Introduction: Sailing Canoe Chapter X: Maiden Voyage

About: Tim Anderson is the author of the "Heirloom Technology" column in Make Magazine. He is co-founder of, manufacturers of "3D Printer" output devices. His detailed drawings of traditional Pacific I…
The canoe sails great! I put it in the ocean at Kalama Park in Kihei, Maui, by Wailea Canoe Club. The canoe is light, fast, and easy to steer. Here's my report on sailing it.
I'll post the remaining chapters of building the canoe soon.

Continues from
Chapter 1: Make the Deck, Keel, and Cockpits
Chapter 2: Make Ribs
Chapter 3: Lash the Frame
Chapter 4: Carve outrigger and Break tools
Chapter 5: Hull Frame Finishing
Chapter 6: Morton's Oar
Chapter 7: Hull Skin
Chapter 8: Keel and Rub Strips
Chapter 9: Dipaakak
Chapter 10: Independent Suspension

Please support the WAM canoe project as they preserve and foster canoe knowledge in the Marshall Islands.

Step 1: Load It Up!

My neighbor Dave was junking a mercedes and gave me the roof rack. After some fiddling I got it properly clamped onto the roof of the escort. I slit some orange pool noodles and tied them onto the crossbars with string for padding. I tied the canoe on top with rope and innertubes, and hit the road. I had two days before my flight out and I hadn't visited my pals on the other side of the island yet. So I drove around the island to get there.

The car doesn't seem to care that there's a canoe on top. I was worried that I'd get blown off the road, but there's no sign of that. The car's handling seems unaffected by the canoe on top.

There were other problems. I stopped a bunch of times due to the car overheating.
Locals told me "Take out the thermostat." They're right. It's never cold enough on the island to need one. The radiator fan wasn't coming on when it needed to. I finally hotwired the fan to stay on.

People are really interested in the boat. It's invisible to some people, and some are just desperate to know what it's made out of right now. It's like a canoe people detector.
The paniolo (cowboy) where my friends were staying liked the canoe. He said about the outrigger log: "that'll make it stable. looks good and heavy." And then he went on about how good the boat would be for fishing there for the "really big, I mean really big" fish out in the strait, and which direction to troll etc. and what kind of handline to troll the lure with. He said "boats don't come by here, that's why there are so many fish". In a month my friends hadn't seen any boats.

Dante tells me I should troll "king king" lures with white feathers and red heads. Daisy chain three of them in a row so it looks like a school of little fish.

Step 2: Launch!

The other side where my friends were was pretty rough. Rock beaches with big shore break. So I didn't try the canoe out there. The next day I kept going to Kihei, where there is sand and smooth water.
It took about half an hour to carry the canoe parts to the beach, put them together, and put on my sailing gear. Next time it would be quicker. I was pretty nervous.

Step 3: Sailing!

I was really nervous. I pushed out, jumped on, and was sailing!
It was great. The boat is light, floats high, is stable, sails fast, and seems plenty strong.
The outrigger goes through the water well. Everything is pretty well matched to all the rest of the boat. The boat is really easy to steer. The big steering oar is overkill in these moderate winds.
Any paddle is fine for steering.

If I'd gotten an earlier start I would have headed for Molokini, a volcanic cone a few miles away. It looks like a sunken ampitheater.

The outrigger log is fine. It's got enough buoyancy and it doesn't matter that it's such a weird shape. When the fat end is forward its buoyancy keeps it up. When the skinny end is forward the weight of the other end lifts it.

Step 4: Tacking

The hull is translucent. Looking down into the hull I can see the water hitting the bottom of the hull.

I tried tacking the canoe. In Marshallese it's called "Riak". It's been a while since I've done it. There's a right way you have to do it, like sword fighting. I had to count "1 2 buckle my shoe" etc. while I did the routine to get the timing right and do the moves in the proper way.
I floundered and dunked the sails a few times while getting the knack of carrying the sail back and forth. That's just how it is for a proa. You go like the dickens when you're sailing and your boat can be really lightweight, but tacking is a pain in the neck.

I tried steering with the oar and the paddle. I made the paddle from a hockey stick with a plywood blade lashed to it. It turned out really well. I looked around for it. It was gone. It fell in the water when I was using the oar and I didn't notice it. I sailed back looking for it, but it was too late. I'll put a return address on the next one.

With some practice the boat would probably be good to paddle in and out through surf. It's so light and the cockpit holes can be sealed up. The keel shoe makes it easy to not worry about the hull during a hasty landing.
I'll have to sail it in rougher conditions and see what breaks or bends. It all seems pretty good so far.
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