Posts Tagged ‘sailing canoes’

After the battle of Waterloo, Arthur Wellesley, the Duke of Wellington, said to Thomas Creevey “It was a near run thing. The nearest run thing you ever saw in your life.” On a much smaller scale, and in a more maritime way, that’s what happened at my house tonight.

You’ll recall that I bravely posted a couple of months ago that I was back in action with boats. Well I was, sort of, but then two writing projects for WoodenBoat came my way, about which more soon. The second of these is finished, so now I can turn to more pressing matters, and the above-mentioned “near-run thing.”

At lunchtime today, I went to my storage locker to retrieve the Ontario Canoe Company decked sailing canoe. Yes, I probably should have put a plank on top of the roof racks and under the keel, but I wasn’t going that far and I slowed down over the railroad tracks(!).

canoe on car adjusted

I had measured the window into my new basement shop several times, and I knew it was going to be close, but I hoped we would end up just on the good side of “close.”

In we go:

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I learned a couple of useful things today:

  1. Future projects should be LESS than 14′ long and LESS than 31″ wide!
  2. Make sure that the canoe doesn’t get any bigger during the restoration!

Time to start scraping green paint.

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Well, the sub-floor for the workshop is gradually going down. You hear a lot about people “starting from square one.” If you ever wondered what square one actually looks like, here it is:



As of the end of last week, we were making steady progress, and were well past square one:



Thanks to looking for things to do while avoiding preparing our income taxes, I’ve finally gotten around to something I’ve been meaning to do for long time: add image galleries to the blog. You’ll find the first one in the right-hand sidebar. As you might expect, I started with sailing canoes. Not completely happy with the formatting, and I will add captions, but I thought I would put it out there as a teaser while I work out the details. Stay tuned for more.

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So I says to myself, “Self, what’s the least helpful thing I could do right now, given that I have a lot of boat projects on the go? Probably it would be to bring home another boat project. OK, let’s do that.” So I did. But what a boat!


This might be the prettiest canoe I’ve ever seen, and that’s saying something. What have I brought home? well, I’m pretty sure it’s a late 1890s Ontario Canoe Company decked canoe. Constructed from white cedar planking with Spanish Cedar decks, it was build in the “raised batten” technique by one of the pioneering canoe companies in the Peterborough, Ontario area. Incorporated in 1883, the OCC built a variety of cedar and basswood canoes using the techniques originally developed and patented by John Stephenson. The company flourished until May 9th, 1892 when it was completely destroyed by fire. Despite having lost everything and having no insurance, the founders decided to rebuild and on February 15th, 1893 a new factory opened at the intersection of King and Water Streets in Peterborough. This time, the sign on the building read “Peterborough Canoe Company.”

I think my new boat is a Model 200 “Ontario Canoe” as depicted in a late 1880s OCC catalogue.

occ catalogue profile view with rig

occ catalogue model 200

The dimensions and specifications match perfectly, as does the fabulous shape of the coaming, with its long, raking forward end. There are some interesting things about this boat, though, not the least of which is that it was never completely fitted out to sail. As you can see from the catalogue illustration above, it was intended to be sailed with a two-masted “Mohican”-style lug rig. The mast holes are there in the deck caps, but I can’t find the screw holes that would have been left by the deck hardware, and nor is there any sign on the keel of mast steps or mast tubes having been fastened in place. There is also no indication that a rudder was ever fitted to the sternpost. Most tellingly, there is no centreboard!

The catalogue says “Centre-boards fitted to any of these canoes at extra cost.” The OCC offered two choices for folding fan centreboards: the Brough, which used 5 overlapping plates of brass, and the much more complex Radix, whose leaves telescoped inside each other when retracted.

occ catalogue radix and brough

Along with the canoe, I was also able to acquire a #2 Radix, though I did pay slightly more than the 1880s price of $20.

radix 1

Stay tuned over the coming months as I work to bring this beautiful little canoe back to life. Should keep me out of trouble for a while.

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Along with the big questions, like “Why are we here?” and “What is the meaning of life?” I often ask myself “Why does everything take so long?” Many of my projects seem to go on and on and on. Here’s a case in point.

When I created the hard-chine plywood 16-30 canoe, I needed to put a yoke arm on top of the rudder. This is because the mizzen mast is between the rudder head and the tiller. The older cruising sailing canoe and canoe yawl designs often used rope or, on J.H. Rushton boats, delicate little brass chains, to connect the rudder yoke to the tiller yoke. Here’s an example from a Mersey canoe in W.P. Stephens’ Canoe and Boatbuilding: A Complete Manual for Amateurs.

Some of the canoe yawls used a bent tiller that allowed just enough space to put the helm hard over, as on Iris, also depicted in Stephens’ book:

Neither one of these works for the 16-30, since you need something to take out to the end of the seat with you. The original 16-30s used a rigid tiller rod connecting a single yoke arm on the rudder head to a tab on the crosshead steering gear. This is a modification of the “Norwegian Tiller,” which has a single yoke arm on the rudder head with a long rod extending forward. The 16-30 set-up is more like a bell crank (for those of you who used to fly control-line model aircraft), and this is what I used on the new 16-30. Here’s the rudder end:

And here’s how the tiller rod connects to the cross-head:

The original 16-30s often had beautiful soldered, brazed or forge-welded metal hardware, but I was trying to keep this affordable, which is where the scaffolding parts that make up the cross-head comes in. In order to brace the single yoke arm, I epoxied and bolted an aluminum L-bracket underneath and epoxied the two plywood pieces together:

It wasn’t the strongest arrangement in the world, but it lasted for several years and other new-generation 16-30s were outfitted the same way with no problems. Then, I went to Sturgeon Point. I’d been asked by the Sturgeon Lakes Sailing Club to come and give a talk on canoe sailing, which had been a big part of summer life there at the end of the 19th century. Here’s a typical summer scene from the photo collection of the City of Kawartha Lakes Archives:

So far, so good, except that if I’m going to demonstrate canoe sailing I should probably have a sailing canoe, no? I have dear old Clementine, the lateen and leeboard-rigged 1937 Old Town, but I don’t actually own a 16-30[!]. I’ve been too busy drawing plans and teaching classes and teaching people to sail them to get around to building one of my own. So, I needed to make a side trip to the Antique Boat Museum in Clayton, NY, to borrow 16-30 #2, Somethin’ Else, which I had built when I worked there a number of years ago. When I picked the boat up, I learned that vulnerable rudder/yoke right-angle joint had gotten a good knock, and needed fixing. I took it apart and put it back together again the same way and saddled up the Subaru to go to Sturgeon Point.

The day we were supposed to sail was pretty blustery, but I set the 16-30 up and launched anyways. As we waited for the other participants to come down, two of us held the fully-rigged boat off the dock. As the wind and chop continued to rise, a large wave picked the boat up and dropped her down hard right beside the dock, catching the protruding yoke arm and breaking the joint again. That was the end of 16-30 sailing that day, though an intrepid club member did manage to get Clementine out before a rain squall closed everything down.

So, the yoke was broken again and there didn’t seem to be much point in repairing it the same way. I thought about a bent piece of aluminum that would be wide enough to fasten securely to the rudder and could also form the yoke arm itself. First step was to make a pattern and get the piece out of some 5/32″ leftovers I had in the shop.

Next issue was how to bend the aluminum. A test on a piece of scrap revealed that the 5/32″ was too thick to do the usual vise-and-wooden-block method. The resulting bend wasn’t very satisfying.

I needed a better way to bend the aluminum, and I don’t have access to a metalworking shop or a big press brake. After a little consultation, I picked up a 4-ton bottle jack on sale and that, together with some threaded rod and odds and ends, produced what I hope will be a useful piece of equipment: The Bend-O-Matic.

The angle iron on the jack’s stem mates up with another identical piece that’s cradled in an oak block at the top. As the two are jacked together, the bend is formed:

It sure looks stronger than the old one. Hope to take it sailing soon, I’ll let you know how it works out.

And that’s how a simple “sure, you can borrow the boat for a little while but I think you’ll need to look at the rudder” turned into two repairs and a new piece of shop equipment.

Until next time. . .

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In the December, 1886, issue of Frank Leslie’s Popular Monthly magazine, the noted American journalist and yachtsman W.P. Stephens, about whom I’ve written before, published an article called “Why We Canoe.” You can read the text of the article online here, courtesy of Google and the Hathi Digital Library.

Stephens was a tireless promoter of the sport of canoeing, and especially canoeing under sail, and with his canoe Jersey Blue was a fixture in the early days of the American Canoe Association. A copy of his wonderful Canoe and Boatbuilding: A Complete Manual for Amateurs should be on the shelf of anyone with even a passing interest in canoe sailing and late 19th century small craft. The book went through many editions, and original copies can be found for sale at a reasonable price. It’s also been reprinted. My friend Dan Miller over at Dragonfly Canoe Works has kindly made it possible to read the book online. As important as the book, but much harder to find, are the plates, which originally came out in a companion volume. In 1987, as the date on the cover of my well-thumbed copy says, Mystic Seaport Museum collated and re-published a complete set. Mystic also holds Stephens’s drawings and papers, a veritable treasure trove of canoeing and yachting history.

The article is vintage Stephens, arguing strongly in favour of his preferred type of sailing canoe, the all-’round paddling/sailing boat, suitable for extended cruising. He notes with approval the recent development of classification rules by the American Canoe Association, designed “to prevent, as far as possible, the construction of racing canoes.” Unfortunately for Stephens but fortunately for those of us who enjoy 16-30s, ICs and other “dangerous racing freaks,” as he condemned them, racing craft did develop.

His article contains some charming engravings of mid-1880s canoes that were just on the verge of the bifurcation in design that began to occur under the pressures of racing under sail. The four illustrated here are exemplars of what Stephens considered to be wholesome types.

Atlantis was owned by the noted Adirondack writer, photographer and artist Seneca Ray Stoddard.

Robert Tyson’s Isabel was well known on the Toronto waterfront and at the Toronto Canoe Club, as was her skipper and his characteristic tam, with its cap ribbons hanging down behind. Like many canoeists of this era, Tyson tinkered incessantly with his rig, and Isabel exhibits one of his interesting innovations. The unique bent mast serves least two purposes. The first one is to get the rig as far forward as possible without putting the mast right up in the eyes of the canoe. Combined with the heavy roach, held out by battens, this gives a big mainsail with a low centre of effort. The spar extending below the boom also permits a vang to be used, something not normally possible because of the low boom on sailing canoes which would create too shallow an angle for a vang to be effective.

Marion B ‘s mainsail displays the turtle totem of Albany, NY’s Mohican Canoe Club, one of the powerhouses of organized canoeing in the late 19th century. The standing lug rig with its two reefing battens is an early example of what would become known as the Mohican rig. Later versions pulled the whole sail aft of the mast and did away with the small portion extending forward, using elaborate hardware to attach the yard, battens and luff. Owned by General Oliver, Marion B was be decisively outsailed in the 1886 ACA meet by Commodore Gibson’s new Rushton-built canoe Vesper.

Siren represents one of the main types of early sailing canoe, the Nautilus (the others being the Rob Roy and the Shadow) The Nautilus type originated with a number of canoes of that name sailed by Warington Baden Powell. In their first incarnations, they were solidly constructed seaboats with moveable inside ballast and heavy boilerplate centreboards, sailed semi-prone. As the caption indicates, this American canoe, though ostensibly a Nautilus type, is already being sailed from the deck and not below. It was but a short step (a short slide, actually) from sitting on the weather edge of the deck to sitting outboard on a sliding seat, so notwithstanding Stephens’ misgivings about racing canoes, the wind of change was already filling these small sails.

Until next time. . .

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Back in the second post in this series, I was thinking about how to translate the arc bottom of the original sailing canoe into something I could build in stitch and glue. Using the original linesplan, I’ve modeled several different version of the hull in Delftship that allow me to make some numerical comparisons between them. All I’ve changed in each case is the number of chines and the underwater shape–everything else is the same (with the exception of some small changes to the bow profile to accommodate an additional chine). The design waterline and draft of 4″ are as on the original plans, and all these hulls are shown in a full bow-on view.

Here’s the original arc-bottomed hull, which displaces .117 short tons, or 234 lbs.

Here’s the same hull with all of the arc taken out of the bottom sections so that there’s just a straight section from chine to keel. This results in a significantly lower displacement of only .075 tons, or 150 lbs. How much displacement do we want or need? Well, I’d say something at least equal to the original hull. I’m also keeping in mind the displacement of my hard-chine 16-30 hull, which is .133 tons, or 266 lbs. From my experience in building and sailing those boats, they float pretty much on their marks with a sailor of average weight, so there’s a good comparison for what displacement we should shoot for in a two-masted, decked 16′ sailing canoe built in stitch and glue. I don’t think 150 lbs is going to do it.

Here I’ve added another chine and pulled it down amidships to make a nearly flat bottom. I may have overdone it on the extra volume, though, because now our displacement is up to .139 tons, or 278 lbs. I’m not sure we need quite all of that.

If I introduce just a little deadrise into the midships sections, leaving the ends unchanged, the displacement decreases to  .128 tons, or 256 lbs, which is pretty close to our 16-30 hull.

So far, so good. The next step is to add the deck and deck camber, put the bulkheads in the right places instead of just at a uniform 1′ interval and expand the individual hull panels. Then, I’ll buy some balsa wood and make a 1 1/2″ – 1′ model.

Until next time. . .

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As I mentioned in the last post, I started to do some work on the original linesplan for  the late 19th century decked sailing canoe Isalo to explore making the arc bottomed hull suitable for the flat panels of stitch-and-glue construction. I began drawing by hand, but then I decided to put the lines on the computer and see what I could come up with. To do this, I used a hull design program called DelftShip, a development of an earlier program called Freeship (which is still available from SourceForge). Both programs are powerful, full-featured naval architecture packages, and both are free. Once you figure out how to use them for canoes, you could also design yourself an oil tanker, passenger ship or tug if you’re so inclined. A professional version of Delftship with more features is also available for €150, with the latest version slated for release in late February. These programs have a steep learning curve, no pun intended, but are well worth the investment of time.

One thing they’re particularly useful for is projects like Isalo, because with them you can import a scanned linesplan of unknown scale, such as you might find in a magazine, and, as long as you know a couple of the principle dimensions, draw new fair lines on top of the original. There’s a handy tutorial about how to do this, based on, of all things, Leo Friede’s legendary 16-30 sailing canoe Mermaid on the WoodenBoat Forum. If you use this tutorial, go through it with the DelftShip manual in front of you, because author Bruce Taylor leaves out a couple of important steps whose absence will drive you crazy until you also read the DelftShip tutorial on Reproducing An Existing Lines Plan, which you can download from the company’s web site.

Even though I’m planning to add one or more chines, I thought I would start by getting Isalo‘s original arc-bottomed hull re-drawn in DelftShip. After a weekend’s worth of work, here’s what I’ve come up with:

This is the main Delftship window with all four views: perspective, profile, plan and body plan. Much as with regular lofting and fairing, you alternate between them, working iteratively on each one to gradually firm up and reconcile the lines. In each case, the starting point is the original linesplan in a background layer, on top of which you work with curves and the control mesh to shape the new lines.

Here’s the profile with the three main lines defined: the centreline of the hull [composed of bow, stern and bottom], the chine and the sheer.

And here’s the body plan, with the control curves [red] and stations [green]. Once you begin to develop the wireframe, you can add the other side of the hull and shade it to check on your progress.

 One of the most useful features for a project like this is that you can also run a developability check on the panels to see if they can be gotten out of plywood, which nominally doesn’t like to do compound curves, though you can torture it into shape to a certain extent. When you use that feature, the program adds red shading to show you areas that can’t be expanded into flat sheets.

DelftShip is telling me that the sections below the chine aren’t developable, which is not surprising since they’re still the original rounded arc bottom. The good news is that I seem gotten the topsides pretty straight, as it’s all green from sheer to chine. The next step is to go back to the body plan and make sure I’ve added enough curvature to the bottom to capture the volume of the original hull below the waterline. After that, I’ll  ask DelftShip to calculate the hydrostatics to get some numbers against which I can compare my multichine versions as they’re developed.

Until next time. . .

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