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The Drascombe Association have been celebrating their own 30th Anniversary, and the Golden Jubilee of the introduction of their distinctive range of characterful boats, with special enthusiasm in Ireland this summer writes W M Nixon.

It happens to be a rule of the Association that their annual conference and dinner is held in the home town of the Chairman. And as current chairman John Stanage lives in Belfast, that city’s famous Baroque City Hall was the setting for the Annual Dinner in May, with the launching of an ambitious programme.

But Drascombe sailors being a highly individualistic bunch who often go their own sweet way rather than sail in a crowd, the highest ambition of any “ambitious Drascombe programme” is to accommodate that individuality, while still ensuring that there is a general shared movement towards some agreed destination.

So a lot of what has been taking place is low key, though they did put their heads above the parapet with participation in the Classic & Traditional Kingstown 200 Class in the Volvo Dun Laoghaire Regatta 2017 in July.

However, later that month they were to be found rallying in Connemara and out to the Aran Islands, then across to the Clare coast. That sort of multi-faceted activity showed the Drascombes at their versatile best, but this weekend from Friday evening (August 25th) through to Sunday evening (August 27th) they’re getting together in a place which might have been designed with Drascombes in mind.

wexford and slaney2The port of Wexford. The River Slaney winds temptingly through the attractive countryside beyond the bridge, yet that bridge is a barrier for larger craft hoping to explore inland

For sailors with deep-draft high-masted boats, Wexford and the Slaney Estuary is a frustration, for although you can berth in the town below the bridge, for most boats with masts that bridge is an impassable barrier, something which makes the pleasant-looking countryside upriver beyond it seem even more attractive.

But all this is accessible to a Drascombe, while at the same time they can enjoy the hospitality of Wexford town like any larger cruiser in from sea. Yet unlike the larger cruisers, they can also cruise more extensively in the shoal outer harbour, which they’ll be doing on Saturday, and then on Sunday morning’s tide, they hope to get right up the Slaney to Enniscorthy

The organisation on the ground with the friendly Wexford Boat & Tennis Club is with John and Darina Tully, while the Drascombe Association’s officer for rallies, Jack O’Keeffe of Cork, is also involved.

With the bank Holiday in the UK on Monday, it’s expected that there’ll be boats across via the Rosslare ferry, and as numbers are pushing towards the 20 mark, it’s being referred to as The Grand Fleet Celebration. The festivities don’t end there, for a week later on Friday September 1st, the Drascombes gather at Dromineer on Lough Derg, always a popular venue.

drascombes in clare3Drascombes cruising Galway Bay in July – at lunchtime, you just stop off at the handiest bit of shore. Photo: Jack O’Keeffe

Published in Cruising
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The members of the Drascombe Association celebrated 50 years of their boat in Belfast at the weekend. Five thousand Drascombes have been built and their owners enjoy sailing them. That was the message of the Secretary of the Irish branch of their Association, Jack O’Keeffe, when I talked to him for this week’s Podcast.

The Association has 56 rallies planned this year and, where necessary they will move their vessels at a speed of up to 50 knots, or mph - if you take note that they mean towing them by road to those rally locations. Being able to trail the boats is an advantage to owning them!

But racing is not for them!

“It’s considered quite vulgar to race,” Jack told me, though conceding that when at least two Drascombes meet they will test their speed against each other. However, racing would be “like putting little old ladies into dancing dresses.”

This is an interview you will enjoy, I think, no matter what kind of boat you sail or are interested in. And if you should be interested in acquiring a Drascombe, Jack O’Keeffe outlines how to find one – and that in itself is unusual.

I started by asking him about last weekend’s celebratory gathering in Belfast City Hall.

• For more information about Drascombes in Ireland go to the Association’s website:

Published in Island Nation
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With some visionary thinking by Cathy MacAleavey in her capacity as chief of the sub-committee organising the Classics, Traditional and Old Gaffers section of the Volvo Dun Laoghaire Regatta & Harbour Bicentenary Festival from June 6th to 9th, the scope of the event is going to become even more varied and certainly more colourful. As W M Nixon has discovered, she has been spreading the net wide:

“We’ve never been asked to take part in a regatta before. Never. So of course we’ll be there. And I personally am looking forward to it very much indeed.”

The speaker is Jack O’Keeffe of Cork, one of the main men in the Irish Drascombe Association, and also the overall association’s organizer of Rallies. While his members with their distinctive and extensive selection of tanned-sailed little boats are a familiar sight in Ireland and elsewhere as they stage their various rallies and other events, despite the well-known distinctive blue-green hull colour with which they were introduced being known throughout the country, nobody seems to have thought of them before as worthy participants as a class of their own. Not even as part of a menagerie class in a local regatta, let alone as playing a significant role in major events. But Cathy did her usual bit of lateral thinking, and the result is a whole new fleet for the Dun Laoghaire festivities.
Drascombe sailing boatTraditional perceptions remember the Drascombes as all having that distinctive blue-green colour, but they’ve been multi-hued for years.

In Dun Laoghaire, the very fact that the Drascombes within their different types are broadly One-Design should see them encouraged, for in the home of One Design racing, it is only relative speed which is significant. Broadly speaking, every Drascombe will be sailing at much the same fairly leisurely speed, and they’ll all be manoeuvring in sync with that admirable Drascombe dignity. If that’s not a formula for good one-design racing, then I don’t know what is.

Yet while they may not break world sailing speed records, Drascombes certainly do sail – think of the Ogden brothers who sailed round Ireland in their Drascombe Lugger in some decidedly rugged conditions in 2015. Others, believe it or not, have crossed oceans. And on top of that, if they have managed to wend their way into the head of some peaceful creek at the end of day’s sailing, the lack of shore facilities is no problem, as most Drascombes provide rudimentary accommodation, quite commodious in some cases.

round Ireland drascombe 3"We’ve done it!” The Ogden brothers sail their Drascombe back into Baltimore at the completion of their round Ireland cruise.By a happy coincidence, 2017 is a special year, as it more or less marks the Golden Jubilee of the time Devon boat-builder John Watkinson started designing characterful seaworthy little boats which reflected the rigs of earlier times. It was in 1968 that he took the final 1967-built prototype to the London Boat Show and sold her within 20 minutes of opening, coming home with orders for 19 sister-ships to a concept whose popularity is proven by the fact of there now being 5,000 currently afloat.

The Golden Jubilee celebrations have already got under way with a party at the recent London Boat Show, but thanks to the Drascombe Association’s tradition of having the annual conference and dinner in the home town of the current overall chairman, the big party is going to be in Belfast City Hall on the weekend of March 25th to 26th, as the Drascombe Association’s Chairman of for 2017 is John Stanage of Belfast.

Belfast city hallA remarkable setting for the Drascombe Association’s Golden Jubilee celebration at the end of March 2017 – Belfast City Hall, completed in 1906, was an exuberant expression of a rapidly-growing city at the height of its industrial power.

Heaven only knows what Drascombe sailors from elsewhere will make of Ireland’s built environment if they attend the events both in Belfast in March, and in Dublin Bay in July. Belfast City Hall was such an exuberant expression of the city’s rocketing prosperity when it was completed in 1906 that its gloriously over-the-top Baroque Revival style was promptly copied by major civic buildings elsewhere. As for the rather more austere Kingstown Harbour - which will probably briefly revert to its imperial name during the Bicentenary Regatta - not only is the harbour a massively impressive structure on such a scale that it now seems a natural part of the bay, but its waterfront has a trio of yacht club buildings which, while the they don’t begin to match Belfast City Hall’s opulence, are quite something by comparison with your average sailing club.

Dun laoghaire harbour aerial 5For smaller Drascombes, Dun Laoghaire Harbour is a complete cruising ground within itself

One of the reasons the Drascombes came up on the Dun Laoghaire radar is because the Sub-Committee were particularly impressed by the vibrant trailer-sailer section which is now to be found in the Old Gaffers Assocation, a section in which Drascombes play a signficant part.

It’s of interest that the OGA themselves have lately been paying closer attention to encouraging designs for smaller gaffers of good performance potential, and at the AGM in London last month, outgoing OGA President Sean Walsh of Dublin was able to unveil preliminary drawings of a concept by that versatile designer Andrew Wolstenholme of a 13ft 6ins “modern mini-gaffer” which the OGA wishes to encourage, with ease of amateur building a priority.

performance mini gafferConcept drawing from Andrew Wolstenholme for the new 13ft 6ins “performance mini-gaffer” to be sponsored by the Old Gaffers Association

Equally Sean – who himself sails the 28ft Heard Falmouth Cutter Tir na nOg, a “plastic fantastic” – wished to record his own and the OGA’s appreciation of the work over the years of another boat designer from southwest England, and this is Roger Dongray, a house architect who many years ago found himself starting to design the little plastic gaffers which went on to become the Cornish range of Shrimpers, Crabbers and whatever, every one of them a characterful little boat which gives much pleasure and the extra sport of handling gaff rig to owners who have neither the resources nor skills to maintain an ageing wooden boat.

Cornish crabber 7Dublin Bay OGA President Denis Aylmer’s Cornish Crabber Mona (left) and outgoing OGA President Sean Walsh’s Heard 28 Tir na nOg Photo: Dave Owens

So Sean’s final duty before standing down, to be succeeded as President by Alistair Randall, was a formal presentation to acknowledge Roger Dongray’s special work in making gaffers interesting to modern-minded owners, and his skill in creating a recognisable style in a range of fibreglas-built gaff-rigged boats which are an adornment to any port or anchorage.

cornish shrimperThe versatile Cornish Shrimper is one of Roger Dongray’s most popular designs.

In an era when the advent of foils means that we are seeing mono-hulls which have the potential to move at meaningless speeds, the sheer pleasure of coaxing the best performance out of a comfortable and characterful gaffer, aboard which your young family feels comfortable and secure, is something to be treasured, and it intrigued me to hear the other day that Olivier Prouveur, the Sailing Manager at the National YC and highly experienced in many kinds of craft, has bought himself a Cornish Shrimper as he reckons a boat like this provides very well for Dun Laoghaire sailing requirements – and yes, he does hope to race her for the Kingstown Cup in July.

Another area of possible participation where Cathy MacAaleavey has been casting her net is the three-masted Bantry Boats, but a problem she has discovered is that several are short of crews. One particular case is the one which was built in a community project at Banagaher on the Shannon, but unfortunately the key man in all this has moved on elsewhere, and they’ve a personnel problem.

Bantry boatsBantry Boats need a lot of crew

This in turn has opened up the possibility of the thriving coastal rowing clubs being a source of crewmen for the Bantry boats, for thanks to the enthusiastic support of the legendary Ger Ryan of St Michael’s Rowing Club underneath the arches beside Dun Laoghaire’s inner harbour, the outer harbour is going to be packed out with skiff racing crews from near and far on Sunday July 9th.

East coast skiffs 11Manpower….the East Coast Rowing craft are an ancient style of boat going back to the era of the Dublin Bay hobblersFrom that comes the idea of an invitation being cast in the direction of the rowing skiffs of Strangford Lough. They’re much lighter and smaller boats than the traditional hefty East Coast craft which date back to the hobblers’ service boats of the 18th and 19th century. In Strangford Lough by contrast they used a highly-regarded Iain Ougthtred easy-build design, and a league developed as noted harbour pubs around the lough organized boat-building classes to provide an Oughtred skiff apiece. There are now nine boats which regularly turn out to race together, and it is of course thirsty work, which was probably the thinking all along.

Iain Oughtred designed skiffs 11The Iain Oughtred-designed skiffs have established a league in Strangford Lough Photo W M Nixon

Whether or not they come to Dun Laoghaire in July is another matter altogether, interesting and all as it would be. But either way, we can be sure that the hugely varied fleet which is now shaping up for the Classics, Old Gaffers and Traditional Division of the Volvo Dun Laoghaire Bicentenary Regatta 2017 will find that whole-hearted participation is indeed very thirsty work.

Published in W M Nixon

#luggerroundireland – Two brothers will begin a circumnavigation of Ireland in an 18ft–Drascombe Lugger dinghy, Lughnasa this June bank holiday. Fergus and Nathaniel Ogden will set off on the c. 1000 mile voyage from Baltimore, West Cork. Hoping to achieve between 15-30 miles a day, they will live on-board the boat, calling into various stopovers along the coast - beginning with Crookhaven.

At an average speed of 3-4 knots, this won't be the fastest circumnavigation of Ireland ever achieved, but the Drascombe's rugged build quality makes it a fine boat for the job, and will be the first time an open Lugger has attempted to sail around Ireland.

They anticipate the voyage to take about a month, though the Atlantic conditions off the West Coast will play an important role in their journey time.

Aged 16 and 22, this will be the brother's longest voyage together. Personal space will take on a new meaning for the lads with cramped living on-board, and tensions are sure to run high as the 18 feet of Drascombe becomes home. Balmy days spent rolling on the long and gentle swells in the baking Irish sun will help reduce some of this pressure, however and provide plenty of opportunities for photo and video footage of the voyage. With none of the luxuries found inside a cabin, Facebook and website updates will be done as often as possible from their overnight stops.

The Ogdens are undertaking this challenge to raise funds for the RNLI, who are officially supporting their adventure.

By doing this they would like to help raise awareness for safety at sea as the number of lifeboat callouts for leisure craft has been increasing in recent years. 

To keep up with the Ogden brother's progress visit their website where you can make a donation to the RNLI and follow their blog.


onboard the Lughnasa



Castletown Bearhaven

Ballycrovane Harbour

Derrynane Harbour

Knightstown, Valentia





+ /- Galway, Roundstone, Clifden, Cleggan


Clare Island





+/- Lough Swilly Stopover


Rathlin / Ballycastle




Howth/Dun Laoghaire



Kilmore Quay


+/- Youghal

Cork Harbour - Crosshaven



Glandore / Castletownshend


Published in Cruising

#electricoutboard – Torqeedo owner Jack O'Keefe from Cork Harbour tells of his sailing adventures in a Drascombe Coaster and how after swapping from a petrol version the rewards from his new electric outboard engine are less noise, no smells, more stowage, better sailing performance and a motor that can be started by a small child. But it's still not silent, there's a whine...!

The thinking behind it...
My Drascombe is a Coaster, which has a small cabin with two berths. Drascombes are normally used as motorsailers and are rarely to be seen afloat without an outboard hanging in the well at the transom. The concept of sailing without dependence on an outboard motor and all that goes with it. viz. Carrying petrol, unreliability and the difficulty of starting, has been in my mind for a few years. I had a very reliable petrol  8hp outboard that my wife never had the strength of arm to start, and in event of capsize would keep the Coaster swamped due to its weight. After a couple of seasons minimising the use of the outboard – a promised tax refund was the final push to go electric. I saw in the Torqueedo promo videos how their motor is very light and unaffected by immersion. The use of Lithium Ion batteries and the option of a remote throttle were also strong factors in selecting the Torqueedo model over others.


Torqeedo's Travel 1003L – ease of starting the motor is a plus

I selected the Travel 1003L model on advice from the makers at the London Boat Show. I looked to purchasing on the internet but decided to buy from Union Chandlery on the basis that I might need support. The first use of the motor was in Morbihan Gulf and after being used in anger going through one of the tidal gates – the motor stopped and did not start again for the week. Union chandlery sent it back.– the manufacturers replaced it and when the original one got back to their workshop they found that heavy fishing line was caught invisibly inside the prop.

I have now completed my third season with my electric motor. Since I fitted it and learned how to use it I got rid of the petrol outboard altogether. The big question with the electric motor is range, there is no doubt that I do more sailing – tacking in narrow channels and that I pay more attention to timing with regard to tide on passages. In the period of use I have on one occasion depended on a tow - after 26nm on the French canals and having passed the sea lock missing the last of the ebb while socialising in a raft up.

I have learned to appreciate the ease of starting the motor – place the magnetic key, turn the throttle and it runs – no pulling cords or twiddling choke. The stowage space created by not having a petrol can nor funnel, oil, spare plugs etc. is another unexpected boon. The other unexpected advantage is the sailing performance of the boat is greatly improved by not having a large mass of metal hanging on the stern. A charge costs less than a unit half a unit and is usually blagged from a pub or neighbour. A night in a marina means a chance to charge up all batteries and reserves.

The batteries come with built in GPS and electronics to calculate the distance left within the current charge. This is a useful tool to keep discipline and help to stretch the charge as long as possible. This adds to the cost of the batteries and I imagine the system could have been made part of the motor assembly rather than having to pay for a GPS and computer for each battery.

Lead Battery backup
The battery for the motor is 29.6 volt 520 WHr equivalent to a 43 AHr lead acid battery. Since the charge voltage for the battery is 12v a lead acid battery can be used to recharge the motor battery. I have made a jumper cable using a Maplin HH62S DC power plug with a 5A fuse in the cable so that the Li Ion battery can be charged up on board from a 50 AHr backup lead acid battery or the boat's main battery via the cigarette lighter socket. This option makes a big difference during longer cruises away from mains supplies – effectively giving another spare battery. Of course it also means the battery can be charged from the car while towing.

Charging is limited to 4A therefore at 12 v a 36w - 40w solar panel capacity is the correct size. This must be controlled to 12v – a complete charge taking in the order of 10 hours sunlight – so this solution is only applicable when the boat is moored up between voyages. I tend to use the solar panels to keep the lead acid batteries charged as they are more tolerant to fluctuations in voltage from the panels.

Living with electric
Using an electric motor for small boat cruising means you manage your cruise to suit the tides and be efficient. The rewards are less noise, no smells, more stowage, better sailing performance and a motor that can be started by a small child. I did expect the motor to be silent – in fact there is a clear electric whine with which one can easily tolerate. If you enjoy sailing, using an electric motor for day sailing is a "no-brainer" especially if you have a spare battery – and it helps if you are a green crank. A surprising disadvantage is that the noise and smoke from neighbouring outboards becomes exasperatingly exacerbated.

The electric motor provides all the power needed to get into and out of tight berths, or up sheltered channels. I have needed it once in emergency to get me clear of a lee shore at the Kedge in West Cork, but mostly it is run in calms and to get back to the moorings under the trees a mile upriver from Crosshaven. For me the electric motor is a step short of the goal of no motor – and with my experience so far I believe there is no need to go that far!

Published in Cruising
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The Half Ton Class was created by the Offshore Racing Council for boats within the racing band not exceeding 22'-0". The ORC decided that the rule should "....permit the development of seaworthy offshore racing yachts...The Council will endeavour to protect the majority of the existing IOR fleet from rapid obsolescence caused by ....developments which produce increased performance without corresponding changes in ratings..."

When first introduced the IOR rule was perfectly adequate for rating boats in existence at that time. However yacht designers naturally examined the rule to seize upon any advantage they could find, the most noticeable of which has been a reduction in displacement and a return to fractional rigs.

After 1993, when the IOR Mk.III rule reached it termination due to lack of people building new boats, the rule was replaced by the CHS (Channel) Handicap system which in turn developed into the IRC system now used.

The IRC handicap system operates by a secret formula which tries to develop boats which are 'Cruising type' of relatively heavy boats with good internal accommodation. It tends to penalise boats with excessive stability or excessive sail area.


The most significant events for the Half Ton Class has been the annual Half Ton Cup which was sailed under the IOR rules until 1993. More recently this has been replaced with the Half Ton Classics Cup. The venue of the event moved from continent to continent with over-representation on French or British ports. In later years the event is held biennially. Initially, it was proposed to hold events in Ireland, Britain and France by rotation. However, it was the Belgians who took the ball and ran with it. The Class is now managed from Belgium. 

At A Glance – Half Ton Classics Cup Winners

  • 2017 – Kinsale – Swuzzlebubble – Phil Plumtree – Farr 1977
  • 2016 – Falmouth – Swuzzlebubble – Greg Peck – Farr 1977
  • 2015 – Nieuwport – Checkmate XV – David Cullen – Humphreys 1985
  • 2014 – St Quay Portrieux – Swuzzlebubble – Peter Morton – Farr 1977
  • 2013 – Boulogne – Checkmate XV – Nigel Biggs – Humphreys 1985
  • 2011 – Cowes – Chimp – Michael Kershaw – Berret 1978
  • 2009 – Nieuwpoort – Général Tapioca – Philippe Pilate – Berret 1978
  • 2007 – Dun Laoghaire – Henri-Lloyd Harmony – Nigel Biggs – Humphreys 1980~
  • 2005 – Dinard – Gingko – Patrick Lobrichon – Mauric 1968
  • 2003 – Nieuwpoort – Général Tapioca – Philippe Pilate – Berret 1978

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