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The Evolution of Canoeing


 By Frederic G. Mather
OUTING, 1885


This very interesting article discusses the rationale behind different canoe models during the heyday of canoe cruising. There are also a few facts which I haven't seen presented anywhere else. And the existence of the canoe-like "Sinageewen" duckboat (with reasonably clear construction detail) is a pleasant surprise, adding it to the Delaware Ducker and St Lawrence Skiff as canoe-like sailing boats -- COD

IF the doctrine of Darwin may be applied to watercraft, the primitive "dugout" was the origin and the source of all inspiration in shipbuilding. And yet more primeval still -- if the term admits of a comparative -- was the log itself, to ride which must have been even more risky than the performance which Josh Billings describes as the most risky of all: "to straddle the back of a sixty-day note." It was a stroke of genius on the part of some ardent mariner to discover that he could excavate the lo and put himself in the place of the surplus wood. Once relieved from the danger of rolling over with the log, his next discovery was that his craft would move faster if both ends were sharpened. Then the question of comparative speed brought up the problems of freeboard, and sheer, and keel, until, through various stages of experimenting, after hundreds of years, that marvel of naval architecture, the ocean steamer, is evolved. At every stage the same adaptation to special ends is shown. The development has proceeded from one craft to another because new wants and new conditions have demanded new capabilities, until at last every want and every condition appear to have been met, and the development appears to be arrested for the present.

If our parallel holds good -- that the steamer has descended from the log, after the manner of man's alleged descent from the Ascidian -- then we must also admit that in the case of watercraft as well there may be divergences or abnormal developments which betray the fact that they are offshoots, although they may have a generic, or even a specific, resemblance. What is known as the ornithorhynchus is one of these erring brethren among the mammals; and some, not all, forms of the canoe of today might well be classed with the lost and wandering sisters of the floating craft. To ensure beyond peradventure the survival of the fittest, and to commend the good in canoeing, shall be our present task.

Amateur canoeing is rapidly changing from a science to an art. Indeed, there are already professors of the art. Ever since the formation of the Royal Canoe Club, in 1866 -- right upon the heels of MacGregor's exploits with the Rob Roy -- the tendency has been away from the simplicity of knee posture and single-bladed paddle, and toward the more comfortable accessories of seats, cushions, and backboards, sails and centerboards. The movement of canoeing -- like that of all the forces in nature -- has been along the lines of the least resistance. It was easy to convince the amateur paddler that his knees were reserved for his devotions, and not for bracing himself against the well so that he might counteract and overcome the motion imparted to his craft by the larger waves.

Once up from the floor -- the center of gravity being also raised seat with a back became necessary as a reminder of the comfortable armchair which had been left in the parlor at home. Then it was not difficult to go a step beyond and persuade the paddler that it was all very well to keep dipping his blade in the water; but, in order to get along in the world, it was necessary to stop ad in once in a while, and use the sail. From the sail it was a natural and very requisite thing to adopt the deck and centerboard; for the most troublesome enemy of either the paddler or the sailor is the wind that blows off the beam. Having thus begun to make the Indian canoe retain no semblance, even in outward form, of its original shape, the other luxuries of airtight compartments, cushions, rubber bags, life preservers, camp stoves. and provision canisters were speedily forthcoming, until now, at this stage of the development, the native savage might often be pardoned for smiling at the effeminacy of the white man.

There is much to be said in favor of the primitive, canoe, not the dugout, but its more airy successor, the birch bark. Very few can exceed it in lightness. The frame is of white cedar. The sheathing is of the bark of the white birch (Betula papyracea), which can be used for all kinds of camping utensils, furnishes a ready fire, and is always at hand for the purposes of repairing. Spruce roots, well boiled, serve for tying and sewing. The crossbars are of hard wood. Could the construction of any craft be more simple, or the description more brief? It is the ideal -- as well as the necessary adjunct -- of all aboriginal transportation.

The navigator in all modern canoes faces in the direction of his movement, and he is ready at all times to avoid danger or to take advantage of either wind or water The tiresome pull with oars he has neither to provide for nor to guard against. Long portages are made with ease and surging rapids are run with safety, in a word, the primitive canoe still holds its own for river cruising, in spite of most of the so-called improvements of later years. The true paddler, no matter how much he may be allured by visions of ease with sails and centerboards, must agree with an ardent lover of the pleasure, who has said: "In the present rapid growth of canoeing it is hoped that the paddle will be the legitimate means of propulsion, and not the sail. If men want to sail let them get keelboats and open water. The canoe was meant for lesser surfaces."

But there is a more practical side to the question, as it is discussed by the successor of the Indian upon American soil. The white man has not the time -- nor is there the necessity in his case to paddle up the stream. The same wise arrangement which has located large rivers near large towns has also laid out the courses of those rivers close to the track of some friendly railroad, which takes the canoeist up to the head waters, whence he can paddle or float downward. Once at the mouth of the river he must cross bays or arms of the sea or lake; and his open canoe must be decked over to keep him dry. It was this simple process, and the success of the experiment twenty years ago, which entitled MacGregor's to become the acknowledged pioneer in the history of canoeing, and made the Rob Roy famous from the North Sea to the rivers of Damascus. The adventures of the plucky Scotchman gave a great impetus to canoeing in the sea-girt isle, which was soon felt on this side of the ocean.

The New York Canoe Club was formed about twelve years ago, and since that time clubs have sprung up in all the chief cities, from Boston to San Francisco. These various clubs formed a central organization, under the name of the American Canoe Association, at Lake George, in 1880. Thirty canoes were brought to this first meet. At the second meet, in the same place, in 1881, forty canoes appeared; and at the third meet there were one hundred and thirty. In 1883 the meet was at Stony Lake, in Canada, and nearly two hundred canoes were on hand. The meet for 1884 was at the Thousand Islands, where over two hundred canoeists put in an appearance. At least three-quarters of the canoes were of the open Canadian models, -- a fact which was accounted for by the location of the meet. A great progress in everything relating to canoeing was evident since the meet of 1883.

A most interesting feature of this remarkable demand for canoes has been the revolution in building materials. The birch bark was at once discarded; but, in its place, the "smooth skin" was adopted by some. Between the inner and outer skins, -- each one-eighth inch in thickness, and running, with broken joints, across diagonally, or fore and aft, cover of muslin was laid in paint; but, sooner or later, the water penetrated to the muslin, and the process of decay was rapid, it being impossible thereafter to avoid leakage. These skins were of white cedar, which weighs only twenty-one pounds to the cubic foot; while birch weighs forty-six pounds, and the harder woods, from that figure up to seventy- five pounds. The experiment with white cedar having proved a success, so far as the lightness and freedom from splitting were concerned, the rib-and-batten plan was tried, with better success. In this, the planks of cedar were of uniform thickness throughout They were cut as nearly as possible in their correct shape, care being taken that the joints should be as perfect as possible. Inside of the boat a batten was then run over each seam, and nailed to the plank on either edge. Ribs were so notched that they would go over the battens. In this way it was discovered that red elm was the best wood for ribs, although oak was occasionally used. Hickory was soon found to be too perishable a wood to be considered.

Thus, by degrees, it became settled that oak took the lead over all the other woods for the keel; white pine for the centerboard, trunk, and the floorboards and bulkheads; hackmatack (tamarack) for the knees, and for the stem and sternposts; white pine for the planking, if white cedar could not be found; spruce, pine, or cedar for the carlings; black walnut, spruce, or pine for the gunwales; black walnut or oak for the coamings; mahogany, or Spanish cedar, for the rudder, deck, and hatches; and white pine or spruce for the spars and paddles.

In this way, by a selection of the fittest, that canoe was, ere long, found to be the best which was built of a dozen kinds of wood; those of paper, tin, or galvanized iron having been found unequal to the work that was put upon them. It also appeared, early in the controversy, that the clinker built (or lapstreak) canoes, with streaks sawed, instead of twisted to place, offered the greatest amount of strength with the least amount of weight. It was also settled that airtight compartments, formed by bulkheads or sealed canisters of copper or tin, were necessary for the safety of the canoe and its cargo.

There is, however, a much more striking manner of tracing the evolution of canoeing from the first attempts, of ten or fifteen years ago, down to the latest efforts in this line, and that is by the aid of diagrams which will show the midship section, the sheer section, and the deck plan of a dozen of the representative canoes.

The midship section is taken, of course, at the point of the greatest beam, which is usually -- or should be -- forward of the center, so as to avoid crankiness. The sheer section is cut vertically through the stem and the stem, and lengthwise through the keel.

The deck plan shows the canoe as it appears to the owner, when he steps aboard or a cruise. In attempting to name and to classify what may be called representative canoes, we are at once met with the question, whether this one or that one is intended for rivers, for general cruising, or for the more ruffled surface of lakes, bays, and large inlets of the sea. This triple-headed division must be prominent all through our inquiry, and it is made necessary by the fact that the canoes which are best fitted for rivers are comparatively useless on lakes, and vice versa. This fact will be demonstrated at length, below. It is mentioned here, because almost all of the river and lake canoes may also be classed as general cruisers. The table of classes is as follows:

River ...

General Cruising ...




Rob Roy

Rob Roy





Stella Maris

Stella Maris







St. Lawrence

St. Lawrence







The Herald is classed as fit only for rivers, because it has no keel, no rudder, and no deck of any consequence. The sheer section and the sheer plan repeat, with great exactness, the lines of the birchbark canoe. The mistake of putting sails upon such a craft is apparent. But the broad floor insures that lightness of draught which is required for river cruising and its frequent portages. The absence of a keel is an advantage to,any canoe in descending rivers; for if a swift current causes the canoe to strike an obstruction sideways, the presence of a keel will often cause an overturn.

The Rob Roy has a keel of an inch or so, which is to its disadvantage in shooting rapids. But in the use of the single bladed paddle the keel helps to keep the canoe straight to its course without such a decisive twist in the hand of the paddler. The original Rob Roy of MacGregor's was fifteen feet long, twenty-eight inches beam, and nine inches deep at the cockpit, which was located amidships, and was fifty-four inches long and twenty inches wide. The owner, alter the experience of one season, confessed that a length of thirteen feet and a breadth of twenty-six inches would be more satisfactory to him and we must believe him, because he distributed tracts to the natives in all parts of Europe. In a general article, written after a trial of several summers, Mr. MacGregor's states that the length may vary from twelve to fifteen feet; that the beam may vary from twenty-six to thirty inches; depth from ten to sixteen inches.

The American Rob Roy has usually had a length of fourteen feet; a beam of twenty-six inches; and a depth of eight and a half inches. The length, in all of these cases, is, of course the point of the stem to the point of the stem; although the proposition to measure at the waterline has been seriously put forth. The weight of an average-sized Rob Roy ought not to be over sixty-five pounds, as a weight much in excess of that makes the canoe more troublesome at portages. As a paddling canoe the Rob Roy served well enough in the bladed of a pioneer. A seven-foot double blades being six inches broad was an effective propelling instrument. The single mast, rigged with a lug and sprit, was as much as the egg-shaped bottom could carry, for the Rob Roy was a poor sea-boat by the side of the later forms of canoes. The India-rubber apron might keep the captain dry, but there was no need of having his apron and his deck constantly wet.

The American devotees of canoeing were the first to discover that a modified Rob Roy, with considerably more sheer, a trifle more bearing, together with an increased depth, would be a more seaworthy boat. With, these changes it was at first known as the Rob Roy of American waters, but the name was afterwards changed to the American Traveling canoe. The length of the Traveling is 14 feet, the beam 26 inches, and the sheer from three to five inches. The English canoeists in the mean time had developed the Nautilus, of which further mention will be made presently.

Before we leave the craft which are canoes, strictly speaking, we must present the Juniper, which is noteworthy for retaining the shape of the birchbark, while the material and the manner of construction are totally different. The material is white cedar, matched and driven together crosswise of the keel, which is generally a mere strip of brass hooping, -- although some are built with a keel of an inch and a half. The bearings are full and broad, and the extreme lightness of the boat makes it exceedingly desirable for rivers and for light cruising. The deck is high and shapely, and the cockpit is of generous proportions. A tandem Juniper is fifteen feet six inches long, and twenty-nine inches in the beam. The depth is ten inches, and the sheer is nine inches. The cockpit is about nine feet in length, reliance being placed upon canvas hatches or aprons to keep the sailors and the cargo dry. The latter is stowed amidships, between the two voyagers. A single mast carries all the sail that the oval bottom will resist without a centerboard; and the construction of the boat is such that any addition would cause extra timbers, thereby increasing the weight. As a paddler the Juniper is a success, when a head wind does not strike the bow. As a sailer the Juniper, in the absence of a centerboard, must drift at the mercy of the wind.

The Stella Maris and the Grayling are the same, except that the beam of the former is twenty-six inches, and of the latter twenty-seven inches. The length of both is fourteen feet. The sheer is six inches at the bow, and five inches at the stern; and the broad bearings make the canoe a good sailer, whether it is known by the one name or the other. The addition of a centerboard, of the folding variety, is necessary to supplement the shallow keel; but even with this there is sometimes trouble in beating to windward, when the prow is cut away too far at the point where it strikes the waterline. The curved sternpost offers additional difficulties in the way of steering, which are hardly compensated by building out the lower rudder eye with a metallic triangle. These two styles of canoes are almost perfect as they are; but, for sailing, another streak should be added, which would increase the depth from two to three inches. With these changes, and with a straight sternpost, either the Stella Maris or the Grayling would be hard to beat for general cruising. The Ellard model meets some of these requirements, as will be noted presently.

Now, to build up the Stella Maris, the Grayling or any other variety of canoe, means not only an increased depth, but an increased beam also. The larger the beam the longer -- and, therefore, the more wasteful of muscle -- must be the paddle. To combine the advantage of a broad beam and a short paddle, the Shadow canoe was devised. Since that is an eminently seaworthy craft, a description of it must be deferred for the present.

The peculiar feature of the Diamond is the abrupt tumbling inward of the planking after the deadrise is well up above the waterline. This "tumblehome" (which is much greater than in the Shadow) gives a narrower beam at the well, or cockpit, and allows the use of an eight-foot paddle, where a nine-foot paddle would be required if the deadrise were carried up to the level of the deck. The forebody of the Diamond presents straight waterlines; but in the afterbody the lines are too angular to make a good finish near the stern. The Diamond is, therefore, an easy paddler; and it is a fairly safe canoe, although the beam has been narrowed down to suit the use of the paddle. The tandem Diamond is sixteen. feet long, and it has a beam of thirty-six inches. The cockpit is ten feet long, and reliance is placed on rubber aprons. With a centerboard this tandem will carry nearly ninety feet of sail, thus making it worthy to be classed among the canoes which may be adapted for cruising upon lakes; but to insure the dryness of the crew and cargo the sheer must be increased from three to four inches.

We have now made the round of the representative canoes which are fit for paddling; the doors must be closed, so that an account of stock may be taken. We have not attempted to enumerate all of the varieties; for that would be tedious. Only those, therefore, which have offered some new idea or some new departure in canoeing have been mentioned.

According to the constitution of the American Canoe Association, "A canoe, in order to be placed on the association list, and to be entered for races, must be a boat sharp at both ends, and not more than thirty-six inches wide on deck. She may be propelled by sails or paddle, or both; but she must be capable of being efficiently propelled by a double bladed paddle." Judged by this standard the seven canoes which have been described comprise all the new features that are worth noting. Other innovations and so-called "improvements" have been made one season only to be thrown away the next. Even the subject of paddles has been agitated, back and forth, between the single-blade and the double-blade, until the latest verdict is in favor of the latter. The length of paddles has been discussed, in view of the fact that the long or short arms of the paddler, and the broad or narrow beam of his canoe must settle that question, regardless of theories. As to the standard form of the canoe, -- chiefly for paddling, -- that must always be a difficult matter to decide, where the tastes and experiences of canoeists are so varied.

There is a general agreement, however, that the length of the paddling canoe should be from 13 to 14 feet, and the beam not to exceed twenty-seven inches. There should be no keel, but a broad keelson not less than four inches wide. From this the planking should be well rounded up, so that the draught may be as light as possible. The rocker should be very slight, otherwise an inch or two is added to the draught. Three or four inches are ample for the freeboard, and the sheer should never be more than two or three inches at the bow, and an inch or two at the stern. A craft of this sort, it need hardly be observed, cannot be modeled after the early forms of English, American, or Canadian canoes. The evolution of canoeing has given us the Stella Maris and the Diamond as the latest and best models for paddling; and it is largely a matter of taste as to which shall be chosen.

Six of the eight river canoes we have classified as fit not only for rivers, but also for general cruising. That is to say, they will behave well if the expanse of water is not too large. When rough water comes the Herald and the Juniper miss the flat bottom and the keel, however slight it may be, the loss of which is not compensated by their increased sheer. The Traveling, the Rob Roy, the Stella Maris, the Grayling and the Diamond, -- all of them feel the need of more sheer and freeboard, which of course means a proportionate increase of beam, although most of them have the broad keelson.

We must, therefore, look to another class of general cruisers to find our best models for canoes which will sail over the bays and inlets with safety, and at the same time will ride out a heavy sea. Among this class the Shadow was a pioneer, and still remains one of the leading types of sailing canoes. The length is fourteen feet and the beam at the broadest part is about thirty inches. The freeboard is apparently narrowed, because, not far above the waterline the planking commences to tumble home. This is a distinctive feature of the Shadow, and it has been exaggerated in the Diamond. The advocates of such a departure from the lines of the ancient canoe feel justified in claiming that the new model gives a flat floor and a broad beam for sailing, and a narrow beam for paddling. The house is divided on the question of whether or not the canoe is more stiff. The sheer is made as large as is necessary, save in the very heaviest seas, and the paddler is therefore saved the "waste of tissue" in exerting himself against a head wind. The straight sternpost of the Shadow must also command a verdict in its favor.

The controversy about the "tumblehome" of the Shadow, led to the building of the St. Lawrence, which is almost precisely like the Shadow, save that the deadrise of the planking continues to the gunwale, making a beam of thirty-one inches instead of twenty-eight, as in the Shadow. This, of course, is largely a matter of taste; but, if the canoeist expects to paddle, the original Shadow must be the choice of the two. The tandem St. Lawrence and the tandem Shadow are made, with the length increased to sixteen feet, for the use of two persons.

Mention has already been made of the Grayling, or the Stella Maris, enlarged by an extra plank, thus adding three inches to the freeboard and two inches to the beam. The length is made fourteen feet and six inches, instead of fourteen feet. With these changes the Snake, of the new model known as the Ellard, became the champion sailer of the meet of 1883; and further experiments and trials of this model are anxiously awaited by the fraternity of canoeists. The curved sternpost, however, is doomed if the cruiser expects to use a rudder to any advantage. An improved variety of the Ellard, the Mohican, shows a straight sternpost. There is blood on the moon while the battle between the Shadows and the Ellards is impending.

By its priority of development the Nautilus should have been mentioned long ago, as it was devised by an Englishman, Mr. Baden-Powell, soon after the Rob Roy had turned the heads of all the amateur navigators. We have preferred not to speak of the Nautilus until now because it is eminently a sailing canoe. It has the same general dimensions with the other canoes, -- length, fourteen feet; beam, twenty-eight inches, -- but its most distinctive feature is a sheer so excessive as to make most canoeists condemn it, -- the stempost and the length of the sternpost being twenty-three and nineteen inches respectively. These points are copied from the kayak of the Greenlander, which can live in any sea.

An 18-foot Nautilus, it will be recalled, crossed the Atlantic; but any one who will step inside the Old South Church museum, in Boston, will see that the Nautilus, in that shape, cannot be called a canoe. Even when it is cut down to the proportions of a fourteen-foot boat, the high bows of the Nautilus take so much wind that the paddle can be used to no advantage. A modified form has therefore arisen, which is known as the Nautilus No. 2, wherein the exaggerated features of the original Nautilus have been pruned down to the requirements of stiller water and the paddle. The dimensions of this junior edition, aside from the length and beam, are, sheer forward, nine inches; sheer aft, four inches; depth amidships, ten inches.

Of the thirteen representative canoes included in the tabulated statement above it will be seen that ten are classed as general cruisers. This means that by the addition of a centerboard (folding or otherwise) they may adapt themselves to the new conditions that follow the use of sails. The centerboard is impracticable in the Rob Roy, the Traveling, the Stella Maris, and Juniper. In the Grayling, and the Diamond, the lack of freeboard and sheer makes the operation of sailing, with a centerboard, rather too moist to be pleasant. It is only when we reach the Shadow, the St. Lawrence, the Ellard, and the Nautilus, that we find boats that are really seaworthy, and in which the centerboard is so useful as to make it worth while to be retained through all the portages, rapids, and shoals of the rivers. The four canoes last named are good sailers in almost any weather upon the surface of any lake; and by lake we mean something larger than Cayuga, or Seneca, or George.

But in making them seaworthy the tendency has been to make them too heavy and too deeply keeled for shallow mountain streams. Is there a compromise craft, one which will behave equally well on the placid river and on the ruffled lake? If there is it should be named. By whatever name it may be known it is safe to say that it cannot vary much from this description: length, not to exceed fifteen feet; beam, twenty-eight to thirty inches; sheer, five inches at the bow and three inches at the stern; keelson, from three to eight inches; as wide a freeboard as can be given with a depth of eleven inches amidships; no hatches, but a generous cockpit from which the water is kept by rubber aprons; a full model insuring a light draught and plenty of room for storage; and a folding centerboard of the lightest weight, -- brass is the best for either salt or fresh water. The way is open for the inventor who shall combine all these desirable points in a single canoe which will do the double duty of cruising on rivers, and on inlets, and small lakes.

For the larger lakes there are two other types of canoes which maybe propelled by the double-bladed paddle, although not so "efficiently" as those which have been already described. Both of them, in fact, are decidedly of the sailing order, and they are not intended for use on rivers, save when the portages occur at rare intervals. It will readily be inferred that they are heavier than the average canoe that is intended for river cruising. The first is known as the Princess, a product of Cincinnati. It was designed by ex-Commodore Longworth. The length is fourteen feet, and the beam, which is forward of the center, is thirty-one inches. A larger size is fifteen. feet long and thirty-six and a quarter inches beam. The model is very full, and the keelson is broad. Of course a centerboard is also required. The record of the Princess under sail is a good one, and it may be that this is the long-awaited canoe for sailing purposes only.

The second of the two lake boats -- and the last one upon our list -- is the Sinageewen. Like the Princess it is possible to paddle it fairly well; but a pair of very light oars, with removable outriggers, is more satisfactory, the paddle being reserved for short stretches of smooth water, and the oars serving to raise "a white-ash breeze." The Sinageewen is an enlarged duckboat from the Detroit river. In its smaller form it is better than the sneakbox, because it is sharp at the stern, and can be paddled either way. In its larger form it is lighter than the sneakbox; it will stand as much banging by land, and it is more seaworthy.

The Sinageewen, single, is only twelve feet long; but the beam is from thirty to thirty-four inches. The keelson, instead of being only seven or eight inches broad, is twenty-four inches broad, and it runs each way toward the stem and the stern on the arc of a circle whose radius is about fifteen feet. The larger-sized Sinageewen -- for two or even three persons -- is sixteen feet long, with a beam of thirty-six to forty inches at the load line. The keelson is twenty-eight inches broad, and the radius of its arcs is about twenty three feet. The keelson, therefore, forms a broad floor which makes this style of canoe less liable than any other to capsize.

A keel of two inches is run along the bottom of the keelson, and this is supplemented by a centerboard consisting of brass or iron leaves, which fold up inside of a box standing not more than four or five inches above the inside floor. From the outer edge of the keelson the planking has a deadrise at an angle of one hundred and forty degrees, the planking itself being formed of two streaks of basswood, which are rabbeted and fastened with copper tacks; the outer surface is, therefore, a smooth skin, and so is the inner, except where the elm or cedar knees are placed to secure stiffness. The freeboard is six inches, even with a heavy load; and to this must be added nine inches of deck amidships, before the oval cockpit is reached. Reliance for dryness is had upon rubber blankets and aprons.

As no great dependence is placed upon the paddle the sheer is well developed, being about seven inches at the bow and five inches at the stern. This increased sheer leaves a generous space at either end for the storage of tents and camp utensils; while the sails, spars, oars, and paddles are readily kept under the deck at the sides of the cockpit. The stem and stern are equally straight, and they are at the same angle -- one hundred and twenty degrees -- with the keel. The fact that the bow presents this angle to the water, instead of an angle of from one hundred and forty to one hundred and sixty degrees, as is the case with many other canoes, insures the success of the Sinageewen as a sailer, care being taken to have the mainmast well forward. In fact, the Sinageewen will outpoint almost any one of all the other canoes when it comes to a trial of tacking. The safety of this style of canoe, together with the comparatively small cost of building it, gives promise that for sailing and canoeing purposes chiefly it may be, in some modified form, perhaps, one of the standard models. The only practicable sail for such a large craft is the "leg of mutton."

Now, of all of the later canoes that we have named, the Sinageewen ought not to be called a canoe. It is the ornithorhynchus. It would not be received into the canoe family by its founder, the American Indian. What did the red man ever have to do with sails and centerboard? and what a departure to put them in his own craft! To adapt the model of the craft to oars, centerboard, and sails is to make the shape no longer that of a canoe. Our story, therefore, has been not so much that of the evolution of the canoe as it has been the history of "canoeing it," or the various attempts to "do" the canoe. Our argument, if we have any, must divide itself into two forks at this point. On one we shall stick the proposition that for river cruising the nearer the canoeist follows the style and weight of the birchbark, the more satisfactory will be his trip. Sails, centerboards, and masts he should leave at home. On the other fork we insist upon placing the statement that, for sailing purposes, an entirely different canoe should be built, the chief requirements of which may readily be gathered from what has been said already. There are not many canoeists who like river paddling and lake sailing equally well. Let the canoeist choose "under which king, Bezouian?" His own preferences should guide him as to which kind of boat he must have; but whichever it is let him procure the best. If he is not able to choose, and if his time is ample and his pocketbook plethoric, let him have one canoe solely for the paddle and another solely for the sail.

There is one mistake which is often made by the amateur canoeist, and it is sometimes made by boatbuilders who ought to know better; and that is to expect the same model to behave as well under sail as under paddle. To dream of such a thing is to lose sight of all the scientific principles upon which a boat is constructed. You might as well insist on a railroad train keeping the track when the speed is increased without the outer rail of the curve having been raised, as to think that the primordial canoe can go faster than a certain pace without being swamped. If any one has doubts about this let him "take a line" from a tugboat or from a passing tow, and he will discover that even a sailing canoe will not always carry itself right side up under the increased speed. The lines of a sailing canoe, constructed on scientific principles, differ as widely from those of a paddling canoe on the one hand, as the do from those of a steam yacht on the other. And it is this question which will trouble the builder in the future more than questions of weight and draught.

We might continue our inquiry so as to dwell upon the relative merits of "folding" and of "oscillating" centerboards. We might also trace the development of the sails of canoes from the originals of the Rob Roy down through the "Ross lateen" to the "batten lug", and the "Mohican sail." To dwell upon them would be inconsistent with our doctrine -- formulated above -- that the sailing canoe is outside the family of canoes. We might also give our "opinion" as to camping and fishing outfits, and munitions de bouche in general; but every canoeist at every "campfire" during the winter would think his own experience was better. That is the logical sequence of allowing him to think that his own canoe is the best. To thrust our opinions on this topic upon the innocent and unsuspecting fraternity might act as a firebrand. We withdraw the firebrand before it is offered, and are content to have already advanced enough opinions to draw the fire of some of the brethren who claim to "know better."

Whatever may be the future of canoeing, -- whether or no it can be confined within its legitimate sphere, -- the amateur must ever remember his obligations to those fearless men who have evolved the pleasure and placed it at the head of amusements which combining out of door life with a healthy muscular development. MacGregor's must always stand as the pioneer. But among the names which Americans more especially will delight to honor are those of Guernsey, Alden, Norton, Neidé, Bishop, Nickerson, Oliver, Monroe, Wilkin, Gibson, Vaux, Fernow, Sears, Rand, Stevens, Whitlock, Rogers, Wulsin, Barney, Hubbard, and the brothers Wackerhagen.

 v 1.0 • 05/12/03
v 1.1 • 01/01/10

CLC's Interesting Reading:  

CLC's Interesting Reading:  

  Canoe Sailing
  Resources 2010