The Witchcraft II Designer
Crowninshield grew up surrounded by ships, sailboats, and yacht racing. His family had a long history on the seas and were well known in Boston sailing society. His Uncle, Jacob Crowninshield, was Captain of the ship America and is credited with landing the first elephant on American soil. It was he bought the elephant for $450 and sold it for $10,000. His Unclue Jacob was offered the post of Secretary of the Navy. He never took office due to bad health instead, he remained a Congressman until his death in 1808. B.B. Crowninshield's father, Benjamin W. Crowninshield became Secretary of the Navy in 1815.
Seawater was in Crowninshield's blood. It was not surprising that after a short period of time living out West selling real estate he was drawn back to the East and his beloved boats.
His boat designing career started out as a draftsman for John R. Purdon, a well-known, designer of Knockabouts, a class of small sailboats. A year and a half later he set up his own design shop and started designing small racing daysailers. These small yachts made him famous as a designer. In 1901 he was asked to design the Americas' cup contender The Independence. The Independence was radical for a racing boat and drew heavily on Crowninshield's experience with small boat design. The Independence was built by George Lawley and launched in May of 1901, just two years before the Witchcraft II. Unfortunately, the Independence's design was too radical for the time period and was ultimately dismantled by its owner.
Crowninshield also designed the Thomas W. Lawson, the largest pure sailboat ever built (no engine ). She was launched in July of 1902 and was 395 feet in length, had seven masts (193 ft tall), and carried 43,000 sq. feet of canvas. She ended up as an oil tanker. Built of steel and with a water ballast of 1000 tons, she was an advanced attempt to keep sail in the forefront of shipping. Even to dare to design something like this in 1902 gives us a look into Crowninshield's personality, he was not afraid to take chances.
While the Independence may have been off the mark for small daysailers and small yachts, such as the Witchcraft II were unmatched. His knockabouts and other designs like Fame won races and soothed the senses with their designs that to this day exemplify what a sailing yacht should look like and sail like.
William B. Rogers selected B.B. Crowninshield to design Witchcraft II. Perhaps, because Crowninshield was related to William B Rogers. The Witchcraft II remains a testimony to Crowninshield's ability to put fine art on the water.