Posts Tagged ‘International Canoes’

I recently received a note from my friend Ed Maurer down in Florida. A couple of years ago, Ed took the brave step of starting a new magazine called Canoe Sailor, which is a noble project in its own right. In this case, it was even better because the magazine was focused on, of all topics, sailing canoes–imagine such a thing!

Ed’s note let me know that he’s just re-formatted the original Canoe Sailor a new, all-digital page-turn publication called Skinny Hull. In his own words,

Skinny Hull covers sailing canoes and kayaks, proas and similar style boats, Chesapeake log canoes and a variety of purpose-built two- and three-hull boats that are essentially canoes (or kayaks) with outriggers. (We’re even working on bringing you ice boat sailing!) So, essentially, if it mounts a sail and has a skinny hull we cover it!

The first few issues will contain archived content from Canoe Sailor, and there’s some good material there. Like any editor, though, Ed will be looking for new content too. I’m going to try do do my part, and I’d encourage anyone who’s interested in contributing to contact him at editor@canoesailingmagazine.com, and also to subscribe, which I’m going to do as soon as I finish writing this post.

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At the end of the last post I was driving north with what remained of US 78, a Lou Whitman Manana II International 10 square metre canoe, strapped to the roof of my truck. I probably left a little trail of bits of veneer all along the Thruway, because, to tell the truth, there wasn’t much left. A hot-moulded frameless hull is great until it isn’t. With little or no internal framing, they don’t age gracefully and are hard to repair. 

I brought the boat into my friend’s shop in Toronto and had a look in the cold light of day and what I saw wasn’t encouraging. Overall, the boat was old and weathered, but almost everything would have been salvageable. Almost everything, that is, but the bottom. For about the middle one-third of the boat, from turn of the bilge to the keel, the veneers had opened up, and so there wasn’t much left. With nothing to lose, I embarked on a rescue attempt, but in the end I admitted that US 78 was history, salvaged the gear and began looking for another boat.

Back on rec.boats, I heard word of a 1980s Steve Clark King Ferry Canoe Company IC in Utica, NY that was looking for a new owner. One really long one-day road trip later, I was back in Toronto with a new boat–that’s her above, still with the NY state plate on the trailer, temporarily wearing the old main from the perished Manana.

I can honestly say that I thought I knew how to sail, and then I tried a canoe. Boy oh boy, that was different. In a sailing canoe, you’re the ballast. The position of your rear end is critical to the success of the whole enterprise, and subject to more or less constant revision. To tack a sliding seat canoe, there’s a few things that have to happen in more or less the same order, more or less every time. Because the boat is long and relatively light, you also have to sail through the tack with a fair bit of way on or else you’ll end up in irons. As a novice canoe sailor, the only thing more alarming than trying to make the boat go forward with some degree of control was trying to back it out of irons.

Let’s say you’re on port tack, perched out on the seat, admiring your daggerboard slicing through the water. As you begin to head up, you also slide in on the seat as the pressure on the main eases until you have your feet on the gunwale. As you turn into the wind, you let the jib sheet fly, and then you get up and kneel behind the sliding seat. Knee pads help. Grabbing either one of the holes in the seat top or the hiking strap, you throw the seat across to the new windward side as soon as the bow crosses the wind. Once the seat is thrown, you stand up, turn and sit down on the new windward side. Trim and cleat the jib, find the mainsheet, find the 6′ long hiking stick and take the mainsheet with you as you head out on the seat and you’re off. Takes much longer to write about than to actually do. Some of my new rec.boat friends had outlined the procedure for me, but out on the water there’s really no time to read the cheat sheet.

After the first trip, I was sweating, banged up and realizing that I had a heck of a lot to learn about dinghy sailing. I was also hooked. My wife, who observed some of these early outings from shore, asked whether “IC” stood for “inverted canoe,” and suggested that I paint my sail number on the bottom of the hull, since that was what was most often visible. The first time I got the boat dialed in and planed to windward on the end of the seat, however, pacing an International 14 and a Contender, I was completely hooked, and thought that this canoe sailing business was a pretty cool part of the sailing world. 

I sailed US 151, which became CAN 33, until we left Toronto for Rhode Island in 1998, whereupon I sold her to a fellow canoe sailor. I had no boat, but it didn’t mean I stopped thinking about the strenuous but intoxicating experience of sailing a canoe. This photo isn’t me, not by a long shot, but it captures the essence of what sliding seat sailing is about:

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By the mid 1980s, I has been sailing  for a while, beginning with Flying Juniors and Lasers in Vancouver, and extending eventually to anything I could cadge a ride on, including a Chinese junk and a Bristol Channel Pilot Cutter. I was browsing in a bookstore, looking for something boat-related to spend that week’s grocery money on, when I picked up the April 1985 issue of The Yacht. I think it’s folded now, but at the time it was a glossy, swanky publication with wonderful photography. Paging through it, I came across page 94, which carried an article by Steve Clark entitled “The International Canoe: Mercurial Fantasy.” I can’t honestly recall if I’d ever really thought too much about sailing canoes before that moment, but reading Steve’s article fixed that pretty quickly. The image above smacked me between the eyes just like the handle of the rake that you left lying in the back yard, and I haven’t been the same since.

I mean, how could you look at that old-school Swedish IC photo and not want to go do that right away. Planing to windward, the skipper is perched at the end of his sliding seat, perfectly balanced (for the moment) between his rig (a foil in the air) and his centerboard (a foil in the water) with only a little hull between the two. All of a sudden, I needed to know more about canoe sailing, and about International Canoes in particular.

I posted a message to rec.boats [remember Usenet?] asking for anyone who could provide some information about these wonderful boats, and maybe help me find one of my own. Replies came back from a couple of stalwarts of the Chesapeake Bay IC community [one of whom, sailmaker and Moth afficionado Rod Mincher, runs a great sailing blog of his own]. Some chatting back and forth did nothing to diminish my enthusiasm. The grapevine told me that there was a boat located just outside NY City that might be available. Its owner had recently passed away, and his widow was cleaning out the garage. It was IC US 78, a Lou Whitman Manana II design. Here’s Lou aboard one of his boats off City Island in the 1960s.

So, off I went down to New York City to have a look (just a look, mind you, I wasn’t going to buy it. . .) at this canoe. As I drove south, I was thinking of what Steve Clark had said at the end of his article.

Canoes combine power with lack of drag. Their speed potential is outstanding, but what probably makes the Canoe most attractive is the nature of that potential, for it is not realized without consummate technique and finesse. For this reason, the Canoe lives on a frontier of the imagination that historically few have ventured to cross, and from which even fewer have chosen to return.

What I saw when I arrived at the house in the shadow of the George Washington Bridge was a very tired boat that had been outdoors a little too long. The Manana hulls had been produced by Max Andersson in Sweden, who was normally a builder of racing canoes and kayaks. In the technology of the 1950s, they were hot-moulded, laid up from layers of veneer adhered with resorcinol glue which had to be cured by heat and pressure in an autoclave. This produced a light, strong frameless hull with one great disadvantage: it didn’t age well. By the time I saw US 78, she had been sitting out in the back yard for too long, and water had gotten into the veneer seams on the bottom. The result looked like an old head of Savoy cabbage, with the veneers sprung up in all directions.

Nevertheless, I loaded her on top of the truck, along with all the gear and a nice piece of stained oak which the sailor’s widow thought was part of the boat but which was really the center leaf from an old dining room table, and headed back north. What I didn’t take, and I regret it to this day, was the William English paddling canoe that was hanging overhead in the garage, and was in much better shape. I only had room for one boat on the truck, though, and I had IC on the brain. Now I had one in my hands, too.

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