Pt 2, Ch 4/Canoeing, Sailing & Motor Boating/Miller



by Warren H. Miller.




THE DAY of sail canoeing seems to have gone out of vogue of late, giving place to the light, open Indian type of canoe. Time was when one could go to the far ends of the earth in the canvas-covered cruising canoe or its heavier wooden counterpart, though I always preferred the former. I see no good reason for this change, and hope that these chapters on the canvas cruiser will do something to revive a most interesting type of long-distance canoeing. As a matter of fact you can build a very serviceable canvas canoe with spruce and ash framing and ten-ounce duck skin which will not weigh over thirty-five pounds.

Nessmuk, who navigated in the lightest wooden canoes in the world, weighing but 11 lbs., seemed to think that canvas canoes gained in weight with age and were limp, logy, and non-floating when awash. As a matter of fact he spoke from hearsay on this matter and never gave the canvas canoe a chance. Far from being logy it is as taut and spruce a craft as floats, lively and safe in seaways that would have held Nessmuk's ten-foot open canoe helplessly wind-bound, and, if you upset, which may happen if some accident like a jamming rudder befalls you, she will fill to the brim and yet carry your weight nicely, while you kick her ashore, or, if the seas are not too choppy, you can bail her out from the water alongside, crawl in over the stern and go your ways rejoicing. I have done both and I know. And she is the only solution of the mosquito problem in a cruise along the great Atlantic bays, such as the one to Currituck Sound and back via inside route from New York. For the canvas cruising canoe is the one impervious sleeping resort where marsh mosquitoes abound. Its tent is virtually a little rectangular house over the cockpit, and is provided with a mosquito blind inside the flap. When you retire for the night, not only is the tent buttoned firmly to the cockpit all around, but the bottom edge of the mosquito bar is also. You gather a few armfuls of sage for bedding, strew them in the bottom of the canoe, pile sand around her as she lies up the beach, step in the two masts and guy the tent between them, leading out to pegs on the beach, and the ravenous horde of stingarees outside can sample the tent or the canvas deck, or the canoe bottom, to their heart's content for all you care.

In making a canoe tent, ordinary sober whites and drabs seem out of keeping with such a gay bird as the canoe has been proving herself to be all day long. I always prefer something loud in awning effects, broad, noisy stripes that are blatantly aggressive on the color scheme of the surrounding scenery. These stripes should go vertically, and four feet high is plenty. The tent should be just the length and width of your cockpit, which will be about 2 feet wide by 6 feet long. To make it, sew two strips of yard-wide awning duck together, hemming across the ends. This piece will give you both sides and the top. Get out two more strips a little over two feet wide and five inches longer than the height of the tent. Hem at the bottom and sew to the other piece of canvas, making the ends of the tent. Each of these ends will now have two five-inch flaps sticking up above the tent top.

Get two spreaders (stout sticks, like broom handles) and sew these flaps around them, sewing the leftover edge inside the top of the tent at the ends with a double seam. Run in two bolt ropes of 1/8-inch white cotton rope inside the tent from one stick to the other, and sew it to the canvas every foot, or overstitch it to it all along its length. Bend on a bridle to each of the sticks and put in grommets every foot along the bottom of the tent.

To set up :--Run the canoe up on the beach, pile sand around her, step the main and mizzen masts furled, lead out guy ropes for bridles of the fore and aft spreader sticks of the tent and guy to pegs in the sand. Use the main and mizzen sheets for side guys. Along the outside of your cockpit should be a row of brass awning buttons or hooks, which you can get from any ship chandlery, and you now snap the grommets over these hooks and the tent is up. For doors you simply leave about three feet of the middle seam on each side unsewed, and sew to the edges of the flap thus formed a loose fold of green mosquito netting of the strong linen kind, that they use for salt water mosquito bars.

This arrangement allows you to pin back one flap and get the air, the opening being covered by the mosquito bar. As the rest of the canoe is mosquito proof this bar will ensure you a good night's sleep, no matter how mosquitoey the country, and in the day time along its Atlantic marshes the mosquitoes are generally at peace with the world. The canoe tent is good and comfortable for midsummer camping, and is insect and snake-proof, besides giving the maximum of comfort with the least browse, since its circular shape goes in very well with the contours of one's body. I have slept in them for weeks, and have even tried it off shore at anchor, but this is apt to end rather moistly as you never know, when you drift off to sleep, what the weather is going to do during the night.

Nessmuk's "pudding stick" or auxiliary paddle I have tried and found good. Get a piece of 7/8-inch by 4-inch clear spruce about two feet long, and whittle from it a miniature paddle with a seven-inch blade 4 inches wide. Tie it to a rib of the canoe with a bit of twine so you can drop it any time. It is very useful when working up salt creeks after rail, snipe or reed birds. Hold the shotgun in one hand and maneuver her along with the pudding-stick in the other. If a shot offers, drop the stick alongside while you attend to fresh fowl for the larder.

A 3-1/2- or 4-pound folding galvanized anchor, costing about $1.50, is a necessity; also a small bow chock on each side of the stem, as there will come times when you will simply have to lie to, when paddling is impossible against head seas. You can't do anything with her without the bow chocks unless you perform the delicate maneuver of crawling out and tying your anchor line to the stem ring. The anchor is also handy for fishing or resting for lunch in the middle of a long traverse.

I do not advise a folding centerboard for a canvas canoe. They are a necessity on the larger wooden cruising canoes, but the little fellow is easy to keep on a level keel and is in fact a boy's paradise in all kinds of blows, so that a good 2-1/2 inch or 3-inch yellow pine keel the entire length of the canoe will keep her from making leeway quite as well as anything of a folding nature. Besides, the smallest of these made is 24 inches long and requires about three inches of flat keel to screw to. A good brass drop rudder is, however, a luxury not to be despised. You can buy these at more or less fancy prices, compared to the cost of building the canoe (about the same money), but you can make one for less than a dollar.

Get a piece of half-inch brass pipe 16 inches long and slot its lower end with a hacksaw. Spread the slot to pass a 1/16-inch brass rudder plate. Cut this out in the conventional round-end rudder shape, 8 inches long by approximately six inches broad.

Pin near bottom with 1/4-inch brass bolt. Drill two 3/16-inch holes in the back of the pipe to receive the rudder hangers, which are stout brass awning hooks screwed into the stern-post and left upside down. They have just the right slope to allow the rudder to be easily shipped. Finish the rudder by filing a flat at the top to receive the yoke, which should have an eye in the bottom to pass the twine for lowering and raising the rudder.

The only other hardware you will need is a jam cleat for the rudder line, two for the main sheet inside the cockpit, and one on the bow deck for the anchor. Halyard cleats are best on deck screwed to the main deck carline. So equipped you will find a canvas canoe trip one of the most enjoyable cruises you ever undertook.

I propose to add here a footnote on centerboards which has been several years in the making. Leeboards are objectionable as being clumsy and landlubberly; I have always preferred a fixed keel. This latter will, however, not do much towards minimizing your leeward drift when sailing closehauled, so I have schemed much for some sort of canoe centerboard for canvas sail canoes. Of course the first thing to be investigated was the folding metal fan centerboard, used on wooden sailing canoes. These run from 24 to 40 inches long and, even in galvanized iron cost $8, or more than the cost of the canoe; but that is not its worst defect. The width of three or more inches required by the base of the folding centerboard trunk puts it out of the question for attaching to a 7/8-inch keelson.

If I were building a larger Waterat of, say, 17 feet LWL, intended mainly for sailing purposes, I would make the keel of 5 inch stock, fining down to 1 inch at stem and stern and riveting my ribs across it inside. With this keel there would be plenty of room to screw down the trunk of the folding board, and I am sure that such a cruiser for two men in salt water or lake country would be nearly ideal, for she could carry a lot of sail, would be much lighter than the wooden cruising canoe, and therefore paddle more easily, and it was the bugbear of this tedious and laborious paddling that eventually led to the downfall of the popularity of the wooden sailing canoe.

My cogitations on centerboards for the Waterats, as built, led to the design of a thin wooden trunk of shape to take a 12 x 36 x 1/8-inch brass dagger centerboard. This was to be lined inside with canvas, the lips of which were to be brought out and tacked over the canvas on the keel, thus making a watertight canvas surface inside the trunk, for it is obvious that a plain wooden trunk would surely leak because of the joint between keelson and keel which cannot be got at to caulk. By lining the trunk with canvas this difficulty is obviated.

To construct such a board, cut a slot through keel, keelson and ridge timber of upper forward deck 3/8 x 12 inches. Let in two uprights of 1/2 x 1-inch oak, necked down to 3/8 inch where they pass through keel and upper ridge timber, and screw these into place at each end of the slots, setting the joint in white lead paste. Now screw to each side of these uprights the sideboards of the trunk, with their canvas inside facings already stuck fast on them by painting down with several coats of paint. These facings should have about three inches of free canvas along their lower edges, which canvas is pulled down through the slot in keel and keelson and brought around outside the canoe, where they are pulled smooth and flat and tacked outside the main canvas skin of the canoe with copper tacks set close together and liberally doped with white lead paste.

This construction will give you a watertight, canvas-lined centerboard trunk suitable for a narrow dagger-type centerboard of 1/8-inch brass with a wooden stop or top, which board is to be shoved down through the slot in the upper forward deck, which is the upper end of your trunk.

The above design is easily put in while building the canoe, and, even for a built one, simply involves taking off the forward upper deck so as to get at the work.

As Waterat IV was wanted up at the June encampment of the Camp Fire Club and I was too busy to attempt any extensive work on the canoe that year, I built on her a detachable keel board, put on and taken off with wing nuts like a set of leeboards, as we used to do with keel rowboats. All you needed was a piece of 8 x 7/8 inch yellow pine about three feet long, and two 1/4-inch carriage bolts 2-1/2 inches long with wing nuts. It did not take half an hour to put this scheme into execution. I sawed a slant fore and aft on the keel board, so that in running aground or striking anything submerged I would not be brought up all standing and have something ripped loose.

Two carriage bolts were driven through, about eight inches from either end of the keel board; the holes for them were marked on the 2-1/2-inch keel (which, you will remember, is permanently secured to the bottom of the Waterat models), and, before putting her overboard, the carriage bolts of the keel board were shoved through these holes in my keel and secured fast with the two wing nuts. Other sailors had leeboards; I had a keel board! and, for a long time, they were mystified as to what kept the Waterat so well up into the eye of the wind with no visible leeboard gear.

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