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Title: Lugger  
Author: World Heritage Encyclopedia
Language: English
Subject: Fifie, Gunter, Galway hooker, Sail-plan, Northern Belle
Collection: Fishing Vessels, Sailing Rigs and Rigging, Traditional Boats
Publisher: World Heritage Encyclopedia


A lugger is a class of boat, widely used as traditional fishing boats, particularly off the coasts of France, England and Scotland. It is a small sailing vessel with lugsails set on two or more masts and perhaps lug topsails.

The Reaper under full sail


  • Defining the rig 1
  • Types of lugsail 2
  • Handling characteristics 3
  • The name 4
  • Local types 5
  • See also 6
  • Further reading 7
  • External links 8

Defining the rig

A French lugger, beached and drying nets. The lugsail is spread on the beach. She is beached stern first as is normal. In beach-launched boats, the bow is designed to rise to surf without shipping water or broaching. Painted by Gustave Courbet around 1874.

The lugsail is an evolved version of the classical square sail. In both rigs, the upper side of the sail is attached to a spar, the yard, which is hoisted up the mast by a rope known as the halyard. The lower side of the sail is held in place by a separate set of ropes, the sheet and tack downhaul.

The main difference between the lugsail and square is the location of the yard in relation to the mast. A square sail is lifted with the halyard in the middle of the yard, lifting the sail so it lies evenly on either side of the mast. In the lugger, the halyard is attached much closer to one end or the other of the yard, and when lifted the majority of the sail will lie fore or aft of the mast. Since the luff of the sail is shorter than the leech, the after end of the yard is peaked up by the combination of the upward force of the halyard and the downward force of the tack downhaul. This allows the mast to be shorter than the sail, the peaked yard making up the difference in height.

The lugsail is somewhat similar to the gaff rig as well, which also uses a spar— the gaff— which is hung at an angle to the mast. The difference is that the gaff is mounted such that it lies entirely behind the mast, as opposed to both in front and behind as in the lugger. While the gaff rig is "cleaner" in that the mast does not interfere with the sail, it requires more complex rigging and handling than the lugger.

Types of lugsail

There are three sorts of lugsail: the standing lug, in which the yard remains on one side of the mast and the tack is set close to the mast, the balance lug (also called balanced lug), which resembles the standing lug, but sets a boom, which continues as far forward of the mast as the leading edge of the yard. The dipping lug lacks a boom and has the top yard dipped around the mast while changing course across the wind so that the sail draws away from the mast on each tack.

The advantages of the dipping sail arise from the fact that the set of the sail is not deformed by pressing against the mast. This allows a more efficient air flow and reduces wear of the canvas.

Another source of variation is in the extent to which the yard was designed to be peaked up. That is to say, how nearly vertical the yard was intended to be.

A Sailing Fifie, showing the main dipping lug and the mizzen standing lug. This picture of a Fifie more clearly shows the difference in the position of the tack (lower forward corner of the sail) as between a standing lug (here, the mizzen) and dipping lug (here, the main). These yards are shown set to the port sides of the masts.

The fore lug (main sail) on a Fifie is a dipping lugsail. The extreme size of the dipping lugsail was only possible with the introduction of steam powered capstans to facilitate with dipping.

This short extract explains the procedure:

Handling characteristics

Le Corentin, a chasse-marée from Quimper. Note the three-masted lugger rig with the foremast stepped well forward, she will have set a jib from the bowsprit, which is steeved up in this picture. This permits the use of the boom for loading from fishing boats at sea; without a need to lie alongside. The latter would require almost calm conditions. Here, the sails are brailed and what looks like a mizzen boom is topped up. This is not a normal boom but a bumpkin, as it carries the lower block of the mizzen sheet, so allowing the mast to be stepped right aft, on the raked sternpost. This permits plenty of sail area, while leaving the boat as short as possible for convenience (and lower dues) in harbour. These French standing lugsail yards are slung further forward than on English luggers, so they require the peak halyards visible in this picture.

The rig combines the handiness of a fore-and-aft rig with much of the efficiency when running, of a square rig. A bigger lugger might set lug topsails which are very much like the lower sails but less deep. Some of the Breton chasse-marées carried topgallants. The standing sail is usually set to the starboard side of the mast. It is said that the comparative disadvantage of having the sail deformed on the starboard tack was why the rule of the road gave the right of way to a sailing vessel in that condition.

Once hoisted, the set of the sail is controlled by adjustment of the tack tackle and the sheet. It is therefore much simpler to use than a square sail so that the crew can be smaller or doing work other than that of sailing the vessel, such as that to do with fishing.

The tack tackle is critical to the performance of all lug rigs as it both brings the sail into the correct shape and, in the case of balance and standing lugs is responsible for holding the yard at the correct angle and controlling sail twist.

The name

The lugsail was one of the earliest fore-and-aft rigs. The origin of its name is not wholly clear. The name 'lugger' may derive from the Middle Dutch for 'to trawl' or it may take its name from the lugsail. That in turn, may have its origin in the similarity of the appearance of a human ear to a fore and aft sail. The French for a fore-and-aft rig is un gréement aurique or for the sail, it is une voile aurique - an ear-type sail. Since 'lug' is an English word for ear, this origin is a possibility.

Local types

British Isles
1882 French lugger Łucja-Małgorzata
Continental Europe

See also

Further reading

  • Shearwood, Ken (1972) Evening Star: the story of a Cornish lugger. Truro: D. Bradford Barton

External links

  • Cornish Luggers: an online guide
  • Cornish Luggers: an online guide; Beer luggers (formerly in use on the south Devon and Dorset coasts)
  • "Lug Rigs for Small Sailboats" by John C. Harris

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