AS TO the canoe herself, unless a second-hand one can be found that thoroughly satisfies the following conditions, it is far and away better to build. The difference of cost is not great, and she difference in use and comfort between a canoe that is right and a canoe that is wrong is immense.

Of course good materials and work are indispensable, and if a canoe is to be sold it is often because she is a failure in some of these points. Next, stability; a boat or yacht of almost any form may be rendered fairly stiff by ballast, but a Canoe must either be entirely without ballast, or must use it in such small quantities that its effect on stability need hardly be considered.

 As a canoe is not only intended to carry her crew, but a certain amount of luggage, etc., amounting perhaps to a cwt., she may very likely be out of fore-and-aft trim when without luggage, and also may be a trifle too light, not down to her bearings, and not carry headway enough in tacking. For this reason I would allow a small quantity of ballast, but if I were drawing up rules for sailing canoe races, I would allow only some three-quarters of a cwt., and that should be water, or nothing heavier. If lead is allowed, canoes will be built that require lead, and the result is, that when laden with luggage, they are obliged to carry a quantity of lead as well, which of course destroys their value for cruising purposes.

Stability, therefore, must be had independently of ballast, and the only means by which this can be done is by having a flat bottom to the canoe throughout a great part of her length, and extending to more than half her breadth amidships. By this means, without sacrificing too much fineness of ends, a light canoe, say 30 inches beam, may be made so stiff that a 12 stone man can sit on the gunwale without upsetting her.

The sketch shows the form of middle body with which this result has been attained. This allows of moving about, standing up, etc., in the canoe, and gives a broad floor for sleeping on.

T07Another important element of stability is beam. Of this I would not have more than 30 or less than 27 inches. A greater amount adds to the weight, and if the weight is to be kept down, there must be a corresponding diminution of the other dimensions, length, and depth, beyond what is practically desirable. Length also adds something to stability, and greatly increases speed. It is therefore desirable to use every inch of length that can be had without making the boat too heavy, or too slow in turning. With regard to the first, length adds to the ease with which a boat can be hauled about, for instance a randan skiff weighing 3 cwt. is just as easily hauled ashore as a canoe of 2 cwt.

With regard to handiness in turning, if for very narrow waters, 14 feet will be as much as can be conveniently turned to windward, but for every purpose except the solitary one of quick staying, 16 or 17 feet will give a far better boat, especially in rough water.

Quick staying can be promoted by giving her a judicious amount of camber; which, however, must not be allowed to appear in the flat of the floor, or the boat will be always running up hill to the great detriment of her speed. Centre-boards also, especially if "worked" in going about, add enormously to staying power. I will go fully into this question further on, but for the present

the dimensions of the canoe are under consideration. Of these, depth remains, which may be divided into draught, free-board, and round of deck. A flat floored canoe will naturally have a light draught, which is an advantage now and then in very shallow water, but generally nothing under 1 foot or 15 inches could be objected to as too deep. If a man can stand in the water beside his floating canoe without wetting his trousers (turned up of course), she cannot be complained of on the score of depth. However, for a flat floored canoe, 6 inches, exclusive of false keel or centreboards, is a fair average draught.

The freeboard, in such a canoe, may be about the same. Free-board is very valuable in sailing, making a sudden capsize less likely. A canoe with 3-inch freeboard would have her coamings under water, and begin to fill, when one of 6 inches would hardly wet her deck. A canoe of good free-board would ship no water over her coamings, till inclined to such an angle that she would inevitably capsize even if fully decked. A reasonable amount of free-board is good for seaworthiness - a very low canoe being miserably wet under sail in broken water - and gives more room for storage. Too much free-board interferes with paddling, and makes the craft topheavy. The rounding of the deck adds to its strength, and enables the boat to relieve herself quickly of the weight of the waves through which she may be driven, or which fall on board. From 2 to 3 inches above the gunwale will be about the mark.

Before leaving the hull and passing to that of fittings, it will be well to settle the question of centreboards, as though of the nature of fittings, they cannot easily be added to a canoe not built for them. There are a lot of arguments for and against the use of a centreboard, but on the whole it seems advisable to fit them, but at the same time to give the canoe enough keel to hold a tolerable course without them when they jamb, or otherwise break down, as they are sure to do sooner or later. Half the evil of centreboards, or any other complication in a canoe, is removed if the working of the vessel is not made to depend upon them. The usual arguments in favor of a centreboard as against a false keel of say 4 inches, which would be about equal in its effect to centreboard 2 feet 6 inches long by 15 inches deep, is that the keel adds permanently to the draught. I do not value this argument much, as a draught of 10 inches is light enough for almost any conceivable purpose. A keel, however, of this depth will require to be greatly rounded up at the ends, or "rockered", an arrangement which is admirable for tacking and close-hauled sailing, but which makes a boat very ticklish to steer on any other course, especially before the wind. Now on a cruise a boat which wants very delicate and continual steering, takes twice as much out of her crew as one that will steer a straight course with little attention, and for this reason, I give my vote for centre-board vs. fixed keel for a canoe.*

* In a yacht the same arguments lead to a totally opposite conclusion.

A canoe should have her centre-board well forward, say the after end of it forward of her midships ; the advantages of which will he seen when we come to consider the working of a canoe under sail. If an after centre-board is also carried, the main centre-board may be placed still farther forward. There are some ingenious varieties of the centre-board which fold up fan-wise into the keel, thus avoiding the encumbrance of a centre-board case in the boat. I would advise to have nothing to do with them, as they are very liable to get jammed, are difficult to get at to set right, and again because the case of an ordinary centre-board need not be at all in the way of stowage, or of sleeping on board.

Thus much for the general design of the hull. As to its materials and manner of building, there is a good deal of variety of opinion. Oak, clinker built is the strongest, but too heavy for any but a very small canoe. Cedar is lightest, and strong enough except against rocks and stones, which cause it to tear up very badly. A combination of oak and cedar, the former up to little above the water-line, and the latter above, is as good as anything. Mahogany is a little lighter than oak and is very good for boat building. I have known a canoe of this material as good as new after 8 or 9 years' hard use and after lying all the winter and spring in the weather, not leak a drop when launched.

Clinker build, like that of rowing boats, is most common for canoes, but many of the racing sailing canoes in the Royal Canoe Club are built, like the Canadian bass wood canoes, without overlapping the planks, a strip of wood running all along the join or "land" inside, to which both edges are secured.

Canvas canoes are also often built, generally by amateurs, and often answer exceedingly well. Whatever the construction of a canoe, no iron whatever should be used in her unless galvanized.


Table of Contents
Return to The Cheap Page

©1998 Craig O'Donnell