Compulsive boat owner Clive Marsh explains why little luggers make perfect trailer-sailers

I have always wanted to have two traditionally styled small luggers. One for launching from a slipway and one light enough to drag across a shingle beach.

The two boats that met these requirements were the Smacks boat and the Emsworth Lugger.

I was looking for a little 12-13ft lug sail dinghy for trailer sailing. Lug sails are my preferred rig for small traditional boats.

Article continues below…

While gunter and gaff rigs are very nice to sail, the lug sail is my favourite because it is so quick and easy to set up.

I could do it in a few minutes and this was key when regularly trailer sailing to new launch sites every few weeks.

The length of 12-13ft was just about right for ease of launching and moving around the drive by hand.

I had tried bigger boats but found these to be a bit on the heavy side and since my strong son had flown from the nest I needed to be able to shift things easily myself.

Now, the problem was trying to find a good lugger of that length!

You try finding one – they are as rare as hens’ teeth.

There are smaller ones such as the Tideway 10 or the Emsworth Lugger (both fine boats) but I wanted something a tad larger.


The Emswoth Lugger is an ideal beach boat as stones are less likely to get stuck inside its daggerboard than in centreboard models


Then I came across the Smacks Boat, a splendid 12ft 3in traditional lined boat in GRP with a balanced lug sail.

Just looking at the lines and that beautiful transom, I could tell she was going to leave a clean wake, sail and row well.

What’s more, they are currently in production. They come complete with a combination trailer and trolley and ready to go from the builder Brian Kennell at what I consider to be a most reasonable price.

Anglia Yacht Brokerage’s Alex Haig, an East Coast sailor, has been supplying me with used boats for many years.

I tasked him with finding me a used Smacks Boat.

Eventually he did and delivered it to me on the South Coast.

Her name was Neva, presumably after the river, and after a little research on the internet I discovered that she had won the Smacks Boat race and came second overall in an Old Gaffers Association Swamazons race in 2015.

Certainly, as I was soon to find out, she was very fast and capable.

As you can see from the main picture (left) the sail at 82ft2 is a fair size for a small unballasted boat.

I had some difficulty in keeping her balanced.



Launching Neva with reduced sail

For most of the year whenever I launched it was Force 4 upwards and I was permanently reefed.

So, I had a smaller sail made by Jeckells to the same size as Neva’s reefed sail.

I have this ready set up on a new boom and spar which I made from Canadian Douglas Fir.

So, when just sailing for a few hours in predictable winds I have a choice of rigs without the hassle of reefing.

Although reefing a balanced lug sail is simplicity compared to many other rigs, a smaller sail generally sets better that a reefed larger sail.

So far, I have sailed this little boat from Rye.

Launch at the Rye Harbour slipway, a quick look out in the bay and then up river to the town quay (Strand Quay) for some refreshment and a chat with the locals.

An outboard is not really needed because Smacks Boats row better than any other boat I have owned.

However, I did rig the main sheet from the central position so as not to foul the 2.5hp outboard and tried motoring – no problems in this department.

But I no longer have an outboard fitted given the boat’s sailing and rowing ability.

Coming alongside a jetty with oars is much easier than using an outboard and the all round rope fender on a Smacks Boat is a great asset.

So my motor is now redundant.

Neva is at least 30 years old and does not have side benches so I sail her sitting on the cockpit sole.

For this I use deep cushions and it is all very comfortable and sheltered. I considered fitting side benches but prefer the extra space without.

Current models built by Brian Kennell come fitted with side benches and tanks.

As a trailer sailer the trailing arrangement is most important.

You want to be able to launch and recover without straining your back.

Modern boats come supplied with combination trailers.

Launching with the trolley ensures the road wheel bearings stay dry.

Most people prefer and would recommend this option.

I prefer the single swing back road trailer option and De Grraff trailers made me one specially for Neva.

It works well, I don’t need to immerse the wheel bearings and in the event that I do I have specified the simple tapered variety of bearing that I can easily strip and change.

The sealed for life type might be good for a combi where road bearings are not immersed but not so good if they are immersed in salt water and need stripping down.

This requires equipment not usually available on the slipway.

I found my sealed for life bearings on a previous boat badly corroded after an immersion in the briny even when cold and pumped up.

Horses for courses and trial and error but I will always prefer simple tapered bearings!

For those interested in details here are a few lifted with permission from Brian Kennell’s website.

Early boats like mine were sold to smack owners and many shells were fitted out by enthusiastic amateurs and might be different to the current production version.

‘The hull of the current Smacks Boat is three layers of glassfibre mat with a double gel coat.

‘The standard fit out is iroko with good quality stainless and bronze fittings.

‘Spars are made from clear Douglas fir.

‘The sail is made by North Sea Sails.’


Neva’s superb new sail made by North Sea Sails in Maldon


These tough little luggers are more often seen being used as tenders without their rig.

Indeed when I bought a 30 year old one the spars and sail where still in their original plastic cover.

Emsworth Luggers are small at only 9ft 3in’ LOA but perfectly formed and it would be hard to think of a better looking boat.

Perfect for pottering between Dell Quay, Bosham and East Head, they are equally at home off the coast in fair conditions.

I sail my ELX from Chichester and also from the beach at St Leonards near Hastings.

The boat is light enough to drag across shingle with the use of a winch and without her gear two reasonably fit people can lift her onto a trailer.

My son has even carried his Emsworth Lugger on his car roof.

The boat uses a daggerboard rather than a centreboard and this has the advantage that beach stones are less likely to get stuck up the case – and can be easily knocked clear if they do.

So this is the little lugger that I use from the beach.

She is really a one person boat although I do take the smaller grandchildren out but not the long tall ones, they fit better in the Smacks Boat.

I have never needed to use an outboard on this boat because she sails and rows so well.

At sea in reasonable conditions she copes better than many modern dinghies and I always feel safe.

I have not tested her buoyancy but she has forward and aft buoyancy tanks.

The fit out is simple and high quality – an unstayed mast, just a single halyard and a main sheet.

The rig is set up in a few minutes.

If I need to take to the oars the sail can be dropped in seconds and she rows very easily.

Emsorth Luggers have evolved from small working boats and as such are easy to sail and keep upright.

She is good enough to windward, dry and easy to gybe.

These boats were made by Dorado and are now only available on the second-hand market.

However, there are similar boats such as the Fareham Lugger and some manufacturers are making small traditional luggers such as the Tideway 10’ and the Roach Dinghy.


Emsworth Lugger shows off her transom


Original builder: Alf Last
Type: Smacks Boat
Length: 12ft 3in (3.73m)
Beam: 5ft 0in (1.52m)
Draught: 6in (0.15m) plate up or 2ft 9in (0.84m) plate down
Sail area: approx 82ft2 (7.6m2) Weight approx 250lb (113kg)


LOA: 9ft 3 in (2.82m)
Beam: 4ft 1in (1.23m)
Sail area: 47ft2 (4.4m2)
Weight: hull 125lb (57kg)
Material: GRP hull and wood fit out
Rig: Balanced lug

Why not subscribe today?

This feature appeared in the February 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.

Subscribe, or make a gift for someone else, and you’ll always save at least 30% compared to newsstand prices.

See the latest PBO subscription deals on