1903 Old Town sailing canoe, 18'


Curious about Wooden Canoes
I am arranging to take custody of what community and family tradition says is a 1903 Old Town sailing canoe. Leeboards and leeboard thwart are still with it. Leeboard thwart is missing one of the gunnel clips. Spars are probably gone, though there is a candidate boom up in a barn loft. Sail is long gone. Many layers of paint, originally green, now red. Seems in good condition. Evidence of some repairs on floor and to center thwart at attachment to port gunnel. I have tried to attach pictures taken with my cell phone, but many come up with a circled !, so there is some problem. Will follow up when I can solve it.

I would like to get her in good order, replace or build the missing spars and sail, and sail and paddle her, and make her available in the small Maine community she has lived in since a brief sojourn to Georgia early in her life.

Would appreciate help with any of the following:

confirmation of her vintage
info on her make
insight on the original sail rig and spars
guidance on care/restoration
source for replacing the missing gunnel clip on the leeboard thwart

I have been sailing a Grumman sailing canoe for a few years and recently refurbished and repaired a 30 year old plywood sailing skiff, but am headed into new territory here.

Many thanks. Photo-0022.jpgPhoto-0010.jpgPhoto-0013.jpgPhoto-0038.jpgPhoto-0016.jpg


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Look on the top surfaces of the stems (both), and see if there are any numbers stamped into the stems. These would be 4 or 5 digits, a space, then two more digits. This would be a typical Old Town serial number format, though it's not conclusive. If you find that, somebody will look up in the archives for the build record. Also look around the inwales & thwarts for numbers, like on a brass plate.

A picture of the deck, and a side view of one end of the canoe, would help.

Sounds like a great project, and way cool to have some history to it, as well!
Thanks for the reply.

These three pictures may help. I am back in Massachusetts now, but will return to Maine next weekend, I hope, and look for the serial number. There definitely are thin brass/bronze stems.

care, maintenance, repair, restoration

Before making any decision about how to repair or restore your canoe, you should do some reading -- you would do well to get, or at least look at, "The Wood and Canvas Canoe: A Complete Guide to its History, Construction, Restoration, and Maintenance" by Rollin Thurlow and Jerry Stelmok, and/or "Building the Maine Guide Canoe" by Jerry Stelmok. The information in these books if useful no matter the make of your canoe. If it is indeed an Old Town, you will find "The Old Town Canoe Company" by Susan Audette and David Baker of interest.

The first is often called the "bible" of canoe repair, restoration, and maintenance; the second is an excellent study of the wooden/canvas canoe, and the third is a great history of the company and its canoes. These are available from the WCHA store, are often on eBay, or from Amazon. Sue Audette also sells her book directly
( http://www.thebaglady.tv/ ).

The WCHA and these forums are a great resource -- don't be bashful about asking questions -- someone here will likely have the answer -- maybe even two or three different answers.

And very important, as you proceed with restoration -- photos. We all love photos, just because we all love wooden canoes, but also because most of us have things to learn, and photos of what other people do and how they approach a task are a great sources of information.

It's great that you have an old family canoe, and great that you want to get it in good shape so your family can continue to use it.
The thin brass pieces are stem bands. The stems are inside the canoe at each end. They are the piece of wood that runs from under the deck and down to the floor of the canoe. Each one should have numbers stamped into it.

I'll attach a link to a video showing where to look for the serial number. It's the only way to tell for certain when your canoe was built and other facts such as the model, although a few things can be determined from the pictures.


Your canoe has a short deck consistent with an Old Town (although a few other builders used a similar deck).

I doubt your canoe dates from 1903 as it has open gunwales-- unless the canoe was modified and had closed gunwales originally. The open gunwale isn't seen until about 1905.

If the canoe has diamond-head bolts holding the seats and thwarts, it may date from post-1920, or the bolts could be added later. I can't tell from the pictures.

If the seat frames have a groove for accepting sheet-cane, they date from post-1937 or the seats are replacements. Hard to tell from the pictures if there is a spline or holes for hand-caning.

Without a serial number, the guesstimate re age may be a "range", but that number (if the canoe is an Old Town) will provide the model, wood species of trim, dates of aspects of construction, info on whether or not the canoe shipped from the factory with sail rigging, etc.

The HW (heavy water) model is the most common OT model to be fitted for sailing, and the profile appears (to me) not to be as high in the ends as an HW--- if it's an Old Town, could be HW with lowered ends or a guide maybe. Take what I say in this regard with a grain of salt-- I'm just testing myself. This sort of mystery can be fun.

Thanks, tnyankee, for clarification on the stems, and thanks, Kathy, for the video.

The canoe does have diamond-shaped head bolts holding the seats and thwarts.

I'll look closely for a groove for the sheet cane this weekend. Will attach pics here of the seats--cell phone did not give great quality, though.

Leeboards suggest 1913 to 1932

Looking at Benson Gray's article on OT canoe rig evolution in Canoe Sailing Magazine, the shape of the leeboards and absence of rudder conforms to the images from the 1913 and 1917 catalogs. Apparently the squarish leeboard with handle was first introduced in 1913. 1924 and 1928 show similar leeboards, but also show rudders--though perhaps some were sold without rudders anyway. The 1907 catalog shows differently shaped leeboards, as does 1932. So our range of years appears to be 1913 through the late twenties or early thirties.

Round hole in mast step suggests 1915 or earlier?

If I understand correctly from Benson Gray's posts in http://forums.wcha.org/showthread.php?4461-Long-Decked-HW, mast steps had round holes in 1915 and prior. This canoe has a round hole in the mast step.

One I find the serial number, we can see if this is a canoe from 1913-1915.

Isn't sleuthing fun?!

Got the s.n. Kathy Klos has looked it up. 1930 guide canoe, GS grade, dark green, with mast step and thwart, shipped to Dr. Gordon Berry, Brunswick, ME, August 5. I am now in possession, and quite happy. If interested, read more in the Serial Number section of the forum.

Thanks to all. I'll be in touch as/when things progress.


Your pictures show a canoe that is well worth restoration, and while it needs some work, it is all manageable, and once done, you should have quite a nice canoe.

You don’t have to be too concerned about the condition of the paint or why it is so rough (probably from chipping and cracking and shrinking of so many previous coats of paint – painted yearly??) because the canvas should come off and be replaced, and the interior varnish should be stripped so you can properly repair the cracked ribs and repair the planks where broken and badly repaired with some sort of googe – probably epoxy. So the whys and wherefores of the paint’s current condition are academic. If the canvas is original, as seems likely, it is more than 80 years old, has served the previous owners well, and doesn’t owe anything to you or anyone else. Replacing canvas is an ordinary maintenance task, akin to replacing worn tires on a car.

The canvas also needs to come off to investigate a potentially more serious question – the condition of the tacks fastening the planking to the ribs. The corrosion blooms visible where the tacks have been clenched on the interior indicate that the heads of the tacks may also have suffered salt-water corrosion, and refastening some or all may be required. I know you have been following the contemporaneous thread on canoes in salt water, so I need not say more about this. I think everyone reading that thread will be interested in the condition of the tack heads on your canoe.

The seats need to be recaned, by hand, and the seat frames at least refinished before recaning. The black stains warrant checking, especially on the mast seat – there is possibly some rot in those seat frame joints, but maybe just bleaching the stains is all that is needed.

Except for the one pictured repair, the gunwales look pretty good – but not sure what that repair is about – some wood might have to be replaced there. The lines of the gunwales seem fair, however, so even if additional work on the gunwale is desired, the repair that has been done has maintained the shape and lines of your canoe.
The missing keel screws are not a major problem – if the holes are oversized, finishing washers are often used with the replacement screws. Many people remove keels – use the search function to see a number of discussions on that issue, though if you are planning to do much sailing, you may well want to keep it. The cracks in one deck need some attention -- I have had good luck filling similar cracks in a table-top with an epoxy that was fairly flexible, then refinishing the whole surface. The repair has lasted more than 30 years,

Again, I recommend the Thurlow and Stelmok book – it discusses all of these issues and describes how to go about dealing with them.

Thanks for your observations and recommendations. I am indeed reading Stelmok and Thurlow before proceeding. Once I strip the canvas, I'll report on the tack heads.

A long-time ACA canoe sailor told me recently that a canoe with keel will never sail well. Didn't get a chance to ask why. Clearly I need to do some research on that one!

Once again, I greatly appreciate this forum.


A long-time ACA canoe sailor told me recently that a canoe with keel will never sail well. Didn't get a chance to ask why. Clearly I need to do some research on that one!


i would be interested in that theory, my 18 foot 1928 OTCA came from Old Town as a sailing canoe with a keel.
A long-time ACA canoe sailor told me recently that a canoe with keel will never sail well. Didn't get a chance to ask why. Clearly I need to do some research on that one!

A keel will inhibit your ability to come about.