Go Canoe Sailing!

With some basic materials and mechanical know-how you can forgo canoe paddling for canoe sailing.

| May/June 1983

Even though the canoe, our only native American watercraft, has undergone quite a few changes since its birch bark days, its distinctive shape has endured. And while that narrow, double-ended design is desirable in terms of hydrodynamics, many occasional "park lake" skippers have learned it has an inherent instability that can have upsetting consequences.

Of course this "tipsiness" doesn't even faze experienced paddlers, but most beginners do harbor a bit of mistrust for the nimble craft. They’ll be happy to know that with only a few basic modifications, even the most fickle of canoes can be converted into a stable vessel — and back again — in a matter of minutes!

Pontoons Before Paddles

Not long ago, Dennis Burkholder and Robyn Bryan, two of MOTHER EARTH NEWS' research staffers, invested a few days of experimentation to come up with a nifty set of canoe outriggers that can be clamped pretty as you please to the bow and stern thwarts, which stretch across a canoe's gunwales. Once they'd done that, and discovered what a stable platform they'd created, they decided to go one step further. What about adding a sail to go canoe sailing? The fellows raised a mast, added a yard, a boom, and a polypropylene sail, and worked up a simple set of rudders and a pair of bow skegs to provide improved tracking. Viola!

Mounting the outriggers proved to be a straightforward proposition. After measuring the canoe's beam, the would-be crew members bent two 10-foot sections of 1" electrical conduit (E.M.T.), creating a pair of equal-length arms that extended downward at an angle of about 7' from level when the rods were placed in position across the gunwales. They then welded a 5/16" nut inside each end of both tubes, hose-clamped the supports in place, and bolted 1/8" x 2" x 6" aluminum angle brackets to the 5/16" nuts, with the flanges facing down and in.

Next, Dennis and Robyn laid a 10-foot length of 6" Schedule 40 PVC sewer pipe beneath each pair of brackets (these pontoons are far and away the most expensive components used in the project, and new ones will run about $20 apiece) and drilled 5/16" holes to fasten the floats in place. (Six-inch sections of 3/4" conduit, with 5/16" x 1" bolts accurately spaced and welded perpendicularly to them, made excellent hangers. They could be tapped onto the end of a stick and inserted through the PVC wall from the inside without much difficulty, even though the mounting holes are well beyond arm's reach.)

Once the pipe pontoons were installed, the fellows bent one pair of 3/4" x 60" E.M.T. sections into a modified "U" shape (one curve was 45' and the other was 90'), and another set of 3/4" x 26" pieces into a 90 deg arc. They then welded these components beneath the center of the outrigger supports-about a foot apart-to create the cradle shown in the photograph. (A canoe's hull depth will vary depending upon the craft's configuration, so if you're planning to duplicate what we've done here, you may have to alter the cradle's dimensions to suit your own canoe.)

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