a lot we want to do, so whether it’s my wife Kelly, or
the guys in the shop, we all weigh the pros and cons,
considering what’s best for everyone involved.”
Even before the Osterville expansion is complete,
there will be excitement in the village when the new
Crosby 24 is put to sea. The first boat in a brand
new series was under construction as we sat down to
speak with Ned and his crew. “It is designed to easily
navigate the Three Bays or zip over to the Vineyard…
manageable and safe, with beneficial characteristics
of both wood and fiberglass.”
Describing the new creation with a contagious confidence, you can
feel Ned’s family history come to the fore. While there is much more to
be said about the Crosby 24 in language understood by the discerning
mariner, there is one characteristic that is sure to catch the eye. It’s yellow.
A beautiful bright shade across the waterline. The reason behind the
color choice is genius. You’ll know it’s a Crosby 24.
Since before America was a nation, the Crosby family has been building
boats. 8 generations over 270 years. The tradition endures today thanks
to Ned Crosby and EM Crosby Boatworks. After all, as Bunny Mellon told
Ned, “a Crosby ought to have a place on the water.”