The lugger started life in the late 18th century as the French lougre, a small swift warship, used mainly for despatches, or privateering or as a coastal trading vessel. It had a straight, fine keel, a relatively straight bow with little rake, with two, or later, three masts, the aft (mizzen) much smaller than its mates and stepped at the very stern. The form crossed the Channel as the lugger; where its initial tasks seemed to concentrate on Customs work – on both sides of the law. – and in coastal trade.
Its name came from its “lug” sails. These are trapezoidal four sided, attached to booms and slung to the mast much like the lateen rig of the dhow and usually set fore and aft. The mizzen later became gaff-rigged and gibs were set from the foremast to a bowsprit. This arrangement gave the lugger a weatherliness not matched by most craft of the day.
During the nineteenth century it was in demand as a large sturdy fishing vessel along the Channel and eastern coasts of England, its stability and ability to sail close to the wind (or even lie still in the water against the wind) making it ideal for net fishing. It is in this role that it is mainly remembered today. With auxiliary diesel motors, luggers lasted into the second half of the 20th century.
Luggers were also used in the pearling industry in the waters off the north and north-western coasts of Australia, where their ability to stay in one spot whilst the divers were at work on the ocean floor below was invaluable. These days they can be part of the local “tourist experience”.