Sticks & String: Sam Manning

Sticks and String

by Sam Manning

(See the full article in WoodenBoat, May-June 1978)

Sam says
that his drawings are self-explanatory and that "There's no point in putting dimensions on my drawings... The whole thing is pretty flexible." Since they necessarily vary on your canoe, his canoe and someone else's canoe. I agree. As soon as spring comes, I'm off to the bamboo patch to find tripod mast pieces.
note: click on any transparent image for a larger GIF where it's easier to see the details.

His rig included tholepins for rowing with 7-foot oars, but that doesn't change the utility of the simple tripod-and-lashing sail rig. As you will see he wound up steering with the leeboard-- shades of Yakaboo -- whenever he wanted to go to windward. I have quoted from the article to help illustrate what Sam was about when he designed this:


"What is proposed is a simple system of sticks, string, and available fabric which will put you afloat anywhere in a paddling/rowing/sailing craft you've learned to handle well.

"...all parts would have to be made [on site], clamped, or lashed to a borrowed canoe at a distant place, [so] these things had to be solved: a mast and the means to support it; a system for steering; and a simply-constructed sail.

"I looked about for a craft of good hull form that we could own, rent, borrow, (or replace) just about anywhere. It took some soul girding to put the proceeds from the sale of a perfectly good wooden sailing dory into an 18' Grumman aluminum canoe. But this is where we were at... Normally it lived right on top of the station wagon."

"I suppose that I might have done myself a favor by going out and buying the proper Grumman accessories... A friend let me try his canoe with all the Grumman stuff screwed onto it. It rowed well, sailed tolerably, but all of it rattled and had the feeling of aluminum pipes and plates mechanically attached to an otherwise clean hull."

"What I wanted for this boat was a permanent rowing frame that did not jut out, and an effective sailing rig so simple that it could be set or stowed without filling the boat with gear... Our objective was not to convert this hull, but to devise a small bag full of tricks that might be applied to any canoe made available to us in a distant place."

Frame from above.

"Some system had to be devised whereby the center strut could be eliminated... In view of renting or borrowing a tin canoe at some future date, I allowed myself the luxury of unscrewing the strut temporarily, but whatever structure replaced it would have to be clamped or lashed to the boat... [A] shelf timber was run under the gunwale flange on the inside, a wale thick enough for the tholepins was put on the outside, and [both held] by a cleat across the gunwale amidships and by cleats across the boat directly over the remaining quarter struts. Carriage bolts and wing nuts could be used [to assemble] this rectangular frame [which] becomes like a crate which clamps rigidly into the midship section of the canoe."

Frame, assembled.

"The tin canoe (as well as our wooden one, to which the same gear has been applied without alteration) seems to be at its best as a sailing craft when the breeze is a steady 10 to 20 knots. Both canoes, with two people aboard, have been sailed with the full rig in winds estimated to be 35 knots in puffs. Wind and bay chop do not seem to be a problem as long as the wind is steady and the canoe is beating into it. The charm departs [with] beam seas or skiddy downwind steering ... as the canoe heads off. It's better to drop sail and row when caught out in such stuff."
Leeboard broomstick.

The leeboard. -- "...simply an upright plank squeezed between two parallel logs that are looped to the gunwales with lashings. The board is pivoted fore and aft on a lashing let through a hole in the center [and] propped stiffly upright by a broomstick cut to fit the exact distance between the upper tip of the "lever" [or handle of the leeboard] and the opposite gunwale of the boat. Tied to the gunwale at one end, and through a hole in the top of the "lever" at the other, the broomstick prevents the leeboard from being forced against the hull on one tack or pulled away from it on the other. [The board] stays put on both tacks and can be forgotten unless you are steering the boat with it. Compression between the parallel logs keeps the plank from twisting or splitting."


Four lashings and three sticks hold the leeboard in place.

"The parallel logs can be broomsticks or furring strips. They too are thonged together through holes at their tips and are lashed (with these thongs) tightly to the gunwale at their ends. Spacer blocks or additional turns of the forward seizing between the gunwale and the logs may be necessary to bring the logs (and the board) parallel to the centerline of the boat. Precise alignment of board and boat appears to be uncritical."

Steering. -- "Steering with a paddle is easy and fun... The paddle is held over the leeward quarter where it is snugged against the boat by the sideslipping action.

"Downwind in heavy air... the canoe yawed badly, it rolled, and the helmsman needed two hands for the steering paddle with nothing to spare to hold the sheet. The yawing proved controllable by moving aft and settling the stern, which in turn canceled some of the roll.

"On a very windy day just a few weeks ago, the canoe demonstrated rather plainly how she wished to be steered under sail. Working her to windward through a crowded anchorage with a paddle overside on her lee quarter, I found her performance to be erratic. At times she spurted ahead while laying very close to the wind. At other times, conditions being equal, she poked along while sagging off and acting as though she had a tin can nailed to her tin bottom. As I paddled her about at the end of a tack, the leeboard, released of sideslip pressure, rotated forward in the slackened lashings of the gunwale logs. A hard puff hit her just then, and without moving through the water much at all she rounded smartly up and went back on the old tack. As the wind streaked by she kept rounding up, back and forth, until I got the board back to its normal position. Then off she went, without a helmsman, footing swiftly and without deviation on the closest windward heading I'd seen her take. If I rotated the foot of the board while she was sailing, she rounded up. If I raked it aft, she fell off.

"With the wind abaft the beam and the leeboard trailing, some control can be had by moving crew weight aft and by leaning the boat one way or the the other to deflect her head with the bow wave. The paddle, however, must be used downwind."

Mast basics.

Spars. -- "The most workable mast [is] a short, light tripod made of spruce rippings approximately the size of broom handles... strung together at the upper end and thonged to three spots in the boat at the lower end... [while the] headstay rope pulls the various legs into tension or compression and tightens the whole thing into an extremely solid unit. As long as the legs are given some spread it doesn't make much difference whether it's set symmetrically in the boat or not.

"Furring strip standing alone or nailed together makes fine spars for the first go-around. It's the cheapest wood in the lumberyard."

Mast lashing.

Sails. -- "I've made many sails from 6-mil polyethylene. Given tape reinforcement for stability, and draft provided by the roaches, they've usually lasted me several seasons of hard use and they've set as well as could be expected when cut by an amateur. It took Susan and me about two hours to lay out, reinforce, cut, and grommet the polyethylene spritsail for the canoe... The secret of adhesion seems to be to clean the slightly waxy surface with alcohol or some other solvent where the tape is to be applied. The grommets, punched through successive layers of tape reinforcement rivet the corners into unity. Our polyethylene sails have held up well to every kind of summer wind without stretch of the leech or migration of the grommets."

Etc. -- "This is the vessel of our little fleet that we can count on to be with as at a given time and place and to carry us the distance planned. For a fully functional 18-footer, there's been very little money involved."


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