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Golden Vanity

Golden Vanity was built to provide a stable platform to be out in all weathers and serving beginners and youth crews equally. Golden Vanity is a perfect size vessel you can learn to take command of which is why her main role is teaching RYA courses and enabling young people to plan their own sailing expeditions - with instructors guiding their personal journey.

Golden Vanity is a proper working boat with blocks and tackles and a capstan for the anchor. She has the capable feel of a much larger craft as she is only 39 feet on deck. Golden Vanity was built in 1908 on the River Dart in the same yard as sailing trawlers like Leader and Provident. With her tan sails and gaff rig Golden Vanity was designed in a style that would not look out of place amongst the working Brixham fishing fleets of the time, so her owner and artist Arthur Briscoe could paint them at work. 

The photo above is Golden Vanity under sail with her bigger Brixham 'sister' Leader behind. (photo by Valery Vasilevskyi)

Latest voyages
Vessel Start Date End Date Start Port End Port Price
  • Length overall:    53ft
  • Length on deck:  39ft
  • Year Built:  1908
  • Rig: Gaff Cutter
  • Total guest crew: 5-7 
  • Total professional crew: 2 


RYA Courses - Learn the ropes on a classic boat
Photo by Sam Morgan Moore: RYA Courses - Learn the ropes on a classic boat


RYA Courses on a Classic Boat

Golden Vanity offers the chance to do a RYA Competent Crew or RYA Day Skipper courses on a classic boat. Whilst Golden Vanity is the same length as a typical 39ft teaching yacht, she has much wider wooden decks and decent bulwarks (solid wood wall around the deck) which give a sense of security in rough weather. You can sail Golden Vanity with just a jib and a mainsail, or add a staysail, jib topsail and gaff topsail and really 'spread your wings' in light winds. 

The RYA Competent Crew course is for both total novices and those who have tried a dinghy, or tall ship and want to become a thinking crew member who can anticipate the next move. The 6 day live-aboard voyage is a full on practical sailing course where you learn by doing: Emergency drills, ropes and seamanship and and take part in anchoring, setting sails, reefing, steering with the wind and motor, picking up moorings, helping tie up the boat on a pontoon or quay wall.  

Day Skipper is for those who have already sailed and are hungry for a bit more responsibility. They should understand about tacking an gybing and how to trim sails and keep crew safe.  They also need have some basic navigational knowledge, so it helps to do a RYA Day Skipper Theory shorebased course first.

For more on the RYA Competent Crew and Day Skipper courses, and why it is so brilliant to do it on a gaff rigged cutter, see our pages on Royal Yachting Association courses.  These have full details of the RYA course syllabus and next steps up the sailing qualification ladder.

If you are not sure which course level is best, then ring one of our instructors on 01872 580022.

Golden Vanity is a 1908 gaff cutter offering skippered charter and RYA Courses
Photo by Peter Hunt - Golden Vanity in Torbay

Duke of Edinburgh Award - Expeditions and Residentials

Golden Vanity has carved a bit of a niche for herself with young people doing their Duke of Edinburgh Award. Initially she offered adventurous voyages which would qualify for the residential section of the Gold DofE Award.  Each 16- 25 year old sailor would have to be up for the challenge of living on a self sufficient sailing boat for 6 days with other young people they had not met before. 

Golden Vanity now also offers the change for keen young sailors to do their DofE Expedition as a coastal sailing expedition, instead of the more traditional backpacking expedition across Dartmoor or similar terrain.  The first part of the voyage is a training course to make sure the crew will have the skills to run the boat themselves.  They then plan the cooking and navigation back in harbour, buy the food and set off on their adventure.  There is a professional skipper/RYA instructor and mate on board if they hit a snag.

Golden Vanity for DofE Expeditions and Residential adventures
Golden Vanity for DofE Expeditions and Residential adventures

Short Breaks, Artist Voyages & Adult Charter

Whilst Golden Vanity can only take 5 students for RYA courses, she has up to 7 guest berths so she is quite versatile for groups or families who might want to book a whole boat with  skipper.  She has been charter at Maritime Events like Brixham Heritage Regatta, and offered individual berths on themed voyages like watercolour painting or mother and daughter weekends. 

Golden Vanity is run by a sail training charity and has a skipper and a mate who are used to working with all ages and abilities.

Sailing and Art Voyage with Toni Knights
Sailing and Art Voyage with Toni Knights



Golden Vanity has had a long working life and is much loved by the thousands of people who have learned to sail on her. She is a perfect size for a first command and many of the skippers of larger ships in the traditional sailing world today have refined their leadership and small boat skills on Golden Vanity.

She is a gaff rigged cutter so her mainsail requires at least two people sweating and tailing on the peak an throat halliards, and sheeting in the mainsail can take 2 people if its windy.  She normally sails with two headsail - a staysail and a jib on the end of the bowsprit, so tacking and gybing needs teamwork on the side decks to let fly one side and pull the sheets on the other.  Like all the Classic Sailing fleet there are no winches and human strength is boosted by blocks and tackles.

Vanity is tiller steered, so dinghy sailors will feel at home. There is no cockpit (sunken seating area) but there are plenty of places to sit with a view on deck.

Skipper Ben on gaff cutter Golden Vanity. Classic Sailing Holidays & RYA Courses
Skipper Ben lending a hand on gaff cutter Golden Vanity.

Life on board

Golden Vanity is run by a sail training charity that is also a RYA Recognised Training Centre, so the instruction is thorough, safety orientated but also fun enough for all ages to remember the key seamanship lessons. The whole idea is that you really are the crew, and everyone takes part as best as they are able. The mate will generally cook meals on a charter voyage but on courses or DofE expeditions everyone takes turn to cook, prepare the boat for sea each day and keep the ship clean and tidy.

The smaller vessels in the Classic Sailing fleet like Vanity, are likely to do much more tacking and gybing in and out of small ports and rivers than the larger ships, so there is always plenty of sailing action.  With only a small crew it is not so easy to dip out of pulling on ropes as everyone is needed.  This is great for a sense of camaraderie and it also means crews bond very quickly.  The person that makes a cup of tea for 9 people in rough seas becomes a 'hero' amongst their crew mates. Mealtimes in the evening there is no separate galley so chopping a few vegetables whilst chatting around the saloon table is always well received by the cook of the day.

Golden Vanity has nine berths in total in bunk beds.  Bedding (duvets and pillows are supplied.)

The original owner Arthur Briscoe was a professional sailor on working square riggers around the world before he was an artist, so he had high standards for his own 'yacht' in terms of seaworthiness and cosy quarters below. He sailed Vanity around the Low Countries with Erskine Childers, who went on to write 'Riddle of the Sands.'  If you imagine sailing in that era, then you will have a flavour of Golden Vanity's interior. As you descend down the companionway steps, below decks is surprisingly spacious, and quite a long way down.  The flat decks and low accommodation roof mean your living space is mostly below water level, and you feel well cocooned with varnished wood and sheltered from the elements.

Golden Vanity is tiller steered
Becky from Classic Sailing office passing her Day Skipper on Vanity



Golden Vanity
Golden Vanity



Golden Vanity has nine berths in total in bunk beds.  Bedding (duvets and pillows are supplied.)

Below decks, the space is communal and typical of a Victorian age yacht. You can see the deck beams and ships timbers and realise how strongly these vessels were built.  Golden Vanity has been restored many times but you are sailing a piece of history over 100 years old. She is on the Core Collection of the Historic Ships Register as the last surviving example of a tiny 'Mumble Bee' Brixham Trawler.

The original owner Arthur Briscoe was a professional sailor on working square riggers around the world before he was an artist, so he had high standards for his own 'yacht' in terms of seaworthiness and cosy quarters below. He sailed Vanity around the Low Countries with Erskine Childers, who went on to write 'Riddle of the Sands.'  If you imagine sailing in that era, then you will have a flavour of Golden Vanity's interior, although she has a fridge, 12v electric lighting, modern navigational aids and a 75HP engine.

Vanity has a beam of 20ft so she is nearly 5ft wider than our other RYA sailing school vessel Moosk, so she feels quite roomy down below. There is only one berth in the saloon and the rest are in a forward cabin, so if you are on a RYA course with 5 students or not fully booked then you can keep the saloon free of personal belongings for socialising.

 The forward bunks are slung on wires so you can level them if the boat is heeling on one tack for a long time. Vanity has crossed the Atlantic but most the trips these days are coastal hops with the odd bit of night sailing. The skipper and mate sleep in aft bunks in the same communal area as the rest of the crew.  

The saloon and galley area has a big table for all the crew to sit around. There is a reasonable size washroom with hot and cold water and a toilet. There is no shower on this vessel.  Most the small ports and marinas will have showers ashore, but if you are anchored in a beautiful cove you might have to go wild swimming for your bath.

Golden Vanity - layout below is yacht style


Golden Vanity - Ship Specification

Golden Vanity - Line drawing of her gaff cutter rig

Official Number: 125111

Port of Registry: Brixham

Builder: J Sanders, Galmpton, Devon

Date Launched: 1908

Radio Call Sign: MCVY

Gross Registered Tonnage: 15.03

Length Overall including spars: 53 ft  (16.16 m) 

Length of Hull:  38 ft 9" (11.84 m)

Length of Waterline: 36′ 1″ (11.00 m)

Maximum Beam:  12′ 1″ (3.68 m)

Maximum Draft:   6′ 7″ (2.00 m)

Maximum Sail Area: 1250 sq ft  (116 sq m)

Displacement: 24 tons  (22 metric tonnes)

Engine: Beta Marine, BV3800 4 Cylinder 65 kW or 75 Hp

Golden Vanity - Skippers and Mates

Skipper - Paul Lawton

Paul has been in the sailing industry for about 14 years. Having sailed around many parts of the world, and has found the south-west coast of England to be his favourite. Being an RYA Chief Instructor, Paul will be Golden Vanity’s skipper this sailing season, as well as relief skipper for Provident. Paul loves being able to introduce people to the joys of traditional boat sailing. He enjoys watching them learn new skills, and sharing with them the natural beauty of the surrounding coastlines. Prior to joining Golden Vanity as skipper, Paul worked as a Secondary School maths and science teacher at Steiner Academy in Exeter. In his free time, he enjoys all types of travel and sea kayaking around the Devon and Cornwall coast.

Golden Vanity full time skipper Paul Lawton
Golden Vanity full time skipper Paul Lawton 2017

Operations Manager/Relief Skipper - Ben Wheatley

Ben started his maritime career sailing on square riggers, working his way up through the ranks to First Mate. He first joined the Brixham Trawler fleet in 2013 as skipper. After 12 years of working on tall ships and sailing to a number of beautiful destinations, Ben decided he wanted to find a place to base himself and start a family. Today, Ben is based in Brixham where he oversees the operational side of the organisation, supporting the skippers and crew on board the vessels during the sailing season and coordinating the refit plans during the winter months. He enjoys spending time with his family, and gets to have his “tall ship fix” when he fills in as skipper for the fleet of vessels. He is a very knowledgeable skipper and loves to teach others. If you are one of the lucky ones that gets to sail with Ben this season and you are interested in traditional rigged vessels, he is the best person to ask!

Golden Vanity voyages with Relief skipper Ben Wheatley
Ben Wheatley is operations manager and relief skipper for Vanity, Leader and Provident

Harri Smith (Mate)

Harri’s first sailing experience was on a sail training vessel as a teenager, she found it inspiring and enjoyed it so much that she began volunteering. In 2012, she quit her desk job and ran away to sea. She has been working in sail training ever since. Harri started as a volunteer for the fleet in 2012, helping to recommission Leader after a big refit. She then went on to sail the massive 45m Barquentine Royalist. Harri jokes that she seems to work her way down to smaller vessels, being the mate on 27m Provident for the past two years, and now mate on 16m Golden Vanity – the smallest vessel she has ever worked on. Harri is looking forward to exploring the lovely little spots that she has been unable to get in to with the larger vessels she worked on. Much like the sailors did hundreds of years ago, Harri enjoys doing homemade rope and canvas craft work in her free time. If you want to learn or brush up on your knots, make things out of rope, leather and canvas, or even learn some fancy work – Harri is the gal to talk to! Outside of the “boat world” Harri loves music and cooking. She has the voice of an angel, and often sings sea shanties. To top it off, she is also learning how to play guitar so she can accompany herself whilst singing.

Harri Smith is often the mate on Golden Vanity
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