Introduced more than 12 years ago, the Drascombe Drifter 22 lay low for a while but has now reappeared in Mk II guise. David Harding reports...
For such a venerable name in the world of boating as Drascombe, the launch of a new model is quite an occasion.
And so it was back in 2008, when the Drascombe Drifter 22 was introduced to fill the gap left by the original 21ft (6.5m) Drifter. The last of the original Drifters had been built 20 years earlier and it was time for a new one.
Classically styled designs like this arguably need replacing less often than their modern counterparts because they don’t date as quickly, though that’s not to say that a little refreshing – or even a totally new design – isn’t a good idea now and again.
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Just look at the five incarnations of the much-loved Cornish Crabber 24 since the early 1970s. They show that it’s possible to retain the character and many visual attributes of an original model while taking advantage of developments in design and technology to make a new boat roomier, faster, lighter and easier to handle both afloat and ashore. Few people would object to that.
For a comparison with a boat that fundamentally hasn’t changed, look at the Drascombe Lugger – launched in 1967, famous the world over and still unmistakably a Drascombe Lugger from at least 1,000 paces. A fine example if ever there was one of ‘if it ain’t broke…’.
With the Drifter, however, a different approach was called for. The demise of this 21-footer in the 1980s left a hole in the Drascombe range.
To be fair, the original Drifter had been something of a departure from Drascombe’s norm, such as it was, having a fully-enclosed cabin, a long, shallow keel with bilge plates (giving a draught of around 0.6m/2ft) and the option of an inboard engine.
She was more in the mould of a small cruiser than a big dayboat, whereas Drascombes had always been very much the latter. She found plenty of buyers during her 10-year production run nonetheless, and proved to be a thoroughly competent little boat.
I sailed one during the Drascamp rally in Weymouth in 2017, organised by Sharon Geary-Harwood of Churchouse Boats to celebrate 50 years of Drascombe, and was pleasantly surprised by the performance.
A few years into the 21st century, Stewart Brown, who had taken over Churchouse Boats 10 years earlier, decided that a new Drascombe Drifter 22 was needed after two Drifter-less decades.
As he told me when we sailed together in 2009, “I wanted the largest boat I could trail, rig, launch, sail and recover on my own.
“In my book, a trailer-sailer is something that doesn’t take more than 45 minutes’ work at each end of the day. More people give up trailer-sailing because of problems with the launch, the recovery and the journey home than because of problems with the boat itself.”
That meant the new Drascombe Drifter 22 could not be in quite the same vein as the original. Out went the long keel and in came an iroko keelband that developed into a shallow keel-cum-skeg further aft and gave a maximum draught of just 0.41m (1ft 4in).
A section of lead in the middle provided the bulk of the ballast and was augmented by twin lifting plates in galvanised iron, set well aft and retracting into cases on the inboard sides of the cockpit locker mouldings.
The idea of using twin plates wasn’t a new one, having been seen on Uffa Fox’s Atalanta 26 back in the 1950s and later on the Skipper 17/Eagle 525.
It avoids having an obstruction in the middle of the boat while still providing the benefits of a centreplate (in the form of what you might call two off-centre plates).
This novelty aside, and despite being from the drawing board of a designer new to Drascombe – Paul Selway of Selway Fisher – the Drifter 22 exhibited all the Drascombe trademark features.
She was Stewart Brown’s brainchild and he made sure of that – hence the simulated lapstrake hull, forward rake to the transom, wooden spars, tan sails, bowsprit, boomkin and low aspect-ratio yawl rig.
All these have become Drascombe trademarks for good reasons. The lapstrake hull stems from the Lugger’s original wooden construction.
Some of us would find it hard to imagine a Drascombe with a smooth hull. The forward rake to the transom is traditional and allows the mizzen mast to be stepped further aft.
As for the rig, spreading the sail forward and aft with the help of a mizzen, boomkin and bowsprit helps keep the centre of effort relatively low.
A lower heeling moment means you can get away with a lower righting moment, so there’s no need for deep draught or lots of heavy ballast that makes the keel (or keels) harder to lift or the boat heavier to trail.
A gunter rig keeps the mast short for easy stepping and means it can be stowed inside the boat for trailing. It proved popular decades ago on dinghies such as the Mirror, Heron and Otter and it makes sense on boats like the Drascombe too.
As for the loose-footed mainsail, John Watkinson chose it when designing the original Lugger. His wife, Kate, had made it clear that she disliked being clouted on the head by a boom, so John did his best to eliminate the features that had put her off sailing.
Most importantly, he made the boat small, simple and trailable to avoid the hassle, cost and complexity associated with larger cruising yachts.
Although not having a boom (you can have one if you like) reduces the mainsail’s efficiency and makes some aspects of sail handling more challenging when under way, it does simplify the rigging and de-rigging process and helps to make a boat of this size a true trailer-sailer as opposed to a trailable sailer.
Back in 2009 I observed the entire rigging and launching process with the Drascombe Drifter 22, followed after our sail by the de-rigging and recovery.
Stewart did everything on his own to show that it really was a single-handed job. Few 22-footers make life this simple.
A simple spread
Another benefit of the yawl rig is its versatility. When the wind picks up, you can drop the mainsail entirely and continue under ‘jib and jigger’.
That’s the configuration we used on the Drascombe Lugger from which I took photos of the Mk II Drifter 22 during the Drascamp gathering in Portland this year.
We cruised along at a gentle pace, the middle of the boat clear as a photographic platform, while the Drifter sailed around us.
My reason for re-visiting the Drascombe Drifter 22 was that it has come back to life having been lying fallow for a number years.
Over 30 boats had been built before Stewart Brown’s untimely death in 2018, the year after the 50th anniversary Drascamp.
The Drifter 22 was very much Stewart’s baby and it took some time to get it up and running again. But up and running it is now, with modifications that Sharon had talked through with Stewart.
In essence the boat is as she was; the changes are relative details. For example, you can now choose to have moulded inserts in the cockpit lockers to give a smooth, wipe-clean surface. They can be lifted out for access to the rest of the space, because they inevitably reduce the stowage capacity.
More mouldings have been added down below. Originally the Drascombe Drifter 22 had a moulding that formed the basis of the interior including the bunk fronts, but the galley and stowage units, to port and starboard respectively at the aft end of the cabin, were built in timber.
A chemical toilet would fit to starboard and the rest of the space could be used as a fridge if you wanted. Both the galley and the stowage units are now moulded. If you prefer the appearance of timber and the flexibility it offers in terms of customising the space, you can still have it.
The only difference with the Mk II that you’ll notice from off the boat is the shape and style of the portholes. Originally they were in bronze – a long one each side aft, a pair of round ones further forward and an oval opener in the forward end of the coachroof.
Now you find two rectangular ports each side and another one of the same at the forward end. All open and all are aluminium-framed.
Arguably it’s a more functional arrangement, if less traditional in appearance, echoing the changes below decks.
Drascombe Drifter 22: Sensible sailing
Since it was more than 12 years since my last sail, I couldn’t go to Portland without having a spin on the new-look Drascombe Drifter 22 to remind myself how she sailed.
The breeze was not dissimilar to what we had had in Chichester all those years ago, but this time the boat already had a reef in the mainsail when I hopped aboard.
That made life very comfortable in the 15-18 knots of wind and we would have been well within the boat’s tolerance limits under full sail.
Upwind in the flat water we clocked 4.5 knots, nudging 5 knots at times, which is pretty respectable for a boat of this nature.
Tacking is positive enough provided you build up a decent head of steam before putting the helm down: this is not a boat that spins on a sixpence.
Once on the new tack, you can always ease the mizzen to make sure she pays off and gets going. Bearing away further on to a reach took the log up to well over 6 knots.
One of the many virtues of the mizzen is that you can use it to balance the boat. This one felt different on each tack, carrying neutral helm on port tack and slight lee helm on starboard.
I suspect that might have been due at least in part to the offset boomkin. I’d also like to see the boomkin a little longer, together with a 2:1 sheet for the mizzen.
Other aspects of the rig and hardware needed sorting – there were no fairleads for the jib sheets, for example – but that’s all simple enough to fix.
One change that will probably prove popular with owners is the use of a plastic rather than aluminium headfoil.
Our test boat had the optional centre console in the cockpit that provides stowage as well as acting as a mounting point for a single jib-sheet winch.
Alternatively you have a winch on each coaming. The outboard engine hinges up in its well, flanked by lockers for gas or petrol.
Drascombe Drifter 22 accommodation
Apart from the changes already discussed, and areas where the timber trim looks simpler than before, the Mk II Drascombe Drifter 22 is pretty well the same as the earlier model.
The hull of the 22 provides far more space than you find in the older, slimline Drascombes: it’s higher, beamier and fuller in section to give owners the sort of space they want and expect in a 22-footer these days.
That explains the chunkier appearance and why the Drascombe Drifter 22 weighs almost exactly twice as much as her slender stablemate, the Coaster, which is only 7cm (3in) shorter.
Helping maximise the space below decks are the twin centreplates and the absence of a compression post.
A reinforced beam in the deckhead takes the loads from the rig and leaves the occupants of the berth with plenty of uninterrupted space. In daytime mode, the infill can be left out to create seating both sides.
With the infill in position, you have a berth that’s 1.96m (6ft 7in) fore-and-aft and, at its aft end, as wide as it is long. That’s a pretty good size by any standard.
Total headroom is just over 1.3m (4ft 4in) and there’s 96cm (3ft 2in) between the bunks and the deckhead for sitting up.
Whatever you might think of the changes to the Drifter 22 in scale or in nature, a re-launch was definitely in order and it’s good to see her back in production. She is what she always was: a comfortable and practical weekender-cum-coastal cruiser that’s simple enough to trail and sail for the day if you want to. Trailable cruisers of this size tend to be just that – trailable cruisers – whereas the Drifter joins Swallow Yachts’ BayCruiser 23 (very different though she is) as a boat that you could hitch up and trail away almost on a whim. Whether you like Drascombes in particular, or are just drawn to the idea of a simple, roomy, comfortable 22-footer in the classic vein, you’re unlikely to be disappointed.