Home : West Cornwall Luggers : Newlyn & Penzance : Porthleven & Kitto : Peakes of Newlyn : Ocean Pride : Barnabas : Pet : Dolly Pentreath : Ripple : Snowdrop : Boy Willie : Mystery : Falmouth Marine School
West Cornwall Luggers
These are the fishing vessels that were built in, and operated out of, the area to the west of the Lizard. The West Cornwall mackerel drivers were considered unexcelled for speed and seaworthiness for their size. They were fully-decked and larger than the half-decked pilchard drivers. Little detail is known of these vessels prior to the mid-nineteenth century due to the lack of plans or written records; most building was done by eye and with the use of half models, but both types were developed from the old open boats with just a foredeck.
The early half-decked pilchard drivers had the crew's quarters with bunks and a cooking stove forward with sliding doors or "deck doors" about eighteen inches square in the bulkhead each side of the stove under the fore-deck. Entry was not possible if there were a lot of fish in the fishroom.
The West Cornwall luggers built at Mounts Bay differed slightly from the boats built at St Ives. The latter were heavier and rounder in the bilges to enable them to sit upright in the dried out harbour. Supporting legs would have been useless in the difficult sea conditions in the exposed St Ives harbour. The mast was also stepped closer to the bow and the sails were narrower and taller and St Ives boats had a longer outrigger. The Mounts Bay boats had finer hulls and used legs in their harbours for support.
Newlyn boat builders changed the design from round bowed to a more yacht like shape about 1865. Mousehole and Porthleven followed soon after, and in 1883 at the International Fisheries Exhibition in London, the Committee considered the Mounts Bay fleet to be the finest in the world. They raced each day to land fresh fish to market.
The luggers of West Cornwall were known to make Scarborough off the Yorkshire coast, a distance of 600 miles, in 70 hours or less. In 1902 the lugger "Lloyd" did the 600 miles in 50 hours and the 850 mile voyage from Peterhead was recorded at 100 hours by the lugger "British Workman" which would take some beating by the racing yachts of today.
The local boat-builders were quality craftsmen and their vessels were known for their fine lines giving them a distinctive appearance especially when heeling to wind. They were chosen by fishermen from many other areas outside West Cornwall including Ireland, East Anglia and the South East of England for their longevity, seaworthiness and speed.
The West Cornwall fishermen fished all year round. The mackerel season was from January until June or July and the boats often went over a hundred miles to meet the shoals as they came north. The foremast was lowered when the nets were out and the boat and nets "drove" with the tide, hence the name mackerel "driver". The summer herring fishing started around July until August or early September off Ireland and often as far north as the Shetlands, or in the North Sea until October out of Whitby or Scarborough. After that they followed the pilchard shoals out of their home ports often also hand-lining for hake in October and November. When the pilchard season was over herring or mackerel nets were put on board and they fished out of Plymouth until January or went mackerel driving off Scilly. The skippers often brought home potatoes or coal if the holds were empty.
When engines were introduced the masts on the luggers got shorter as the engines got bigger.
In the associated pages with the links above and to the left we show a selection of archive photographs of the areas where these craft were built, some important ships historically and some of the luggers existing today from this area.