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What the Hell is a Canoe Yawl?

Canoe Yawls

Above, an Albert Strange painting of the canoe yawl Daisy.

In general, a canoe yawl can be thought of as a boat, very similar to the decked sailing canoe, only bigger. Typically, they would be 16 to 20 feet in length, and four to five feet beam. Unlike the decked sailing canoe, they would often carry lead ballast either internally or integral with a keel.

George Holmes is generally thought of as the 'father of the canoe yawl', with Albert Strange taking the idea into larger sizes as the canoe yacht.

Examples of these craft can be found in W.P. Stephens' Canoe and Boatbuilding for Amateurs and Traditions and Memories of American Yachting. The canoe yawl Half Moon is in the Mystic Seaport Museum collection -- see Maynard Bray's Mystic Seaport Museum Watercraft.

Smaller canoe yawls would employ a centerboard (especially in America) and as they got larger the English would refer to them as "canoe yachts". See the Albert Strange Association for more info:

Albert Strange Association
c/o Tom Holdich
22 highgate
cherry burton
east yorkshire
hu17 7rr england

[email protected]


Here is Warrington Baden-Powell commenting on "canoe yawls" in Forest and Stream, 10/17/1889:
{Baden Powell} has begun in the FIELD [a UK sporting weekly] what promises to be a very interesting series of articles on the canoe-yawl proper, as distinguished from the canoe yacht with fixed keel and ballast. The first article gives the lines of the canoe yawl Jennie, built by Turk [UK] and lately purchased by Mr Coddington of Philadelphia. She is a sturdy, powerful craft of 18ft over all and 4ft 6in l.w.l. [that should either be 14ft 6in l.w.l. or 4ft 6in beam]...

Apropos the term canoe yawl, Mr Baden-Powell makes the following pertinent remarks:

"The term yawl has nothing to do with rig; it is an indefinitely old sea term for a sea-coast model of boat which was of long form and light construction, used for both sailing and rowing, without fixed ballast; such boats to this day are the Yarmouth yawls, the Norway yawls and the coble. A work on naval architecture of 1793 describes the 'yawls' carried then on men-of-war 'for sailing and rowing' as practically of a form we should now call whaleboats, i.e., sharp at each end; and further, the same authority says of the Norway yawl: 'Of all such boats this yawl seems best calculated for a high sea; it will venture out to great sea distances when a stout ship can hardly carry any sail.'

"In modern times, whatever 'yawl' may strictly mean, it has come unintentionally into a sort of international marriage with the word 'canoe' (the above mentioned old book gives the French equivalent of yawl as 'canot'; so the term 'canoe yawl' may be taken as a fairly good blend). The Vikings' swift sea-going craft were yawls and were sharp at each end and of a distinctly canoe type."


W.P. Stephens had this to say in Traditions and Memories of American Yachting:
"The origin of the term "canoe-yawl" is very uncertain. It probably came about through the fact that the first of the type were yawl-rigged. As the size increased, with a deeper body - in many cases, merging into a keel - with enclosed cabins, it seemed inadequate, and in Forest and Stream of July 7, 1892, I wrote:

"Exact names and definitions are the exception rather than the rule in canoeing and yachting, there being very few terms which apply strictly to any one model or rig, or to both in combination.... It needs no proof that a vessel 20 to 24 feet long with a breadth of 5 to 6 feet and a ton of lead under her is not a canoe; while at the same time she may be a sloop, cutter, or ketch in rig; but the same name, 'canoe-yawl' has stuck to her.... The need for some distinction between these two classes has been apparent for some time, and to meet it we suggest the name 'canoe-yawl' be restricted to such boats as by their draft, model, and ballasting may be beached and housed; while the other larger class may be called 'canoe-yachts'.... Such boats are increasing rapidly that their recognition and limitation are only matters of time."


Canoe yawls appear in Canoe & Boat Building for Amateurs. See my page on More Canoe Yawls here.

Phil Bolger created many "cartoon boats" for Small Boat Journal in the 1980s. These "cartoons" were meant to tackle a design conundrum posed by a reader letter. One happens to be a typically elegant solution to the question of a low-cost, practical canoe yawl made of that readily available resource, plywood.

Click here for the essay and additional sketches.


H Warington Smyth writes of sailing his canoe yawl in the waters around Thailand in his book Five Years in Siam. He implies that there was a small fleet of canoe yawls among the expats there circa 1895. Below, his sketch "Running".


Charles G. Davis designs an Americanized 16' canoe-yawl,
Rudder November 1895. The club foresail is interesting and it amounts to an abbreviated Chesapeake log canoe rig.

Yachting, December 1933 discusses a reproduction of the canoe yawl Iris; also discussed in Roger C Taylor's Good Boats.

John Leather, Sail and Oar

Ch 2: Holmes' canoe yawl Ethel
Ch 3: Albert Strange, Cherub II (really a yacht)

Even Billy Atkin got into the act with a neat camp-cruising canoe yawl, Excelsior:



Lots on George Holmes' Cassy:



Back to the Canoe Sailing page.