Types of Sailing Canoe

Open paddling canoe with small poling pole rig (1.5 sqm)

For many people who already have an open canoe the simple rig, using two halves of a poling pole for mast and spar, is a cheap and easy way to try and harness the wind. The Endless River rig would be a good example of this. On its own it will make downwind sailing in a good breeze an effective way of travelling. Using the paddle to steer the canoe it is easy to control and in a good breeze you should be able to move along effortlessly.



With a Leeboard

If you want to sail across the wind you can use a paddle to reduce leeway (drifting sideways). Either jam it against the hull on the downwind side or use a hanging draw on the upwind side. You can control your direction by finding the balance point. Moving the paddle slightly forward will make the canoe turn into the wind and moving it back slightly will make it turn downwind.

If you want to sail closer to the wind, let’s say aiming for 45 degrees into the wind, you will make some progress, but it will show up the limitations of using the paddle as a leeboard. Because the windage of you and the canoe is slowing the boat down, the small poling-pole rig will not have enough power to keep you moving at a good speed. This is where using a purpose-made leeboard will make upwind sailing more effective. The leeboard will keep the canoe from slipping sideways as much and also free up your paddle to help you drive the canoe forward. By using forward paddle strokes you will overcome the windage and you will go faster. The sail will give you more power and the combination of the sail and paddle will drive you forward more than either on their own.

You can control the direction of travel by paddling on the upwind side, with sweep strokes pushing you away from the wind and J strokes pulling you closer to the wind.

Open paddling canoe with medium sized rig (2.5 to 3.5 sqm)

With a medium sized rig it is still nice to control the canoe with a paddle. It will go a little faster downwind than the poling-pole rig, but the larger area and the more efficient sail will allow it go upwind much faster. This rig has a boom with an outhaul with which you can adjust the shape of the sail and a downhaul which you can tension to control the twist in the sail. By using these you can make the sail much more efficient for upwind sailing.

To get the best out of it we would still recommend using a good foil shaped leeboard. With this you can paddle-sail upwind as fast as a sailing canoe with a much larger rig, just sailing. The rig in the photo is the 2.5 sqm Expedition Lugsail from Solway Dory.

Open canoe with large rig (4sqm)

A large open canoe is capable of managing a larger more powerful rig. This picture is of a 4 sqm Bermudan from Solway Dory, fitted to a home built strip planked open canoe. In a good breeze you would sail upwind faster than most would paddle, so paddle-sailing becomes less of a necessity. In stronger winds it is now much easier to control the canoe with a rudder. Sailing canoes normally use a long push-pull tiller to allow you to control the rudder from the middle of the canoe. When the wind drops it is still a canoe and will paddle nicely. You will definitely need a good hydrofoil-shaped leeboard to help you sail upwind well.



As with any open canoe, you do need to think about what happens if you capsize. Obviously with a larger rig there is a greater chance of capsize, especially as you learn how to sail. Open canoes used by paddlers usually have fore and aft buoyancy bags fitted. These help in a rescue and a buddy in another canoe can empty your canoe of water with an X-rescue. Once you have a rig, leeboard and rudder, an X-rescue will be impossible so the sailor needs to be able to empty the water themselves and get back into the canoe without swamping. We have found that side buoyancy bags, fitted firmly on the inside and in the middle of the canoe, allow you to empty the majority of the water as you right the canoe. It also makes a partially swamped canoe much more stable as you try and re-enter the canoe, and makes it more stable whilst you bail the remaining water out. The picture above of the strip planked canoe was taken a long time ago. It had small end tanks as was the norm on American ‘GRP’ canoes, intended to stop the canoe from sinking to the bottom of the lake. We have found that as well as the side buoyancy bags, a more substantial buoyancy bag in each end is also necessary.

Decked sailing canoe with large rig (5 sqm)

When the OCSG formed in 1990 virtually the only commercially available boats were plastic open canoes. With the increasing popularity of the sport, Solway Dory in the UK were able to develop the specialised sailing canoe. A decked sailing canoe allows for sailing in more challenging conditions reducing the chance of swamping.

Large fore and aft buoyancy tanks with access for stowage together with wide side tanks make for a safe craft that is easy to self rescue, and will give a sailing performance that a modern dinghy sailor would be familiar with. Unlike a sailing dinghy such a decked sailing canoe will paddle as efficiently as an ordinary canoe when the wind dies.
The picture is a Solway Dory Shearwater. This one is using a set of small outriggers for extra seaworthiness. Small outriggers can be added to any sailing canoe. They increase final stability, reducing the risk of capsize in strong wind. But they are not so large that if you do push things, capsize and invert, one can be sunk to allow you to right the boat. Once righted they have sufficient buoyancy to prevent recapsizing as you climb back on board.

Outrigger Canoe with large rig (5+sqm)

Once you make the outriggers large enough the chance of capsize can be very small indeed. Using large volume outriggers to provide all the stability, the main hull can be much narrower than a standard open canoe. This allows them to be very efficient being paddled. The trimaran makes for a very seaworthy craft that is still easily transportable on a roofrack once dismantled.


Home built Plywood Canoes

Canoes are one of the easiest craft for the homebuilder to make. Someone with a limited set of DIY skills and tools can produce a usable hull to go canoe sailing. This is a Waterman design from Selway Fisher. Coming along to a meet and talking to some home builders is a good place to start, to learn how they went about it and any problems that they found. There are several links to plans for home builders on our Links Page