Lauren Williams – his life story

Lauren as a young man

GROWING UP

Lauren Williams was born in San Francisco in January, 1941 and was brought home to an ark (a house boat that had been put up on pilings) near the Anderson-Christofani Boat Yard (a portent of things to come).  His father was a landscape architect and his mother was an artist so he had a very early introduction to drawing and drafting.

At 8 years old Lauren built his first boat.  His dad had bought a pile of expensive, freshly milled redwood siding in 9 inch by 16 foot planks.  Lauren thought the siding would be perfect for a boat and cut up and nailed 6 pieces together in a rough boat shape, 11 feet long.  Being just 8 years old, his woodwork was somewhat lacking and daylight shone brightly through the seams of this first effort. Lauren could tell that this was hopeless so the first boat never saw the water and ended up as fire wood.

The next week Lauren decided to increase his boat size to 16 feet, using the full length of the available wood thus decreasing the bending involved. The boat was two planks (18 inches) wide and flat bottomed. This time the 8 year old boy improved his design by sealing the seams with canvas tape and roofing cement.  Launch day arrived and the “boat” floated.  Lauren climbed in eagerly and the boat turned turtle and dumped the child in the mud.  Upon re-launching, the canvas tape came loose and the boat leaked. The first lessons in the differences between static empty and loaded stability were learned.  The nuances of Metacentric Height were not yet completely understood even though a practical demonstration had been experienced and was thoroughly appreciated.

Undaunted Lauren sought advice from his parents.  His mother gave him more canvas with which he covered the whole boat and then painted it red and white.  Then he added a stabilizing outrigger to mitigate the turn-turtle problem.  This was Lauren’s first successful boat, used for 3 years before a storm wrecked it, which was the basic multihull design which bespoke Lauren’s first direction as an adult yacht designer.

His father did ask Lauren to please talk to him before turning any more of his expensive siding into fire wood.

At the age of 14 Lauren worked at Hugh Hogan’s Boatyard, on Main Street in Tiburon, CA and got his first rides in “real” sailboats.  He was further influenced by Hugh’s love of the plank on edge English cutter which had been obsolete by the 1900s, but which still represented the very essence of a conservative sailboat.

BOATS THAT INFLUENCED LAUREN WILLIAMS

Lauren was no-end impressed by Baruna, a Sparkman & Stevens designed 72ft yawl, which was kept on a mooring off the Corinthian Yacht Club in Tiburon on San Francisco Bay. She was actively raced in the Bay and on long distance ocean races.  Baruna was the epitome of style and capability at the time.  And the owner retained a full time captain.

The owners of another big ocean racer Orient, and the owner of the Baruna, couldn’t find any winches at the time to fit their big Marconi rigs so they teamed up and developed and marketed the Barient winch which went unsurpassed for the next 40 years.  The word Barient was an amalgam of the boats names, Baruna and Orient.

While watching the big boys race, Lauren got to sail with the boat yard’s owner, Hough Hogan, in a customer’s well built 22 foot steel gaff sloop. They’d fix boats and pump gas all day and sail in the evening or sometimes all night.

That same summer, 1955, he got to sail in boats as varied as a 12 ft. Snipe, an 18 ft. Mercury keel boat, a Wood Pussy catboat, a Star, an International 110, an old broad beamed 30 foot yawl, a Yankee One Design, called “Yankee”, sail no. 1, and a 40 ft. universal rule “R” boat named Champagne.

That same summer Lauren saw his first “catamaran”, a bulky looking sloop rigged affair with blue and white striped sails. it was a kit built boat, finished by Arthur Piver.

Lauren Williams was to be greatly influenced by Arthur Piver, a radical thinker in boat design. At that time, the summer of 1955, Piver was sailing his first catamaran that he kept on a dolly at the Corinthian Yacht Club.  He had built it from a “Hawaiian” kit, and was less than thrilled with the performance of this, his first catamaran. It was not fast unless it was blowing 30 knots, it didn’t maneuver well, it was too heavy, and it was too cumbersome. It did have LOTS of deck space for its size though.

Art had joined the AYRS; the American Yacht Research Society, which was a group of out of the mainstream tinkerers of the time who thought beyond “American Yacht Style”.  Their designs were radical, adventurous, and they broke the mold.  The Society engendered a strong community spirit with an enthusiasm and openness for the sharing of ideas.  They encouraged vehicular prototyping and new inventions during the age of handwritten communications.  Some of their novel ideas included inexpensive lightweight monohulls and the birth of the modern multihull.

Piver’s dissatisfaction with his first catamaran took the form of designing and building a new boat, The Rocket was a long and skinny trimaran, based on a double ended Polynesian model with strip planked round bottom main hull and floats.  Rocket had some of the same kinds of problems as the catamaran – it was really fast, could be made to tack through the wind in smooth water, but in general was not very handy. Art joked that what Rocket lacked in light air performance and maneuverability she made up for in wetness when the wind blew. She threw up sheets of spray.

Piver next designed a 16 ft trimaran called Frolic. Frolic was a real breakthrough and an enormously successful design.  She was the first truly modern all plywood trimaran.  The main hull had a slight clipper bow, a 90 degree vee bottom cross section with the chines at the waterline.  This main hull cross section can also be described as a vee bottom, the draft being half the waterline beam and having a deadrise of 45 degrees straight to the waterline chine with vertical topsides.  The main hull had a narrow vertical transom with an outboard rudder and a dagger board midships for lateral plane.  The main hull keel met the waterline at the bow and at the stern.  The hull was shallow at the ends and deep in the middle but with a 12 to 1 length to beam ratio, which didn’t slow her down. These shallow ends let her answer rudder commands easily, using her dagger board as a pivot point. The floats (outer hulls, now often called “amas”) had simple square cross section planing shapes, swept up to points at the front.

Frolic was sloop rigged with a self tending jib, had an 8 ft. beam and could be trailered without folding.  She was very fast in a breeze – at 14 knots she was fast enough to plane out or surf.  Frolic went well to weather, tacked easily and had good light air performance.  If she had a problem, it was that she was just a bit smaller than would have been ideal for two people.

Lauren was just 15 years old the summer of 1956 when he sailed on Frolic with Piver.  This was his first introduction to the great performance potential of a multihull. For the first time Lauren saw stability and sail carrying power, small frontal and wetted surface area combine with light weight to allow the trimaran to accelerate quickly out from under wind loads, instead of just healing and making bigger waves as a conventional boat does.

Piver loved to pace Frolic against Star boats, the Olympic racing class practicing in the Bay.  Except in light airs going to weather, Frolic could keep up with a Star, even though the Stars were 6 feet longer and carried much more sail. As he sailed by them he relished damaging their Olympic egos.

Frolic would surf on the Bay chop or the wake of a boat and Piver used the crew as movable ballast.  He would see a race boat on the Bay and say, “Lets go get him! Come on wind!”

Art quickly designed Nugget (24ft) and Banner (20ft) based on Frolic.   Art’s friends started building prototypes from his designs. Banner was flaming fast although only one or two were built. After sailing with Art in Frolic, Lauren was so impressed that he talked his father into letting him build a Nugget in the family garage. Hundreds of Nugget’s have since been built over the years. One of the most famous was Jim Brown’s beautiful “Juana”.

Piver followed Banner and Nugget with the 30 ft cruising trimaran Nimble.  Nimble had Frolic’s rocked keel which came up to the waterline and for the first time Art used float fins instead of a dagger board for lateral plane.  The use of float fins to provide lateral plane proved to be controversial over time.

Lauren Williams’ father had set him up with a drawing board and drafting tools at age nine so by the time he was 16 years old he had six years experience in drawing boats and had two years of formal drafting classes in high school.  Art Piver’s drafting style was rudimentary so Lauren started with Nimble, taking Arts designs and doing much more finished inked working drawings on vellum for Art to print and sell as stock plans.

Lauren retained these features, the rockered keel and float fins, when he later started doing his own designs. He made a major change and quadrupled the size of the float fins.  (My trimaran, FastAlley, has the rocker keel and float fins).

Lauren finished high school with his favorite subjects being Drafting, Woodshop, Mathematics, Physics, Chemistry, History and English.  He also sang in the school choir and played the banjo in music programs. After school and during vacations he was doing drawings for Art Piver and sailing with Art and his buddies, doing prototype trials and promotional sails.

LAUREN AS A YOUNG ADULT

In 1960/61 Arthur Piver built Lodestar, a 35ft trimaran, and the 19 year old Lauren took time off from college and helped him finish and sail it. Sailing Lodestar was the first time ever that Lauren did 20 knots while sailing.

Another trimaran at the time that influenced Lauren was the Louis Maquelard 18ft trimaran.  It was more powerful than Frolic but didn’t tack easily.  It was ferociously fast in a straight line and beautifully built of varnished mahogany.  Louis next trimaran was a 45 footer that he had built in Japan.  It was ketch rigged, and had an all mahogany interior. But it was built heavier than specified so Louis was disappointed in its performance even though it was still fast.

Art and Louis had their trimarans out on the Bay sailing in company when the 35ft Lodestar caught a big puff and easily left Louis’ 45 footer far in its wake.  The 20 knot speed of Lodestar’s break-away skate greatly influenced the young Lauren who had never dreamed of those speeds when under sail.

Arthur Piver, 20 year old Lauren Williams, Bill Goodman, and Fred Jukich decided to enter Lodestar in the 1961 Transpac. and the team did the coastal passage with Jim Brown replacing Bill Goodman from San Francisco to Long Beach.  Not all the hatches were installed in time for the coastal passage, so the boat was quite unfinished. Lodestar’s technology was one 12-volt battery and a 9hp Mercury outboard. They also had a Heathkit radio direction finder (which worked). a plastic sextant and a direct reading, small boat compass. The missing hatches on the salon and aft cabin were installed by the time the Transpac started, however, the Transpac Committee would not let them enter so they did the race unofficially.

They came into Hawaii in 15 days and 3 hours, and about in the middle of the pack with no food and 10 gallons of water left.  They arrived at the Alawai Yacht Harbor and did circles in front of the yacht club until they were spotted.  Then the club members came out and put them in the lead spot as though they had won the race.  They were dined, wined, and feted. The real heros of the race were Rich Gerling and Ned Dwyer, two Santa Cruz surfers, who sailed a 24 foot Piver Nugget on the same course and arrived 6 days later still ahead of a couple of the racers. They had started two days later than everyone else.

Piver had told the Press that he would do the race in 9 days, a record time, but there were light winds that year and they had no light weather sails, so Lodestar couldn’t do Art’s expected 15 knots.  When they didn’t arrive in Hawaii after 9 days, Lauren’s worried mother called out the Coast Guard who did find them out at sea, happily sailing their westing down.  Their one battery had run flat and they had no way in 1961 to recharge it, so their radio was no good when the battery finally faded.  The battery was also used to light the binnacle, however, the binnacle light got dimmer and dimmer as the battery faded making it harder to read the compass and hold a course in the dark.

There were other problems with Lodestar. The helmsman’s seating position was exceedingly uncomfortable with the wheel being very difficult to reach.  Loadstar wanted to broach too when running down wind. It took a lot of attention to maintain course, especially on a dark night when it was more difficult to gauge waves coming up from astern.  This tendency to want to round up is common to many boats but is aggravated in a boat that is overly buoyant in the stern, doesn’t have enough lateral plane amidships, and/or lacks rudder power.

Lauren stayed in Hawaii to work the summer while bunking down in an old houseboat.  Art took Lodestar on to Tahiti and New Zealand.  He wanted to surf the Roaring Forties but found that the wind and waves were not conducive to surfing, unlike the San Francisco Bay where the smooth water and high winds are ideal for high speed sailing.

The next boat to greatly influence Lauren was Art’s 40ft Victress, a design for which he had done the working drawings. Walt and Dee Fredricksen came up with the idea of moving the cabin side out to side of the outer hull allowing one to walk through the outer hulls (amas), making them into separate cabins.  Walt and Dee built their Victress, named Xamanek, in Eugene, Oregon and sailed her down the Willamette River to Portland and on down the coast.  Lauren incorporated this innovation into his own later designs because it so greatly enhanced the privacy and living space in the trimaran.

Walt and Dee knew Thor Heyerdahl of KonTiki fame.  They were all anthropologists and archeologists and they wanted to sail the Xamanek to the Marquesas.  Lauren signed on for the trip.  The money and visas for the Marquesan trip never came through but it did give Lauren three months experience cruising and living aboard sailing from Sausalito to San Diego calling at many coastal ports, with four adults and a child aboard.  Victress was the first of Piver’s boats designed with a pilothouse. Xamanek was a fixture for many years with Walt and Dee sailing her out of Lahina, Maui.

Lauren had taken his drafting paper and tools along for the trip and designed his first – and favorite – 44ft trimaran on this trip.  The 44 was much easier to move around in (than Victress or Loadstar). Lauren added a bowsprit for sailplan balance, vastly improved the steering, modified the main hull cross section to lower wetted surface, extended the stern slightly making the main hull double ended, used the walk-thru amas, raised the main cross arm up into the cabin increasing the strength of the boat, and basically designed solutions to all the problems he had experienced in Lodestar and Victress.  One of the big additions was adding an inboard Diesel engine for the first time in a trimaran. The result was what he called a “Trimaran Motorsailer”, a boat that had a “small motorship” feel.

At this stage Lauren’s drawings were very professional, being easily read and understood. By now Lauren had done studies in the Architectural School at the University of Oregon so he brought those same high architectural and engineering standards to boat design.

Lauren was always highly motivated to design boats, starting at 8 years old with his first redwood siding attempt.  His uncle was a naval architect turned airline captain and gave the boy a copy of Chapman’s “Blue Book”, “Piloting, Seamanship, and Small Boat Handling”.  It had lots of advice and great pictures of the best conservative boats of the time, which were mostly East Coast boats…. no one back there admitted to anything happening on the West Coast at the time.

As a boy, Lauren happily pored over his Chapman’s absorbing it like a sponge.    His uncle also got Lauren subscriptions to Rudder Magazine, Sea and Pacific Motorboat, and Motorboating, which were the leading edge magazines of the day.  So as a boy Lauren was exposed to the best texts on yachting at the time.

When 16 years old, his uncle gave him a copy of Skene’s Elements of Yacht Design which Lauren used as his model to upgrade Piver’s rudimentary drawings into properly drafted plans.  Jim Brown said that Arthur Piver had the most prolific design sales of any yacht designs in the world in those years.

After cruising with the Fredericksens, Lauren rejoined Arthur Piver in Mill Valley where Art was designing the 27 ft. Chariot, 28 ft. Encore, 32 ft. Herald, 46 ft. Trident, 55 ft.  Diadem, the 65 ft. Empress, and redesigning Nugget and Nimble.  Lauren drew up the plans.  At this time Lauren showed Art the 44 ft. plans that he had done aboard the Victress but Art was not impressed.  At that time, all of Piver’s boats had a 90 degree v-bottom shape and transom sterns and Lauren’s design differed quite noticeably.

Lauren’s design had double ended hulls for easy downwind handling versus the very buoyant flat transom of Piver’s boats.

LAUREN GOES IT ALONE

So at 21years old Lauren went off on his own, and started selling his own designs with his W44, which he had designed for himself, as his first design.  He continued to design boats and to build small boats. As a young designer he couldn’t afford to build the 44 foot trimaran that he wanted to live aboard and sail. He did manage to build an 18ft gaff rigged trimaran that he launched in 1969 and still uses today to tear up the Bay.

The first design that he sold and that was built was a W19, Lil’ Stink”, built by Berle Virak (yes, a woman) and Lauren was excited going to the launching and sailing and photographing her on San Francisco Bay.

The second design launched was his W44 “Kyma” which was built in the city of Belize, British Honduras by Bob Lewis, a retired American Airlines captain.  It was beautifully finished out in mahogany and cruised at 8 1/2 knots and 1 GPH under power with a Perkins 4-107 at 1200 RPM and did 16 knots in a twenty knot breeze, reaching under sail alone.

The third design built was a 44 footer in Sacramento, built by Dan Taylor, a pharmacist.

The fourth was a W27 in Hawaii.

Then a W19 in Seattle, another 19 in Berkeley, California, the 37ft on Vancouver Island, the 44ft in Toronto, the 44ft in Yap Island, and the 27ft in Florida….. and so on.

Altogether Lauren sold the following plans:

22 sets for the 19 ft

7   sets for the 27 ft

0   for the 32 ft (he never finished the plans)

12 for the 37 footer

14 for the 44 foot

2 for the 50 footer

When Lauren was 26 years old Arthur Piver disappeared at sea.  Piver was a pioneer in the yachting industry and his memory remains even 50+ years later.  Lauren had drawn Piver’s designs for 4 years.

In the early 1970s Lauren was at lunch with a yacht broker and a boat builder.  They were lamenting the deplorable decline of boat building on the West Coast.  The yacht broker said that boats could be built in the Orient and delivered to Sausalito for the same cost of just the materials in San Francisco.  That gave Lauren pause.

So at 30 years old Lauren left the yacht design business and joined his father’s firm as a cartographer in San Francisco.  Lauren never really enjoyed the change of career so after 5 years he went back into the boat business.

At 35 years old Lauren was into the heavy mechanical side of boats and designed solutions for engine installations, shafting, steering, rudders, custom deck machinery, large commercial deck winches, davits, radar masts, etc.  He designed and installed lots of specialty and custom solutions for large boats.

The 1980s economic downturn brought home to Lauren the severity of the cyclical luxury boat market, and at 43 years old Lauren decided to get out of the boat business altogether.

Lauren Williams is now retired and living in the Bay area.  He is involved with the museum that is restoring the Petaluma & Santa Rosa electric railway, the Petaluma Trolley. He still has a Lyman 19 Runabout, the original Ray Speck “Sid” skiff, the 24 foot Arques, Hicks engined motor launch “Taxi” and his 1969, gaff rigged trimaran the “Odd One” (good name for a gaff trimaran!)

Every now and then a boat that he didn’t know has been completed pops up, like my FastAlley.  And he’d still like to have one of his W44s.

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