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Playing with Sail Plans & Rigging

Drascombe Quirky Page, Drascombe Lugger, the first, Katharine Mary


When John Watkinson built his first Drascombe Lugger, which was called Katharine Mary after his wife, he used a very traditional West Country rig of lug & mizzen. The lug was a dipping lug, with the tack attached at the stemhead, meaning that, when tacking, it was necessary to 'dip' the lug yard & raise it on the new lee side of the mast.

This takes a bit of skill, co-ordination & determination. When the boat was put into production, John thought it would be a bit of a turn-off for most owners so it was re-rigged as the gunter main it is today with a jib added.

This created the first Drascombe anomaly: that the production Drascombe Lugger isn't one!

When the Drascombe Dabber was introduced a standing lug was used. This carried over to the Drascombe Driver &, much later (in 1985) to the Drascombe Gig.






I am a huge fan of the standing lug (or even a balanced lug) mainsail. In my opinion, the lugsail is superb for the Drascombe size boat. It can set a large sail area within the constraints of two masts. The yard presents the loose footed sail more satisfactorily than a similar Bermudian & it still only needs one halyard as the downhaul provides the dual function of both setting the yard angle & keeping a very tight luff. Neither does it need the taller mast of a similar area gaff mainsail.

Once upon a time, I set out to re-rig my Coaster with a lug mainsail.

Unfortunately (for a Coaster sailor, as I was then), the Drascombe boats with lug mainsails (Scaffie, Dabber, Gig) have smaller jibs (or none at all). The leech on a Coaster jib is so far back that, try as I may, I was unable to rake the mast & rig the lug yard to avoid the jib leech hanging up on the end of the yard at every tack. This also applies to the rest of the gunter rigged Drascombe fleet. (The Drascombe Skiff was produced with a standing lug main plus jib with just that problem!) I didn't want to reduce the jib area & spoil the balance of the boat so an alternative route was followed.

Using a Scaffie mainsail laced to the existing yard, I used the existing halyard as a throat halyard & rigged a new peak halyard. This increased the mainsail area from 83 SqFt to 100 SqFt. This proved to be a very successful exercise which I adopted as a permanent rig for a while with some variations:

A proper span is required on the yard to spread the load more evenly. This also allows the yard to sit more vertically when lowered making furling more straightforward.

I also fitted a longer mainmast. This had, in effect, a 2' 6" high button providing a fixed topmast providing a higher mounting point for the peak halyard tackle.

The peak halyard was rigged on a 2:1 set up of block with becket at masthead & a single block/snap shackle onto the span. This proved necessary to get the yard angle correct.

I had contemplated an even bigger mainsail but 100 Sq Ft proved to be plenty enough. The first reef (of two) goes in earlier than with the standard sail & reduces the overall area to that of the original sail.

Drascombe Quirky Page, Drascombe Coaster, Bolitho 3, gaff rig by Beken

Drascombe Quirky Page, Drascombe Coaster, Bolitho3, gaff rig, heeling




 Here are 2 pictures of Bolitho 3 with gaff rig. On the left we were heading for Cowes with the foot set a bit low rather than reef. The right hand picture was on another day of blustery F4 in the Solent.

The picture on the left was taken by Beken of Cowes They take stunning photographs. If you get the chance of them photographing your boat, take it!




At one time I thought that in the future, just for playing in light airs, the 'topmast' might also provide support for a Cornish yard topsail (& a timminoggy!). However, in practice, I found the large mainsail plenty to handle on it's own!

This rig was great in light airs enabling me to out-sail similar boats with standard rigs. However, as soon as the wind got up into F4, it became a different matter. Reefing the gaff sail down significantly reduced the luff length & the driving power of the sail whilst still leaving quite a lot of canvas high up, leading to a greater urge to heel beyond the point of comfort. The standard rig would perform better in those conditions. I really didn't want to be out single-handed in F5!

I did all of this back in 2002 & used it for a year. Then I took over the Drascombe licence & used new Coasters as demonstrators for a few years, which I needed to have standard rigs.

However, the urge for more sail lead me to:



Drascombe Quirky Page, Drascombe Longboat Cruiser, with bowsprit & cruising chute.jpg



Way back in 1998, I did a very neat conversion to add a bowsprit to a Drascombe Longboat Cruiser so that a cruising chute could be added. I fitted a Drascombe Dabber stemhead to the narrower stem & made up a bowsprit similar to that of the Dabber. This needed some Teak cheeks & fairing blocks but looked as if it were part of the original design. It provides a bowsprit of Dabber proportions (up to 30" projection from the stemhead). Although the Dabber doesn't need one for it's small jib, I fitted a bobstay for added security though subsequently decided that this was overkill.


Drascombe Quirky Page, Drascombe Coaster, removable bowsprit.jpg









I wanted to do the same on my demo Coasters but needed to make it removable, leaving the boat as standard. We came up with a very neat conversion, a laminated bowsprit that fits into the stemhead fitting, secured by a dropnose pin & using the anchor stowage block for the heel. It can be fitted or removed in one minute &, when removed, leaves no sign of ever having been there! I never bothered with a bobstay & never missed having one.


Drascombe Quirky Page, Drascombe Coaster, Bolitho 6, Cruising Chute.jpg


This made it possible to fly an asymmetric cruising chute. Effectively, this is a spinnaker whose luff is drawn tight between masthead & bowsprit. Very good on a run, it will still work on a reach. Here it is on Bolitho 6:


It was very successful but needed very long sheets. The sheet blocks were added to the ends of the mainsheet horse & the sheets were around 62' long (dictated by the length of the unused, weather sheet). The loose sheet had a horrible tendency to drop under the boat! In the end, I just used one, shorter sheet & some nimble fore-deck work when tacking!










Back in 2010, Nick Poole set off from Jersey & sailed his Mk1 Drascombe Lugger to Gibraltar, as part of a Challenge4Ben endeavour, aided by a cruising chute that I detailed & supplied to him.


I had to devise a special 'gammon iron' to secure the bowsprit to the bow as the Mk1 Lugger has a different stemhead fitting from later boats.

Drascombe Quirky Page, Drascombe Lugger, Poole, cruising chute 2Drascombe Quirky Page, Drascombe Lugger, Poole, cruising chute
























Drascombe Quirky Page, Drascombe Coaster Martha, roached mainsail.jpg





This was an alternative introduced as a listed option back in the 1980's. It gives 15% more sail area & the centre of effort is higher. This is achieved by retaining the standard gunter yard & introducing a single full length batten along the line where a gaff yard would normally lie. These sails were usually tan 'main' with white 'topsail', occasionally cream or even striped.

The advantage of this sail is that it gives better performance in light airs. There are two downsides:

1. You can no longer use the 'harbour furl' (leaving the gunter high & rolling the sail around it's leech until it is rolled right up to the mast) as the batten leaves the topsail set. This can be partially mitigated by installing a brailing line on the batten & dropping the yard down the mast to furl the sail.

2. It looks rather odd when the mainsail is reefed as you are still flying a topsail!

Although, to my mind, they look good, I have never been a particular fan of these. However, a friend of mine has been using one on his Coaster to great effect so I am becoming more inclined towards them.



One or two owners of original Drascombe Drifters have added  short bowsprits & claim that their boats point higher, which puzzled me for some time. Logic suggests that putting the centre of effort further forward should push her off the wind earlier. It took a sailmaker to suss out why. The improvement occurs not because of the bowsprit itself but because it changes the jibsheet angle, tightening the foot whilst increasing the curve in the leech. I tried this on one of my Coasters & even went to the extent of having a new jib made with that geometry in mind & it certainly seemed to improve things.



On the Drascombe Dabber, the forestay is attached to the stemhead & the small jib set flying on the bowsprit without furling gear. A common complaint is that the jib hangs up on the forestay when tacking, particularly in light airs.

To kill two birds with one stone, the Drascombe Dabber can be fitted with Drascombe Lugger type furling gear (Wykeham Martin gear) & a bobstay on the bowsprit, dispensing with the standard forestay.

(In fact, rather than removing the existing forestay, you can fit a bullseye low on the mast to lash the forestay lanyard to. This keeps it out of the way but available if you ever want to strike the bowsprit & sail under main alone.)



If you use your bowsprit to fly an extra headsail (cutter), it is necessary to increase the area of the mizzen to retain the balance that is so much part of the pleasure of sailing the Drascombe yawl. (This doesn't apply to a cruising chute which is used mainly downwind.)

The neatest way is to rig a mizzen gunter. This allows a Bermudian mizzen to be longer in the luff whilst retaining the standard mizzen mast. It will still furl easily &, if fitted with a set of reefing points, can be reefed down to the original area once the extra headsail is struck.

The other simply installed solution is to rig a lug mizzen set alongside the existing, furled mizzen.

To my eye, the lugsail is supreme. I tried a lug mizzen option on my gaff Coaster. It looked superb but took some time to get the halyard attachment point quite right.

I have also, in the past, played with gaff mizzens but they are too complicated for too little gain.

One or two people are now using mizzens with a batten set into them as a sprit. That all seems rather difficult to handle.



If you have an early Drascombe Longboat, it may be possible to re-create one of John Watkinson's early alternatives, the Advanced Training Rig.

Drascombe Quirky Page, Drascombe Longboat, Advanced Training Rig.jpg



A much heavier mainmast is stepped further forward & carries a large yard for a dipping lug whose tack is sheeted direct onto the stemhead. The mizzen mast has an alternative step/thwart on the aft end of the centreplate casing & carries a standing lug sail.




Drascombe Quirky Page, Drascombe Coaster, Bolitho 3, oversized mizzen.jpg



I have a mizzen lugsail from this rig, if anyone fancies trying it. I did, once, try it instead of a standard mizzen. Impossible! It was just too big & powerful. As the boat came up to the wind, it decided to tack. There was absolutely nothing the helm could do to stop it. Fun for one hour only!









I chose the standard loose-footed gunter yawl rig for the production boats but with a boom on the mizzen using a short bumkin to get a decent sheeting position & run.

Over time, I have fitted a longer mast, larger mainsail rig (with adjustments to jib & mizzen size to suit), twin halyards to control the yard & a boom with lazyjacks.

The twin halyard system works extremely well. The mainsail on the D22 is quite a big sail & this system enables the workload to be split into two bite-sized operations. There is the usual peak halyard but instead of being fixed to the yard, it is fixed to a wire bridle that runs up the face of the mast. First hoist is this halyard which sets the head parrallel to the mast but low down with the halyard at the top of the bridle.

Then there is a throat halyard attached to the gaff jaws. (Simply a drilling through the SHS heel with the halyard passed through & stopped off.) Second hoist is this halyard which raises the yard with the bridle running through the throat halyard.

The downhaul is then tensioned & the sail is set.

Here are some pictures of my revised bridle set up. (The reason for revision is described under Mea Culpa on the Happenings page!)

Yard bridle 1


Alternative bridle 2

Alternative bridle 3Alternative bridle 4Alternative bridle 5

    Gaff jaws to suit sail track


Another modification has been to fit a sail track with slugs. This allowed a revised gaff jaw arrangement to slide in the track. This meant abandoning my beloved parrel beads but makes it easier to fit lazyjacks as the mast sides no longer need to be kept clear for the prongs of the jaws.





The explanations of the other elements will have to wait for another time, but I am very pleased with it all.



I have made that a simpler operation that can be carried out from the safety of the cockpit. See Tweaks & Tribulations page.



Maybe, more appropriately, a re-cut gunter.

During 2015, I became dis-satisfied with the set of her mainsail. Close hauled, the body of the sail set & pulled well but the section above the gaff jaw line seemed a bit 'soft'. Bearing away a few degrees, the whole sail pulled well, but who wants to bear away a few degrees?

I use a twin halyard system with a peak halyard attached to a wire bridle down the face of the yard & a throat halyard from the jaws. Because of the bridle, the yard falls back a couple of degrees & cannot be brought up truly 'vertical'.

My perceived solution was to have the head recut to lay back about 4 degrees, allowing the peak halyard to induce a bit of tension in the upper part of the sail. This was carried out, very nicely, by Quay Sails in Poole.

Unfortunately, with the interruption of my 2016 sailing season, I didn't have the opportunity of proving my solution. Now, after much use in a very wide spectrum of conditions, I can say for sure, 'Mission Accomplished'. The sail sets & draws well. 

An interesting spin-off is that I could shorten the yard by about 450 mm so it no longer clashes with the mizzen mast when fully lowered. On the other hand, it no longer reaches the mizzen-stepped mast crutch!


Drascombe Quirky Page, Bolitho as high peaked gaff



I am always interested in learning from other people's experiences. What have you tried?



Last updated: 05.06.18