In the early 1900’s marine artist Arthur Briscoe commissioned A.W.Gibbs to design for him a seaworthy yacht of the Mumble Bee type which could be sailed by a man and a boy. In 1908 a 54 foot, 20 tonne gaff cutter was built by J. Saunders (Gibbs’ son-in -law) at his yard in Galmpton on the river Dart. This was to be the smallest ever built at this yard which specialised in fishing smacks for Brixham and Lowestoft. She was named “Golden Vanity” and registered at Brixham.
Briscoe used Golden Vanity to follow the fishing fleet while he studied and sketched the sailing smacks and the men who worked them. Bear in mind that this could not be done on calm days; the wind was their power and they needed plenty of it to pull a heavy trawl. Briscoe’s detailed paintings and sketches, produced in challenging conditions, have provided a valuable record of the last of the tall ships and trawlers to trade under sail.
In a period when yachts were traditionally large, with paid crew and professional skippers, Golden Vanity was quite unusual as a small family sailing yacht. Sailed by the owner with his wife, Mary, and friends as crew, Briscoe cruised extensively before the outbreak of WW1. Erskine Childers, author of the espionage novel “Riddle of the Sands” was one of the friends to join the crew sailing around Belgium and Holland. This was the area where his book was set and was well known to Childers. The name Golden Vanity was taken from a sea shanty titled "The Lowlands Low", so maybe the area held some special significance for Briscoe.
There is a long gap in her history where little is known except that she was fitted with her first engine, a complicated petrol/paraffin affair.
In the 1970s Peter Crowther of Dartmouth owned the boat for a number of years. Together they covered many thousands of miles, including a number of Atlantic crossings while taking part in three of the early singlehanded transatlantic races. In 1972 she took 88 days to complete the race during which time the ship’s cat had four kittens and the skipper found that fishing had become an extremely serious part of his daily routine. It was during this period that Vanity was grounded on a reef in the West Indies, and when Peter finally sold her, she was in need of an extensive refit.
Her next owners did little to patch her up and keep her going and by 1981 she was in Brixham lying derelict on her mooring and in debt. She had 5 feet of fresh water in her bilge, her engine was under water, the boom and gaff were rotten and green moss was growing on the deck and rail.
Discussing her plight over a pint, Howard Young, a teacher living in Brixham, together with friends Jack Spencer, and Tony Ripley, decided that they should try to save her, and the Golden Vanity Trust was formed. The plan was to restore and to operate her as a sail training vessel for local disadvantaged youngsters.
The early part of the restoration showed extremely slow progress, primarily due to the huge cost of the project. Howard and the Trust members refused to give up on her, despite the enormity of the task. Desperate fund raising efforts included approaching local businesses and building up a network of supporters and volunteers. In 1986 the situation changed dramatically when the Trust was given approval for a Manpower Services Commission Project, to carry out work on the boat. The use of a large warehouse in Totnes was made possible by Mr Carl Throgmorton of Westward Developments and generous amounts of timber were donated by Reeves Timber yard. Grants were received from the Marine Society and the Sports Council. Colin Beer of Dartmouth supervised the work for two years with the aid of three shipwrights and twelve trainees
All this was made possible by Howard’s commitment to the project, and it was this persistence and determination for the Trust to fulfil the original vision of restoration that drove the project forward.
The first few months were devoted to removing rotten and gribble infested timbers, and within six months the tide had turned and she had a new stem and transom. The gribble damaged planks below the waterline were replaced and also a few above the waterline. She was fitted with a new beam shelf, beam clamp, new deck beams and carlins. She was redecked and had a complete refit down below; a new hollow mast was made along with new hollow spars. The old Ford 4D engine was stripped down and totally rebuilt by Mr Alan Perry. ICI’s Environmental Laboratory in Brixham helped to obtain the sailcloth.
The Project was visited by the Under Secretary for State and Employment, Mr Patrick Nicholls. Admiral Sir David Williams was seconded by the Prince of Wales to become the Trust Patron and he in turn persuaded his old employer to make the sails and rig for the boat.
Finally, in June 1988, Golden Vanity was ready to go back into the water, and at a grand launching ceremony, whihc was attended by the press, local dignitaries, the Trust's Patron and hundreds of Golden Vanity’s supporters, she once again entered the waters of the Dart, 80 years after her first launching.
Since then hundreds of young people, many of them with special needs and challenges have learned that they can play a useful part in sailing a classic yacht and have had memorable adventures with her. In 1989, with a crew of local young people, she took part in the Yachting Monthly Classic Boat Race, winning her class. 1993 saw Golden Vanity battling across the North Sea to Bergen to take part in her first Tall Ships Race. She continued to take part in this event for several years, competing against many larger vessels and in 1995 became the overall winner. During the 1997 race her topmast was broken and although she was able to complete the race with a temporary repair, a replacement was essential. This presented an enormous obstacle to a small charity already short of funds. To the rescue came Roger Withers, converting his garage into a specialised workshop, he reproduced another hollow topmast in time for her to start the following season.
In 1999 she joined Trinity Sailing (which was formed through collaboration between the owners of Leader, Provident and Golden Vanity) and works on holiday cruises and charters out of Brixham between May and September. She is often used for RYA training courses and Duke of Edinburgh Award adventure sailing and continues to offer the unique experience of traditional sailing to school groups and disadvantaged young people.