Chris Taylor

I originally bought my plastic Venture Ranger canoe to do some paddling on the local river with my teenage son, but my background stems from sailing dinghies and I was quickly attracted to the idea of adding a sail for a more effortless experience.

I started like many canoe sailors did by investing in what I consider to be one of the most attractive sails around, the bright red Expedition 35 square foot lugsail from Solway Dory. Together with a simple clip-on leeboard also from SD, I had turned my canoe into a lightweight sailing boat.

While steering with the paddle was fine, I felt it a little challenging to hold the sheet and paddle at the same time in anything but the lightest of winds. To solve this I bought a swivel cam cleat and attached this to a block of wood, bolted to my carrying yoke. This allowed me to lock off my sheet whenever it was safe to do so.

sailing canoe

I still found things a little challenging during tacks, as the clip-on leeboard that hung down on one side of the canoe had to be lifted and dropped over the other side of the canoe at exactly the right time, plus I always seemed to be on the downwind side of the canoe during tacks while putting the leeboard in place and then having to race to the other side of the canoe and continue sailing. I decided to trade up to a fixed, pivoting leeboard again from SD, which made a huge difference.

I suddenly found myself one component short of converting my canoe into a proper sailing boat and this was the rudder. I had seen second hand rudders going cheap on a well known internet auction site and decided to buy a decent Lark dinghy rudder with tiller. As my canoe was still shiny and new, the idea of drilling yet more holes into it was not something I was comfortable with, so I spent a day or two in the garage and put together a plywood box that clamped onto the stern and gave my rudder something to attach to.

I was aware that most canoe sailors use a push/ pull tiller, but as a traditional tiller and tiller extension was second nature to me, I decided to simply remake the Lark tiller 12 inches longer so I could reach it properly and this for me has worked well. I did however run into a small challenge of how to secure the sheet bridle end to the stern of the canoe as the rudder tiller now swept from side to side snagging with the sheet bridle! I had to come up with a method of securing the sheet bridle to the canoe without it fouling the tiller, so found some angle iron and started cutting and bending it around the tiller. After welding the corners and some paint, I had come up with a solution.

sailing canoe

Front buoyancy wedges had been fitted by me when I first bought the canoe for paddling, but following a capsize on Hickling Broad in which I struggled to climb back in, I fitted some side airbags. I also developed a telescopic float (two 6" ball valves) on an arm that could be quickly deployed and slow the rate of canoe-roll, while I pull myself back inside the canoe.

sailing canoe capsizesailing canoe

To take part in some of the more adventurous sailing trips, my canoe really needed to have outriggers and ideally a better sail that could reef down when needed. Not wanting to miss out on a sailing trip across the Solent, I bought a pair of outriggers and a Bermudan 44 square foot sail again from Solway Dory. These two items have really transformed the canoe's abilities. I had always thought of outriggers as bicycle stabilisers, but with the bigger sail I realised that they can support the canoe during occasional gusts, preventing a capsize, allowing you to keep more sail up for longer.

sailing canoe with outriggers

Following some flat calm wind sailing days and growing confidence, I decided to make an even bigger sail. I bought a second hand small yacht sail from that well known internet auction site and with the help of my wife who is a seamstress, cut it down to the right size. I wanted to use my SD Bermudan boom, so I only had to buy some aluminium tubing to make the mast, which I did. The result is an enormous 22 foot tall mast and a sail approaching 65 square feet, which on calm wind days, sails really well.

sailing canoe


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