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Sailing Log Canoe

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  • Sailing Log Canoe

    My wife and I spent a couple of days around St. Michaels, Maryland - a small town on the Chesapeake Bay with a long maritime tradition, mainly centered around oysters and crabs. We came across an interesting wooden boat, unlike any I've ever seen - the sailing log canoe. This is an adaptation of the traditional “dug-out” canoe built by native Americans. The dug out is just that – hollowed out of a single large log using simple tools and fire to remove the wood from the interior of the boat.

    The sailing log canoe was adapted into a sailboat in the late 1800’s and few of these boats remain today. Three to five large pine logs are carved to shape the boat. So the boat is long a quite skinny. Here is an excerpt from a local book – “Tradition, Speed and Grace Chesapeake Bay Sailing Log Canoes” by John C. North

    “The Tilghman Island/ St. Michaels canoes were generally built of three to five logs with relatively fine ends. They tended to be fairly low sided and carried maximum beam about mid-ship. They were equipped with two masts and carried a sizable, long-footed jib on a boom that extended well beyond the end of the bowsprit.

    The first recorded log canoe race took place near St. Michaels in 1859 for the Douglas Cup. As interest in racing grew, boats were designed and built with speed in mind rather than simple utility. Hulls were constructed with thinner logs, narrower beam and finer ends. Two masts rather than one were stepped, and a sail plan evolved with three sails – jib, foresail, and mainsail. (Despite the after mast being shorter, it was called the mainmast.)

    All this sail spelled instability. This problem was met by placing crew on springboards – sometimes called singing boards – which were planks a foot wide and 12 to 16 feet long. One end of the board went under the leeward washboard, while the other end extended to windward to support an athletic crewman who was ideally fast, strong, and heavy. Tacking was tricky. If the heavy boards – sometimes as many as six on the largest boats – were not shifted at just the right moment, a capsize was certain. Jibes were frightening and to be avoided if at all possible. It was understood that all hands on a canoe had to be capable swimmers.”

    So here's and old photo of the construction of a five log boat:

    And here's a photo of a crew out on the spring boards:

    And a couple of racers with full sail:


  • #2
    Re: Sailing Log Canoe

    Next to the Inn where we stayed was a small boat works. They were working on a 100 year old sailing canoe. Here's a few:

    And finally the spring boards:


    • #3
      Re: Sailing Log Canoe

      Sharpies used to race with similar rigs and springboards. However, they were fastened with steel nails and didn't last.
      On the trailing edge of technology.


      • #4
        Re: Sailing Log Canoe

        When I was young, perhaps in the early ‘70s I read an article in Sail Magazine about the Log Canoes. I thought that they represented the ultimate in sailing. Ten years later I was an apprentice in the boat shop at Chesapeake Bay Maritime Museum and was introduced to a gentleman who owned two Log Canoes. I sailed with him on and off for ten years, also sailing on many others in the fleet. It was a phenomenal experience. Many years after that, my wife was exhibits curator at CBMM and we ended up taking the museum’s small Log Canoe to the WoodenBoat Show in Rockland ME. It is entirely possible that I am the only person ever to skipper a Log Canoe in Maine! Mind you the crew, which consisted of the head curator and his wife as well as my wife, were all arguably better qualified for the job!



        • #5
          Re: Sailing Log Canoe

          what design software ya recon was used ?


          • #6
            Re: Sailing Log Canoe

            Originally posted by RichW

            And a couple of racers with full sail:

            Changing tacks with this rig must be interesting!



            • #7
              Re: Sailing Log Canoe

              This thread sent me down a looong rabbit hole. I had it in my mind that a log canoe came over to the Rappahannock for the Turkey Shoot Regatta quite a while ago and capsized, but no amount of googling turned up anything about it. Eventually I asked my dad who remembered it was a skipjack "four or five years ago". Well, after some sleuthing I found it was the Claud W. Somers back in 2004!

              I've never seen log canoes with big square sails up top, just the triangular ones.
              Attached Files


              • #8
                Re: Sailing Log Canoe

                They haven’t used square sails for probably 60 years or more. My old windsurfer rig ended up being hoisted up one of the canoes rigs..



                • #9
                  Re: Sailing Log Canoe

                  I raced on Magic for a couple of seasons in the 70s, promoted from board riding to the boomkin tending the little main and finally the fore sheet. Boats are optimized for say 5-10 knots, move in a whisper.
                  Ben Fuller
                  Ran Tan, Liten Kuhling, Tipsy, Tippy, Josef W., Merry Mouth, Imp, Macavity, Look Far, Flash and a quiver of other 'yaks.
                  "Bound fast is boatless man."