Canoe Sailing Resources: Canoe Square Sail




Canoeing Department: A Tandem Paddler
by E.T. Keyser
from The Amateur Sportsman and Sportsman's Magazine / early 1900s

Editor's Note:

A long while back I copied the Canoeing column from some early-1900s issues of this magazine without writing on the copies specifically what the dates were. Judging from the dates elsewhere in parts of the column not worth reproducing this dates from late 1901 or early 1902.

The article includes an exceedingly clever way of adding a mast to an otherwise difficult canoe, and for old-time canoe gear geeks we have drawings of fittings.

Following this simple scheme anyone can add a small downwind sail to a canoe. 

View of Sheets and Halyards.


The "Frolic" was built way down in the Pine Tree State by Morris, of Veazie, and is an open tandem paddler of Indian model and canvas and cedar construction, thirty-two inches wide at gunwales and seventeen feet long, and her owner's only regret in regard to her is that he did not know enough to have her built one foot longer, as she would have been just as easy to handle and contained even more storage room.

She has decks about ten inches long at bow and stern, and is fitted with two cane bottom seats and three thwarts, any one of which may be removed at will without injury. The bow thwart, indeed, is held in place with thumb nut to facilitate its removal when desired to accommodate large bits of duffle. The cane bottom seats are more comfortable than those made of slats, and don't hold rain and spray on their surface as do those cushioned with hair and covered with pantasote.

She is fitted with a removable floor of slats 10-1/2 inches wide, and running from under the after seat to well up in the bow, and she has an outside keel of oak to take up wear when beaching and hauling up on the float. The rear seat is 22 inches from the stern, and the forward one 46 inches from the bow, this arrangement causes her to trim down by the stern when two are paddling from them.

The thwarts are placed sufficiently distant from each other to allow of sitting on the floor without putting one's limbs beneath them. The floor is almost flat for four feet each way from the center, and she tumbles home so much that she is really three inches wider at water line than at gunwales. She has considerable sheer, her depth rising from 11 inches amidship to 19 inches at bow and stern.

Her size and the arrangement of the seats allow the crew to paddle either from them or from cushions on the floor, although in a boat of such great beam best results are obtained from the former position; in fact were it not for the tumble home of her sides, it would be impossible to handle the paddles comfortably from the floor. On 4 inches draught she will easily carry 650 pounds and paddle much more easily than a craft of the same dimensions with more dead rise; there is, of course, a corresponding disadvantage, and this is that she has very little hold on the water and will slide badly in a beam wind.

Lee boards are a nuisance, and as without them she could not be sailed, except with the wind directly astern, she is rigged with one of Rushton's square sails of 25 square feet area; this does not sound very large for a 17-foot canoe, but when it is considered that a sail of this form measures 3-1/2 feet in width at top, 5-1/2 at foot, has 5-1/2 ft hoist, and the lower yard is 19 inches above her floor and that every inch draws in sailing ahead of the wind, it will be understood that it is all that would be comfortable to handle in a fresh breeze.

Her spars, three in number, are of clear-grained pine, and were gotten out at a turning mill at a cost of two dollars for material and labor. The writer got out just one set of spars, early in his canoeing experience, and lets the mill do that part of the work now. Such work is conducive to profanity, and what profits it a man that he save $1.50, but lose most of the cuticle from his hands and a large slice of his salvation? The mast was turned 1-3/4 inches in diameter at butt, and cylindrical for 19 inches, from thence tapering to 1-1/4 inches at head.

The lower yard was 6 feet in length, 1-1/4 inches at center, tapering to 1 inch at ends. The upper yard was of the same center diameter, also tapering to 1 inch at ends, but only 4 feet long; there was thus left 3 inches clear of spar at each end projecting beyond the sail. Three inches from masthead a mortise, 2 inches in length by 3/8-inch in width, was cut, and in this was set a galvanized iron sheave 1/4-inch thick and 1 inch in diameter. This sheave was knocked out of a galvanized iron block made to take a 1/4-inch rope. The axis hole of the sheave was enlarged with a rat-tail file to take an 1/8-inch brass rod for an axle, and the sheave set with its top edge 3/8-inch distant from the top of the mortise.

Spruce could have been used in place of pine in the spars, and the mast been 1-1/2 inches diameter at base, but, although 1-1/2-inch mast plates may be had, no mast fittings of smaller diameter than 1-3/4 inches are to be procured, so the lighter wood and greater size had to be used. Right here I want to make a humble suggestion to two of the best-known canoe builders of the country, Messrs. Rushton and Morris; if the former would cast his foot gear rings a trifle smaller and then bore them up true to gauge, and the latter would fit his Indian model canoes with decks ten inches longer and without the sharp bevel on the under side, we amateur riggers would have an easier time of it.

The collar to take the spar clamp was so much smaller than its nominal size that the mast had to be worked down to allow it to revolve, although the collar for the foot-hoisting gear fitted all right, while the very short deck with its great curve prevented a hole being bored in it for a mast plate, and it was cut away at so much of an angle that a block could not be fastened underneath it to receive a screw mast-ring. A deck ten inches longer would not occupy any valuable space, but would strike a place where the shear was gradual enough to allow boring for stepping, provided the bow end was simply rounded instead of being cut in a V, and, if flat underneath, would allow securing to it a block to take one of Phelps' mast screw rings that can be removed when not in use.

This stepping of the mast was a problem that took considerable time to solve. It was finally mastered In the following way:

Into the under side of the deck, as close as possible to the bow, a screw eye was set. Attached to this by a rope was a wooden deadeye, and through the deadeye a 1/4-inch rope was rove.

One end of this rope was made into a permanent loop, the butt of the mast was passed through this, the foot of the mast, placed in the step and the free end of the rope hauled taut; this pulled the mast firmly against the deck, where the V-shaped notch kept it from side play, and the free end of the rope was belayed to a Butler cleat on the port gunwale 2 feet from the bow, the strain on the mast being all from aft and pressing it against the deck where it has the greatest possible length of bracing between step and support; the arrangement worked all right.

In setting the screw eye under the deck it was necessary that it be far enough forward to allow a couple of inches between the whipped and of loop and the deadeye, so that all slack could be taken up. A leather collar was nailed to mast to prevent grinding and marring of edge of deck, the collar being 2 inches wide, so that the fastening tacks would be above and below points where it touched the deck's edge.

Mast Stepping.

The sail is lashed with seizing cord, which passes around the spars and through each grommet on the sail in half hitches.

To prevent the sail drawing toward the center of the spar, and becoming slack, a small brass screw eye is screwed 2-1/2 inches from the end of each yard, and through each of these the outside half hitches on each end of the yard is run.

Rigging details.


The foot gear consisted of three of Rushton's mast collars, holding in place his mast foot gear fitted with block and ring, and his spar fastener No.16, which allows the lower yard to rise and fall with the pressure of the wind, and also to revolve on the mast. A pin coupling allows its removal from the mast when stowing the sail.

Rushton's Spar Gear #16.
Pin holds the collar to the mast. Collar can revolve.


Above: Footgear. Block revolves without twisting mast. Reefing lines or downhauls run through the ring.


Above: Mast Collar, clamped below and above Spar Gear and Footgear to keep each in position.


A halyard of 1/4-inch rope passes through the block on the foot gear, from the sheave in the mast head, and was attached to a deadeye fastened in the center of a piece of 1/8-inch rope, each end of which was securely lashed to the upper spar about a foot from its ends. This latter rope was so adjusted that the deadeye at the center was six inches above the spar.


A 3-inch mast ring, which passed over the mast itself, held the spar in position and the large size of the ring prevented its jamming on the mast when the sail was raised or lowered. A brass screw eye was inserted at each end of the lower yard. To these were attached 1/8-inch sheet ropes, which were belayed to clutch cleats placed on the inside of either gunwale just in front of the after thwart, where they would be In easy reach.


The use of clutch cleats allowed a quick and easy adjustment of the angle of the sail, as it was only necessary to pull on one sheet rope, at the same time releasing the clutch of the other cleat. With a sail 5-1/2 feet wide at its lower extremity placed in a part of the boat where there was scarcely more than eight inches of beam, some arrangement was necessary to keep the sail from hanging in the water when down.


Lazyjacks could have been arranged from the mast head of the lower yard, but this would have complicated the removing of the sail from the mast. Instead of this four 1/4-inch brass rings were sewed on each side of the sail within a foot of its outer edge and also down the center. Through these ran three pieces of seizing cord lashed to the upper yard and passing through three deadeyes lashed to the lower one. They were joined at the center and passed through the ring on the foot gear. On loosing the halyard, a cord attached to these downhauls was pulled, not only facilitating the lowering the sail, but bunching it so that it presented a small and compact bundle when furled. In stowing the sail, the halyard, which fastened to the deadeye, connected with the' top yard by a bow knot, was simply released, the mast ring pulled over the top of the mast and the pin in the foot gear removed. The sail could then either be rolled up on the yards the same as a shade, or bunched, by pulling on the reefing gear, and the mast itself was not too long to be easily carried in a boat when not in use The sail appears to contain much more than its actual area, and decorated as it is, with a huge red Hippocampus, the totem of the Knickerbocker Canoe Club, the canoe from dead ahead presents very much the appearance of an old Norse war galley.


Looking at the Bow.