Raid Lugger

Preparing Gordon’s Drascombe Lugger for the 2008 Sail Caledonia Great Glen Raid.

Racing is “not a very Drascombe thing to do” but raids are different. In essence a raid is a very sociable series of rowing and sailing races over a week covering about 60 to 100 miles.  Raids have increased in popularity since their inception in the late 1990’s when French Lawyer Charles-Henry Le Moing set up Albacore to organise the River Douro Raid in Portugal.

Owner in Sea Kilt

The Sail Caledonia Great Glen Raids follow the Caledonian Canal starting at Lochaber Yacht Club south of Fort William via Loch Lochy, Loch Oich, and Loch Ness to North Kessock on the Beauly Firth.  Accommodation ranges from the hotel boats Fingal of Caledonia and Eala Bhan, through camping with gear transferred between sites in a van to the Highlander Trophy “camp and self sufficient” standard.  Event management includes the provision of safety boats, evening meals and entertainment often in the shape of “Mark the Bard” the only piper I know who slips Flintstones and Adams Family themes into his vast repertoire of more traditional music. There is of course the last night ceilidh.

Entries in 2008 were grouped into three classes, Class1 (Traditional boats), Class 2 (Centreboard boats) and Class 3 (Drascombes). Class 3 was made up of three Luggers a Dabber and a Swale Pilot.

Racing conditions can range from sailing and rowing in winds ranging from calm to force five gusting six. Safety is paramount with tows available for boats that do not feel up to the conditions. Many boats carry outboards for non racing sections, but are banned for the Highlander Trophy. In this part of Scotland winds from the North East generally mean bright sunshine. Winds from South West are usually accompanied by overcast and rain.

Starting Point

Our starting point was Gordon’s Drascombe Lugger Mac Puff’ (an unfortunate conjunction of McPuffin and MacDuff, the boat’s original home port). Gordon has owned McPuff’ since 2002. The boat is a fairly standard late Honour Marine Drascombe Lugger with the standard single rowing position and 8’ ash oars (rarely used) and the standard boomless gunter yawl rig.  This rig has limited performance into the wind and on the dead run. Performance on the reach is reasonable given the relatively small sail area. For the raid though racing is either into the wind or running.

The sailing characteristics of the Lugger are legend, a stable balanced hull form, based loosely on an east coast coble. Thought very safe and seaworthy Luggers are not known as flyers. From a safety perspective the boat’s main vice is in a severe swamping when water floods above the centreboard case requiring a towel to stuff into the gap when bailing. The standard pump is only useful for removing rainwater and spray.

Both Gordon and I have been messing about in boats since childhood and started sailing together in 2003 with day trips to the North Wales coast. In 2007 we took McPuff’ to the Drascombe Associations Largs Grand Fleet event and fitted in a short camping trip circumnavigating Bute.


Our preparation started with reading Hans Vandersmissen’s inspiring book “The Shallow Sea Drascombe” (published by the Drascombe Association). Gems included using reefed main and staysail to get to windward in winds over F4, rather than the usual staysail mizzen combination which works better off the wind. Also keeping the gaff as close to the mast, in our case using high parrel beads. Others used a twin halyard set up.

Working to windward with reefed main and stay sail, a winning combination

Off the wind (running) we set up whisker poles on the staysail and main (a boathook). On the mizzen the whisker pole allowed us to power up and de-power the rig very effectively. Over force 4 however it did tend to induce broaching.

Sailing in confined water meant we needed to be able to stow sails quickly. With the staysail, roller reefing is almost standard. Hand rolling the main tightly around its leach proved a very quick way of taming the beast.


Dispensing with the outboard motor was a huge leap of faith. The Lugger at 350kg is no light weight, add in camping and other gear and a couple of under exercised middle aged men and half a tonne all up displacement is a fair estimate. To rig the boat for rowing we set up a double scull arrangement. An email exchange with Stewart Brown at Churchouse Boats brought back sound advice and the necessary parts, a pair of rowlocks, sockets and teak infill pads. We fitted these on the Friday afternoon before driving up to Fort William so had no time to check the arrangement.

For the additional set of oars we borrowed a redundant pair of 10′ carbon fibre maccon racing sculls from a local rowing club.  We used these in the stroke (aft) rowing position where crossed hands were not a problem. For the bow rowing position we used the standard 8’ wooden oars. The short inboard length allowed the oars to pass the person rowing stroke. To provide foot bracing we fitted foot rests made from off cuts of pontoon decking secured to the floor boards with bolts and penny washers. Not pretty, but effective.  

The first rowing race is 12km so somewhere to sit comfortably for 3-4 hours while rowing is essential. Sliding seats are not allowed. We chose foam cushions on the centreboard case. The chafe was uncomfortable. Next time we will make some proper thwarts.  

With no practice rowing the Lugger the rowing races were always going to be a bit of a leap into the unknown. Strong headwinds did not help but we found that if we kept a steady pace with each of us taking a drink every 20 minutes we could maintain a reasonably steady pace. Power came from long strokes leaning back and not from our arms. We minimise windage by removing the mizzen and gaff. Under water we kept the rudder fixed with shock cord and the centreboard down to stop us drifting sideways and give us steering control.

Approaching Fort Augustus. Will this head wind ever cease?


Unremitting headwinds drove us to try man-hauling the Lugger for one of the non racing stages. The arrangement that worked best was a long (kedge) warp tied part way up the mast to keep it above the vegetation and gorse stumps along the towpath. We could maintain a steady walking pace without too much exertion.


The basic principles of stowage in a Drascombe are:-

  1. Trim which is vital to keeping the boat moving efficiently
  2. Having space to handle the boat so keep the cockpit as clear as possible
  3. Accessibility 1st priority given to safety equipment, 2nd to operating gear with oars & rowlocks stowed tied on deck, warps and fenders in side lockers with the boat hook and sail ties, 3rd day time needs and 4th camping gear.
  4. Secure everything to the boat.
  5. Keep sleeping bag, clothes and tent as dry as possible.

Our stowage plan had Safety Equipment accessible from the deck or if necessary water. The flares pack was lashed to mizzen, a bucket drogue was secured to the engine mountings ready for immediate deployment in case we needed slowing down approaching locks. A complete change of dry clothes was stowed in a watertight drum secured in the engine well. Bucket bailers and an old towel to plug the centreboard were stowed by the foot of the main mast. We also fitted rope strops around the main sheet horse to help get back into the boat from the water. This was to prove vital escaping from a lee shore in Loch Lochy. Sail Caledonia provided a guidance list and carried out a thorough safety inspection before boats were allowed to join the raid.

Heavy items were stowed around the foot of the main mast. The anchor and chain stowed in a bucket which helped when moving it around the boat. The tent and sleeping mats were stowed in a large rucksack dry bag double wrapped in the boat cover. Heavy food (tins, bottles) were stowed in a cool bag. Beer was stowed in the bilge, but unfortunately during a minor swamping the cans floated and got crushed.

Light gear was stowed in the stern locker. With no engine or petrol tank we could afford to put a lot of gear aft.  Clothes, double wrapped in dry bags inside holdalls, were pushed high right aft. Plastic boxes that could sit in bilge water held the cooking kit, boson’s stores, and light (dry) foods. The standard stern locker door was not secure enough for the conditions. Easy access items like day food, drinks, water, flasks, oilskins, hats and suntan cream were stowed in the cockpit lockers.

Did it work?

It was generally agreed that the conditions on this years Great Glen Raid were unusually challenging with force 5+ headwinds for the first four days. A day storm bound in Fort Augustus provided a much needed rest and maintenance time before following winds down Loch Ness and a near calm out into the Beauly Firth. Our windward rig of staysail and reefed main worked particularly well allowing us to better two knots to windward up Loch Lochy despite gusts well into F6. Off the wind the whisker poles worked well but not as well as the beautifully laminated half wishbone boom on the Dabber Aoibhneas.

The double scull rowing arrangement was very successful but thwarts are essential. A week sitting on chafed bum is not an experience I want to repeat. Ditching the outboard gave us a marvellous opportunity to improve our seamanship.

In all racing events the proof of the pudding is in the results. We won Class 3 (Drascombes) and took the Highlander Trophy for completing the raid unaided, without motorised assistance and carrying all our camping gear. Not bad for two under exercised middle aged blokes in a boat not known for its racing credentials. Most of all it is the most sustained fun I have had for years.

Lunch stop Loch Ness

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