Clive Marsh looks at the Drascombe and Devon Luggers and the Dabber - designed for safe family boating under sail or power, but taken long distance by intrepid sailors...

Drascombe and Devon Luggers and Dabbers are both excellent versatile boats.

They can be sailed, rowed or motored – ideal for a belt and braces sailor like me.

There will come a time when the wind will not blow and it’s necessary to use the oars.

However, both the Lugger and the Dabber also have useful outboard wells, enabling effective and dry use of a motor.

Clive’s old Dabber at Norfolk

Clive’s old Dabber at Norfolk

Compare this to an outboard hanging over the transom of other small boats.

Luggers and Dabbers were designed by John Watkinson to enable safe family boating under sail, oar or power, perhaps a sail in the bay or for a spot of fishing.

However, many intrepid sailors have taken these small boats much further.

One Dabber came sailing past our club at Rye on its passage from Chichester to Germany.

Other open Drascombes have made Channel crossings, passages to Australia and transits of the Pacific.

Of course most of us would prefer a substantial yacht for such adventures, but it’s nice to know when taking the family to East Head in Chichester Harbour that you’re in a well-proven boat.

What’s the difference between the Drascombe & Devon Lugger and the Dabber?

At first glance Luggers and Dabbers look similar but on closer examination it’s clear they are very different boats.

I first sailed Luggers in the Falmouth area when cottages I rented over a few summers came complete with Luggers on swinging moorings accessible from a tender.

Once on board the Lugger, lower the centreplate, lower the galvanised rudder through a narrow slot, choose a sail plan and let go of the mooring.

A Drascombe and Devon Lugger boat

Clive’s old Lugger Spray

The Lugger has two masts enabling a comfortable sail plan of jib, main and a mizzen which sheets out to a bumpkin.

Sail her with all set, just main or with jib and mizzen. No need to be over-canvassed, these boats were easy to keep under control.

The mizzen is a particularly useful sail when manoeuvring in tight places or when at anchor.

After a couple of seasons sailing these two Luggers I bought my own and sailed her out of Rye and at Chichester.

Being a heavy boat I kept her for the most part on a mooring but occasionally hauled her out for trailing to other waters.

Design features

Most Drascombe and Devon Luggers have a gunter main rather than a lug sail.

Their hull shape resembles that of a north-east coast Coble with a high bow, attractive sheer, and undersides that flatten off aft.

The galvanised steel centreplate and rudder provide some ballast.

There are scupper holes on the side decks to allow shipped water to escape. There is also a handy pump to dry any water in the bilge.

Most Luggers are GRP, a few early ones were wooden and built by John and Douglas Elliott of Kelly and Hall’s in Newton Ferrers; they might have had a lug sail rather than gunter.

Drascombe and Devon Lugger Length overall 5.7m (18ft 9in) Beam 1.9m (6ft 3in) Sail plan two masts main, mizzen, jib Motor outboard in well Total sail area 12.3m2 (132ft2) Material: most are GRP

The Drascombe and Devon Lugger has an overall length of 5.7m (18ft 9in). Credit: Sharon Geary

Luggers sail beautifully although beaching may require planning if the rudder does not have any swing lift device.

I’d raise my rudder through the narrow slot, hold it in place with a pin, and row or motor to the beach. There is also an oar crutch on the transom for sculling.

Most Luggers don’t have or need a boom, which makes de-powering the main simple and putting the sail away easy.

My boom-less main had a block on the clew and this once, in a strong wind, hit me in the eye.

This can be avoided by rigging the main differently and even using soft shackles. I learned to take more care.

Dabber experience

To the casual eye, Drascombe and Devon Dabbers are often confused with Luggers.

I had my first Dabber experience when staying on the River Yealm.

One was being used as a rowing tender and we found some of the rig in a boathouse.

Dabbers have two masts and three sails just like their sisters but we could only find one mast and a mainsail.

We had oars but no motor. However, with this depleted rig we were able to confidently sail over the Yealm Bar towards the Mewstone near Plymouth and get back in time for dinner.

She sailed very well with just her mainsail.

Although Dabbers are 3ft shorter than Luggers there doesn’t seem to be much less working space in the cockpit.

The Drascombe and Devon Dabber has an overall length of 4.72m (15ft 6in)

The Drascombe and Devon Dabber has an overall length of 4.72m (15ft 6in)

This is because the jib of a Dabber is largely outboard onto a bowsprit.

The one little niggle with this arrangement is that part of the jib overlaps the forestay, which is attached to the stem head of the bow.

When tacking the jib can get caught on the forestay.

This doesn’t actually bother me because I reduce this likelihood by placing a plastic tube over the forestay and having a continual knot to attach the sheet to the jib.

If it does catch I just flick it over. However, this arrangement annoys some skippers who attach the forestay to the end of their bowsprit.

The problem with this approach is that if the vulnerable bowsprit is broken you will also lose your main mast and sail.

Continues below…

Generally, I like to keep boats as their designer intended and work with their foibles.

The Dabber’s main is a standing lugsail. Dabbers have a similar galvanised centreplate as Luggers, but the rudder arrangement is very different.

The rudder is wooden and is conveniently transom hung. It is also protected by a stern skeg shape of the keel.

This makes beaching easy compared to the Lugger.

Not a problem if on a long passage but most of us use these boats for coastal and estuary sailing where beaching near a pub is part of the fun.

The Dabber is far lighter than the Lugger which makes launching and recovering easier.

Below the waterline the Dabber’s hull is almost double ended and very different to the hull of the Lugger.

This shape and her reduced weight make her a very good rowing boat once she gathers some momentum.

Trailer considerations

Both of these boats will benefit from a decent swing cradle trailer if you intend to regularly launch and recover.

One thing I’ve never liked on either the Lugger or the Dabbers I have owned is their weak tow eye.

I replaced the tow eye on my Dabber with a stronger one.  A simple but time-consuming job.

A tow eye fitted to a Drascombe and Devon Dabber

I fitted a stronger tow eye on my old Dabber when the original brass one wore out

I note that Honnor Marine who make the Devon Luggers and Dabbers offer two winch eye options, the sacrificial brass strip eye or the U-bolt type in 316 stainless steel.

Overall, both are excellent boats from first class builders offering us a choice of benefits to suit our changing needs.

Drascombe and Devon Lugger

Length overall: 5.7m (18ft 9in)
Beam: 1.9m (6ft 3in)
Sail plan: two masts main, mizzen, jib
Motor: outboard in well
Total sail area: 12.3m2 (132ft2)
Material: most are GRP

Drascombe and Devon Dabber

Length overall: 4.72m (15ft 6in)

Beam 1.78m (5ft 10in)

Sail plan two masts main, mizzen, jib

Motor outboard in well

Total sail area: 10.9m2 (118ft2)

Material most are GRP

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