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Cockpit Tents


A tent is a magic canvas which turns an open Drascombe into a compact Yacht or multiplies the indoor living space of a cabin Drascombe. They even work on land by turning your Drascombe into a trailer tent for the journey to new cruising grounds. The only downside I have found is some extra difficulty of getting to the foredeck at night when at anchor but this only applies to cabin boats. There are three main sources for tents. Standard tents from the boat manufacturer such as Churchouse Boats, Custom tents created by taking your ideas to a sail maker such Cover to Cover as or project tents made completely at home. Here are some examples of the main types of design to give you inspiration – and a couple of sun awnings for good measure. Appuskidu’s tent is here too with some comments about its development.


Simple “Swallows and Amazons” type “sheet over a rope” tents.



The tent on the Lugger “Karma” seen here in the early morning mist on the river Dart is a classic one of its type with a generous amount of material giving it more headroom than most. Deck drainage arrangements on a Drascombe mean that, at the expense of damp side decks, tents can be fitted inside the gunwales but an arrangement to hold the hems outside the gunwales gives more width.




On his Longboat Cruiser “Moonglow” the simple PVC sheet shelters Vernon whilst he makes the communal curry and with the table folded away and the stern section of the cover turned back Peter joins the party whilst the fore section of the tent stops the wind blowing the folk duo’s sheet music away.


Tents with Hoops

Hoops are a popular method of supporting tents The bamboo or iron used at the end of the 19th and start of the 20th Century are seldom seen today. Hoops can be made not only from stainless steel or aluminium tubing but also from plastic conduit, plastic water pipe, plastic drain rods, plastic chimney sweeping rods, fibreglass tent poles and no doubt other materials too.


These east coast examples show a standard tent on the Lugger Clousette and a simple custom design on the Longboat Cruiser.




A couple of smart sailmaker’s constructions are seen on this Dutch Coaster at Newport on the Isle of Wight and the Drifter at moonrise on the Dart.




Smaller Drascombes can have living accommodation too. Here is a professional tent on the Hill family’s well travelled Scaffie.



Standard inexpensive hooped or domed tents from the camping store have been adapted by many for use on open Drascombes. The Dabber “Bel Canto” had a fine nylon tent above the set of athwartships planks which owners sometimes use to fill in between the side decks and the centreplate capping to create a broad sleeping platform with stowage under. The planks are stowed alongside the centreplate case during the day.


Extra space

A lot of extra space can be had if the roof is flatter rather then round.



The beautifully engineered example above on Tom Richardson’s lugger “Pelican”, seen here at Dell Quay in 2005, had space enough to host a sizeable party at Folkestone on the eve of departure on the 1997 cross channel rally. This kind of design requires either rigid eaves using (say) oars or boathooks etc or as here a connection between main and mizzen shrouds. Not easily visible in this cropped picture, mizzen shrouds here are also serving for the aft fall of the signal flags used to dress Pelican overall.


Another fine construction is the capacious “pill box” style tent (below) on the Lugger “Sarah Jane” seen at Wells next the sea. Here athwartships ceiling battens are supported by the gunter yard used as a ridge pole lashed to the mizzen mast.




On the Coaster “Ebony” below, the principle has been used to gain extra space on a simple Coaster tent.





Extra length

In all of the examples above, the tent comes no further aft than the mizzen mast step. A way of increasing storage space, which is at a premium when two (or more) are sleeping on board, is to extend the tent to the aft extremity of the boat.




That is illustrated above on Jack O’Keefe’s Coaster “Tyboat” (above) seen here afloat in a Croatian harbour and ashore on a European campsite.


On an open Drascombe you can use all of the available space before the mainmast too. Ken Charman’s professionally made tent covers his Lugger “Draggletail” from stem to stern.





Extra Height


This is the tent which started a trend in Coaster tents. It is another design by Tom Richardson. This time on his Coaster “Gannet” photographed at Beaulieu in 2002. Tom didn’t see any reason why he shouldn’t be able to stand up in his tent so he just raised the roof. He took his thoughts to “Cover to Cover” in Birdham who made him up this splendid tent.



Other owners were attracted by this design and “Cover to Cover” have received a number of orders for similar tents - like this “big window” version on Miles & Lizzie’s Skylark. Owners have since approached them for tents for other Drascombes also. They made “Draggletail’s” Lugger tent and the one on the Scaffie “St Jovihill” both to be seen on these pages. I see that they even now make a full length Coaster version just like Appuskidu’s.





Appuskidu’s tent combines many of the features mentioned above. It is a modified hoop tent that uses all available space and incorporates Tom’s full standing headroom idea. Unfortunately I didn’t take any pictures when I was making it – I was still using 35mm film in the camera at that time and wasn’t so liberal with my photo recording – but I set out here the main features and construction details. It was made in a very similar way to the summer boat cover shown in the Boat Cover project page. The tent poles were erected first to the desired head room then the fabric was thrown over (this time from side to side), joined with a seam over each of the poles, marked up and sewn. Zips were sewn in the seams and separate panels were used to make the rear section down to the transom. A dart was inserted across the middle of the front panel to bring it neatly down to the sprayhood. The tricky part was sewing the “Chimney” around the mizzen mast. Tricky but not impossible. At the time of writing the tent is nine years old and is holding up well. No repairs have been needed, only a couple of minor modifications.




Above are two pictures taken at anchor. One snugged down on the sand at low tide in the middle of the Netherlands Waddezee. The other opened up at breakfast near Murano in the Venice Lagoon.


To start at the front, it fixes to the sprayhood at the front like all Coaster tents. Most Coasters have 50mm Velcro loops already on the spray hood for the purpose of attaching a standard tent. Some have Velcro hooks and some have zips. Appuskidu has Velcro.

The tent poles have developed over time. The constant has been that each of the two hoops has comprised three parts. A Lugger can have a long flexible pole which, when straight, will lie on the side deck. Shorter lengths are needed for a Coaster. For storage on a coaster the poles can be inserted from the cabin into the space under the cockpit floor. Since I always put the tent up at night, my poles just live on a bunk during the day.

Originally the poles were thin 8mm fibreglass (GRP) rods of the type used on backpacking tents. These kept breaking and could not be held onto when boarding so we moved on. First to plastic conduit followed by plastic water pipe then plastic drain/chimney rod. Joints were made by putting a short length of dowel in one end and side fixing it with a small screw. The dowel would then engage with the adjoining pole. The drain rods screwed together of course. These plastic poles were ultimately unsatisfactory however because in hot weather they would bend and take a “set” when cooled so that the tent would no longer be vertical.




The final solution is a mixture. The uprights are bent aluminium tubing and the roof poles are drain rod. The joints are made with pieces of thick 11mm GRP tent pole rod (any dowel of the right diameter would do) fixed into the end of the uprights to engage with the ends of the roof poles.



A short piece of the GRP rod is fixed inside the middle of the roof poles to stiffen them in the middle so that the roof is flatter than if they were allowed to bend into a simple arc. The join can be seen in between the colour coding tapes. This increases the area over which standing headroom is available. The only reason for not using aluminium tubing for the roof poles is that the plastic ones are straighter when not in use and thus easier to store. The aluminium uprights, as well as remaining upright, can also be held onto gently for balance when boarding. The poles are finished by blocking their ends with expanding foam. The reason for this is that they will then float if dropped overboard.


An important feature is that when erecting the tent the fabric is first attached to the sprayhood then thrown over the frame and secured to the poles by Velcro flaps. Some tent designs require the poles to first be passed through tubes in the fabric. That can be difficult on the water especially on a windy day.

The fabric I used is “Odyssey”, an impregnation coated, 100% polyester. Don’t confuse with a curtain fabric of the same name. It is strong but relatively light weight and compact which means that this big tent weighs just 4.3 Kg and packs into an ordinary stuff sack. The poles weigh only another 2.3Kg. Fabrics vary in breathability and there is no such thing as a fabric that is both breathable and 100% waterproof. The very expensive high tech fabric used in top of the range “waterproof” clothing uses multiple layers to achieve a high level of waterproof performance with some breathability. Odyssey is highly waterproof, but with low breathability so condensation can occur in heavy rain. All seams are similar to “French seams” double sewn and with the open side facing aft. The zips are heavy duty tent zips with toggles on the inside and the outside. The one at the stern disengages at the top to allow the mizzen mast through and all were special order since I wanted matching brown ones.



In the picture above Appuskidu is moored alongside a pontoon at Den Oever in the Netherlands in a gale. There was no shelter save a low breakwater a couple of hundred meters to windward. She couldn’t swing into the wind as she would at anchor. Nonetheless the tent is keeping the rain out and I didn’t fancy changing her mooring in the wind and rain so I put the boathook across the tent poles to reduce the amount that the sides of the tent were billowing in. Then I went back to reading my book until the wind  dropped. If you are not viewing this on an unzoomed small screen you should be able to make out the Velcro flaps around the poles. You may also be able to see the “Curtain” rolled up above the window and the Velcro strips by the sides of the window that hold the curtain firmly shut when it is down. Possibly just visible peeking over the white rope (spring) along the gunwale are the loops on the tent at gunwale level with shockcord running through them. This shockcord attaches to hooks under the gunwale which hold the tent sides down. Short shockcord rings hold the sides down tighter by the zips.



In this picture of the back of the tent you can see the construction of the panels sewn together behind the rear hoop. A couple of other features are visible too. First there is the zip running from the transom up to the “chimney” around the mizzen. This allows the fabric to be closed around the mizzen mast - and the tiller if the rudder is raised and the tiller is placed vertically against the mizzen mast. It is important to allow for the tiller when making the chimney. I think that the bulge halfway down the zip is my head as I was undoing the bottom of the tent on the starboard side when the picture was taken. Then there are the holes at the fairleads to allow mooring ropes to pass through. You cannot see in this picture but the hem of the tent is stiffened with cord and the holes for the ropes are shaped like a “T” so that the hem can close under the rope. Such shape niceties are not important this far back but it is important to make allowance for the mooring warps. The ropes may of course leave the fairleads or cleats at a wide range of angles vertically as well as horizontally. Remember that springs (already removed here) go forward in the opposite direction to the warp that is visible in the picture.



There is of course another reason to have a zip at the back. Virtually all of the tents on the boats above allow for access on each side. There are however, occasions even in England, where you might want to moor stern to or to exit from the rear of the boat. In this Croatian island harbour every other boat in the harbour is moored stern to except my two fellow Drascombes.


Finally, the other feature of Appuskidu’s tent is a set of retro reflective tapes sewn to the sides and the stern.




In the left hand picture you can see how effective they are. In the right hand picture of Appuskidu moored at Brodick, you need to imagine that you have had a good evening ashore but the pub has now shut and you are rowing the dinghy back to the mooring on a dark and moonless night where you wave your torch around at dark shapes in the gloom . . . . .

The other pair of reflective tapes at the top of the rear tent panel are deliberately placed higher as they are intended to supplement the stern light to help any larger craft overtaking me at night to avoid turning my boat into their ship’s figurehead.


Sun awning

Finally, on a lighter and sunnier note, a simpler project is to make a bimini or awning for the cockpit. Both pictures below were taken in Venetian waters but both awnings were designed with those rare hot summer days in our more northerly climes in mind.




Appuskidu’s awning has sides for extra protection when the sun is not vertically above. It is supported in the main by lines to the masts. The boat hook then spreads the front with its ends clipped to the shrouds and the jib stick spreads the rear with its ends controlled by lines down to the gunwale cleats. The awning is sewn from offcuts left over after making the boat cover.

On the right is Jack O’Keefe’s effective but much simpler awning on Tyboat. It comprises his cockpit cover lifted by the mainsheet from the end of his wishbone boom to the centre of the cover. It is spread at the rear by the spinnaker pole and by another spar at the front.



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