Lune Pilot

Extracted from and by courtesy of Classic Boat Magazine and Vanessa Bird – 1999

New Boat Review – A good, safe boat which doesn’t go in for death-rolls is just what Vanessa Bird needed when she took on the catherine-wheeling winds of Ullswater

Lune Pilot

“WHAT NO CENTREBOARD?” was my first reaction stepping aboard Character Boats‘s 14ft 6in (4.4m) Lune Pilot. “Isn’t she a bit small to have a keel?” And it’s certainly a feature that distinguishes her from her contemporaries in the current dinghy market. But then it’s a design feature that dates back to the 1920s and an original pilot punt of the Lune estuary from which the mould for this dinghy was taken. The punts were used to ferry river pilots to ships waiting off Sunderland Point to guide them into nearby ports, and shallow draught keel boats were essential for navigating the shoals off the shoulder of Lune in Lancashire.

Character Boats have been producing the Lune Pilot for 12 years, one of a range of six glassfibre traditional working boats they build. Initially started by Bill Bailiff in Overton, the reins are now in the hands of Adrian Denye. The 14ft 6in (4.4m) Lune Pilot, third largest in the fleet, underwent alterations – in particular to the interior mouldings – earlier this year.

There are two versions of the design: the Classic and the Traditional. Perhaps inevitably, I sailed the Classic, the slightly more refined version, with laid mahogany deck, curved hardwood coaming and gunwales, hollow Douglas fir spars and bronze fittings. The Traditional is more workboat like with glassfibre moulded decks, galvanised fittings and solid spars.

Neither version are particularly lightweight, as they are heavily built with thick laminates, especially around the keel. Yet on the water the Pilot doesn’t look clumsy for her size. She sits solidly in the water and is quite full-bodied. The fine bow swells quickly to a generous 5ft 4in (1.6m) beam giving the impression of being bigger than she actually is, especially with the uncluttered, centreboard-less cockpit.

The simulated clinker strakes accentuated her sheer, rising to a steeply raked stern. Her keel is long and shallow, with a slight hollowing around the garboards, which accentuates the keel and counters leeway more effectively. Without the central pivot point of a centreboard, she’s not particularly nimble at coming about and takes a fairly wide turning circle, but the ballasted keel does make her a stiffer boat to sail. The excitement and adrenaline rush is still there as she does heel over, but the threat of going swimming is not as strong as in more lightweight dinghies.

Sailing on Ullswater, where the wind comes at you from all directions, bouncing off the hills and catherine-wheeling across the lake, allows me to test this theory. She certainly flinched when hit by a squall, but there were no extreme death-rolls or reverberations after the gust has subsided, which was reassuring. For the pilots sailing in the Lune estuary this was an essential requirement in the turbulent waters. It is partly for this reason that the Glenridding Sailing Centre, on Ullswater, hire out Pilots and Lune Whammels, as their stability makes them good, safe, learner boats.

The basic rig is standing lug with jib, though the Pilot can be rigged as a gaff sloop or cutter. With 115sqft (10.7m2) of sail area on the lug rig version and 120sqft (11m2) on the gaff cutter, she can set quite a bit of canvas, even when reefed down. I sailed Merganser, rigged as a gaff sloop both with and without a reef in and she handled very easily, quickly picking up speed. A squared off bowsprit in a galvanised socket takes the jib on the gaff cutter rig. The main is loose footed and laced onto the Douglas fir spars.

On Merganser a pin had been fitted under the rear side benches around which the mainsheet can be looped to take some of the strain when hard on the wind. It was good to have a rest, but at times it did make it awkward to haul and release the mainsail which is slightly unnerving. Merganser has the jib cleats fitted to the side benches so that she can easily be sailed single-handed, but being so spacious she can comfortably be sailed by three adults with room to spare. The stayed mast is stepped quite far back, which shifts the crew’s weight towards the stern but doesn’t appear to stall her or make her sit down too heavily in her stern.

Adrian has recently upgraded the Pilot’s interior, adding an inner moulding which has beefed up the solidity of her construction and smartened her up. She has a simple but functional layout. Buoyancy chambers in the moulding have done away with bags. There is a small locker built into the forward bulkhead with a sealale hatch, plus small cuddies under the side benches. She also has an outboard well offset on the starboard side so that the prop can operate in clear water.

The mahogany thwarts are pegged onto the side benches so they can be easily removed, and with a clear cockpit sole there is room enough to sleep onboard, especially as the foredeck finishes well forward of the mast. A hand bilge pump is attached to the stern bulkhead, and access to the pipe is through hatches in the cockpit sole.

At £6,500 for the Classic Lune Pilot and £5,250 for the Traditional, she’s not cheap, but you do get a lot of boat for the size.

Lune Pilot Thumb

2 Responses to “Lune Pilot”
  1. Wayne says:

    Glad I found
    this site, just accuired a Lune Pilot and need some advice on repair to the top of mast.

    • Hi Wayne, Whats the problem? I have had two repairs to the top of my solid spruce mast. Firstly, the top three feet were rotten (presumably where the mast was left up on the boat over the years of previous ownership). Therefore the repair was to scarf in a new section. Secondly, the jib and main halyard mast top pulley blocks were worn out and I made new hardwood ones. Might be able to help…

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