We think the Drascombe Lugger is one the most versatile small boats ever built. Its designer, John Watkinson, sailed alone often but wanted a boat that his family “could enjoy, and to do this, the first requirement was that they should have complete confidence in the craft.” He set four criteria for the boat he would design: It had to be easy “for the family to handle on and off the trailer,” have “first-rate seakeeping qualities,” be a “good motorboat for fishing and pottering under power,” and be “lively enough for me to enjoy a good hard sail once I had put the family on the beach.”
These design criteria can be elusive when combined, but he hit the mark when he launched the first Lugger in 1965. He went into business making wooden Luggers in 1967. Fiberglass Luggers went into production in 1969 and are still being built today.
He based his Lugger design on fishing vessels that worked the choppy water of the English Channel. The sheer leading to a high freeboard forward keeps the crew dry and a broad beam makes it seakindly. The first Luggers carried a lug rig but switched early in production to a high-peaked sliding-gunter yawl rig. The boomless main allows the sail to be stowed out of the way and creates working space for in the middle of the boat.
The design met the requirements set by his wife, Kate, that the Lugger be “a day boat, so I could get home to a comfortable bed, have no boom to bang heads and have any engine fumes well out of the way.” Watkinson created a boat that his wife would enjoy and it drew the interest of others, and at the 1968 Earls Court Boat Show the first production boat sold within 20 minutes of the doors being opened.
Luggers are seaworthy boats in which many notable voyages have been taken. Ken and B Duxbury cruised from England to the Aegean and back in LUGWORM. Webb Chiles sailed his two Luggers, CHIDIOCK TICHBORNE I and II, 20,000 miles, which included a crossing of the Pacific and Indian oceans. Seakeeping qualities indeed.
Audrey’s family has owned Lugger ONKAHYE since 1982, and we have sailed her in lakes, reservoirs, bays, and harbors and even poked her bow into the Pacific Ocean on a day sail. The Lugger is 18′9″ in length and 6′3″ on the beam. She will float in 8″ with the galvanized centerboard up, and draws 4′ with the board down. The hull weighs 800 lbs. All of this adds up to a boat and trailer that can fit in most garages, is easily towed by a minivan or SUV, and is easy to launch.
At the ramp, we can rig our Lugger in under 30 minutes, with one person rigging the boat and the other loading float kits, food, water, and spare PFDs under the seats. The second person’s primary job is to serve as the public information officer, as the Lugger always draws a crowd eager to ask questions. We usually step the unstayed mizzen first to get it out of the way, then step the 16′ mast and attach the jib stay to the roller-furling drum. The mast is easy for one person to step and all of the spars fit inside the boat for transport; it is easily lowered for going under low bridges. The main halyard and downhaul belay to pins on the mast thwart. Next, we tie down mainmast’s stays and run jibsheets through the fairleads to their cam cleats. We set the rudder in its case, employing a wooden chock we made to slip under the rudder cheek that holds it clear of the keel for launching. Moving aft, we rig the boomkin, attaching the mizzen sheet to the sail and bending the ensign onto a line flown off of the mizzenmast.
We keep the boomkin stowed during launching, lest it snag on something or someone. When the wind is light, Audrey pivots the boat 180 degrees while I park the trailer; it helps to have the boomkin stowed during that maneuver as well. On most days we sail off the dock, and in that case we’ll extend the boomkin, drop the rudder, put about centerboard half down and unfurl the jib. Once we are off the dock, we raise the sliding gunter gaff for a full main. I tidy up lines, drop a little more centerboard, and move aft to loose the mizzen. If we use the motor at all we usually shut off at this point and tilt it clear of the water in the neat transom cutout.
The Lugger has a great motorwell just behind the tiller and mizzenmast, so there’s no need to hang over the transom to work with the motor. A Minn Kota trolling motor performed well for protected areas but not extended cruises; a four-stroke Suzuki 6-hp outboard will take us up to hull speed at one-third throttle and handle any current or wind that we have encountered.
The jib is 30 sq ft, the main has options from 70 to 115 sq ft, and the mizzen carries 23 sq ft of canvas. The Lugger performs well under all points of sail but really enjoys reaching. She is not at her best pointing high, but can work to windward at a slow pace. With higher winds, it is best to release the mizzen during tacks. On a nice day we have run wing-and-wing, and on the bad days we have a multitude of options to set, reef, or furl the jib, main, and mizzen.
We almost never reef and we usually stow the mizzen first, but many folks prefer to drop the main and sail on the jib and mizzen. The boat is very stable and never feels like it is exceeding sensible limits. The wide beam is kind to beginner sailors, and there is plenty of room for four to move around the cockpit, tending to boat and sail trim without bumping into each other. Six adults is the maximum load.
With an experienced crew aboard, the Lugger is happy to take a lively sail; a hint of spray will come over the rail. The ride is comfortable with high bulwarks to lean against, and the boat feels sturdy. If water comes over the rail, ONKAHYE has a bilge pump built into the centerboard case. Heading back to the ramp the sails can be stowed and furled in a snap, giving us the opportunity to row a bit with the 8 1/2′ oars; the centerboard case provides a rowing seat for one set of oarlocks, and there’s a transom sculling socket to scull right up onto the beach.
Our Lugger has required minimal maintenance over the years—the big jobs involved a touch of bottom paint, replacing the floor, and varnishing spars. That adds up to economy of ownership. We recently spent a day buffing the gelcoat, touching up the boomkin, replacing parrel beads, and whipping ends of a few lines. The teak gunwale, thwart, centerboard case cap, rudder case trim, and gunwale look phenomenal with just the right amount of patina.
The Lugger has a global owner footprint with the Drascombe Association, which produces a newsletter and hosts an online support forum. The Lugger started off with over 100 wooden hulls and is one of just a few boats make the transition to fiberglass while wooden hulls continue to be in production now. Drascombe just celebrated its 50th anniversary, and the Lugger is currently built by Churchouse Boats in England. Through the years over 2,000 fiberglass Luggers have been built, and the high quality has been maintained.
Gunter yawl, tanbark sails, belaying pins and a boomkin…how can we top that? As Webb Chiles put it, “the boat is built for performer and spectator.” For a half century the Lugger has kindled the spirit of adventure.
Audrey Lewis has sailed her Lugger ONKAHYE for 35 years and pressed her husband Kent into service as movable ballast 24 years ago. The 1980 Lugger ONKAHYE is the flagship of their small-boat armada; her adventures can be followed on the blog Small Boat Restoration. Their review of Muck Boots is also in this issue.
Draft, board up/10″
Draft, Board down/4′
Sail area/132 sq ft
Drascombe Luggers are available from Churchouse in the United Kingdom. They are priced at £18,250 (around $25,900 USD) and have been exported worldwide.
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