Peter Poland shines the spotlight on trailerable day boats and wonders “Are we modern sailors – with our cosseted cruiser comfort – missing out on excitement and adventure?”
You can learn a lot from studying famous sailors and what they say. Take Uffa Fox, for example. As well as being a designer, confidant of Royalty and an intrepid sailor, Uffa was also a philosopher; albeit of the salty variety.
Any sailor will enjoy his book Sail and Power. In the introduction to Part 1 – Cruising, Uffa says that ‘Cruising can be enjoyed in all sizes of craft, from the giant steamship Queen Mary downwards, but it may be said generally that the smaller the cruiser, the greater the pleasure derived from it: for when we cruise we are trying to escape the exactness of this mechanical age, and to enjoy the changing moods of nature, and these changes are seen and felt far more in the small than in the large vessel.’
The first lines in chapter 1 – To Brittany in Brynhild – then kick off with: ‘If we are fond of music, we play some instrument or sing, so that we may enjoy it; and if we are fond of the sea, we must sail on it in some form of boat.
‘Our choice of boat is as wide as our choice of musical instrument; and for a cruise across channel and along the Normandy and Brittany coasts into the Bay of Biscay to Spain and possibly the Mediterranean, I chose, designed and built a 20ft double-handed sliding-seat canoe.’
It gets better. On the topic of accommodation, Uffa explains: ‘Two tents had to be carried, one that fitted over the main boom and another that would sleep two on shore, for in some places it would be impossible to sleep in the boat, and in others impossible to sleep ashore.’
Then what about food? Uffa says: ‘Once we had crossed the channel, it was only necessary to take one day’s food supply with us.’
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And what about actually eating this food at sea? Uffa has a simple answer. ‘In calm weather we could cook under way (on a primus) such things as sausages, eggs and bacon or soup, and for rough weather I took a large quantity of milk chocolate and plain biscuits, which can be eaten in the roughest of weather and contain a great deal of nourishment and energy.’
And how about some clothes? Fast sliding-seat canoes with a few inches freeboard can get a bit wet. Simple.
‘Apart from our sailing clothes, we each had only trousers, jacket, shirt, socks and pyjamas (really?) in the boat. Directly we arrived at any place, we changed into dry clothes and spread our sailing clothes out to dry, whereas had we more than one suit we would always have wondered which to wear.’
Do you get the picture? Are we modern sailors – with our cosseted cruiser comfort – missing out? Are excitement and adventure still out there?
You don’t of course have to go to Uffa’s extremes to get close to the water and sail on the sea – as opposed to sitting in a cockpit, raised way above it. There are plenty of stable day-boats and trailerable pocket cruisers around (new and second-hand) that fit the bill.
And, who knows, you might just find they give you more fun than bigger boats. There’s an old saying that goes ‘the smaller the boat, the more you use it.’
What’s more you can then spend what you saved by buying a smaller boat on taking your crew for an annual charter holiday in a big yacht sailing on distant shores, where the sun shines and the sea sparkles.
In days gone by, there were large numbers of British builders offering day-boats. And there were even more across the Channel. But few of these continental offerings now make their way over here, because dealers have realised that they make far more profit selling larger, more expensive boats.
And thanks to the horrors of Brexit, buying a used boat in the EU can be a problem. Meanwhile UK dealers no longer bother with anything much smaller than about 30ft. But there are still seaworthy British-built day-boats to be found if you look around.
Firstly, there are the ‘classics’ that still sell in large numbers. The original Drascombe range is still flourishing and being built by Churchouse Boats in Nether Wallop, Hampshire.
The Drascombe Dabber (15ft 6in, 265kg, £19,995), Drascombe Lugger (18ft 9in, 360kg, £22,995) and Drascombe Longboat (21ft 9in, 540kg, £26,995) are all long established boats and a regular part of the British sailing scene.
Some Drascombes have crossed oceans and you can read all about such adventures on the Drascombe Association’s excellent website or in its very professional quarterly magazine DAN issued to members.
This hyperactive association also organises numerous rallies and events for those who prefer coastal pottering in company to setting off towards distant horizons.
And the Drascombe Coaster adds a cabin – making it a splendid weekender – if you’re not into boom tents. While being rowed out to a boat moored in a creek, I spotted a Coaster on a mud mooring. “He goes all over the place in that boat”, said my oarsman, “he even takes her cross-Channel when the weather looks set fair.”
And are there any drawbacks to this hugely popular Drascombe line? Perhaps the only change I would make would be to offer a boom (removable or fixed) as an alternative to a heavy block.
This will sound sacrilegious to Drascombe devotees – who are happy to watch a large mainsail clew block flogging about – but I hate the thought of all that wind going to waste when the boat is broad reaching or running. A boomless mainsail will never be as efficient off the wind as one whose foot is tensioned along a spar.
And I’d worry about unexpected blows to the head. A retired submariner friend who owned a Lugger followed by a Longboat said: “I wouldn’t be without a removable booming out spar for the mainsail.”
Honnor Marine Classics is now based in Swanage, Dorset, and builds the Original Devon Scaffie, Dabber, Lugger, Longboat, Coaster and Gig (In 1998 Honnor Marine changed the range name of these boats from Drascombe to Original Devon).
In addition to the Devon range Honnor Marine also builds the Tamarisk 19, Cape Cutter 19 and Windward Cutter (but more on these next month).
They also specialise in refurbishing, upgrading and supplying parts for Drascombe and Devon boats of all ages. Their open day-boat line-up includes the Original Devon Lugger (5.7m / 18ft 8in) and Devon Longboat (6.6m / 21ft 7in).
With their boomless tan mainsails and jaunty hulls, these simple boats have given thousands of hours of pleasure to thousands of sailors.
The Devon Coaster (6.6m) adds a small cabin for those who hanker after the occasional night afloat, anchored at the top of a secluded creek. They all have heavy centreplates – an essential ingredient for coastal exploration – and they all have a reputation for rugged reliability.
This ‘Lugger experience’ has also been extended to disabled children, thanks to the special conversion organised by Queen Mary Sailing Club Sailability. I was told a Devon Lugger was purchased and converted to optional wheel steering. Queen Mary SC now has two Drascombe Longboats built by Churchouse Boats.
The Longboats can carry an instructor and up to nine people. With a wheel steering option there’s a secure helming position for a disabled sailor. Churchouse says that in the last 10 years, half the Drascombes were built for Sailability needs.
Another splendid (and underrated) day-boat is descended from the Salcombe Yawl, which traces its history back some 200 years to the days when it was a working inshore fishing boat.
The mizzen steadied these yawls when fishing or lifting pots, and the generous mainsail and jib provided the horsepower to get to and from the fishing grounds at speed and in safety – even in heavy seas.
The design has since evolved to arrive at its current and highly elegant format, with hull lines tweaked by contemporary designers such as Ian Howlett and Phil Morrison.
The hulls are still built from gleaming clinker planking and the spars are still varnished timber. They are still a joy to the eye and they sail like witches. But there’s a snag. A new one now costs about the same as the typical 4×4 that might be used to tow it.
Michael Quick then fortunately decided that a fibreglass replica would appeal to less well-heeled sailors. So in 1968 he took a Salcombe Yawl and made mould tools – from which he produced the One Design GRP Devon Yawl.
The pretty clinker hull looks much the same, even if it’s now ‘plastic’. The spars changed from wood to alloy, saving more money. But he retained the traditional wooden bowsprit and the sail plan and overall design that are now set in stone by Devon Yawl One Design rules. An active class association runs races and numerous other events.
After my uncle bought a Devon Yawl, I got a chance to savour its delights – and it showed off the first of its many qualities before we even left the mooring. It was bobbing around contentedly, with a cover rigged to keep rain out of the cockpit.
The centreplate was up. “You stay in the dinghy and I’ll clamber aboard,” said my tall (and heavy) uncle, heaving himself – metal hips and all – onto the side deck. I nervously awaited the inevitable sideways lurch – but the boat hardly moved.
Once I joined him on board, I discovered why. Even though the 175lb centreplate was raised, its weight (combined with the 144lb of fixed internal ballast) keeps the boat on an even keel.
With an all-up weight of 950lb, the Yawl is substantial and her ballast ratio approaches 35%. Compare this to the 370lb all-up weight of a Wayfarer or the 640lb of a Laser Stratos ‘keel’ and you’ll understand why she feels so stable. She’s no featherweight – and this is much of her appeal.
A cuddy version called the Devon Dayboat was also produced. The small cabin is under a coachroof that extends about two feet behind the mast that is deck stepped in a tabernacle on top. The rig, hull shape, centreplate, rudder etc are the same so Devon Dayboats can also take part in Devon Yawl rallies and events.
The hulls of both BayRaiders are 6.05m (19ft 10in) long, have a beam of 2.05m and draw 1.42m with the centreplate down. The accommodation under the Expedition model’s cuddy increases its weight from the open BayRaider’s 500kg to 520kg.
Both models come with a ballast tank that weighs 300kg when full and are ideal for sailors looking for a boat that’s exceptionally stable and self-righting (with ballast tank full) or fast and lighter (with ballast tank empty).
Indeed both models are effectively two boats for the price of one. They are ideal for beginners with the ballast tank full then as the crew gains experience, the tank can be left empty (or emptied on the move) to lift the performance several notches.
The BayRaiders also have a self-draining cockpit and an outboard well which can be sealed with ‘shutters’ when the engine is tilted clear of the water. They both come with ketch rigs so the mainsail can be lowered in extreme weather, leaving the boat well balanced and stable under just jib and mizzen.
Cornish Shrimper 17 & Crabber 19
Another British builder has supplied small day-boats for many years and used to build these boats in Rock, in Cornwall. They have now moved to a new factory a bit further up the Camel Estuary in Wadebridge.
Cornish Crabbers is perhaps most famous for its Shrimper model, but in the days when Peter Keeling was the MD the company produced an excellent day-boat called the Cornish Coble. Last built in 2001, there are about 380 around. The largest fleet (14 boats) is at West Wittering Sailing Club.
With her jaunty sheer this 16ft 6in dinghy (plus bowsprit) is as pretty as a picture. Propelled by a standing lug mainsail and a decent sized headsail that lives on a furler attached to the end of the bowsprit, she’s no mean performer.
And at an all-up weight of around 600lb, she’s chunky enough to feel stable, yet light enough to tow. There are usually a few to be found in the classified ads and asking prices range from £3,000 to £5,000, depending on spec, motor, trailer, condition etc.
Crabbers’ other popular day-sailer is still in production. The renamed Cornish Shrimper 17 is an honest and attractive ‘plastic gaffer’. At 17ft (plus bowsprit) and a weight of 1,450lb, she’s a lot more substantial than the old Coble model.
She shares the typical trad Crabber look of simulated clinker planking, timber spars and tan sails. The 17 is very much a ‘sit in’ day-boat with a neat outboard well at the rear of the cockpit and plenty of locker space.
And a clever canopy arrangement makes occasional overnighting an option. Uffa would approve. She’s a genuine creek crawler that will also look after you in a breeze and has a respectable turn of speed under sail. Crabbers have a highly specified 2016 example for sale at £18,500 while a basic new one costs £29,950.
Moving up in size, the top-selling Cornish Shrimper 19 now numbers over 1,100 boats and is still being built today. But more on this in the next article.
Of similar character, and well worth considering, is the high-peak gaff rigged Norfolk Oyster. Designed by John Leather in the early 1960s the boat was originally built in wood from plans sold by Yachts & Yachting magazine from 1965.
Then Charlie Ward bought one and this attracted so much interest at Blakeney that he persuaded John Leather to give him permission to produce a GRP version and the first of these was launched in 1989. Around 150 have since been built.
The GRP Oyster is 16ft 10in long, has timber spars and tan sails, and weighs in at around 1,320lb. So her vital statistics are similar to those of the Shrimper (ex Crabber 17). But she does not have a bowsprit.
Neil Thompson took the business over from Charlie Ward in 2007 and has maintained the same reputation for high quality boats. There are often a few ‘refurbished’ examples on Thompson’s books for around £15,000.
A new one costs around £39,000. The Oyster is also a satisfying performer under sail. I well remember an old Hunter customer (a retired naval officer) who moved down in boat size to a Norfolk Oyster. He was delighted with his purchase.
Still on the ‘plastic gaffer’ theme, the British-built Memory 19 also makes a splendid day-boat. She was designed many years ago by Tony Robinson and was based on the shapely and practical lines of the small, shoal draught fishing smacks of Brightlingsea.
Then Eric Bergqvist introduced a GRP version, taking a hull mould straight off a wooden hull – seams, knots and all. The resulting ‘original timber finish’ is so realistic that it is easy to take her for a genuine strip planked boat. The first GRP Memory was launched in 1976.
In a series of articles for Classic Boat on ‘Affordable Classics’, editor Steffan Meyric-Hughes wrote: ‘The Memory 19 belongs to a very specific and popular genre: the 19ft (5.8m) GRP-built, traditional-looking, trailable, gaff-rigged yacht, exemplified by the Cornish Shrimper that has sold more than 1,100 boats since its inception in GRP in 1980. The Memory 19 was the first of the genre, launched in GRP in 1976.
‘She was designed by Tony Robinson for his own use, then built by Eric Bergqvist, then Liverpool Boat Company, and in more recent years by Salterns Boatbuilders.
‘Collars is now the builder, but the cost of a new one (over £30,000 by now) against the very good and plentiful examples on the used market, means none have been built in years…
‘The Memory 19 is a fast boat – in fact, it has won more races than any other design in OGA racing. The big rig means these boats go in very little wind and reach hull speed in as little as 10-12 knots with the right sails up… Expect to pay £10,000 for a nice, late boat or a bit more with a trailer.’
The Memory is considerably ‘beefier’ than the other gaff rigged day-boats I have mentioned and weighs in at around 2,400lb, of which 45% is ballast (including the centreplate). And she carries 313sq ft of sail (including the topsail), so is no mean performer.
I know of several serious sailors in the Hamble area who sailed Memory 19s because of the design’s impressive speed at sea and ability to picnic in shallow, secluded up-river coves. Over 130 have been built, and the open topped Memory 19 was later joined by a new version sporting a short coachroof and twin berth interior.
Steffan rounded off his Memory 19 ‘Affordable Classics’ piece by quoting a contented owner who said: ‘I looked at a Cape 19, which has much more room, but the Memory won for its very traditional looks.
I have had huge pleasure from this little gaffer, won many races, crossed the Irish Sea four times and won the Cape Horn trophy, for a very rough passage from Brittany to Essex.
She sails like a witch in light airs, has a very light helm and a cosy cabin: what more could one ask? After 100,000 miles at sea, including in a J-Class, she’s the most fun I’ve had.’
For those who prefer something more contemporary, the long running and successful Hawk 20 is worth a look. Built by Reid Boats in Christchurch, Dorset, she’s 20ft long and weighs 1,800lb, of which 865lb is ballast. So she’s stiff on paper – and just as stiff under sail.
When PBO tested her in 1993, Dave Greenwell wrote: ‘In Force 7, gusting 8… common sense suggested we put in a reef. Frankly it made little difference to her speed so we took it out… just after that she went on the plane and clocked 12 knots.’
Unlike the ‘plastic gaffers’, the Hawk is unashamedly modern. The multi chine hull looks sweet, the ballasted centreplate is skilfully engineered, and the huge cockpit has space to take a large family on a day sail.
Yet the Hawk is just as good as a single-hander and also scores on the club racing circuit. She does a lot of jobs and – most unusually – seems to do them all equally well.
The Hawk 20 comes in two versions. The Dayboat (new price £30,330) and Cabin (£33,720) both have a self-draining cockpit with an aft outboard-well (with ‘closure plugs’ to retain the water flow when the engine is tilted up) and sealed foam-filled buoyancy compartments.
The centreplate is an aerofoil alloy casting (with a 6:1 lifting tackle) for efficient sailing and the lead ballast is glassed into the bilge. There’s more information on the owners’ group website as well as the occasional second-hand boat.
I spotted one on offer including trailer, new outboard, covers and extra sails for £11,350. This excellent Hawk 20 video shows a ‘cabin’ version and Dayboat version pacing each other in a brisk breeze.
If you enjoy a sportier, lighter day-boat with no ballast and just a centreboard, the rotomoulded Topaz Omega (LOA 4.7m/15ft 5in, weight 160kg) from Toppers is worth a look. Thanks to her construction method, she’s not expensive. And her generous cockpit and freeboard mean that a family crew can potter without getting too wet.
But if you prefer conventional GRP construction, the Proctor-designed Wayfarer (LOA 4.88m/16ft, weight 182kg, price new £12,995) and Wanderer (LOA 4.27m/14ft, weight 135kg, price new £11,995) dinghies made by Hartley Boats both have enviable track records.
I owned a Wanderer for years and never succeeded in turning it over! Intrepid sailors such as the Pyes have taken a leaf out of Uffa’s book and enjoyed extensive cruises and open sea passages in their Wayfarer.
I was interested in the comments of a sailing instructor on a forum thread about the differences between older GRP designs and modern rotomoulded alternatives.
He had taught on various modern dinghies and concluded “You can’t really beat a Wayfarer. They are fantastic boats and are as pleasurable in a drifter as in a storm. They are also a lot dryer than rotoboats.”
Another big name to offer a spacious dinghy capable of sporty estuary pottering is Laser. The Stratos (laserstratos.org.uk) is 4.94m (16ft 2in) LOA and comes with either a conventional centre-board or a heavier, ballasted lifting keel. This could prove a hit with families who enjoy extra performance.
The new Jo Richards-designed RS Toura (15ft 2in, 175 kg, £7,995) is rotomoulded in Comptec PE3 polyethelene and a recent evolution from the slightly smaller rotomoulded RS Quest.
Also designed by Jo Richards, the Quest had considerable input from the UK Sea Cadet organisation that aimed to replace an aging trainer fleet. Ideal to take an instructor and two to three pupils, the Quest also succeeded as a family dinghy with its ample space. It’s one of the best-selling dinghies of its type.
The benefit of daysailers
Despite their differing characters, all these day-boats have one thing in common. As marina and maintenance costs continue to escalate, they offer an alternative style of sailing.
Instead of paying thousands a year for a marina berth, the day-boat owner can usually find a cheap half tide mooring – or buy a road trailer. Of course they will not (unless they’re like Uffa) be setting off on lengthy ‘live aboard’ summer cruises. Instead they can charter other people’s boats for this annual ritual.
They’ll be able to sample the delights of day-sailing – with or without a crew – whenever they feel the urge. And out on the water, they will be close to it, rather than perched way above it. All the sounds and sensations of sailing will be immediate. It’s Swallows and Amazons stuff for grown-ups.
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This feature appeared in the February 2023 edition of Practical Boat Owner. For more articles like this, including DIY, money-saving advice, great boat projects, expert tips and ways to improve your boat’s performance, take out a magazine subscription to Britain’s best-selling boating magazine.
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