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American Proas, 1898 - 2001


At some point... I'll revamp the organization of this page. For now, just scroll on down as you like.


Left, the Gilbertese crab claw sail and the basic proa idea which Ralph Munroe and others followed.

Flying the ama isn't necessary. These guys are racing. You can see the same outrigger (aka) idea as Munroe used, and the same general sail shape with two yards and a central mast. A true crabclaw mast tilts fore and aft. Munroe's seems to have been fixed at vertical.

I FOUND in the pages of THE RUDDER, that great American yachting magazine, several descriptions of proas sailing in the last decade of the 1800s. There are a few more mysterious references to proas from the US and UK from the 1860s on, but these are the only ones I can document. Fortunately they're relatively well-documented.

What's interesting is that interest in proas seems to have tapered off after 1900 or so. My theory - beside the fact that a proa is too weird for many people - is that the gofast crowd turned to power boats.

The plans were scanned at 300dpi and converted to 72dpi, so they are quite large and legible. The photos are the best I've been able to do working from xeroxes. At least one Munroe article was published by the Rudder in booklet form as a "how-to" project. I'm not sure which of the designs it covered, or if it had more text than was presented in the magazine.


Folkard, The Sailing-Boat, 1863

In this edition, the 3rd, Folkard reproduces some decently accurate line art of various Pacific sailing boats including the "Anson Proa". E-text and images from this early reference book to come along soon.


Alden 'The Flying Proa' 1877 or so

From an article in Harper's Magazine and later published in booklet form. A sort of a weird extrapolation from the Proa Idea.

He reprints the famous drawing of the Flying Proa of the Ladrones from Commodore Anson's voyage, ca. 1748 (below). I suspect he got it from Folkard. Click to see a large (as in very wide and very tall) GIF scan of the drawing.


Freak Flying Proa - date?

This one is a non-shunting proa with an outrigger which rocks from side to side like a rocking chair and looks like a dock. Was it ever built? I don't know. Still haven't finished the scans of the drawings for posting but no one has been upset that they aren't here. Sometime.


Munroe 1898

This is the mother lode, a personable article and a clear and detailed plan. This was Munroe's first proa, and apparently for the others (see below) he revised the rigging only slightly.

Plan & Photos:

Photo 1
Photo 2
Plan 1
Plan 2


Munroe 1900

Here's a proa with centerboards and a track along the lee gunwale for the sail to shunt along. A group in Miami is building a re-creation of this boat in plywood. David S. Kaufman can tell you more.


Plan 1
Plan 2


Munroe 1930 & 1948

The first excerpt is from Vincent Gilpin's book "The Commodore's Story", written with Ralph Munroe and published in 1930. Find this - it's a very interesting read and the only place which reveals that the Commodore built four proas, all on the same lines.

The second comes from "The Rudder Sail Boat Plan Book", published in 1948. It was paired with the proa plan from 1900 (above).

The excerpts were kindly supplied by Jon Etheredge.


Mary & Lamb 1898

"H.G." refers only to Mr Roosevelt in his article from October 1898. After snooping into biographies of Teddy Roosevelt I came to the conclusion that this was Robert Barnwell Roosevelt, known as a conservationist, a yachtsman and "an eccentric." Perfect! (Robert B. was Teddy's Uncle Robert.)

I expect that there must be some more on his proa in the records of the Seawanhaka Corinthian Yacht Club, local newspapers, or in Roosevelt family archives. I have not completely tracked any of this down.

I have half-completed a 1/3 scale model of a best-guess version of Roosevelt's boat.

And who was H.G., anyway?
Plan & Photos:
Mr. Roosevelt's Mary & Lamb
Schematic Plan by COD
Model in 1/3 scale by COD


The Bolger 20' Proa

Here's Phil Bolger's "unserious" 20-ft proa which was first cartooned in an issue of Small Boat Journal. Later it appeared in his book "Boats with an Open Mind". To the best of my knowledge no one has ever built following this sketch. I've constructed a model; John Dalziel (below) has tried the unusual sail.

I'd like to build this proa, but I would most likely skip the experimental sail, and also might add a V-bottom to the ama so it doesn't slam in choppy water. I've completed a model of a deadrise, slab-sided, asymmetrical Bolgeresque proa and will get photo here soon.

Note that Bolger also designed a far more complicated 40-foot proa which appears in one of his earlier books. It was never built. I've heard that someone in Florida is building one to plan, including the sail. Maybe we'll hear more.

Plan & Model Photos:

Photo 1
Photo 2
Plan 1 Side
Plan 2 End
Plan 3 Plan View
Profile (shows "Bolger Sail")


MBULI The 20' Schooner Proa

John Harris - here's a picture of an uncompleted model of a 30-footer.

John, who runs Chesapeake Light Craft, has launched his 20-footer. It's a moderately high-tech rig on a very simple hull.


UBU The 17' Scow-Proa

This is my current proa project, a 17-foot, scow hulled proa. The double ended hull is about the size and shape of a traditional sailing canoe. The craft is based on Phil Bolger's "Dynamite Sailboard" plan, so it's essentially a sit-on-top scow hull. I cut the Bolger plan in half and copied the bow section onto the stern. Voila! Instant proa!

Since this is a work-in-progress, there aren't many photos yet, but I've got a couple snaps of a model.

Plan & Model Photos:

Photo 1
Photo 2
Schematic Plan



Russell Brown - has designed at least 3 well-known proas, JZERO, JZERRO and KAURI.

John Dalziel - has a 19' proa sailing.

Tim Anderson - is experimenting with various demented schemes...

Mike Schacht - is working on a 26' cruiser.

Ted Warren - is sailing his 21' ultralight proa TINY DANCER and now has a homebuilder version.

Dale Dagger - is building his 30' cedar strip proa in Nicaragua.

Jim Michalak will sell you plans for a sheet-ply proa approximately 16 feet long.

Honorable mentions go to L. Francis Herreshoff for sketching a rather complicated proa in Common Sense of Yacht Design; to Warren Seaman and the Malibu Outrigger; and Chris White's DRAGONFLY update of the Malibu Outrigger. From time to time people have brought proas back from the Pacific, but these don't count as design efforts originating in the USA.

Sea Pea, a Chris White Dragonfly, owned by Ken Potts.
Captain Nat Herreshoff also deserves an honorable mention, since he seems to have built a proa model based on the famous Anson drawings. You can see the model at the Herreshoff Museum in Bristol, Rhode Island. But he passed on the proa and went on to invent the modern catamaran instead.
Here's a much-enlarged shot from the background of a recent photo in Professional Boatbuilder. I hope I can get to Bristol to take a couple shots of my own. It seems to be based on the Anson drawing, but note the twin centerboards under the hull. Perhaps it was given to him by Ralph Munroe.


THE MAGAZINE "The Rudder" ran from 1890 into the 1960s (and later, but later it was awful). I'm working on an index of issues of the Rudder up to 1954. Mystic Seaport Museum has published an index of plans in The Rudder. Mine is a database and is much more inclusive. I'm not sure when it will see the light of day or if it will be for sale. You can find Mystic's Rudder plans index online here.


See also The Proa FAQ

The Gilbertese Canoe

The Proa File

munroe 1898 proa The Cheap Page


A Flying Proa

R. M. MUNROE - The Rudder, June 1898


SAY, you freak designers, builders, and chaps who appear quite unhappy unless soaking wet and hanging on to the weather edge of a skimming dish by your eyelids, just round up here a few minutes, while the water runs out of your breeches, and let's have a little chin about a freak that is a freak, pure and simple. I propose to do all the talking, and don't you interrupt; and mind, if there is any designing-board chappie among you who dares smile in that superior manner peculiar to them, let him take warning, for the laugh that is last, etc., will surely swamp him, for our freak is scientific from way back; can point, fetch and carry; is a sea-going craft, and fastest of the fast. No, you can't rule her out of the class; she was in it centuries before your time you have overlooked her, that's all.

Now, don't say, "Oh, yes, Catamaran! Herreshoff, Fearon and others, exploited that years ago; nothing in it but speed, expense and novelty." Catamarans - but not proas - certainly were trotted out and found wanting, because the double hull is theoretically and practically wrong, and never would have shown any exceptionable speed had it not been for the genius of Uncle Nat and a most generous outlay of money. We don't object to the genius, but when coupled with expense most of us do; besides, it is the least material producing the greatest result that proves sound designing, and although our proa resembles a straddle bug and her modeler a savage she gets there safely, and is an excellent exponent of the foregoing axiom, which is more than can be said of the boats which competed in the trial races off Oyster Bay last summer.

Let us look in the dictionary:

"Proa, an outrigger boat used in the Malay Archipelago, about 30 feet long and 3 feet beam, which attain the highest known speed under sail."

This and one or two very imperfect models, with the evidence of an old sailor friend who had seen them in howling gales a hundred miles or more from any land, and sailing round him in more moderate weather when his hooker was doing a good thirteen, led us to investigate. To make a guess at the evolution of this odd-looking craft, it would seem that our savage when he first undertook to propel his dugout by means of sails found himself more in the water than out, owing to lack of beam, and as he could not control the growth of trees he proceeded to "hike out" not on planks, for he did not have them, but on poles, naturally bamboo. This undoubtedly worked while the wind was steady, but not having the skill or energy of our modern canoeists capsizes to windward were the rule until remedied by a float at the end of the poles, and the proa was complete.

Click on the images to see the plans.

Let us analyze this seemingly crude affair, and see if it does not embody the fundamental principles of small-boat sail propulsion for speed. The fulcrum or hull is fashioned to make the very least end resistance and unhampered by beam, except to the extent of providing buoyancy necessary to carry the weights of crew and vertical sail pressure. Instead of the lever or mast continuing down into the water in the form of ballast to a distance of say 8 feet, implying friction galore (which would be necessary to attain the same power given by the 10-foot spread of the proa outrigger), it goes out over the sides in the springing poles and ends in the float or smaller counterpart of the main boat, with friction on all but one point of sailing of next to nothing.

The rig should strike our mechanical experts as being as near perfection as can be to meet the greatest stress and strains with the least possible material. The mast a slender pole just strong enough to support the weight induced by pressure of sail, the light rigging with its generous spread taking nearly all the lateral strains; the sail in one piece, lateen, for which yard and boom can be of the smallest girth and stand perfectly. There you are! Beat it if you can for simplicity and perfect adaptation!

Here, again, I suppose you will chip in and ask: "How can any such hayrick as that ever be handled in narrow work or seaway without a crew of nautical acrobats?" Well, we must confess to much misgivings as to the management of the cutter; so much so, that my first one laid for some time unrigged, hardly daring to risk my hard-earned reputation. A quiet moonlight trial suggested itself; but at last we braced up, paddled it clear of everything within possible reach and hoisted sail - a wild clutch at the nearest rope was all that saved part of the crew from being left behind. Away we went.

Sailing is no name for it - flying is better. Out into the bay she skipped, boys yelling with delight on the uplifted outrigger, spray from the lee bow and steering oar riven into vapor by the speed blowing to leeward. It was grand! But that northeast course could not be held forever; so we cautiously began trimming in; and if you wind-jammers could have seen where that trim ended, with the boat still footing in shape, your eyeballs would have hung outside. Then came the reversal for the return trip - trying moment - with the piazza gang looking on. "Let go, and clew up!" we sang out (Bully Waterman was never in it). Kept her off a bit; dropped the steering oar and ran for the other stern, owing to the halyards being bent too high on the yard, and the brails fouling everything got balled up, and chaos reigned with the old man rending the air on the poop. Soon cleared, however, and with tack bowsed down on the southwest bow off we went again on our wild career. A short run and we squared her for home.

Nothing seemed to happen if the outrigger boat did dig into a following sea; she steered beautifully. Luffing up off the wharf the sail was run down just at the right moment, and we paddled in. Our skepticism had vanished and a new pleasure resurrected. Since this trial trip we have sailed and sailed with all sorts and conditions of crew of both sexes, acro and other bats, AB's and pantry boys; and excepting an extra plank added to the freeboard on the lee side, so as to stand bigger knockdowns, not a material alteration has been made, a reef taken in, or an accident happened.

In submitting the accompanying design for a proa I wish to state distinctly that it is not to be considered at all in the light of even a half-way possible production. In fact it does not embody several of the good points of the native boat, as they would entail expense which if once started would end in the well-known way, and tend to spoil the sport. It is quite certain that a fine modeled pianoforte-finished proa would sail round my cheap flatbottomed construction, but the latter is more than a match as she stands for any of our clippers, and that suffices.

The simplicity of the plan calls for no detailed description. A dropboard if thought convenient can be substituted for the fin-keel, but must be made to fit very closely, as the high speed forces the water up in volume. The boat might be partly decked with combings, but our experience leads me to believe that nothing short of excessive freeboard and deck would be of much use, and would not compensate for its weight; besides, we are out for exercise and skill, and bailing is part of the fun.

A possible improvement would be a battened trysail with apex at masthead and boom on the foot; the tack could then be used for clew, and vice-versa, when tacking ship, and thus avoid the passing; but it would entail roping on both sides of the sail to take the strain of the luff, which would have to be set up with a purchase. This roping would often bag the sail, to which a proa is very sensitive.

A few hints on handling, and the story is ended. If sail is hoisted for drying, take the extra tack rope - which should be kept triced along the boom - and haul the tack close to the mast; she will then lay head to the wind. Keep the outrigger boat clear of the water as much as possible.

Care must be taken not to luff too much and get caught aback, or keep off so as to jibe; in either case promptly let go the halyards. In all cases of doubt and narrow work with headwind take in sail, and paddle or row, as the simple rig and low hull catches but little wind and is quite manageable. If blowing heavy, giving the boom a tendency to cockbill, unhook the regular tack-rope and pass the extra one to the shroud, hauling the boom more thwartship; in light wind and before it do the same.

In tacking, if the crew consists of two, the outrigger man lets go the sheet, which should be endless, and jumps for the tack which he unhooks; the steersman keeps the boat off a point or so if by the wind, drops his oar inboard and mans the clew lines or brails, standing on the weather side. When the sail is well up the tack is passed on the lee side inside of the sheets and reset on the other end. In coming aft the tack man brings in the slack of the forward sheet, drops it and trims in the after sheet, the clew lines having been let go in the meantime by the steersman, who picks up the other oar. If there is an extra man he attends to clew lines and sheets.

This manoeuvre, if well done, need not take much more time than trimming of head sheets. In reefing, the halyards will have to be bent lower down on the yard, which should be marked so that when up-ended it clears the gunwale. If she does not steer well close hauled, or does not foot well, shift the tack-rope hook on bottom and alter halyard on yard, so as to throw the sail forward or aft as needed, and the difficulty is at once removed.

Specifications for Flying Proa

Designed by R. M. MUNROE - The Rudder, 1900


HULL of white pine, cypress or cedar, sides flared enough to raise the ends six in. from a straight line fore and aft on top; in one length if possible, 16 in. wide x 1/2 in. thick. If in two lengths the joint should be a square butt with a 2 ft. batten of the same stuff on inside and well riveted.

Click on the images to see the plans.

Bottom of same material 3/4 in. thick, put on athwartship in pieces not over 6 in. wide; deck of white pine 3/8 in. thick. Timbers 1/2 x 3/8 in. hackmatack, spaced 12 in. and not less than 5 copper rivets in each; bilge pieces 1-1/2 x 1-1/2 in., full length if possible, of oak. Rebated stem pieces need not be used; lap the sides at ends and fasten to apron pieces. (Fig. 8.)

Centerboard Case. -

Bed pieces 2 x 3 x 9 ft. hackmatack; head blocks 1 x 1-1/2 in. hackmatack; center blocks 1 x 6 in. hackmatack. Centerboards 7/8 x 3 ft. x 3 ft. 6 in. oak, doweled with 5/16 in. iron and battened on top.

Keelsons 1 x 11/2 in. hackmatack;

Bulkheads 3/4 in. spruce or pine;

Outrigger bolt cleat 2 x 1-1/4 in. oak, well fastened (Fig. 4);

Outriggers. -

full length 11 ft. 10 in. Inboard end 5 x 1-1/2 in; outboard end 4 x 1-1/4 in. sawed with 4 in. sweep; spruce, ash or yellow pine.

Thwarts of spruce 7/8 x 8 in., except center one, which is 10 in. wide.

The steering thwart pieces should be of hard wood. All thwarts project on the weather side to support the washboard. Six inches of the mast thwart crosses the centerboard case and is securely fastened to it; this 6 in. space is also filled in to bottom of case and through, fastened same as head blocks.

Float of white pine free from checks and made lighter by boring it full of 2-in. holes from top side and plugging same with sound corks driven in tight with white lead. The oak blocks are fastened to float with eight 2-in. brass screws (Fig. 5).

Tack traveler to fit slide can be had of T. J. Simpson, New York. Seats secured to outriggers with 4 in. bolts, countersunk heads.


Headstays 1/4 in. bronze wire rope, eye spliced to fit mast end and brass thimble at stems, to which they should be attached with heavy marlin lanyards rove through an eyeplate fastened on the weather side of bow, so as to clear the tack traveler.


Same size and arrangement and with lanyards to brass eye bolt, nut and washer on outriggers. Shrouds should be set up a trifle slack. Bridle on yard same stuff and long enough (16 ft. 6 in.) to allow of perfect freedom in passing the tack. Bridle should have very little slack. Halyard rope 1/2 in. attached to bridle with hardwood thimble or bullseye.

Halyard and brail blocks hung from mast with 6 in. rope pendants, so as to twist freely (Fig. 10);

Brail ropes 3/8 in., one part each side of sail through thumb cleat on underside of boom, and both parts from block to pin in thwart.

Sheet rope 1/2 in. in one piece, leading or side of mast through blocks around tack end of yard and each end fastened to same place on boom.

Tack traveler rope 1/2 in. in one piece, leading through check blocks spliced into eyes on traveler.

Boom must be attached to yard with a 3/8 in. bolt having a 5/16 in. eye driven into end of boom with ferrule, this to work in a clevis band on yard, which must. not slip round, so as to keep boom and eye in end of yard in the same plane, and not jam the latter lowering and raising sail. A little soap or hard grease is sometimes necessary to easy working of traveler.


Sail of double-bighted yacht-drilling without leech rope. Two steering oars, one 8 feet for light and one 10 feet for strong breeze; the 10 foot oar should be steamed and bent, as shown in drawing; then experiment the degree of bend until oar loses tendency to twist in the hands.

Lateral pressure or balance of sail is easily adjusted by altering position of crew and traveler on slide, which may be extended beyond stem if necessary; emersion of the two centerboards will also effect it. Care must be taken not to get caught aback, and if so instantly let go the halyards or brail up. At all times keep the float out of water as much as possible and carry as little weight as windward work will admit of. Lightness of construction and just enough weight of the outrigger to prevent a capsize are the essentials of speed in a proa.

Excerpt from The Commodore's Story

by Vincent Gilpin and Ralph Munroe
From The Commodore's Story, pp. 279-282.
Historical Association of Southern Florida, Miami, Florida, 1985
©1930 by Vincent Gilpin


I have postponed mention of one very interesting sideline in the Commodore's drawing room -- namely, the "flying proas." He had long been interested in these remarkable little craft with their outriggers and odd lateen sails, which used to range the South Pacific in all weathers, and were said to outsail large ships, in a stiff breeze, when they were running ten or twelve knots -- a speed at least double that possible to any small sailboat. Their general principles were obvious from the few ancient drawings published in old voyages -- a long, easy-lined hull, with no stability, supported by an outrigger to windward which had sufficient buoyancy to hold the hull upright when not sailing.

In 1898 the Commodore decided to build one, and after consulting all available data, most of which were in early volumes of exploration, he drew a simple, flat-bottomed canoe-like affair -- a sort of elongated double-ended sharpie -- 29 feet long and 3 feet wide. On it were mounted springy outrigger-planks, 10 feet long, holding a white pine log float. On a well-stayed mast amidships was set a high, narrow lateen sail, laced to yard and boom, of such construction that its tack and clew could be easily and quickly exchanged, making either end of the boat the bow at will -- for, of course, the outrigger must be kept to windward, and in changing tacks it was necessary to sail the boat in the opposite direction. Lateral resistance was supplied by two deep dagger-centerboards amidships, and she was steered with an oar.

The results were extremely interesting. They set sail on the trial trip with the greatest curiosity, fully prepared to swim, and expecting behavior as sensationally "different" as the appearance of the queer craft. The only surprise, however, proved to be the comfort and stability she showed. They sheeted home and moved off with a strangely matter-of-fact air; as they felt her out, a slight puff lifted the outrigger clear of the water and they expected an instant "flop," but it did not come. She was strangely stable thus balanced between sail and outrigger, and when close-hauled they soon found it possible, by a judicious combination of careful steering and quick shifting in and out on the outrigger planks by the crew, to ride her like a bicycle, keeping the outrigger clear of the water for some minutes at a time. Meanwhile they began to realize how close she was pointing, and how amazingly she was footing at the same time. She would keep going far beyond ordinary windward speed of small craft, and the farther they tested her, the more amazed they were!

Coming about was a queer upheaval of precedent. Instead of luffing, they bore sharp off, slacking away the sheet. One man jumped to the tack-lanyard, cast it off, and ran to the opposite end of the boat, passing the tack to leeward of the hull and immediately bowsing it down in its new position at what had been the stern, but was now to be the bow. Meanwhile the steersman had carried his oar in the other direction, and as the sheet was trimmed in (at the new "stern") the boat gathered way, headed up and was off on the new tack. It was amazing and fascinating business, and the way the strange machine crabbed to windward was certainly far beyond the performance of any other small boats. They found themselves across the Bay in no time, and the next question was, what would she do running free?

They headed off cautiously, and with this much practice found it fairly easy to keep her outrigger out of water with wind on the beam; the resulting speed, with her large sail and shell-like hull, may be imagined, and was certainly exhilarating. Slowly they edged her off, with ever increasing speed and growing delight, and then suddenly came the final revelation of what manner of beast they were riding.

With the growing wind on the quarter, outrigger in air and spray flying, they were traveling at a very high speed for a small boat. Then suddenly, with a little extra puff, the fore part of the boat lifted under them and, skimming the surface like a skipping stone, leaped into a surprising burst of speed. The sea beneath swept by like a cataract, vague and foam-streaked, the tugging steering oar cut a clear open cleft in the water and threw up on either side a long rainbow of spray, while the boat itself rested so lightly on the water that she made little, if any, disturbance in her flight. They stole hurried, ecstatic glances at each other. How fast were they going? What sort of creature was this proa? And what on earth was she doing?

The facts are that the proa, though it had the limitations of an ordinary boat when sailed close to the wind quite literally took wings after slacking off even a small portion of the sheet. Except when close-hauled by the wind, the outrigger proved entirely unnecessary and no excess of wind had any other effect in her except to make her go faster and faster with her bow literally soaring in air. Her limit was never reached even in the hardest summer squalls, and it is probable that the only limit that would ever handicap her would be the limit of the steersman's power.

Remember, this was in the days before hydroplanes; but the proa didn't know that planing hadn't been discovered, and that is just what she was doing. Her speed? Well, they afterwards took her over a measured half-mile at the rate of eighteen miles an hour, while on other occasions when they couldn't time her, she went considerably faster. When you think that four or five miles is fair speed for a canoe, and that this proa was nothing but an enlarged canoe, with a few inches of freeboard, you may guess at the effect of a three-minute rate in her, especially in the days when the most powerful racing motor-boat could do little better.

These gay craft inspired a sonnet from the pen of John R. Strong:

<we'll pass on the sonnet>

The Commodore afterward built several proas, for the boys' schools and others, some of them a little faster, but none more generally successful than this first experiment. Of late years there has been a proa club, fostered by the yacht club, with some good racing, and altogether the reconstruction of ancient South Sea design produced a lot of good fun and brought out a number of interesting points.

They of course anticipated capsizes in the beginning, and wondered what could be done with a swamped proa. As a matter of fact it occurred but seldom, and then gave comparatively little trouble. It was quite possible to lower the sail, right her, bale out and start afresh; of course there was no ballast, and even when filled with water, she would keep several people afloat. When thus filled, provided there was a fresh wind, it was only necessary to sheet the sail home and she would start with a leap, and sail herself out from under the water in her, leaving only a little to be scooped out later, under way! She was lots of fun.

The Fast Sailing, Racing Proa

Designed by Ralph M. Munroe
The Rudder Sail Boat Plan Book, pp. 36-37
The Rudder Publishing Co., New York, ©1948


Developed in the islands of the South Pacific uncounted years ago, the Proa (Maylay : boat) is without doubt one of the fastest sailing hulls ever devised. It is a freak, an out-and-out nightmare, but for speed you can't beat it. The only possible comparison would be with the catamaran, but that employs two hulls to the proa's one.

The proa is extremely narrow, double-ended, flat bottomed and with her one mast stepped amidships. She does not tack. The bow end on one board is the stern on the other. The forward corner of the sail (the sail's tack) is always secured to the bow (the end that happens to be in front). Thus the sail itself is tacked when coming about, not the boat.

Two separate center-boards are used, both on the centerline and in line with each other, although only one board may be used.

Dimensions are approximately 30 feet overall and 2 feet 6 inches beam. Draft, with the board up, is negligible. Sail area is about 240 square feet.

When changing tacks, or wearing ship--that is, transferring the proa from one tack to the other--the procedure seems outlandish to anyone accustomed to the usual rig. Two men are necessary. The "crew" lets go the sheet, which should be endless, and then runs forward to unhook the tack (again, the forward corner of the sail). The helmsman keeps the boat a point or two off the wind, then ships his steering oar and mans the brails (topping-lifts or lazy jacks). He takes in on these, canting the outboard end of the boom up the mast.

When the sail is well up, its tack is passed aft (the crew brings it back) on the lee side of the mast. This turns the sail end for end and lee side to windward. The crew hurries on aft and hooks the sail's tack to the end of the boat that was the stern until now, but thus becomes the bow. While the crew was doing all this the helmsman has jumped thirty feet from the end of the where he was steering to the other end and starts to steer from there. His end, of course, is always the stern. After the sheet is trimmed in the proa scoots off the other way.

Confusing is hardly the word for a printed description of this maneuver, which is much simpler than it sounds if both crew and helmsman know what they are doing. The late Ralph M. Munroe built a proa and sailed her on the waters of Biscayne Bay, Florida, and another was sailed at Martha's Vineyard, Massachusetts.

Following are the specifications of the boat constructed by Munroe. They are not intended as full particulars or building instructions, but will give a prospective builder something to go on with.

  • Length overall 30 ft.   
  • Beam 2 ft. 6 in.   
  • Draft of hull about 5 in.   
  • Draft with board down 2 ft. 5 in.
  • Sail area 240 sq. ft.   


Half inch planking, flared enough to raise the ends up 6 inches from a straight line fore and aft, on top. Bottom planking put on athwartships in pieces not over 6 inches wide. Decking (the one strip of it along the lee side) 3/8 inch. Frames 1/2 by 3/4 inch, spaced on 12 inch centers. Chine pieces 1-1/2 by 1-1/2 inches, using some strong wood such as oak. The stems at bow and stern need not be rabbeted, merely lap the sides at the ends. See Fig 8.


1 inch by 1-1/2 inches, bulkheads 3/4 inch. Thwarts 7/8 inch by 8 inches, except center one, which is 10 inches wide. All thwarts project on the weather side to support the wash board. A 6 inch width of the mast thwart crosses the center-board case and is fastened to it. This 6 inch space is filled to the bottom of the case and through bolted, same as the trunk and head pieces.

Center-board and Center-board Trunk--

Center-board 7/8 inch by 3 feet by 3 feet 6 inches, doweled with 5/16 inch iron rod. Trunk bed pieces 2 inches by 3 inches by 9 feet, center blocks 1 inch by 6 inches.

Outrigger and Outrigger Float--

Outrigger bolt cleat 2 inches by 1-1/4 inches, well fastened as shown in Figure 4. Full length of outrigger is 11 feet 10 inches, sawed with a 4 inch arc, as shown in the drawing. Inboard end 5 inches by 1-1/2 inches, outboard end 4 inches by 1-1/4 inches. The outrigger float is of white pine for lightness, free from checks and made lighter by boring with holes and plugging them with corks and white lead. Alternative construction would be to build it up, like a hollow mast.


Halliard and brail blocks are hung from mast with 6 inch pendants, so as to twist freely. The boom must be attached to the yard as shown in Figure 1. The boom is supplied with an eye in its end which engages in a band on the spar. This band must not turn on the spar, otherwise the "gooseneck" will jam when sail is set or lowered.


The balance of the proa can be altered by adjusting the position of the crew, and if two center-boards are used they may be adjusted also. The skipper must take great care not to be caught aback; if this does happen, he should instantly either let go the halliard or brail up the sail.

The craft sails fastest with the float out of water as much of the time as possible and as little weight as the weather will allow. Lightness of construction and just enough weight on the outrigger to prevent a capsize are the essentials of speed in a proa.

Mary and Her Little Lamb

By H.G. - The Rudder, October 1898

Mary & Lamb photo
Schematic Plan

PROAS, or flying proas as they are called, are justly famous for speed, and as Mr. Munroe remarks in his article on them in our June issue, it is a wonder more yachtsmen thirsting for speed and new sensations have not tried this style of craft.

For speed, if that is all that is wanted, there is no known type of sailing craft that can compare with the proa.

A friend of this magazine returning from a seventeen-month's voyage around eastern seas related a tale of having picked up a proa three hundred miles off the Stewart Islands, situated four hundred and fifty miles northeast of New Caledonia, the French penal settlement, with a half-starved crew of natives on it. They in a thousand-ton bark took the proa in tow, and bore up for Thursday Island of that group to land the natives and also get some fresh fruit. He being second mate went ashore to barter for the provisions, and there bought in exchange for two copies of The Rudder and an old shirt from one of the petty chiefs two fine models of the proas used by these people, carved out of cabbage wood, and lashed together with cocoanut fibre, just as the larger ones are built, with two little cabbage wood paddles such as they steer with and presented t them to The Rudder on his return home.

When he regained his bark he said the sea around her was black with native boats, all wanting to come alongside and when they had filled away and were romping off under all sail -- a good eight knots -- the proas would dash ahead with ease, circling around, backing and filling their apparently clumsy sails with the skill born of long usage. But to come back to the U.S. and our subject, "Mary and Her Little Lamb," we quote what Mr. Roosevelt says about her:

"I have owned and sailed about every kind of a boat from a canoe up to a schooner yacht, but give me a proa for both comfort and sport. It is iceboat sailing on the water. Proas have their idiosyncrasies, however, and no sailorman can sail one until he has forgotten most of what he has learned regarding the ordinary type of boat. Although the Mary and Lamb, as I call my proa, has not a single speed line in her design, this being sacrificed to attain light draught and utility, under certain conditions she goes like a whirlwind. When the ordinary boat is staggering under two reefs my proa wakes up and shows such a desire to get there that it is truly exhilarating.

When I made up my mind to build a boat of this type I knew she would be fast and seaworthy but I was afraid she would be difficult to handle - so my principal efforts were in the direction of a sail plan and rig which one, certainly two men could easily work. I got out a working model , and after trying a revolving split mast and several other gears finally hit upon the arrangement shown and this works, as in moderate weather I can handle the boat alone.

Of course the boat is large and her sail and spars are heavy, so it is better to have two men, and if it blows you must have two.

The masts of the main boat are stepped on the windward side, so as to get a shroud to leeward, and are loose in the upper step. The pressure on the sail is taken by the shrouds or guys leading to end of outrigger boom and little boat. I put two guys merely for safety, because a break there would mean total collapse.

In tacking the sail swings around the forward end, passing under the outrigger guys or shrouds, and is manipulated by a double endless sheet, so as to trim back towards either end, which for the time being constitutes the stern.

There is a rudder at both ends; the forward rudder trails loosely under the boat until you want to use it on the other tack. The photos enclosed will give a good idea of the boat, both at anchor and under sail.

Her dimensions are as follows:

  Mary, the larger hull:

over all, 50 feet;

water line, 32 feet;

beam extreme,
4 feet;

beam at water line,
3 feet 6 inches;

depth, 3 feet 3 inches;

draught, 6 inches.

  Lamb, the smaller hull:

over all, 18 feet;


beam at deck,
3 feet;

beam at bottom,
2 feet

depth, 2 feet 6 inches.



Two lee boards are fitted to the larger hull, one at each end, 15 feet from the ends.

The larger hull is left open, and the outrigger built up high enough for a man to walk under it, and so pass safely from one end to the other. The smaller hull is decked over and fitted with a small hatchway. The space between the two hulls is twenty-two feet, and a cradle and gearing is so arranged over and around the smaller hull or lamb, as to give it plenty of room for play and still keep her parallel with the larger boat.

The sail has a yard forty-five feet long, boom, forty-two feet, and the hoist to the halyard blocks is twenty-two feet."

In conclusion, Mr. Roosevelt said his experience has been similar to Mr. Munroe, who wrote an article on proas in our June issue, and remarked that it was a mystery to him why more proas had not been built in the United States.

UBU, the Scow-Proa

A simple model. The main hull is 17 ft, the ama is 12 ft (based on the same design as the Bolger 20' proa). The styrofoam block represents the 8 foot long, 6 inch high enclosed "scow hull". The crossarms won't be quite as long, and I hope that the sailor will be able to crouch or lean back on a sling located about where the gray plate alongside the large hull is.

The 20' Proa by Phil Bolger

Note the peculiar one-sided, pre-cambered sail. This is the "Bolger Sail" design that John Dalziel tried. It's a crabclaw with the wrong peak up.



Russell Brown's JZERO from the late 1970s might be the most famous American proa design. Russell keeps a very low profile, so this link takes you to a site where there are images from WoodenBoat's 1988 (#83) writeup. It includes the larger 37' KAURI and CIMBA, as well as Russell's mid-90s redesign of JZERRO (right: different boat, same name).

Sailing off Martinique:


Charles Linden Brock - "Uncle Charlie"- after my late uncle, the boat is called "goddamn experimental sailboat" about as often.

LOA 18'7", Beam 14', weight 300 lbs.
Displacement with two aboard approx. 600 lbs.
Sail area: Crabclaw 150 sq ft, "Bolger"170 sq ft, Dipping Lug 152 sq ft

Schacht: see Michael's Proa File Site

ROZINANTE (26' LOA): a bold yet comfortably conservative design, combining the best of ancient tribal instinctual sailing knowledge with the latest science of the 20th century! She will chart a radical new course in sailing yacht design, destined to become an icon for decades, perhaps centuries to come, and herald the return of the proa to its rightful place as the king of boats, first of a new breed, nay, a new species!

Michael, by the way, is pulling my leg here. A great-looking web page, folks.


Ted Warren's TINY DANCER is a 21-foot, ultra-light proa with the odd characteristic of two identical hulls. But it is rigged as and shunts like a Pacific proa, so...

See Ted's page: for more about TINY DANCER Mk I and the Mk II wingsail version.

Dagger (design by John Harris)

The main hull will be thirty feet and ten feet akas (cross arms). Cedar strip plank epoxy bi-directional skins.

Everything else is still open to discovery. I intend to paddle it as well so it will be more akin to a hy-bred Polynesian design than an American Proa. I like to think of it as a Central American Proa.

I ordered the wood last month. The trees have been cut, the planks chain-sawed. Today the owner counts and sorts. Monday morning the ox cart will be delivering 72 or so tablas of 2 pulgada by 4 vara stock (pulgadas = inches and a vara is the length on a Spanish Nobleman's arm, 31 inches).


A projected 30' proa.

John has the parts designed in CAD for cutting from plywood. Also, see some conceptual proas on John's Cool Boats pages.

Vaka, 30' by 28" by 30" deep; about 475 lbs dry.
Ama, 14' by 18" by 14" deep; about 35 lbs.

I suppose there's room for 550 lbs of crew and gear without slowing down, and more than that if you want the ride EVEN WETTER.

The partially completed model, 1/6 scale, getting a tow-test in the test tank. Err, tidal inlet.


Jim Michalak's GIZMO is a simple sheet-plywood proa design which he characterizes as "purely experimental" - meaning he's never sailed a proa. His prototype plan price is $20, which includes 3 sheets of blueprints and an assembly guide.

See Jim's page of essays and designs for more of his plans and discussions of just about every small-boat topic you might name.


Harris: 20-footer MBULI

On the beach on a cold Sunday, 2/1/2001.

MBULI at launch.

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2.0 05/23/98
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