The pictures are not the best, but please forgive me; it’s a challenge to photograph something that tall. It’s the trailboards ( really the stem boards), and billet head of the five-masted schooner the Cora F. Cressy. The Cressy was a large collier schooner. A collier schooner was one that carried coal to New England from ports to the south in New Jersey, Philadelphia, and the Tidewater ports of Virginia.
Very little other than a pathetic pile of rotting timber remains of her, but if you go to the Maine Maritime Museum in Bath, you’ll see these impressive stem boards and way, way, way, up high the billet head. The Cressy was not a small ship ( 273 feet ). The large schooners like the Cressy had impressive shear lines with their bows and sterns gracefully reaching above the water. A sailor will always admire a sweet shear. These sweeping lines served a practical purpose. The Cressy, and others like her, were designed and built to carry massive amounts of coal. In the case of Cressy, it’s estimated that she could load 4,000 tons. The sweeping sheer at bow and stern ensured that when fully laden, the ship possessed enough freeboard that she rode safely above the sea’s surface. As a result, the bow embellishment on the Cressy is a very long and elaborate scroll that swept up the stem. Notice that the stem boards were lofted from multiple pieces just as other structural parts, except with the consideration that the carver would be interested in how grain orientation ran for carving.
I came away from the visit impressed with the Cressy. But also a bit mystified. Between 1971 and the end of ’73, I had a live-in carving studio in a little building that had once been an office for a lumberyard on Sherman St. in the Charlestown area of Boston. Adjacent to me at 10 Sherman St. was a towing company called Cressy Transportation. Cressy Transportation was in the business of towing really large broken-down tractors and trailers – not your average AAA tow. I grew friendly with some of the drivers. One day while visiting the office for coffee, I noticed large framed photos of four and five-masted schooners on the wall. Asking about them, they informed me that back when the company had owned a fleet of sailing vessels. The drivers and the clerk had no further information, and eventually, I forgot to follow up on the story behind the photos.
The day I wandered into the Maine Maritime Museum and saw the Cora F Cressy materials on exhibit, I began to put the pieces together.
I confirmed that my recollection that it had been a company named Cressy by hunting through old Boston city directories. In 1969 there they were at 10 Sherman St. I also found the Cressy’s had owned a small fleet of schooners around 1915, but the war years had not been kind to their interests; one was torpedoed in 1917, and another was burned off the coast of France soon after. Fire was a continual hazard for coal schooners due to the flammable nature of the cargo.
The Cora F Cressy, did not have a very long career as a collier. She ultimately wound up as a breakwater, but before that, she found use as a floating nightclub. A bit of trivia that seems to connect the Cressy Family to Cora F. Cressy is that when she became a floating night club, Carl Cressy was given luxury accommodation on her since the vessel was named for his mother.
I have not been able to make a really absolute connection between Cora F Cressy, the Cressy fleet of colliers, or Cressy Transportation. I may never find a link, but I’m stubborn, and I’ll continue to look. It’s part of what makes the interest in maritime history interesting.
Is there a potential ship’s portrait in the offing? I don’t know. Since they consume a lot of time, it’d be a year before my current workload clears up. We’ll see.