Compulsive boat owner Clive Marsh explains why small luggers make perfect tugs
I’ve always wanted to have two small traditional style luggers. One for launching from a slipway and one light enough to drag on a pebble beach.
The two boats that met these requirements were the Smacks boat and the Emsworth Lugger.
I was looking for a small 12-13 foot sailing dinghy for trailer sailing. Wing sails are my favorite rig for traditional small boats.
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While the gunter and gaff rigs are great fun to sail, the wing sail is my favorite because it’s so quick and easy to set up.
I could do it in minutes and that was key when I was regularly cruising with trailers to new launch sites every few weeks.
The 12-13 foot length was about right for easy launching and hand moving the drive.
I had tried bigger boats but found them a bit heavy and as my strong son had left the nest I needed to be able to easily move things around myself.
Now the problem was trying to find a good lugger of that length!
You try to find one – they are as rare as hens’ teeth.
There are smaller ones like the Tideway 10 or the Emsworth Lugger (both nice boats) but I wanted something a little bigger.
Then I came across the Smacks Boat, a splendid traditional 12ft 3in GRP lined boat with a balanced cleat sail.
Just by looking at the lines and that beautiful transom, I could tell she was going to leave a clean wake, sail and row well.
Moreover, they are currently in production. They come complete with a trailer and dolly combo and ready from builder Brian Kennell at what I consider to be the most reasonable price.
Alex Haig of Anglia Yacht Brokerage, an East Coast sailor, has been supplying me with used boats for many years.
I asked him to find me a used Smacks Boat.
Eventually he made it and delivered it to me on the south coast.
His name was Never will, presumably after the river, and after a little internet research I found that she won the Smacks Boat race and came second overall in an Old Gaffers Association Swamazons race in 2015.
Certainly, as I was soon to discover, she was very quick and capable.
As you can see from the main image (left), the 82 square foot sail is a reasonable size for a small, unweighted boat.
I had a hard time keeping her balanced.
For most of the year, every time I launched it was Force 4 up and I was permanently stuck.
So I had a smaller sail made by Jeckells the same size as from Neva reefing sail.
I installed it on a new boom and spar that I made from Canadian Douglas fir.
So, when I sail for a few hours in predictable winds, I have the choice between several rigs without having to reef.
Although reefing a sail with balanced cleats is simple compared to many other rigs, a smaller sail generally secures better than a larger sail with reefs.
So far I have sailed on this little boat from Rye.
Launch at the Rye Harbor slipway, take a look around the bay, then head upriver to the town quay (Strand Quay) for a refreshment and a chat with the locals.
A speedboat isn’t really necessary as Smacks Boats rows better than any other boat I’ve owned.
However, I rigged the mainsail sheet from the center position so as not to foul the 2.5hp outboard motor and tried to roll – no problems in that department.
But I no longer have an equipped outboard given the navigation and rowing capabilities of the boat.
Accompanying a jetty with oars is much easier than using a speedboat and the rope fender all around a Smacks Boat is a big plus.
So my engine is now redundant.
Neva is at least 30 years old and has no side benches so I sail her sitting on the cockpit floor.
For this I use deep cushions and everything is very comfortable and sheltered. I have considered installing side benches but prefer the extra space without.
Current models built by Brian Kennell are equipped with side benches and reservoirs.
As a trailer sailboat, the towing arrangement is most important.
You want to be able to take off and recover without straining your back.
Modern boats are supplied with combination trailers.
Launching with the trolley ensures that the road wheel bearings stay dry.
Most people prefer and would recommend this option.
I prefer the single swing road trailer option and De Grraff trailers made me one specifically for Never will.
It works well, I don’t need to submerge the wheel bearings and in case I do, I’ve specified the simple tapered bearing variety which I can easily disassemble and change.
The sealed-for-life type might be good for a suit where the road bearings aren’t submerged, but not so good if they’re submerged in salt water and need to be disassembled.
This requires equipment that is not usually available on the slipway.
I found my bearings sealed for life on a previous boat badly corroded after immersion in brine even when cold and swollen.
Horses for racing and trial and error but I’ll still prefer plain tapered bearings!
For those interested in the details, here are some excerpts courtesy of Brian Kennell’s website.
Early boats like mine were sold to smack owners and many hulls were fitted by keen hobbyists and might be different from the current production version.
‘The hull of the current Smacks Boat is made of three layers of fiberglass mat with a double gel coat.
‘Standard equipment is iroko with good quality stainless steel and bronze fittings.
‘The spars are made from clear Douglas fir.
“The sail is made by North Sea Sails.”
These sturdy little luggers are more often used as tenders without their rigging.
Indeed, when I bought a 30 year old, the spars and the sail were still in their original plastic cover.
The Emsworth Luggers are small at just 9ft 3in LOA but perfectly shaped and it would be hard to think of a better looking boat.
Perfect for pottying between Dell Quay, Bosham and East Head, they’re equally at home off the coast in fair conditions.
I sail my ELX from Chichester and also from St Leonards beach near Hastings.
The boat is light enough to be dragged on cobbles using a winch and without its equipment two reasonably fit people can lift it onto a trailer.
My son even carried his Emsworth Lugger on the roof of his car.
The boat uses a daggerboard rather than a daggerboard, which has the advantage that beach pebbles are less likely to get stuck in the housing – and can be easily freed if they do.
It is therefore the small lugger that I use from the beach.
It’s definitely a one person boat although I’m taking the smaller grandkids but not the big kids, they fit in better in the Smacks Boat.
I have never needed to use an outboard on this boat as it sails and rows so well.
At sea in reasonable conditions it does better than many modern dinghies and I always feel safe.
I haven’t tested her buoyancy but she has front and rear buoyancy tanks.
The layout is simple and of high quality: an unstayed mast, a single halyard and a mainsail sheet.
The rig is set up in minutes.
If I need to take the oars, the sail can be cast in seconds and it rows very easily.
Emsorth Luggers evolved from small work boats and as such are easy to sail and keep upright.
She is quite good at going upwind, dry and easy to jibe.
These boats were manufactured by Dorado and are now only available on the used market.
However, there are similar boats like the Fareham Lugger and some builders make traditional small luggers like the Tideway 10′ and the Roach Dinghy.
SMACKS BOAT SPECIFICATIONS
Original builder: Alf Last
Type: Smack Boat
Length: 12 feet 3 inches (3.73 m)
Beam: 5ft 0in (1.52m)
Draft: 6 inches (0.15 m) plate up or 2 feet 9 inches (0.84 m) down
Sail area: approx. 82ft2 (7.6m2) Weight approx. 250lb (113kg)
LUGGER EMSWORTH CHARACTERISTICS
Overall length: 9 ft 3 in (2.82 m)
Beam: 4ft 1in (1.23m)
Sail area: 47ft2 (4.4m2)
Weight: Hull 125lb (57kg)
Material: GRP hull and wooden fittings
Rigging: balanced pod
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This feature first appeared in the February 2022 edition of Practical boat owner. For more articles like this, including DIY, money-saving tips, great boat projects, expert advice and ways to improve your boat’s performance, subscribe to Britain’s best-selling sailing magazine.
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