Early Canoe Sailing

Seafaring peoples and coastal fishermen in the Indian and Pacific Oceans have used sailing canoes for many hundreds, probably thousands, of years.

Outrigger sailing canoe - Micronesia

Outrigger sailing canoe – Guam, Micronesia

The modern sport of canoeing in Britain developed during the mid Victorian era in the late 19th century. There was a growing middle class benefiting from the increase in living standards brought about by the industrial revolution. These people now had sufficient income and spare time to use some of it in leisure activities. Holidays abroad opened up people’s perspectives and allowed them to go on small adventures, discovering the world about them. It was in this new exciting era that John MacGregor went to a local boat builder and had a sailing canoe made to his own design. He took it abroad, using railways and steamer ferries to undertake a journey of a 1000 miles across Europe. He subsequently wrote a hugely successful book about his adventure – “A Thousand Miles in a Rob Roy Canoe”

This book, plus further accounts published in newspapers, started a craze of adventuring throughout Britain. Several canoe clubs were formed, on the Clyde, the Humber, the Mersey and the Royal Canoe Club on the Thames.

Clyde Canoe Club

This picture is of the Clyde Canoe Club new premises at Rosneath on the Clyde Estuary, around 1875. A few kayaks can be seen but most of the craft have sailing rigs. Long double paddles were used and all the canoes had decks and watertight compartments. From this club, members would go on extensive coastal cruises among the islands of the west coast of Scotland. Canoes could also be loaded onto the guard’s van at the local train station and taken further afield to extend their range and access new cruising grounds. Accounts of these cruises were published in the local papers and many have survived. It was after reading these accounts, republished on the internet, that some of our more experienced members started following in their footsteps and going on their own adventures.

John MacGregor

This picture shows members by the launching slipway. Second from the right is John MacGregor himself. As the club was on a tidal estuary the long slipway made it easier to launch and recover, no matter what the state of the tide.