It has been said that Maurice Griffiths did more than any one else to make yachting accessible in the United Kingdom. It was his home waters, around West Mersey, Essex, with its mudbanks and shallow channels, which inspired him to design shoal water craft. He studied Naval Architecture and designed his first cruising yacht in 1928. He also wrote some 20 books and hundreds of articles for Yachting Monthly, which he edited for 40 years, from 1927-67. In the region of more than 2,000 yachts have been built and launched from his designs. Over the years he also owned and sailed at least 22 different yachts.
Maurice’s family had moved from South London to Ipswich in 1903 when his father became the East of England representative for a glove manufacturer. In London they had lived opposite the railway line and Maurice’s early love was trains. His first job was with an estate agent but in his spare time he wrote articles about trains for the East Anglian Times and it was train travel that soon led him to Ipswich docks where he discovered boating.
He started a small yacht brokerage and in the course of this work he learnt a lot about sailing and boat building. In 1925 he published a little book called “Yachting on a Small Income” which, ironically, sold well on railway station platforms.
His father died suddenly leaving the family in considerable debt and the family home had to be sold. His mother Lena, and older brother Leslie, moved to the Midlands to stay with relatives. Maurice’s brokerage business folded so he decided to try his luck selling yachting articles freelance in London. It was a struggle and he virtually starved. His health was to never fully recover from this experience.
He was rescued by George Bittles, the publisher of Yachting Monthly. Bittles had bought Maurice’s book at his local railway station and believed he would be the right person to edit a new magazine called Yacht Sales and Charters.This was basically a yacht brokerage with its own magazine. MG made such a success of this that other brokers threatened to stop advertising in Yachting Monthly if the Yacht Sales magazine continued. The magazine was stopped but MG had proved himself and was given the position of Editor of Yachting Monthly.
Around this time in 1927 he married Dulcie Kennard whom he had met while visiting the offices of yachting magazines trying to sell his articles. She also wrote for the yachting press under the name Peter Gerard. They were divorced in 1934.
As a lieutenant-commander in the Royal Naval Volunteer Reserve Maurice Griffiths was awarded the George Medal for bravery in recognition of his work trawling for mines in the North Sea as well as deactivating parachute mines dropped on the London Docks during the blitz and also his command of a group of divers clearing mines from the Suez Canal. Later in the war he had responsibility for the design and fitting of the explosive charges that sank 77 condemned ships off the coast of Normandy, where they formed part of the Mulbery Harbour used during D-Day and after in 1944.
He met his second wife, Marjorie, known as “Coppie” from her maiden name of Copson in December 1944 while based with the RNVR at HMS Vernon. Coppie died about nine months before her husband and there were no children from either marriage.
After the war Maurice returned to Yachting Monthly. The invention of marine plywood and fibreglass now enabled his boat designs to be mass-produced. The two most successful were the Eventide 24, soon followed by the 26, and the Waterwitch 30. These, along with his other designs, proved to be good sea-worthy craft but he was under no illusions about their aesthetic appeal, once saying “If you ever see a barrel or box with rudder and sails it’ll be one of my designs.” Nevertheless they earned a strong following of enthusiasts who would disagree with that description.
MG single-handedly gave yachting to working poeple with his DIY designs and tips on sailing and converting former ship’s lifeboats but his greatest contribution to giving the sport wide appeal was undoubtedly his book “The Magic of the Swatchways” with its accounts of simple cruises around the east coast and across the North Sea to The Netherlands and Belgium. It was first published in 1932, has been translated into Dutch and Polish and gone through many editions.
A biography of MG, “The Magician of the Swatchways” was wrtiten by Dick Durham and published in 1992.
Here is a list of Yachting and Sailing books by Maurice Griffiths:
The Magic of the Swatchways
Yachting on a Small Income
Ten Small Yachts and Others
The Arrow Book of Sailing
Swatchways and Little Ships
The First of the Tide
Little Ships and Shoal Waters
Sixty Years a Yacht Designer
The Sands of Sylt
Cruising Yarns From the “Y.M.”
Some of these books are featured on the Books by MG page.