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A Selway Fisher Prospector, built by Steve Cullis
After many years of white-water kayaking and surfing, raising a family reduced my free time and redirected my interests. Still wanting to be on the water when possible, I realised that an open canoe would enable me to take my children with me on calmer waters and yet still explore wilder places without them. The price of open canoes led me to investigate a self-build and a visit to Paul Fisher, at Selway Fisher saw me leaving with a set of plans for a Prospector.
At this point I had not yet started sailing, but as my father was enjoying dinghy sailing it occurred to me that if I built a sailing canoe there would be a cross-over of interests that we perhaps could share. After a few phone calls to Solway Dory with a list of questions I began the project.
My canoe is built from 5mm marine ply and coated with epoxy inside and out. The outside is painted with undercoat and exterior gloss and the inside with a water based wood paint. I have fitted storage compartments fore and aft, which double as buoyancy and side buoyancy tanks, which double for somewhere to sit out when sailing. Mahogany rails are fitted to the side buoyancy tanks to support the seats, which enables them to be moved to trim the boat or adjust for space etc.
The outriggers are made from the Selway Fisher Ranger plans and are attached to the canoe with two Ash poles. The positioning of these took some thought as I've had to allow for paddling and for seat positioning. The rudder I made from ply and the leeboard from a single piece of Mahogany. I made a ply spray shield that fits to the front deck. This also serves as a store for fenders whilst sailing and a storage compartment when the tent is fitted.
My tent is supported by two fibreglass poles that break down into sections for storage. They fit into wooden blocks (lined with copper pipe) on the outrigger poles, making two hoops. The tent fits right over the entire canoe hull keeping the boat entirely dry inside. Plastic mud-wall is sewn to the bottom of the tent to stop most of the draughts. I use two cargo nets between the outrigger poles to store wet gear and to cook on.
The sailing rig is a Solway Dory Bermudan rig. I used to use the 44 square foot version but have since bought a 5 square metre rig which is all that I now use. I find this rig powers the canoe along just fine in most conditions and sails very well against the wind. It's easy to use and well made. For longer trips I have now added a 2.5 hp four stroke outboard, more for emergency use to get home with than anything else. This is mounted on a removable wooded bracket.
All the ancillaries fit to the canoe with lashing, with the exception of the spray shield. This allows me not have any holes drilled in the woodwork and also, in an emergency should I need to, I could instantly remove things with my knife (no other tools needed).
How does she sail? - In my mind very well indeed. Not as fast as some/most of the dinghies I've since sailed, but fast enough to cover many miles on a day out. On the other hand, she's both stable and predictable and feels really safe, which is what I need for my local sailing water as I have to deal with huge tides, fast currents, sandbanks and shallows. I've take my sailing canoe on holiday several times and she seems perfectly suited to coastal and estuary exploration. I do sail my canoe without outriggers when on more sheltered waters and regularly use it for normal paddling too.
What would I do different? - With the benefit of hindsight, I'd aim for much less weight. In my ignorance Green Bean is hugely overbuilt and I don't care to imagine how much she weighs! I would however make the floor out of 6mm ply or sheath it with glass cloth for extra strength, but I'd take weight away from the gunwales and the upper planks. I'd also use much less epoxy now I know how to use the stuff properly. I'd also use less wood making the buoyancy tanks.
All round my Prospector gives me a great deal of enjoyment. My woodwork skills are not particularly good and compared to a professionally built boat Green Bean is quite roughly made. But even so, I feel really proud to have built her (with a little help from my dad of course!).
Without a doubt I would like my canoe to be lighter and I have often thought about why it's so heavy. The following reasons go some way to account for the ridiculous weight.
1) Each end of the canoe has some solid wood where the planks from each side come together at the ends. (For some reason I thought at the time this would be a good idea for strength, but now I know different).
2) I have side buoyancy tanks - big ones!
3) The side buoyancy tanks have internal frames (for ease of construction). Big mistake!
4) I used far too much resin all over the boat (again no previous experience in using resin).
5) Gunwales were made wide enough and strong enough to sit on before I knew that I would fit side buoyancy. Gunwales could have been much lighter.
6) I have fitted end buoyancy / storage tanks.
7) The outside also has 3 coats of primer and a top coat.
As I am not into solo paddling (I prefer a kayak for this) the extra weight is manageable. There is usually someone else to help carry the boat.
When I do need to move it on my own I use a portage trolley. I also use a Karitek roof rack so I can load the boat on my own. When the boat is fully rigged for sailing, including outriggers, two people can carry it for short distances ok, but it is heavy.
When the canoe is on the water the extra weight doesn't seem to be a problem at all. It paddles and sails very well. What's more it is at least a safe sailing canoe that lets me enjoy the voyage without worrying too much about staying the right way up. I wouldn't want to sail on the limit of stability in the Severn anyway.
If I built another I would probably go for the longer version of the Prospector from SF. It would create extra space for camping aboard. I would however learn from my mistakes and I'm sure I could at least build the larger version at no extra weight, or maybe a bit lighter.
Yes, it has worked out very well for me but may not be everyone's cup of tea. Canoe purists would hate me!!