Designed to be a safe family boat for coastal trips, the Drascombe and Devon Luggers have taken intrepid sailors on some long sea passages…
Visit any UK harbour in the summer and the chances are you’ll see a Drascombe Lugger or a Devon Lugger afloat or dried out on the mud.
My first experience of a Drascombe Lugger was at Flushing where I’d hired a holiday flat with my family overlooking the harbour.
The flat came with a tender and use of an old Mk2 Drascombe Lugger kept on a swing mooring. It rained all week but we got afloat most days and it didn’t take long for me to discover the significant benefits of the boat.
In recent years I’d owned small fully decked cruisers, and anchoring, jib changing, etc. required certain agility when walking on the wet deck in a chop.
In the Drascombe Lugger I could go forward and deal with things within the safety of the full length cockpit.
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And this provided much more comfort for crew than the small cockpits of my little cruisers which normally required one crewmember sitting half in the hatchway when sailing.
A few weeks later I found myself at an event and sitting next to the chairman of my bank. To lighten the conversation I asked him what he did when not working.
He told me that he liked sailing his Lugger and had recently sailed her across the wider part of the English Channel to France and then back again a few days later.
We talked a lot about coastal sailing and the benefits of an open boat and I decided there and then to look out for a used Lugger.
Buying a Lugger
I found an old Mark 1 Lugger for sale lying next to an air museum in Kent. I snapped her up. She wasn’t cheap but like most things you get what you pay for and few boats are so well designed and fit for purpose.
But for what purpose were Luggers originally intended? Designer John Watkinson wanted a safe family boat for harbour, estuary and short coastal trips, picnics afloat, finding a quiet beach or maybe a bit of fishing.
That’s what he had in mind but for some reason intrepid sailors have made many long sea passages in them.
My old Mk1 Lugger had a jib, gunter main sheeted on to a rope horse, and a mizzen sheeted via a bumkin. The steel centreplate was raised and lowered by a block and tackle and the steel rudder was raised by lining it up with a narrow slot and pulling it up before securing with a pin.
This made beaching a little tricky and required some thought. I’d lower sails, bring up the rudder and centreplate and simply row in to the beach.
Or sometimes use the motor which was housed in a convenient well. More recent models of the Lugger have modifications to the rudder arrangement to make things easier. However, I got used to the old system and was happy with that.
My early days of Luggering were mainly from Chichester. She was ideal for beaching or anchoring off East Head beach and the Lugger’s side benches were wide enough for a snooze.
She was an excellent performer, very steady and with plenty of sail options. My favourite plan when at sea was to lower the main and just let her sail herself under jib and mizzen sails. I could have lunch underway.
I also hired a cottage at Falmouth with a more modern Lugger and enjoyed sailing Garrick Roads and the Percuil with a stop for lunch at St Mawes… just what she was made for.
Launching and recovery were easy enough since she only weighed about 795lb (360kg) and had little draught with the keel and rudder raised.
I never had any great dramas with my old MK1 Lugger or shipped any water. She had built in buoyancy but I had no idea if it was adequate. I had heard of reports of difficulty bailing a Lugger out if swamped because water kept gushing through the centre plate housing.
I carried an old towel to stuff down the hole in the event of this happening which it never did. I have also heard of a Lugger broaching and capsizing total turtle and the plate retracting back into the housing, making it impossible for a fit crew to right the boat.
Measures can be taken to prevent the plate dropping back like this. However, any capsize in a boat of this size would be a major event and the chances of righting much less likely than with a small dinghy. So, care needs to be taken. Luggers are not heavily ballasted or decked boats.
Improved Lugger design
Modern Luggers have improved buoyancy and it is possible to get a buoyancy upgrade from the builders. To my mind old Luggers with adequate buoyancy added, sail, oar and motor options are very safe boats.
But safe as they are, I somehow managed to get myself into a little difficulty a couple of times. The worse occurred when I launched the Lugger at Rye with four passengers into a strong flood tide with the outboard in the down and ready to go position.
Unbeknown to me the motor leg had hit the slipway knocking the motor off her mounting clips. She was just hanging there.
She started easily but when I put her into gear she fell off the mounting board with me left holding all the weight of an active-in gear outboard by the throttle arm. I needed both hands to hang on and could not pull the kill cord away or push the stop button.
We were narrowly missed by a trawler who took no action to avoid a collision. My son was able to lower the rudder and steer us out of trouble while I eventually got the motor mounted and a hand free to reduce the revs.
It was exceptionally gusty that day and when the mainsail was up we gybed and the block on the loose footed sail hit me straight in the eye, which ceased to function for the rest of the day. But the boat was always fine.
The Lugger looked after me well in spite of my many mistakes and I’d thoroughly recommend one, especially if you want to take family and friends day sailing. One of my favourite boats and perfect for her intended use.
Drascombe and Devon Lugger specifications
LOA: 5.72m (18ft 9in)
Beam: 1.90m (6ft 3in)
Draught: (centreplate up): 0.25m (0ft 10in)
Draught (centreplate down): 1.22m (4ft 0in)
Weight: 360kg (795lb)
Jib sail area: 3.35m2 (36ft2)
Mainsail area: 6.87m2 (74ft2)
Mizzen sail area: 2.04m2 (22ft2)
Total sail area: 12.26m2 (132ft2)
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This feature appeared in the December 2022 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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