Story: Andrews, George Grey

Page 1 - Biography

Andrews, George Grey

1880–1952

Yacht designer, builder and racer, engineer, naval officer

This biography was written by Jason Corkin and was first published in the Dictionary of New Zealand BiographyVolume 4, 1998

George Grey Andrews was born in Christchurch on 17 May 1880, the son of Elizabeth Ann Gahagan and her husband, Samuel Paul Andrews, a plasterer and member of Parliament. His father was a champion oarsman and a leading rowing administrator in Canterbury. George’s childhood was spent at Moncks Bay, Redcliffs, close to the estuary at Sumner. After being introduced to sailing by a friend, he embarked on what became a lifelong passion for yachting.

He honed his design and racing skills at the Christchurch Sailing Club, where locally designed boats predominated. He built Heresy, his first 30-foot scow design, in 1898. With Scud in 1904 he quickly gained prominence as a top young designer, builder and racer of the 14-foot Christchurch sailing punts. His influence significantly contributed to the popularity of this local restricted design on the estuary prior to the First World War.

Andrews gained practical engineering experience as an apprentice with Scott Brothers Limited while attending engineering classes at Canterbury College. Further study took him to King’s College, London. He continued his involvement with sailing racing and cruising in England and Europe and making two round-the-world voyages on square-riggers. He was also employed as an electrical and refrigerating engineer on various ships sailing between London and New Zealand, obtaining a third-class marine engineer’s certificate before returning to Canterbury.

During the First World War Andrews enlisted with the Royal Naval Volunteer Reserve and served for some time as officer in charge of launches on the hospital ship Maheno. In this position he helped evacuate hundreds of soldiers from the beaches of Gallipoli while under fire. He then went to England, where a posting to the Royal Naval College, Greenwich, saw him deployed as commander aboard an anti-submarine motor launch in the North Sea until the end of the war.

After hostilities ceased Andrews returned to New Zealand and embarked on a variety of small business ventures to support his interest in yachting. These included owning a tomato farm in the Heathcote Valley and having interests in gold-dredging and dairy farming on the West Coast.

The proliferation in national yacht design classes after the war also captured Andrews’s energy and interest. Among these were the Silver Fern, Takapuna, Tauranga and the Sanders Cup X class. Some of his post-war designs achieved national status and spread his fame beyond local legend. Gadfly, one of three Cornwell Cup Takapuna-class yachts he designed and built, had the remarkable distinction of winning every race at the 1927 Cornwell Cup regatta, a contest in which the crews changed boats in every heat. His Tauranga design Hi Ho, skippered by Graham Mander, became national champion in 1946.

Perhaps the greatest acknowledgement of Andrews’s all-round yachting abilities came from his involvement with the Sanders Cup class. This contest for the 14-foot one-design X class represented the apogee of small-boat racing in New Zealand. At the 1926 contest, in Betty, Andrews became the first sailor to design, build, own and skipper the champion boat. He went on to win the 1927 and 1928 contests before withdrawing Betty from competition. This unprecedented run of three consecutive victories in the Sanders Cup has never been equalled.

George Andrews was one of New Zealand’s foremost authorities in designing, building and sailing boats. He designed and built 63 and owned a total of 70, including an array of different craft such as canoes, small sailing dinghies, keel yachts, auxiliaries and launches. He remained a bachelor and the boats he built were invariably for himself: none were built for profit. While his sporting outlook was deemed amateur, the quality of his work was professional.

Despite his close association with the sea, Andrews was prone to sea sickness. He was described as somewhat quiet, shy and retiring by nature, but had a reputation as a hard taskmaster among the young men he taught to sail. However, his coaching was effective: his protégés included Dick Hampton, Ian Treleaven, Brian and Peter Lamb, Hugh England, Tony Shields and Lindsay Kerr, all of whom became prominent in yachting. George Andrews died in Christchurch on 19 January 1952.