LUGGER OF LOOE
Classic Boat|December 2020
After a long life fishing under motor, the Looe Lugger Our Daddy is back to full lug rig for the first time in seven decades
NIC COMPTON
“There are days when you’re working on board, stuck in a confined space, and you wonder why you’re doing this,” says Steve Styles, co-owner of the 44ft 7in (13.6m) Cornish lugger Our Daddy. “Then you sail into Paimpol for the traditional boat festival, and people line the quayside applauding that boat as you go in. Your chest swells with pride and you realise that’s why you do it. People become passionate about these old boats not because they’re a business prospect, but because of the emotions they evoke and how beautiful they are to sail.”

And well might Steve’s chest swell with pride, for it was that cruise to Paimpol and the Breton coast that earned Our Daddy the title of Regional Flagship of the Year in 2017, an honour awarded by National Historic Ships to just four vessels in the UK every year. It’s an award which Steve and his boat partner Tim Sunderland earned not just because of a major – and sometimes controversial – restoration of the boat, but for their public outreach programme, making the boat available to a wider public and sailing her well beyond home waters.

But then Our Daddy seems to inspire devotion from all who know her, not just in the port from which she fished continuously for 65 years but also among the nation’s nautical aficionados. Not for nothing is she celebrated as “Looe’s best-known lugger” (according to one website), while one previous owner describes her as “without doubt the best Looe lugger I’ve ever seen”.

LAST OF THE LOOE LUGGERS

Built by Richard Pearce in 1921, she was one of the last (some say the last) Looe luggers built on sailing boat lines – although she was fitted with two Kelvin engines, one 13hp and the other 7hp, suggesting that was already an important source of power. Most of the hull was decked over as a fish hold, but aft of the engine room was a small cabin with five berths and a coal stove for her crew to hunker down on the frequent overnight outings. The boat was built for Alfred Pengelly and skippered by his son John Edward – the Pengelly family having fished the Cornish coast for over 200 years.

According to the highly entertaining autobiography written by Alfred John Pengelly (son of John Edward, grandson of Alfred), the Pengelly family already owned two luggers, Our Girls and Our Boys, but grandfather was “determined that he should not be forgotten” and so named the new boat Our Daddy in his own honour.

Although built with a sailing hull and fitted with a pair of lug sails, it’s unlikely Our Daddy sailed for very long. A photo from 1924 shows her with both masts rigged yet fitted with a wheelhouse which would have impeded a full-size foresail, suggesting she already had a cut-down rig. Another photo taken a few years later shows her with the gaff steadying sail she carried for the rest of her working life.

BUILT TO FISH

Whatever her means of propulsion, the new boat was soon put to work, following the traditional seasonal fishing pattern of that part of the world: longlining for conger, ray, skate and ling off the Lizard from March to July; drifting for pilchards off Newlyn in August and September; drifting for pilchard and mackerel off Looe in October and November; then fishing for herring in Bigbury Bay from December until February, before returning to the Lizard in March to start over again.

It was arduous work, much of it done at night. The best time to lay the nets was at dusk, when the fish rose to the surface and when they were least likely to see the mesh. But that meant lifting the nets in the middle of the night, to be back in harbour by early morning. Longlining was fraught with peril too. When Our Daddy first started fishing, the lines were 3 miles (5k) long with 2,000 hooks on each line, and by the 1930s this had stretched to 7 miles (11k) and 6,000 hooks. It took the men six hours to retrieve the lines once the fish had taken the bait.

“Let no one say these were the good old days,” says Alfred John, who had joined Our Daddy in 1921 at the age of 15 and had worked on board ever since.

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