Decked Sailing Canoes

The early sailing canoes used in Victorian times were made of wood with decks and watertight bulkheads. Within a couple of years of the OCSG forming, a few members started a revival of the decked sailing canoe. Homebuilt plywood canoes were starting to appear amongst the plastic open canoes and a few of these experimented with decks and bulkheads to make built in buoyancy. John Bull, our founder, drew up some plans for a small lightweight sailing canoe called “Little Pete”. Hundreds of plans were sold and a few turned up at meets.

When Dave Poskitt and Dave Stubbs took over Solway Dory in 1998, they were already making plywood canoes for themselves. Having acquired boat design software Hullform and Plyboats, they were able to use these to design and predict the performance as well as the stability of their boats. By 2002 they were able to offer fully decked and rigged sailing canoes in plywood. Plywood is a good material to experiment with as all boats are made as one offs, so it was easy to refine and evolve the designs; to compare how they sailed and coped with wind and waves.


This is a photo of Jan Poskitt sailing her Petrel Decked Sailing Canoe. It was made by the stitch and glue method in 2002, is still in good condition and being sailed in 2023. This hull shape performs well on lakes and is also a good cruiser on the sea, having undertaken several extended trips on the west coast of Scotland.

It has a large built-in buoyancy tank in front of the mast, with built-in side buoyancy along the sides. It also has a large tank in the rear of the canoe, all resulting in a lot of built-in buoyancy. A large waterproof hatch in the rear tank allows for a week’s camping gear to be easily stored and it also has some further stowage under part of the fore deck. The side tanks provide a comfortable seat for sitting out in stronger winds, as well as helping to keep spray out of the cockpit. Weighing in at 80 lbs unrigged, it has proved to be a seaworthy boat.

Tortured Ply decked sailing canoe

Another of our members, Jeff Broome, designed and built a tortured plywood decked canoe and has taken it on many camping expeditions. Tortured ply allows for more curved shapes to be created and Jeff has produced a very interesting and pleasing boat. He exhibited it at the Beale Park Wooden Boat Show and gained second prize. Made from 4mm gaboon ply, its unrigged weight is around 75 lbs.

SD Dunlin - plywood sailing canoe

In 2006 Solway Dory tried to recreate a decked canoe more along the lines of a Rob Roy early sailing canoe. At 30 inch beam and 14 feet length, with a lugsail ketch rig it had a very historic look to it. Weighing only 40lbs unrigged, it was easy to move around and car top, but felt very tender compared with the larger canoes being sailed at the time. It was easy to capsize, right and re-enter. It did a two week cruise on Irish loughs but was never taken on a serious cruise on the sea.

SD Shearwater

In 2007, after several years of plywood development, Solway Dory produced their first fibreglass Decked Sailing Canoe. The Shearwater has proved to be a very capable sailing canoe for cruising . It has undergone several upgrades to improve on performance and safety and is now being offered in modern Carbon/Kevlar construction. Weighing around 90 lbs unrigged, it is to on the heavy side for transporting, but its seaworthiness makes up for this. It is still light by dinghy standards and makes a very useful cruising boat.


The Shearwater comes with large buoyancy tanks, fore and aft, each with a large waterproof hatch for stowing camping gear. The cockpit can accommodate one or two people, with movable seats to adjust for level trim. Large side buoyancy tanks provide a wide side deck for sitting out, and allow the canoe to come up dry after a capsize recovery.

At 40 inch beam the Shearwater is a bit more stable than an open canoe and can comfortably be sailed without outriggers. For serious cruising though, mini outriggers make for a greater margin of safety, and most people in the OCSG use them much of the time.