Once on board a Cornish Cormorant, you won’t believe that this stable, attractive cat-rigged dinghy – good for camping or as a day boat – is only 12ft in length…


The Cornish Cormorant is an attractive cat-rigged dinghy and I was very pleased when Alex at Anglia Yacht Brokerage was able to locate and deliver one to me. I’d done very little research into the boat but she just looked great and I was not disappointed once I got her afloat.

For a boat of only 12ft in length she is very stable and is often used as a camping and day boat by the hardy members of the Dinghy Cruising Association. I prefer a hotel and she is also useful in this regard; being small enough to pull up ashore in most places. But the main attraction to me was the Cormorant’s balanced good looks.

She’s no lightweight being 350lb (159kg) and when you add the weight of the trolley and all the gear, you may find yourself pulling something around 600lb (270kg) up the slipway. I weigh in at 140lb so you can see that this presents an unfair competition.

But somehow I managed it by zig-zagging up the slipway and using chocks at each turn. This resulted in a few lumps and bumps on my body, until eventually I gave up and learned to use the car with a long rope attached.

Then, getting the launching trolley together with boat onto the road trailer was another challenge requiring careful alignment rather than the limited brute force I possess.

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This is all fine if you can get the car close enough to the launch site. I now tend to use just the car with road trailer for launching heavy dinghies rather than a combination trolley/trailer and avoid as best I can getting the wheel bearings wet. I have always done this for the heavy day boats like Drascombes.

It depends on your strength and whether there’s another pair of hands, but for me I now only hand-pull light boats of up to 150lb (70kg) on trolleys up slipways.

One problem with my Cormorant was the lack of a tow eye halfway down the bow. This meant that on retrieval you were pulling the boat down rather than upwards onto the trolley or trailer. Okay for floating on but not when in shallow water or when trying to keep bearings dry.


Cornish Cormorant on her trolley. Note the lack of a towing eye on her stem

The rig

A cat rig is generally a single mast situated well forward, near the bow, which carries a large single sail and has no standing rigging, sometimes referred to as unstayed. Once you have worked out the launching procedure you will need to work out the rig.

On the face of it this is very simple, a hollow mast with no shrouds or forestay that just slots into a hole. You try it! For me it was like tossing the caber. How can a hollow wooden mast be so heavy?

The problem is that it has to go through a hole in the foredeck and when the boat is on the trailer this is a long way up, necessitating holding the mast close to the end. This will not work so the only way is to get into the boat and maybe up onto the deck.


Colin Holt sailing his Cornish Cormorant Frances in the Menai Strait off Caernarfon. Photo: John M X Hughes

The mast has a fair diameter and when highly varnished slips through the fingers easily. The solution was a pair of rubber kitchen gloves which I always kept in the boat for this purpose. It really did make things a lot easier.

The single gaff sail has both peak and throat halyards and a double topping lift on the boom that can make things easier when lowering the sail and wishing to row. The attractive side decks made rowing a tad more difficult for me but this may not be a problem for a taller skipper. She has a reasonable freeboard with a deck so short oars are no use. Longer ones can get in the way when stowed.

There is a mounting on the transom for an outboard. I like a 2-3hp to keep the weight down. But this boat sails so well and is easy to manoeuvre; I never actually needed to use the outboard as long as I planned to use the tides.


Clive’s Cornish Cormorant could do with a fairlead for the anchor

Ample room

The moulded hull has an integral centreboard case with built in buoyancy which I was not able to test. If she went over I doubt I could get her up again with my weight. However, with a beam of 5ft 7in for her 12ft 3in LOA she is stable. The long foredeck and sidedecks keep her dry. There is ample dry stowage space.

I would have to be very unlucky or careless to capsize this boat. However, being cat rigged with the pressure up front, one owner told me in extreme conditions he managed to get the bow to dig in under the water. But I have never got anywhere near conditions like that and would be well reefed if I did.

The Cormorant uses slab reefing for a single reef and if you can do this afloat you’re doing very well. Best to practice initially on land and then on a calm day afloat with slack tide and plenty of space around.


The pretty Cormorant, one of the best looking boats

Once I’d rigged the boat a few times and practiced a reef it was very easy and I found the excellent guide available in the owner’s handbook, which is also reproduced by the Cornish Cormorant Owners’ Association site, invaluable.

Sitting in the comfortable cockpit with an elbow resting on the side deck it is hard to believe that this is just a 12ft long boat. She seems much bigger and provides a sense of security and shelter.

She is a perfect day boat for messing about around Chichester Harbour, Falmouth and other estuarial waters. Definitely one of my favourite boats.

Original Cornish Cormorant* specifications

LOA: 3.73m (12ft 3in)
Beam: 1.70m (5ft 7in)
Draught (board up): 0.18m (7in)
Draught (board down): 1.07m (3ft 6in)
Mast height: 4.26m (14ft 0in)
Weight (minimum): 159kg (350lb)
Construction: GRP
Sail area: 8.18m2 (88ft2)
Designer: Roger Dongray
Builder: Cornish Crabbers
Rig: Cat gaff

*Not to be confused with the later Cornish Cormorant model

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This feature appeared in the April 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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