Tuesday, February 5, 2013

Following the Canoe Yawl Track

I've written before about Canoe Yawls here and here . There is something about the elegant simplicity and sense of independence which exerts a very powerful grip, although I'm beginning to wonder whether pure romanticism is the real driver

A George Holmes sketch of Ethel and Nan in Denmark in 1886. (Sail and Oar) John Leather
My brain seems to be particularly subject to distractions, and I find myself repeatedly going off on boat-related tangents which follow a predictable, if meandering, course. My latest one was started when I re-read some sections of L. Francis Herreshoff's superb book, The Common Sense of Yacht Design, in search of a particular bit of technical data. Something in the book about the optimum forefoot shape for a sailing boat lead me eventually back to Albert Strange's beautiful Wenda design, a longtime favourite of mine

Albert Strange Wenda (forum.woodenboat.com)

A photo of Wenda 's beautiful stern. This example was built for Dick Wynne by boatbuilder Fabian Bush. 
Another view of Wenda.  www.fabianbush.com
Being on a roll (once again) about canoe yawls, I got talking with my boating friend, Ian Hamilton, in the hope that he would get swept up in the process also. Ian had for years been smitten by another of Albert Strange's designs - in this case the designer's own favourite, Cherub II, so I expected his full support. Strangely he was ambivalent, saying that he had come to realise over the years, that the canoe yawls which appealed to us so much were "...cold water boats...".

Albert Strange's personal favourite, Cherub II  (Sail and Oar by John Leather)

Cherub II - Lines and General Arrangement (Sail and Oar by John Leather)
Over the last week or so I've been pondering Ian's comment about the canoe yawls being "...cold water boats..." and I'm not sure I agree with him. However, it did stop me from marching off blindly on another enthusiasm, and gave me pause for thought.

What it comes down to is that the activity and the boats change depending on geographical location, but the philosophy remains unchanged.

A William Garden-designed Eel, complete with hinged cuddy-cabin top just like the canoe yawls of the late 1800's. This particular example was built glued-lapstrake, with epoxy-bonded marine plywood planking. She is a very "open" sort of boat, but I think she would look at home on just about any coastal waterway.

Two pictures of my Little Egret design, which would make an excellent  "warm and shallow water"  canoe yawl.  Remember, canoe yawls are not necessarily canoes, and aren't always rigged as yawls. The name relates to boats which evolved from canoes, some of which resembled ship's yawl boats. 
Around the time that I was in full canoe yawl swing, one of my sons was beginning to make repeated comments about setting up a syndicate and having me build a Phil Bolger-designed Black Skimmer for use on Moreton Bay and the Great Sandy Straits (Queensland, Australia). Black Skimmer is a 25ft 3in x 7ft x 10in cat yawl-rigged leeboard sharpie built from plywood and epoxy.

Tashtego, a beautiful example of Phil Bolger's Black Skimmer-design, built around 1980 by Walter Baron of Old Wharf Dory Co.   www.oldwharf.com
I had been putting son David off about a Black Skimmer, on the basis that we couldn't justify a boat of that size. But with my new attitude towards the sorts of boats suited to the canoe yawl function in our part of the word (hot, and lots of shallow water), and given the possibility of a family syndicate to spread costs and maybe keep the boat in the one family for generations, excitement started to build.

Black Skimmer (plans here) has been my dreamboat (along with Rozinante) for the last 33 years. But in the last decade or so, I've been preaching the "small boats get used more" line so strongly that I had just about convinced myself that my dreamboats were off the agenda. I hadn't considered the enthusiasm, optimism, and idealism of youth ever coming back to me, but I hadn't counted on the advantage of having kids!

So, what is special about Black Skimmer? Here is a partial list: -

  • shoal draft - 10 or 11 inches/ 279mm;
  • free-standing rig with masts which do not pierce the watertight volume and can be raised and lowered without a crane;
  • self-vanging sails (due to the sprit booms);
  • self-righting with a self-draining cockpit;
  • effective watertight ventilation arrangement;
  • leeboards and the resultant open interior and strong bottom;
  • simple, but well engineered, structure;
  • self-draining well forward (for anchor, chain, mud, and sail handling;
  • self-draining well aft for outboard, fuel, anchor, mud, and crabs;
  • wonderful sprawling space in a cabin arranged with a raised deck. This is a strong, easily-built cabin-structure, and it provides important reserve buoyancy in the event of a knock-down;
  • sitting headroom in the cabin;
  • proven performance.
Having said all that, I am still haunted by the vision of a beautiful double-ended canoe yawl like Wenda or Rozinante.  Just today I was contacted by an exceptionally knowledgable and experienced friend who told me that I had only one life, and that if I didn't build a Rozinante  I would go to my grave a lesser man.


  1. Ross,
    I too am smitten by the canoe yawl and particularly Rozinante, since first studying her lines forty years ago. Since then I've sailed the Eel and was once again in love. If you have the means, I encourage you follow your dream. It would please me to live vicariously.


    1. Ross-I "second" the comment by Michael.My last sailboat was a RobRoy23,designed by Ted Brewer - a canoe yawl with impeccable manners and genuine strength. I once thought I might sail her to Cuba where my father had an office in 1956 I visited several times as a boy, but lost courage when I realized the Bush administration very likely might confiscate her.

      I found the canoe yawl an absolute delight to sail and wish health and other circumstances had not compelled her sale.

      Allan Horton, Sarasota, Florida

  2. Ross, If I had the skills and time I'd build Wenda, Black skimmer good as she is seems like one of those boats that are intuitively right but doesn't make your heart sing,

    We had a Cornish Yawl, not quite canoe stern, but a real yawl and great to sail.

  3. Ross - I will agree that Rozinante and Wenda are beautiful boats, but you will get a lot more bang for your $$ with the Black Skimmer. I was aboard a Rozinante once, very cramped down below, and a small cockpit also. Beautiful, but limited- good for 1 person. More room in the Black Skimmer, better shallow water performance, sits up level when the tide goes out, plus all the reasons above. If you want a user boat built in a reasonable amount of time for a reasonable amount of $, I would build the black Skimmer.

  4. Ross - I have been umming and arring about a canoe yawl (like Wenda, Eun Mara etc.) vs more of a sharpie (like Black Skimmer) for a couple of years now - being a Moreton Bay / Sandy Straits local - for myself it seems to include an internal debate I have in my level of trust in the self-righting and/or tenderness of sharpies. I keep thinking the shape and ballast of the former will be more seaworthy, but am I wrong? Perhaps a Haiku would be what I should reasonably choose.

  5. I too am a windsom admirer of Wenda and Rozinante. Both very beautiful, and both are very expensive to build. I built an Eun Na Mara (Suzanne) in Port Townsend and I am very happy with it. There is sitting headroom below, and long comfortable berths. A little galley as well. Mine has a charcoal heater, and she is my favorite place to read or nap. She sails well, and I feel safe with the ballast attached to the keel. It is glued lapstrake, and fairly easy, but time consuming to build. She is a very pretty boat, and gets compliments everywhere we go. If you have the time, place and money I think this is a very worthwhile project. It took 2 years of full time work, and about $25,000. in materials including outboard used trailer and sails. Black Skimmer would require less resources, but it is not a canoe yawl, and to my eye, does not inspire rapture. I agree with my friend Michael, do build your boat. It is an incomparable adventure! David Jones

  6. Hello,
    I was wondering if anyone would care to comment on Doug Hylan's design,
    Siri? I am keen on it.

  7. Ross, I see you have listed my three favorite daysailing/cruising boat designs and introduced me to a fourth. I too have lusted after Eel, Wenda, and Rozinante. You have also combined the canoe yawl concept with my favorite sharpie in Little Egret. I will never have your design and engineering genius, but at least we share the same good taste! I must agree with tbose who urge you to build the boat you have always dreamed of. You have the skill to add sufficient ventilation without harming the look of the boat. A portable cooler full of beer will also help. I cannot help but think you might want to design your own dream boat. I have no doubt she would be as lovely as any of the others, and probably be much easier to build. You should have the same respect for the work of your own hand as you do for that of your predecessors. You have earned it. Good luck and God bless you.