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What Is a Lugger?

A lugger is a traditional sailing vessel, recognized by its lugsail rigging—a setup where the sail hangs alongside the mast, allowing it to catch the wind efficiently. These boats have a storied history, often associated with fishing and coastal trade. Their unique design offers a glimpse into maritime heritage. How has the lugger's legacy influenced modern sailing? Explore with us.
Paul Scott
Paul Scott

A lugger is a sailing vessel rigged with a lug sail; the name refers more to the rigging type than the vessel design as such. Lug sails belong to the “fore and aft” family of rigs in that they are orientated along the vessel's keel line. Sharing similarities with gaff rigs, lateen sails, and traditional square sail rigs, lugger rigging features a square sail suspended from a yard or gaff and secured below with a tack and a single sheet. The yard is attached to the mast at a point approximately two thirds of the way along its length, thereby giving the lug rig its characteristic “pitched up” appearance. Lugger rigs may be used on a variety of vessel sizes with single- or multi-mast configurations and offer the benefits of shorter mast lengths, less complex rigging, and good performance with smaller crews.

Lug sail rigs may be used on a wide variety of vessels ranging from small, single mast yawls to large multi-mast designs. This variant is a traditional fore and aft rig, i.e, the sails are aligned along the boat's keel line or lateral axis and not perpendicular to it as is the case in square rigged designs. Lugger sails are of a basic square shape and set or suspended along their top edges from a long beam or yard. The clew or lower rear corner of the sail is secured to the hull with a rope or line known as a sheet. The tack, or lower forward corner of the sail, is secured to the hull or mast with a tack line.

Man with hands on his hips
Man with hands on his hips

The yard and sail are hoisted up the mast with a line known as a halyard. The mast connection point or parrel on the yard is situated around two thirds of the way along its length which, when hoisted, sees the sail pitched upwards toward the rear giving and it its characteristic profile. The sheet and tack line are then used to adjust the sail according to prevailing wind conditions. In the case of larger lugger rigged vessels, a smaller lug sail may be set above the main sail. Lug sail rigging may be used on a wide variety of vessel sizes of both single- and multi-mast design.

Lug sails can be set up in three ways: standing, balance, or dipping. The standing lug rig is effective and easy to manage and sees the yard set to one side of the mast and only with the tack located close to or against the mast. The balance lug includes an additional spar or boom along the lower edge of the sail which typically extends some distance forward beyond the mast. This is a fairly powerful lug rig but quite difficult to handle. The dipping lug so setup that the yard is moved or “dipped” from one side of the mast to the other whenever the vessel is turned into the wind or brought about.

Lugger rigs are known for their relative ease of use and efficiency, thereby combining the best characteristics of square and fore/aft rigs. Their uncomplicated rigging means smaller crews are needed for any given vessel and sail size. The pitched yard profile also allows masts to be used which are shorter than the sail.

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