Wednesday, 4 November 2015

Audacious Audacity



Audacity 21 - Creeksailor

Call it audacious, call it curvaceous, with the Audacity 21 sailing yacht, designed by Laurent Giles in the late 1950s, there clearly was a challenge to the normal convention in building boats. By using, at the time, what was a new-fangled material of flexible plywood coupled with modern glues, the Audacity’s softened edges were intentionally accentuated and the result being a compact ‘lady of the sea’ with the type of shapely curves to go with it. When it was first built, the Audacity 21 would certainly have looked modern, futuristic, even artistic… - hmm... I think so. Viewed from certain angles she reminds me of those Zeppelin-shaped space craft from the Buck Rogers and Flash Gordon era of science fiction movies we used to watch as kids on a Saturday morning up at the Odeon cinema. (I’m not that old, honest).
After having a little delve into the second-hand yacht market I was fascinated to learn one or two Audacity 21s are still sailing and for my money they are one of the unsung and rare classics of small, wooden boat building.
The standard rig was Bermudan sloop and I can only guess they sailed well not having sailed one but, if I’m honest, since I found and photographed one at various intervals in the progressive stages of rotting away on the saltings in the back of a lonely creek in Essex a number of years ago, I’ve become more interested in who actually built these boats.
 My memory was jogged again one wintry

day after climbing onto the seawall after taking some further photos and I set about trying to find some info on the boat. I happened to find out, by accident, that it was a firm very close to home who I already knew of and I actually knew people, who were now in their 80s, that had spent the best part of their lifetime working there!
Who built it you ask, well, the Audacity was built by Walter Lawrence & Son LTD who was a long-established building firm (Est 1871) with a large joinery works on the banks of the River Stort, in Lower Sheering, Sawbridgeworth. Now, Sawbridgeworth is a small, former maltings, town in Hertfordshire that by osmosis straddles the bordering counties of Herts and Essex. To add a little location twist; Lower Sheering is in Essex and is also seen today as being in Sawbridgeworth which is in Herts…   
  The company no longer exists and their workshops have long since been demolished and a waterside housing complex, called Lawrence Moorings, put in its place.  Like many inland towns throughout England that grew out of the banks of a waterway, the River Stort, passing through Sawbridgeworth, was the lifeblood of the town and most building materials were brought up through the river and canal system by barge. Initially these barges were towed by horse until engines were fitted and finally lorries, run on quicker and more efficient new roads, took over.
The idea that such a fine yacht should be built by a company that built houses, flats and schools needn’t cause an eye to flicker as after finishing chatting with someone who worked all their life at the yard, and then reading a copy of the company centenary celebration year book, kindly loaned to me by said worker, their history is truly astounding and therefore it is no surprise at all that Lawrence began a period of building these craft. To give you a measure of the kind of gilt-edge the company had they previously built some of the most iconic buildings in central London during the pre-WW2 years, and had their joinery works in Sheering, Sawbridgeworth - the set-up in total - a precision machine in operations manufacture - supplying all the crafted, wooden interiors for their buildings. One building I’ve awed at myself, in London, the Masonic Peace Memorial building in Great Queen street, W.C.1 and built in 1927-33 is just one surprise but there are dozens of others that are equally impressive: Royal London Mutual Insurance Society LTD, Finsbury Square, EC2 in 1930, Tilbury Power Station in 1953; Empress State Building, SW6 in 1958, Hilldrop Estate, Islington 1958, Essex County Council offices Chelmsford in 1961. The list goes on and on. And, during the war effort their joinery works were producing wooden fuselages for the De Havilland Mosquito bomber-cum multi operations aircraft which became one of the most successful aircraft of WW2, Bailey Bridge Pontoons, and in the 50s Mosquito Vampire trainer jets.
 It was after the war when the company set up a marine division which resulted in their first luxury cabin motor cruiser being launched into the River Stort in 1957. Times would later change and with it Britain’s leisure habits and therefore the company saw enough success on this side of the business to then go on to build the Laurent Giles designed Audacity in 1959.
  If you own one of these boats and you’d like to tell us how they sail, or if you worked at the yard, comment below or get in touch. 
Special thanks: All W Lawrence images curtsy R Marshal.

1 comment:

Alden Smith said...

I think it is an absolute crying shame that one of these iconic little yachts is rotting away.

There is a lot of information about the Audacity Class in "Laurent Giles and His Yacht Designs" by Adrian Lee and Ruby Philpott (Foreword by Olin Stephens).
The Audacity has a some very famous predecessors (Sopranino and Trekka) and is really a beamier shoal draft version of both of these highly successful little boats.
What impresses me about this little yacht is that she embodies much that was innovative Giles (Cold moulded, reverse curve) yet maintains echoes not only of the the two aforementioned but also of larger Giles yachts (I can see the famous "Beyond" "Coimbra" and "Gulvain" in her superstructure).
If anyone else in the UK has a mind to abandon an Audacity Class, please let me know and I will put it in a shipping container and ship it here to NZ and restore it.
The plans for the Audacity Class are still available but rather expensive, which is a pity.

Great post about a great little yacht.