Canoe Sailing | Merrimack Canoes – Handcrafted, Limited Edition Canoes

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Canoe Sailing

The Graubner Family’s Merrimack Sailing Canoe

Background
In 2002, our family acquired a second canoe by building a wood-strip epoxy canoe.  As we paddled our new wood canoe and found we enjoyed it a lot more than our plastic canoe, our eyes were opened to what it was like to paddle classic canoes with good lines.  One thing led to another over the next several years and our family fleet now has 8 canoes, including 5 Merrimacks.

Along the canoe collecting path, being naïve and figuring there wasn’t much difference between building a cedar wood-strip canoe and restoring a wood canvas canoe, I purchased a 1922 Old Town H.W. canoe with the goal of restoring this canoe to its former glory.  After several weeks of restoration attempts on what turned out to be a very brittle old canoe, I finally gave up on restoring this canoe, but was left with a handful of 80 year old sailing canoe parts including brass gudgeons and spruce mast, mast shoe and spars.

With no clear idea what a sailing canoe was, I began searching the Internet and contacts from the Wooden Canoe Heritage Association for any information I could find on sailing canoes.  As I searched for more information, I discovered that in the heyday of canoe sailing in the 1920’s and 1930’s, sailing canoes were all the rage and sailing canoe parts were readily available in canoe catalogs from this era.

Convinced that I wanted to reuse my 1922 era sailing canoe parts and create a modern-era sailing canoe in the old style, I began discussing with Randy Pew how we could transform a Merrimack canoe into a sailing canoe.  Using photos from 1920’s era Old Town catalogs as my guide, I manufactured the necessary parts from mahogany and ash and 18 months later, our sailing Merrimack Traveler was launched for its inaugural voyage under sail.  Since we first sailed our Merrimack Traveler in 2004, we have enjoyed sailing our one-of-a-kind canoe and answering questions from canoeists who have never even heard of a sailing canoe, much less seen one.

Sources
Along the way, we met several other canoe sailing enthusiasts who helped to manufacture long-lost parts and supply information on how to rig a modern canoe for sail.

  • Bob Lavertue from Springfield Fan & Centerboard Company manufactured the brass gudgeons, pintles and leeboard bracket.
  • Todd Bradshaw’s Canoe Rig book was helpful in countless ways as we tried to understand the principles behind canoe sailing.
  • Todd Bradshaw’s Addiction Sailmakers did an outstanding job manufacturing the lateen sail.
  • Tom Tomkins from Cedar Island Canoes has a great web site with a gallery of sailing canoe photos demonstrating how to rig a sailing canoe.
  • The Wooden Canoe Heritage Association web site is a good resource and contains links to fellow canoe sailors.
  • And last but certainly not least, Randy Pew was very instrumental in making this dream a reality.

 

Merrimack Traveler Conversion

Following are some photos and explanations of how our Merrimack Traveler was converted to sail.  There are many more details than these photos can explain, but I am happy to answer questions from anyone who is interested in learning more.

Mast shoe

  • The mast shoe is used to provide a seat for the mast.  It must be firmly placed on the bottom of the canoe.
  • I manufactured a mahogany mast shoe which Randy Pew then epoxied in place on the bottom of the canoe.  To reinforce this critical joint, Randy added additional fiberglass matting around the mast shoe to add strength to the hull.

  • In 2 years of sailing, the hull has shown no signs of stress from this installation.

Mast seat

  • The mast seat works in conjunction with the mast show to provide a strong support for the mast.
  • I manufactured a mast seat from ash which Randy laced with Merrimack’s classic lacing pattern and then installed over the mast shoe.
  • To handle the added stresses from the mast and sail, the mast seat is installed closer to the gunwales.  A standard canoe seat is normally mounted lower with longer spacers.

Mast and Spars

  • The mast and spars must be constructed from long clear stock and made from a strong wood that can handle the strain.  Spruce and mahogany are two contenders and both would work well.
  • As I worked on the 1922 spruce mast and spars, it quickly became apparent that there was too much dry rot for these original parts to be reused.
  • I made reproductions from straight, clear mahogany, which was laminated with waterproof Gorilla Glue.
  • The blanks were then turned into octagons on the table saw, then 30 minutes per spar was required with a block plane to turn the octagons into cylinders.
  • The original 1922 Old Town brass eyes were used to connect the two spars, along with the original brass gooseneck, keeping a little bit of the legacy 1922 Old Town canoe alive and well.

Sail

  • I chose a lateen sail as this was the style most commonly used for the look I was attempting to recreate.  Other options are outlined in Todd Bradshaw’s excellent book, Canoe Rig.
  • The original 1920’s era Old Town Egyptian Cotton sails were sewn in 12” panels.  To simulate the legacy look, we had a reproduction cream colored Dacron sail manufactured in 12” wide diagonal panels.
Graubner Canoe Sailing Rig - Mast Shoe

Rudder

  • The rudder is manufactured from mahogany and is patterned on the 1920’s era Old Town rudders.  It took some trial and error to make a rudder that worked from nothing more than a picture, but the end result works great.
  • To get gudgeons and pintles that fit the Traveler hull, Randy made a short 12” mock-up of the Traveler hull which was sent to Bob Lavertue for custom brass gudgeons and pintles.
  • The brass gudgeons were then attached to the hull with brass screws and the canoe is steered with the rudder via a rudder rope that runs through blocks mounted on the leeboard thwart.

Leeboard and leeboard thwart

  • The leeboard thwart is secured to the thwart with brass screws and wingnuts also manufactured by Bob Lavertue’s Springfield Fan & Centerboard Co.  The leeboard is designed to act like a keel or centerboard and keep the canoe from sliding sideways while underway.
  • The leeboard is located under the sail’s “center of effort” or midpoint and like the other wood components on the sailing canoe, it is manufactured from mahogany.
  • Traditional sailing canoes have 2 leeboards, each approximately 3’ in length.  A single leeboard is acceptable, but to still provide contact in the water when the canoe is heeled over, I made my leeboard 48” in length.
  • The brass leeboard bracket is reverse threaded in case an underwater obstruction is hit, allowing the leeboard to rotate backward.

Rigging

  • The blocks and lines were acquired from West Marine.  I used stainless steel, but for a classic look, brass reproductions are available.
Canoe sailing

For anyone wishing to learn more about canoe sailing, I can be contacted at lgraubner@united.net and I would be happy to answer any questions or send more detail photos.

Larry Graubner