Sailing Canoe Chapter X: Maiden Voyage




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...

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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    23 Discussions

     Imagining you out in this today.  Hope you make it to Molokini!  But you have all week to do that :)

    1 reply

    tell me somthing, do i have to rid in the canoe or can i sit on the aka, like a N'drua. Is controlling the sail hard to mannage in the cock pit? oh! i bet i could sit on the akas (if a read that right, the intersections) if i had a good outrigger

    2 replies

    Wade is right about how this thing handles. If you put your weight over this ama it sinks. But not too fast to move back toward the hull. Your ama size is matched to your sail size. On a boat, everything affects everything. If you increase one thing about your boat, you probably have to increase something else, and some other features get reduced.

    Hi, I'm not Tim, but I can answer this question since I have sailed on a few outriggers. The ama on this canoe would not allow you to sit on it. The solid log ama probably has only a few tens of pounds of displacement minus its weight. I sailed my first outrigger for a while with a low-bouyancy ama (about 50 pounds flotation force). Once you are used to the idea, it is comfortable. In a canoe of that size, you usually sail with your feet in or on the main hull and treat the ama more like a self-tending ballast weight than a "hull." If you lean too far to the ama, it slowly sinks, but slowly enough for you to react and re-balance. It is "nonwestern" in concept, but interesting. The ride tends to be smooth, too, because the low-buoyancy ama does not tend to "snap" roll the boat as it passes through waves. Best to get used to it on calm water first if you never tried it. As for the sail handling, when I used a similar rig, I found it quite doable. There is more to think about though when you shunt, unlike a western Marconi rigged boat. Sail handling can be a challenge in rough water and high wind. But the shunting craft offers a benefit -- it is never caught in "irons." I hope this helps. Perhaps Tim will tell you more when he has a break from adventures.

    Canoes offer plenty of opportunity for friends and families to spend times together in the great outdoors. It is exciting to canoe in a wild river but also dangerous. It can be boring for some to canoe in a slow flowing river with low waters but is ideal for family canoeing.

    Hey Tim, is that the same sail from your Alaska canoe trip? If so that's a pretty long-lived blue tarp sail. Is it just the normal, horrible cheap stuff?

    6 replies

    yes indeed, that's the same sail. I got new sticks (used windsurfer masts) on Maui. It's the normal light bluetarp. It's lasted really well, even though it was stored outside for a while in Boston. Probably it would have fallen apart in the SF bay area. The sun here wrecks stuff amazingly fast.

    The sun is bitey here too, on my skin in particular.

    I got some heavier tarp fabric for my new sail, it's 230g/m2 and seems pretty nice so hopefully it should last a while.

    It's raining to much to go sailing here, so i'm thinking about building a rain/sun shelter for my canoe. I remember you writing about these in one of your trip logs. Any chance of a rough description?

    Here's the hoop-tent I put on my canoe for camping on the water in Florida. It's a bit like a little covered wagon or a tiny Chinese sampan. Someone had glued blocks of ethafoam inside the gunwales of the canoe for flotation. I just stabbed the ends of the hoops into the foam.
    Look at the following pages for more photos of the canoe with different setups.
    Usually I sail in foulies and don't use a roof til it's time to sleep.
    When it's raining there are a lot more places to camp on shore, so I usually end up sleeping under a tarp roof on shore instead of on the boat.

    That's a pretty good looking setup. I think clothing probably is better while actually sailing though, uness the wind is light and the water flat. I'd never thought of it before really but those mono-canoes have heaps of room inside, probably more comfortable than a proa in winter. When I have my proa working I might have to have another look at my own fat fibreglass canoe. Thanks for sharing.

    Not the rain we had here last week. There was major flooding, the worst in 20 years or something like that. I went sailing on the weekend though, check it out.

    looks like it needs a ratcheting main sheet system and a port-side wing. That way you could actually go upwind. The ratcheting main block, plus some other blocks, might require a mast strengthening, but would definitely improve speed and maneuverability when flying upwind. I live on the SF bay, and it gets a bit rough no matter where you are. What with all of the wind shifts you need a place to throw your weight when the wind shifts on you. Since the outrigger hull doesn't look like it would float if it was slammed into the water, a small extension off the port side (maybe even retractable) might be in order so that you can flatten if the need arises. It is a VERY nice boat, though.

    Your friends are dead wrong-NEVER take the T-stat out of your car! You will shorten the life of your engine and pollute much more by running too cool all the time. You might have had a bad one or need one for a hotter climate but you should always have one.

    2 replies

    I worried about that, but this particular car has a very undersized radiator. The engine always overheats unless the radiator fan is blowing. The automatic switch that turns on the radiator fan does the actual temperature regulation function on this car. As far as I can tell, the thermostat opens after less than a minute and stays open.

    Looks like you know what you are doing so I retract my comment in your case. Try to make sure your temp comes up as fast as possible and stays at operating levels-those issues are supposed to be done by the T stat. Often a new stat or one that opens sooner (for hot climates) will do the trick.

    heh I made something similar to this over the summer, the hull was plywood and had a pvc pipe outrigger wrapped in pool noodles. I think the skin on frame is probably better though to keep it a lot lighter. I also used a different sail plan called a gibbons rig or something. ill try to post some pics some time

    1 reply