Oar-some contenders 1.

The Sail and Oar boat.

Design or buy ….contenders.

Title photograph and photographer not known.

Well, sorry and all about that for a bad pun start to a post but i realized that iv’e already got an old post in the archives just called ‘Contenders’ and that was from when i first thought about this kind of project.  For this iteration of the same kind of project iv’e spent a lot more time defining the task in hand rather than in just trying to find a better/best small sailing boat which is what i mistakenly did last time.  In this post , which i suspect will turn into a short series of posts, i’m going to take a look at some of the actual design contenders that have caught my eye and which might work for this project with the varying degrees of ‘strength and’ compromise between sail and oar, ease of handling ashore, project do-ability and so on.

  1. One of the smaller Drascombe’s.  Drascombe Dabber and Scaffie (now Devon Scaffie).       Photo- Drascombe Dabber i think off Mylor last year.


At one end of the Drascombe range itself, and that general type of boat, we have the original Lugger and the even longer, wider and heavier Longboat.  The Lugger, while being the only one of the range i have ever sailed myself is just a bit too large and heavy for this project being over 18 feet in length and given as 360 Kg at sailing weight.  I’ve set the far end of my length limit at around 17 feet because that’s what i can just about squeeze into the driveway and that tends to give me a weight of boat that we can tow reasonably and that i can handle on and off it’s trailer.

Just to say also that the same parameters have made me put aside the one boat in this general type that i just like the most ; Ian Oughtread’s Caledonia Yawl design which, while being a very good sea-boat and beautiful as well, is just too big for this project.

At the smaller end of the range we have one actual Drascombe boat and one now built under a different marque : the Drascombe Dabber at 15′ 9″ and the Devon Scaffie at just under 15′.   I’m told that the boat i saw out sailing in Falmouth last year was the Drascombe Dabber and she seemed to be making the best of the very light breeze that day.     I think also that the superbly named ‘Slack Alice’ photographed in Wells, Norfolk is also a Dabber.

What we have with the Drascombe Dabber then is a boat that’s about the right size for the job at just under 16′ and is given as being 265 Kg at sailing weight and around 500 Kg as a towing weight…..should be fine behind a normal car and not require a heavy duty towing vehicle like my old Pajero.    The Dabber does look like the kind of multi-purpose boat that will row quite well, sail and motor if needs be but might not be great at any of those things….that being the nature of compromise.       The plus points are also that there are plenty of them around, they seem to be popular and long lived boats that hold some value so…..what are the downsides ?


I think this next photograph below shows up the difference between the kind of boat that i would have automatically preferred, and did eventually chose, last time : in this picture a Drascombe sits alongside a Devon Yawl in Wells harbour and i think gives a good contrast of the powerful looking DY, with it’s tall rig vs the slimmer and less stable dory like hull and small rig of the Drascombe.  It has to be remembered though that the Devon Yawl is a class racing boat and heavily ballasted to balance that big rig…nor does it show that the sail area of the Lugger is enhanced by it’s long yard.

I’m not saying that either boat is good or bad, just that one is a boat that i find i understand as it looks like and is derived from, a working sailing fishing boat while the other is what ?…..a Dory style hull for sure, nothing wrong there, but a rugged sea-boat….i’m less sure about that.    I have to admit a niggle of doubt about the Drascombe range because they do seem to be aimed towards a certain kind of water-user, put as kindly as possible that these are often a family dayboat that goes with a certain lifestyle of Norfolk cottages and family holidays by the sea, the boat a nice lifestyle accessory rather than working boat : added to that our man Roger Barnes says they are slow and regards them as small scale motor-sailers…..ouch !


So, lets take a sideways step here and look at similar boats to the Drascombe range , there’s a clear hull shape heritage here with many other designers having gone down the same route but possibly produced boats that are less ‘tamed’ shall we say.

Dory’s and Dory’s.

I can well imagine anyone jumping in with a comment about Drascombe’s not being Dory’s and of course that there are Dory’s and there are Dory’s : and that the Dory idea actually spans several different boat types.  I’m well aware of one particular kind of Dory that was actually an early version of a stacking dinghy and that a Grand Banks fishing schooner would carry a whole stack of them for the ‘Dory-men’ to fish from.  If you don’t know that history then briefly…..that the big fishing schooners would sail out from the Maine and Novia Scotia ports, out to the Grand Banks in the Atlantic and there drop off a line of Dory’s to line for cod….easy to get lost out there in poor visibility and many Gloucester dory-men simply never came home.

This is a small copy of a famous painting by Winslow Homer , the Fog Warning….by a strange coincidence iv’e actually seen the original and i used to have a postcard sized print of it at home.


I can feel a sea story coming along here so….here is the story of fisherman Howard Blackburn and his epic row back to land in 1883.

“Howard Blackburn was born in Port Medway, Nova Scotia in 1859. At the age of 18, he moved south to Massachusetts, seeking work as a fisherman, and became part of the Gloucester, Massachusetts fishing community.

Blackburn first rose to fame in 1883. While he was fishing on the schooner Grace L. Fears, a sudden winter storm caught him and a dorymate unprepared while they were in their Banks dory, leaving them separated from the schooner. Blackburn began to row for shore, despite the loss of his mittens; he knew his hands would freeze, so he kept them in the hooked position that would allow him to row. He tried to save one hand with a sock and thus worsened his condition by freezing his toes and yet not being able to save his fingers. The crewmate gave up and lay down in the dory and died on the second day. Blackburn carried the body to shore for a proper burial.

After five days with virtually no food, water, or sleep, he made it to shore in Newfoundland. Blackburn’s hands were treated for frostbite, but could not be saved; he lost all of his fingers, and many of his toes, and both thumbs to the first joint.

Blackburn returned to Gloucester a hero, and with the help of the town, managed to establish a successful saloon. Not content with this, he organised an expedition to the Klondike to join the gold rush; rather than go overland, he and his group sailed there, via Cape Horn. Howard, after a disagreement with his partners left the group in San Francisco after a short trip to Portland, Oregon to buy lumber to help finance the trip, and returned home never having panned for gold.

After the quest for gold failed, Blackburn turned his attention to a new challenge — to sail single-handed across the Atlantic Ocean. This had been done before, by Alfred “Centennial” Johnson in 1876, and Joshua Slocum had completed a single-handed circumnavigation in 1898; but for a man with no fingers to undertake such a voyage would be quite an accomplishment. He sailed from Gloucester in 1899, in the modified Gloucester Fishing Sloop, Great Western, and reached England after 62 days at sea.

Returning to Gloucester, Blackburn continued to prosper as a businessman; but he still hankered for adventure. In 1901, he sailed to Portugal in the twenty-five-foot Gloucester Fishing sloop Great Republic, making the trip in 39 days. In 1903 he again set out alone, this time in the sailing dory America, but was defeated by bad weather. Blackburn also circumnavigated the Eastern United States by going down the Mississippi River and back up the Eastern Seaboard. The Sloop “Great Republic” and the Dory “America” may be seen at the Cape Ann Museum, in Gloucester.”


Well, the Grand Bank’s Dory is one shape, simple, flared and rather slab sided , much more stable when heavily loaded and not really a sailing boat at all.  A more modern version of the traditional Grand Banks Dory has since become the river-runners boat of choice in the big rivers of the US south west….the Grand Canyon of the Colorado river for example is often run by Dory’s.

And then there are Dory’s…..

The other kind of Dory, the ones that i am talking about here seem to have their original roots in a much more Scandinavian kind of boat : something that looks like a Viking ship in miniature but without the high ends….multi planked and chined, often a slim waterline coupled with a swoopy sheer to make a capable and great looking boat.  That kind of shape gives us boats like the ‘Faering’ of Scandinavia , the Southwester and Northwester ‘Dory’ of the USA and modern designs like Ian Oughread’s Caledonia Yawl.  Best time to do a photo tour of some of these types i think.

Arwen Marine, design unknown and i think an Arwen Marine photograph.


Caledonia or Ness Yawl (Ian Oughtread) and an Eyeinhand photograph.


Yawl rigged Dory, type and photograph unknown.


In part 2 of this post, this one having got a lot longer than anticipated, i’m going to look at the modern Dory designs as the shape really appeals to me and there are some relatively easy boats out there for a boatbuilding noob like me to have a go at.

Until later….

Come over and join in the conversation here : https://www.facebook.com/groups/1257497434599364


  1. My dear friend that was an absolutely amazing post , and EXACTLY the inspiration I’ve been longing for today !
    Great to be reminded how determination hasn’t always been discarded as folly , and that he who dares …. erm , nope , I forget 😜
    What an absolute gem of a sailor though , not only his perseverance to get home alive , to bring back the body of his fellow that his family may bury him at least in person , amd to continue making HUGE accomplishments too despite the physical afflictions .
    Thank you mate that was truly amazing to read Steve , the history behind the boat designs too was enthralling to learn , and to get a little insight to where you’re heading next , I know … watch this space 😃🤗
    Stay well and safe mate , keep writing and we WILL see each other soon!
    Mark x


Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in:

WordPress.com Logo

You are commenting using your WordPress.com account. Log Out /  Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )

Connecting to %s