If you’ve ever rolled a canoe — and most of us canoeists have done that many times — putting a sail on the boat and giving the wind added leverage for throwing you out seems like a really unnecessary complication. On the other hand, after about the third hour of paddling the same stroke on a stretch of lake that seems endless, you start to notice that steady breeze . . . .
Sailing canoes are not a bad idea. This is probably how sailing began, and for every problem you can imagine, there are abundant solutions. In fact, this old design which I copied and pasted from an untitled excerpt on Scribd uses the same principles as the sailing rig for canoes Spring Creek Outfitters once sold, or the Sea Eagle Sail Rig for inflatable Sea Eagle boats (no longer sold on Amazon or by Sea Eagle), except the parts are wood and canvas instead of aluminum and nylon. The old version definitely weighs more, but the new version isn’t actually better. Spring Creek makes a good rig but it has faults, which was the subject of a section I wrote for my old site, Jimmy’s Backpacking Page — not to criticize the rig but to point out simple ways to make it better. From looking at this old set of plans I see another one. The nice thing about sailing is that it has all been done before. All you need to do to find answers is ask a few questions. I have several articles from my old sites about sailing in canoes and eventually I will republish them.
Update for 2012: See my post about Free Sailboat Plans Online for information on plans for sailboats, sailboat conversion kits and much more, free to borrow online. No catch if you’re willing to to wait a bit. I also found a lot of good info, including links to downloadable out-of-print public domain books about canoe sailing, at this link: Canoe Sailing Resources 2010. I did not find a source as yet for the book that obviously inspired the Spring Creek Sail Rig. Would love to find that book because it had detailed construction info. I could find no way to contact the person who posted that page at Scribd although maybe that’s because I don’t have a paid account there. Frenchwolf420 has posted several hundred old book excerpts and magazine articles of interest there, including this one which includes some of the construction tips for that old sail rig.
I do see a couple of things (pontoons) which most new sailors will find essential which aren’t included at all in this old rig. Spring Creek‘s version has them, although simpler forms will do. Sponsons or pontoons will keep you out of the water while you’re learning, and although they aren’t necessary for skilled canoe sailors, the training wheels do come in handy for other reasons even if you feel you’ve mastered the craft. I’ve camped overnight in my canoe by setting a lawn recliner in it and extending the pontoons out to maximum. Gets a little cold when the fog rolls in, and I wouldn’t want to do it in bad weather, but you can just tie off to a snag someplace and you won’t roll out of the boat. I did observe that it’s very dicey if you need to get up and pee in the middle of the night. Probably few people have died this way because few people have been in that situation.
Sailing a boat of any size takes considerable skill and an entirely new set of words, if you intend to recover the art from books. Sailing in canoes is a very under-utilized sport today and it’s great fun once you learn. Not too many people try it — it looks way more foolish than it really is.