Saturday, 21 April 2012

The Best Rig For A Sailing Cruiser? (3)

What About a Lugger?

Previous posts about Gaff and Gunter rigs, left me wondering about the traditional craft in this neck of the woods, the Rance Estuary in Brittany France. The old boats here are Luggers. So, why was that? What did the old guys know about these craft that made them build more and more? According to my old copy of *The Oxford Companion to Ships and the Sea, they were a 17th or early 18th Century development used particularly for fishing and coastal trade. Essentially, they were more ‘Weatherly’ than their predecessors, the Square Riggers.  Come to think of it they are a kind of square rigger in that a Lugger has a square(ish) sail set fore and aft rather than across the hull. The Companion also suggests that Luggers were the rig of favour for smugglers and privateers. Interestingly, the town of St Malo at the mouth of the estuary, is known as the City of Corsairs (for Corsairs read Pirates).

The French often use the term ‘Chasse Maree’ to describe a lugger. The use of the term originated in Napoleonic times; a rough translation would be ‘Sea- Hunter’. The fastest of them carried a huge area of canvass spread over three masts carrying lugsails with a jib to complete the rig. Some of the larger vessels had long bowsprits and bumpkins and could also set a topsail above the main lugsail. The drawback, or the price they paid for speed, was in the number of crew needed to control the clouds of canvass. They were also slow downwind and could easily be caught by a more traditional square-rigger. The strategy adopted must have been to beat to windward of any vessel they wished to escape.  

Essentially there are two kinds of lugger. The original Lugsails were set up as ‘dipping luggers’, this required the crew to lower the sail sufficiently to enable the forward end of the lug together with the tack of the sail to be passed back around the mast whenever the vessel tacked through the wind. In this way the sail was always set to leeward of the mast on each tack.

A later version was known as the ‘standing lug’. With this rig, the forward end of the sail was browsed down as the vessel moved through the eye of the wind. It was less popular and rapidly developed into what we would now call the Gunter rig.

Does the Lugsail have a place on my ideal ‘low cost cruiser’? Probably not but they are very pretty boats and I’m pleased to have researched the possibility. Often, when deciding what you DO want, you have to consider and discount other options. Lugger’s lovely to watch but not for me.

*PS – the Oxford Companion to Ships and the Sea is one book I will never part with. Its an essential resource for any boat person. You might pick one up on Amazon (scroll down if you want to order one).