Something leaked…..Cornish port’s boatbuilding heritage to be celebrated at regatta weekend….

LOOE is poised to have an additional harbourside event next year – and it’s one in which businesses and residents are being urged to get involved.

Following on from the success of last May’s Cornish Lugger Association biennial reunion in the bay, the Looe-based organisers are now planning a ‘fallow years’ regatta in 2024 but this one will not be restricted to wooden-built craft.

Instead, working in collaboration with the Looe Harbour Commissioners and Looe Sailing Club, the lugger folk are launching a celebration of Looe’s centuries-old historic boatbuilding legacy with a ‘Made In Looe’ Regatta.

Many of the Cornish luggers still sailing today were built in the harbour in the late 1800s and early 1900s by the likes of Tom and Richard Pearce, Peter Ferris, James Angear and Abraham Pengelly. 

But that boatbuilding heritage also continued way into the 20th Century with the Curtis and Pape boatyard at West Quarries on the West Looe River (the business was originally established as Curtis and Mitchell at Polean); the Pearn brothers, Norman and Gerald, at the Millpool; Arthur Collings’ business on East Looe quay; Roy Dann on Polperro Road and Brian Porter at the top of West Looe Hill among others.

Within recent times the town has mourned the loss of two of the last renowned craftsmen, Clifford Adams and David Currah; the former, who died earlier this year, was still building the Uffa Fox-designed Redwing sailing dinghies way into his 90s and the latter, famed for his Pilot Gig rowing boats, was taken far too soon in 2021.

LATE LEGEND: Renowned Looe craftsman, Clifford Adams, who died in May aged 98, was still building Redwing sailing dinghies at his ‘back street’ workshop, well into his ninth decade
Picture: Neil Richardson

The Pilot Gigs built by David and his father, Jim, in West Looe regularly won World Championships at the traditional the Isles of Scilly showpiece regatta and, indeed, their boats often filled all the podium places.

“We have enjoyed such a great boatbuilding tradition in this town over the years,” said Lugger Association chairman Jeff Penhaligon, the port’s former harbourmaster, “that we felt it was time it was recognised and celebrated with an event of its own.”

Unlike the Lugger regatta, where a wooden hull and a sail is a prerequisite of entry, the only condition for the Made In Looe Regatta is that it does what it says on the tin!

As well as wooden boats – including the much-missed ‘doodlebugs’ that were hired out in the 1960s to mid-1970s – the Looe ’yards were among the first to build GRP (glass reinforced plastic) sailing, fishing and leisure vessels, including the port’s iconic speedboats, while local enthusiasts like Joe Bussell and Harry Southern also continue to build model craft.

“As long as the boat was built in our immediate area, it will be welcomed at this historic reunion regatta” said Jeff.

The three-day festival is set for June 14-16 next year (2024) with the final day coinciding with the Looe Boatowners’ Association’s ever-popular raft race – and, of course, all those only-just-about-floatable contraptions were also ‘Made In Looe’!

The exact format of the heritage reunion weekend has yet to be finalised. However, it is thought that all the participating boats will be moored within the harbour throughout the weekend, so the varied designs and styles of those Looe boatbuilding skills will be on show for everyone to see.

FERRY GOOD: The old sail-fishing luggers are still synonymous with Looe’s boatbuilding heritage but local shipwrights ALSO built a host of other craft for the town, including the late Dick Butters’ ferryboat, which was one of Clifford Adams’ builds
Picture: John Collings

A full programme of live evening music at the West Looe Quayside Centre is also planned.

“It’s really up to the town how this event will shape up,” said Jeff. “We will get the boats and provide the live entertainment, but others might want to come on board with stalls and ‘Made In Looe’ food and drink and the like – we are really open to any ideas from businesses and residents in the town.”

As well as the Harbour Commissioners and Sailing Club, the West Looe Heritage Centre are supportive of the regatta and the organisers would like to hear from anyone else who has suggestions of how the event might develop.

Those with boats ‘Made In Looe’ – and there have been thousands over the years, some now in all corners of the globe – are asked to register their interest (without obligation) by e-mailing details of their vessels to Paul Pengelly at:

The organisers will meet again shortly to expand their vision and in due course will draw up a timetable of events for the June 2024 weekend.

WHAT’S IN A NAME?: Among many old Cornish fishing luggers built in Looe is the I.R.I.S, which celebrated her 100th birthday in Charlestown harbour with skipper and marine artist Toni Knights. Built in 1921 by Dick Pearce, the 44-footer was originally commissioned by Thomas Henry Pengelly, who chose her unusual name (complete with punctuation full stops) in recognition of his daughters: Irene, Rosie, Ida and Susie. She was once owned by Radio Cornwall broadcaster Julie Skentelbery and her late shipwright husband, Andrew 
Picture: John Collings
FOREIGN FRIEND: France-based former Looe resident Peter Friend spotted the Looe-built Sheila Ann II  while he was sitting by the Canal du Midi in Trèbes (near Carcassonne, South West France), enjoying a glass of rosé. “I noticed that it had the hole to attach a leg so it must have come from somewhere tidal,” he said. “Then, the owner comes back from having lunch and we get talking only to discover the boat was built in Looe in the 1950s by Clifford Adams”
SWIFT SAIL: The 25-ft Valda cuts a dash as Peter Ferris’ Looe-built Polperro Gaffer powers through the water under sail. She is currently under restoration in the Bristol area
DUNKIRK DUTY: One of the many lugger-style motor yachts built at the Curtis and Pape boatyard in West Looe was the Voyageur. Launched in 1938, the 51-ft Dunkirk veteran had a distinGuished career and was often used on film shoots, having been regularly chartered by the famous actor, Sir John Mills
Picture: John Collings