Looking good in the second century

Published on June 4th, 2018

When the Wianno Yacht Club (Osterville, MA) signed up to host the 2015 Chubb U.S. Junior Championships, members and boat owners offered their healthy fleet of Wianno Seniors for the 4-person Sears Cup. However, US Sailing officials were naturally skeptical to say the least.

But this 101 year old gaff-rigged design, unique to Nantucket Sound, could not have been a better choice. Junior sailors from home clubs in Texas to Hawaii reveled in the Wianno Senior through a variety of conditions ranging from light air and flat water to Nantucket Sound sleigh ride.

Why the Wianno and why now? This 100+ year class has a rich history for sure which was celebrated in 2014 during their anniversary year and championship regatta known as the Scudder Cup. The Sears Cup a year later was a new chapter written to open the second century. The boat is successful for two main reasons – the design and the class.

The boat goes. Despite the ancient look, a big broad mainsail powers the wide hull through the short steep windswept waves of the relatively shallow Nantucket Sound. In light air, the boat remains nicely balanced with enough sail area to move the heavy hull right along. The only weakness is when the wind dies with leftover waves, but what boat doesn’t struggle in an open sea with failing wind?

Keel or centerboard? It has both with a shoal draft but heavy keel for the Cape’s shallow harbors and a deep swinging centerboard for upwind performance. In short, the design has passed the test of time, and then some.

Heading into the 104th year, the fleet has perhaps it’s strongest foundation ever with a great team of builders. These include Whitecap Composites (Peabody, MA), who makes the hull and other fiberglass components, EM Crosby Boatworks or Crosby Yacht Yard (Osterville, MA) applying all the finishing touches, and fleet purchases of Doyle Sails (Swampscott, MA).

This all follows what could have been a death knell in 2003 when a winter fire at Crosby’s wiped out 23 existing hulls, including many of the top racers. But the class rebounded, and now has a builder and fleet that sprung up in Italy where almost 10 Italian fiberglass boats have been built and a few old wooden hulls had been imported and refurbished.

Will the Wianno Senior remain Cape Cod’s secret? In an era where consumers are seeking quality, maybe not. Luxury “picnic boats” are sweeping the power boat scene and the 28-foot Alerion, from an old Herreshoff design, is also growing in popularity. By comparison, the Alerion actually looks modern.

Clearly the Wianno does not look modern, with its gaff rig, wide bilges, broad main and small jib. Designed by Manley Crosby as the ideal racing knockabout for a boisterous Nantucket Sound in 1914, today it boasts a fun and vibrant racing circuit and community. The Wianno Senior might very well continue to find fleet homes elsewhere in the future and start new traditions.

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