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OBHS Exhibit Opens: Boat Life on the Sound

An 1859 Yachting Party Sketchbook Turned Into an Exhibit

The Oyster Bay Historical Society is a repository of wonderful things. The member’s reception on Saturday, Nov. 6 for their new exhibit of a sketchbook featuring the Boat Life on the Sound: An 1859 Yachting Party was a peek into their fascinating collection.


OBHS Curator Yvonne Noonan-Cifarelli said Executive Director Philip Blocklyn found the book as he was looking through the collection. It was given to Carolyn Hill, the grandmother of Brad Warner, a member of the OBHS advisory board. She is also the grandmother of David Lamb who has advised the society on landscaping for their new building, the Angela Koenig Research and Collections Center that will be known as the Koenig Center.

Just to locate the players in the Oyster Bay social landscape itself, the Society’s founder, Carolyn Hill, (Mrs. Miner C. Hill), had a daughter Carol Hill Lamb who ran the Book Mark on West Main Street and was David’s mother. Dr. Miner Hill’s office was located where the Oyster Bay High School administration building is now located on McCoun’s Lane. The house was known as the Thompson house and is where Typhoid Mary worked when she was in Oyster Bay.

The sketchbook was originally owned by Frances Irvin’s mother who gave her the sketchbook, who gave it to Ms. Hill.

Sharing the Collection

“We are taking a part of the collection not seen and sharing it with the community. And the sketchbook is very humorous,” said Ms. Cifarelli of the drawings. There is also a magnifying glass on a table in the exhibit room so that people can use it to see what is written underneath the drawings.

After seeing the sketchbook, she and Mr. Blocklyn said, “Why not show the collection!

“The book was falling apart and Phil said, ‘It’s so wonderful, but no one has seen it.’ So I came up with the idea to put the pages in mylar to create an interactive exhibit.”

The pages inside mylar sleeves, are hung from ribbons that allow you to turn them over to see the opposite side of the page.

Ms. Cifarelli said, “People walk into an exhibit and you see they want to touch things. They can touch this exhibit.”

The Sketchbook

Boat Life on the Sound is a sketchbook of pencil drawings by James W. Alexander, who captured scenes of an 1858 yachting party aboard the schooner Seadrift, owned by Thomas Underhill Smith of Oyster Bay. His daughter, Mary Frances Smith, was a member of the party and received the sketches as a gift of the artist on “1 June 1858”. She in turn left them to her daughter, Frances Irvin, who donated them to the Oyster Bay Historical Society in 1963. Her letter accompanying her donation, addressed to the Society’s founder Carolyn Hill, appears later in the exhibition.

Three years earlier, Frances Irvin had donated her unpublished manuscript Oyster Bay in History (which she called “My Sketch”). Copies of the manuscript were later bound for the Society’s research library, before Society Librarian Jane Soames Nickerson edited an edition for publication in 1987.

In addition to James Alexander’s boat-life drawings, the sketchbook contains pencil caricatures, landscapes, and studies, some in a hand or hands other than Mr. Alexanders and on a paper stock noticeably different from the main body of the book. One of these drawings was at some time actually mounted to a blank page in the boat-life series. The book as a whole, disbound and consisting of individual sheets in a disturbed order, has been restored to its original arrangement. The book’s cloth-covered boards, serving more as a portfolio than an actual cover, appear in the corner cupboard at the end of the exhibition.

Boat Life on the Sound is an Archives Month exhibition, said Ms. Cifarelli.

Sailing Then and Now

The sketch book is all about taking a cruise with friends, and Oyster Bay is a boating community. OBHS member Shelby Coates arranges just that in his job as a ship broker with Trident Maritime Services, Ltd. He explained that he brokers the charters for yachts. The process starts with wealthy boat owners who can’t use them the entire year and have management companies that take care of their boats and lease them to people for use. They take care of the insurance and crewing the boats. The managers go to the brokers to find customers.

“It could be a family or a group of friends; it could be a Hedge Fund Company that needs a mega yacht; there are small yachts too. We have everything in between,” said Mr. Coates.

He said during the summer they encourage trips to the North of England and to the Greek Islands and Turkish coast and Croatia. “In the winter, we recommend first time travelers go to the British Virgin Islands because of the gentle trade winds and sheltered waters among the islands.

“We recommend the Grenadines between Granada and St. Vincent, that are sort of like the Virgin Islands. Other places for cruising include Mexico and the Sea of Cortez to see fish and wildlife. That is in the area between Mexico and Baja California.

“Some charters go out of Newport and visit Martha’s Vineyard, Nantucket and Block Island. There is a website with information, it is just going up”

Mr. Coates was involved in trying to do something with Queen Elizabeth’s ship The Brittania some time ago. He said they wanted to sell it and he recommended it go to a warm area like Road Town on the Island of Tortola in the British Virgin Islands since it is open year round and would be good for tourists. “They said no, they wanted to keep it in England. I don’t know what happened to it,” he said.

Enjoying the conversation was Marilyn Delalio who said, “Tortola was the bare boat capital of the world. We took the kids there.” She, her husband and children were a sailing family.

FYI: bare boat chartering is with people who already know how to sail. They go to their destination and don’t need a crew. “We don’t broker them, they can go to any boating magazine and find a boat for themselves. We supply a crew,” said Mr. Coates.

Mr. Coates said the average/typical charter was for one week for a group of six: three couples. It needs a skipper, and a mate/crew who is often his wife or lady. “The larger boats get a deck hand,” he said. “Or a boatswain,” added Ms. Delalio.

Mr. Coates said the prices for the cruises were comparable with a shoreside vacation.

Ms. Delalio said she was aboard the Crystal Symphony, for a cruise promotion recently. “It cost $40,000 for a 19-day cruise. I said ‘no’. Cruises are getting hard to sell. I get deluged with catalogues. The Crystal Symphony had us all to a sumptuous dinner as part of the presentation,” she said.

“Private cruises are superior,” said Mr. Coates. “The larger ship cruises are crowded and filled with shoppers. Going on your own you can pick where to anchor and stay. You have flexibility.”

As he left, Mr. Coates said, as a piece of election news, “My nephew is the Governor of Rhode Island. Lincoln Chafee, a moderate Republican.”

Mr. Chafee’s father had been governor too, Mr. Coates added.

Ms. Delalio said “We always went sailing. We lived on Cold Spring Harbor and had our own armada of ships. We had a big sailboat, a Pierson; a power boat, two Sunfish and a dinghy. And a Grumman canoe. It washed ashore in a storm. We left it there for weeks. We claimed it when no one took it.” That is the law of the sea for abandoned boats.

She said her husband’s first boat was a Lightning. “It was a wooden boat and he spent more time sanding her than sailing. They were very happy when the new boats came about,” she said.

Now you know all about the reception and more about the people that inhabit the wonderful hamlet of Oyster Bay – located on the harbor.

Do visit the Earle-Wightman House located at 20 Summit Street, Oyster Bay, to see the sketchbook.

Just think, when the new Koenig Center opens there will be wonderful glimpses into Oyster Bay’s grand past for all to share. The Earle Wightman house is open Tuesday through Friday from 10 to 2; Saturday from 9 to 1; and Sunday from 1 to 4. For information call 922-5032 or see their new website: The new site is enviable!