Tuesday, July 15, 2008


SPY sailing in the Miles River near St. Michaels, Md.

I was introduced to canoe sailing when I joined the Sebago Canoe Club back in the early nineties. I had been sailing for a while by then, and had built a few boats, but I didn't really learn to sail until got into canoes. I met Gus Schultheiss and Duncan Mooney, at that time the two most active sailors at the club. Both of them had decent ACA sailing canoes, and with their help I rigged up one of the club Grummans with the ACA rig. The boat was fast, but less than perfect with a mast stepped way forward in the boat, and no vang, so she was cranky off the wind, with an alarming roll. I quickly learned not to let the sheet too far out on windy runs, but if I stayed powered up, and moved well aft, she'd really fly.

After a season with the Grumman, I felt it was time to find my own boat. So I bought a used Mowhawk Blazer with an ACA rig (named by Duncan, the Beast), and sailed her for a season before completely stripping and rebuilding her from the gelcoat up that winter.

The BEAST- South Edisto River, S.C.

I was basically starting from a clean bare hull, and put in watertight bulkheads, decks, and built a completely new rudder and leeboard assembly. At that time, Gus was working on a new leeboard pivot system using a piece of stainless tubing which spanned the boat from gunwale to gunwale and was rigidly fixed to the leeboard via a tubing stanchion and bolt. The whole business pivoted within a pair of plastic pillow blocks which were mounted on the gunwales. The bolts that fastened the pillow blocks to the gunwales also adjusted the friction on the tube, and once set, never had to be touched again! (The more typical angle iron leeboard bracket with pivot bolt always either tightens or loosens as the board is pivoted up and down.) And, all of the parts for the pivot system were stock items from west Marine. This design has proven itself over many years to be excellent.

Leeboard Pivot

The new canoe, repainted and sporting a graphite/epoxy bottom, was christened SPY. I now had a boat that balanced well, steered effortlessly, and was a truly comfortable boat.

SPY- Cedar Island, N.C.

At about that time, we decided to get back into racing which was once a major part of the club. I bought an old used C Class sail, and entered my first regatta at Oquaga Lake for the Northern New York Divisionals. So began several years of attending and hosting ACA and C Class races. These regattas were always challenging and always fun, and just about the best way I know to sharpen sailing skills.

My first regatta. SPY is number 37

Oquaga Lake, N.Y.

A lot of the canoe sailors that I met at this time were sailing the Mohawk Ultima hull design. I was really keen on getting a faster boat, and a brand new, bare Ultima hull was going for around $500, so I bought one. This really was a slick, beautiful hull, and I spent another winter building ALIEN. I refined the bulkhead and deck design, and built more efficient, NACA section foils.

Fitting bulkhead and mast step into the Ultima

Shaping the rudder blade

Alien's completed rudder

I also had a new, full batten, C Class sail built for me, and bought new spars. Alien was initially more tender than Spy, but I quickly grew to appreciate the speed and grace of the new hull. With hiking straps, I could virtually wear the boat, and it is still the most perfectly balanced boat I've ever owned. In moderate wind with the sheet cleated, I can set the tiller down on the rail, and read, eat lunch, or generally gather wool on the long reaches between the islands of Jamaica Bay, NY.

ALIEN (left) and SPY- Jamaica Bay, NY.

I was caught, early on, by the lure of multihulls, and I felt a particularly strong attraction to outriggers and proas. In '94, we were car-topping the Beast down through the Carolinas when we dropped in on Mark and Sam of Balogh Sail Designs on Cedar Island, having just come from Ocracoke via the ferry. We had a pleasant afternoon talking about kayak and canoe sailing, the trimarans of Dick Newick and Jim Brown, and I heard Mark's story of sailing with Russell Brown on the proa Jzero down in the Caribbean. Later that year, I began fiddling with an outrigger design of my own, and built models of a tortured ply ama from info I found in the Gougeon Brothers excellent boat building book. I wasn't to build my full size outrigger for a few years yet, but the seeds were sown.

After designing and building a sailing kayak with a beautiful, BSD full expedition BOSS rig (that's a whole other story for a different chapter), I began work on the single outrigger One Legged Alien. I built hollow, box beam akas which proved to be really light and stiff, and a tortured ply ama from 4 mm occume. I added a roller furling jib, and replaced the leeboard pivot tube with a much heavier one to better deal with the much higher loads that the new rig would impart.

ONE LEGGED ALIEN on the beach- Jamaica Bay, N.Y.

The new outrigger was a blast to sail, very fast and very wet! It was not a perfect design by any means. The ama should be longer, and set further forward. And the leeboard should be replaced with a dagger board. But I had a lot of fun with the boat, and learned a great deal from it as well. And if I ever build another outrigger, I'd like to try out Gary Dierking's T2, a real proa.

ONE LEGGED ALIEN and SPY on the beach- Jamaica Bay, N.Y.

We have since moved on to other boats. There was a Hobie 16 for a while, and then a much larger cruising catamaran, and now I primarily sail my Windward Skiff CRICKET. At Sebago, our focus is on teaching dinghy sailing and racing the Laser and Sunfish. Our sailing program there has really grown as a result. I still however, sail the monohull ALIEN quite frequently, and it's still the best balanced boat I've ever owned!


Joe said...

Great information. Your passion for sailing canoes really comes through. And outrigger designs such as the one in your pictures are always fun to see. - Joe F

JotM said...

Hello Jimbo,
How far am I besides the truth with the impression that not only you but about everyone has "moved on" to other boats / means of sailing and that canoe sailing is bound for extinction in the US just as it has gone extinct in Holland - where I reside - about 70 years ago?