Sailing with two


Curious about Wooden Canoes
Is it possible or feasible for two persons to sail in a 17' canoe? I will soon have a 17' OT HW with a retrofitted sailing rig and I'd like to take the girl and the dog out on an adventure now and then. Are there any significant challenges to doing this in good conditions, like overloading the boat, weight distribution, etc.? I assume that one person in the bow and one in the stern will help maintain the correct trim, right? Two crammed together in the center of the boat would be less than ideal. Another concern is splash over the bow -- is this likely to be a major issue?

Has anyone every done such a thing or is it foolishness? Any experiences to share? I checked the archives and didn't find much info pertinent to this question.
It's certainly possible and not all that rare. Personally, I would never take my wife and my dog in a sailing canoe - mostly because they're both extremely hard-headed and neither of them follows directions (at least MY directions) worth a damn. As in any small boat which tends to lean over, there is a certain amount of trust involved and if the wind comes up, somebody needs to be in charge.

In good conditions, the boat should do fine with the load, although sailing is all about weight - weight aloft, weight to counterbalance heeling force, weight in the ends of the hull (which tends to slow your ability to spin it when maneuvering) and weight which needs to be accelerated back up to cruising speed after every tack or jibe. Lucky for us, canoes are also pretty much all about weight and so we're used to the fact that more weight in the boat takes more force to move. There will be days when the sailing canoe feels a bit sluggish with two aboard, compared to solo sailing, but you may also find days when having a passenger and the extra ballast that they provide is helpful.

You are most likely better off if you can put both people fairly close to the middle of the canoe - maybe sitting on the floor in the sections forward of, and aft of, the center thwart. You have more beam there and more ability to slide sideways a little bit when needed for ballast. It also keeps the weight away from the ends. Like any sailing canoe though, you will have to work with (or around) whatever structure the hull and sailing rig installation yields, so there is a pretty big fudge factor if needed.

If two people get used to sailing a canoe together, there may be some really interesting boat-control possibilities down the line if you learn to work together smoothly. Both fore-and-aft trim and heel angle are major factors affecting where the hull wants to go and how badly it wants to go there. Two people making coordinated efforts to specifically affect these factors at the right time could have a major effect on the canoe's ability to maneuver, tack, jibe, etc. - - up to, and possibly even including, "Throw away the rudder because we really don't need it any more".
Thanks for the feedback. I just finished your book -- great read! I'm thinking of trying out a spritsail and paddle steering when the boat's back from a recanvas later this spring. I want a simple rig for dealing with the frequent afternoon winds that blow out here in NW Oregon, as it may increase my range and options for day paddles. Does that sound workable, or should I just go whole-hog and build out a real sailing rig?

I have room for one boat only (and not even that really -- it's going to hang in my living room), so my pipe dream is to have one that can do it all -- paddle, sail, row, tour, partnered and solo.
Well, a mast with its sail and spars, a leeboard system of some type and something to steer with make up the list of "must haves" to get started if you really want to sail in various directions, rather than just downwind. Anything more would be for improving performance or making life easier. Anything less tends to greatly limit your sailing possibilities. There is certainly nothing wrong with a simple downwind rig, used to take advantage of any wind that might be blowing your direction, but it's hard to really call that sailing. To really get a feel for sailing a canoe, you're going to need to cover the basic components. That's when you begin to realize that you can move the boat in multiple directions, and sometimes at a pretty respectable speed, by just sitting there holding a rope. And so it begins.
About the dog

I used to take my dog sailing in the canoe. Fritz loved to hang over the rails and drink, That's where we ended up, in the drink. A miss-timed dog on the wrong rail is as bad (so I learned) as a poorly timed paddle dip into the low side of a hay stack. It's a wet entry when it all goes wrong. Hauling my Wolf Pond a 1/2 mile to shore was not fun. Unless the dog is tiny (Cairns, Dachshunds, Dorkies are OK) they stay on shore.
This is a 22' boat. You can see why I'm not taking this horse sailing in my 16' Guide.....


  • cl-102.jpg
    118.5 KB · Views: 692
When I said simple rig, I meant sail, leeboards and steering, of which I left out the leeboards. So I suppose I meant: would the simple spritsail, paddle steering and homemade leeboards be enough to really get a taste of sailing on all points, or is it only really worth doing by upping the complexity and expense to install a rudder, a more complex sail, etc...

I'd love to have the option on a day paddle to sit back and let the wind do much of the work while only having to wrangle a minimum of equipment which can be stowed on the boat when no longer needed or wanted. But if the trouble outweighs the performance, then maybe it's not worth pursuing. I suppose the question is -- is it possible to have a rig that allows satisfying paddling and sailing in equal measure when desired and doesn't get in the way?

The dog is 40 pounds and negotiable, of course, though she does love the water more than anything except a (full) food bowl, so a swim wouldn't bother her very much.
A sprit rig with all the needed parts will sail on all points, though the farther downwind you head, the more you begin to miss having a boom to hold the bottom of the sail out to the side. This is sometimes fixed by either adding a boom or sprit-boom, or simply having some sort of pole to use when needed for poling-out the clew corner. The sprits themselves very often tend to end up being nearly as long as the mast is, so these rigs aren't always quite as compact as they might seem. For a more compact, all-points rig, I might favor a lug (either standing or balanced). For canoe-sized lugs, you still need a mast and both a yard and a boom, but the yard and boom are typically pretty short and fairly light (6'-7' or so, and about like a big closet pole with tapered ends). They stay attached to the sail and the whole sail/yard/boom assembly rolls up into a bundle no longer than the boom itself.

The mixed, sailing/paddling outing is pretty much a matter of what you're willing to put up with. Spars are not the easiest thing to pack into a canoe and leeboard brackets tend to be heavy and bulky. I'd love to tell you that the idea of canoes and small boats with sailing rigs that stow aboard when you're paddling or rowing and then easily deploy when you decide to sail work just as well as advertised, but then there is reality, which I find to be somewhat different.

I had a big-time marketing consultant who came into our outdoor store once and tried to convince us that a great item for boosting summer sales would be a package containing a rubber raft and a folding bicycle. He was convinced that customers would really like the idea of riding the bike to the river (30 miles away over 100 degree, tar covered Illinois backroads, through the cornfields) with the raft folded up on the back. Then they would blow up the raft, fold the bike and toss it in (there is nothing I'd rather have with me in a rubber raft than a folded-up bicycle) and head on down the river. Needless to say, we were not convinced.

I must admit that even though I'm in the canoe sail business, I have just about as much desire to have a complete sailing rig stowed aboard a canoe that I'm paddling as I did to have a bike in a rubber raft. I'd rather do my sailing in more of a daysailing manner and leave the rig at home if I'm going paddling. A simple, downwind sail (no boards or rudder) might be fine, but personally, that's where I draw the line for trips. Your mileage may vary.
Good advice Todd, thanks. I'm always trying to have it both ways when I'm trying new interests, so the perspective is most appreciated. It will be a little while until I'm ready to sail, and paddling is pleasant enough, so I'll get a better feel for space and my own paddling preferences before laying out the cost of a rig. Maybe I'll try a simple downwind kite or something like that for a start. I've seen some fearsome footage of guys flying big traction kites from small craft; somehow, I don't think that would mix too well with an antique canoe despite small packed size and ability to point upwind. The girl has seen the footage too and flatly refuses to try it. Smart girl.

I also have dreams of messing about with outriggers, but again, far in the future. The drawings in your book of the wood/canvas trimaran somehow fit the aesthetic for me but I question how practical it would be in the real world. I find proas and other Polynesian craft to be fascinating -- lightweight, efficient and seaworthy.

Maybe I'll find the magic formula and get three craft in one: classic paddling canoe, classic light air sailing canoe, hybrid outrigger big-water tripper...

Although I grew up paddling canoes with my dad and uncle, my recent messing-about-in-boats experience has been heretofore limited to rental plastic canoes and inflatable POS Sevylor "kayaks", so my dreams are big and there's nowhere to go but up.

Thanks for the pointers. Like Wascostreet, I'm one of those who is relatively unexperienced, but wanting to try to maximize the one hull I have. When I'm done I want to be able to sail, paddle, motor, and row her. I like the idea of it being a courting canoe paddle one day, a rip roaring sail the next, a rowing workout, or fishing with the dog on another.

Your book has provided excellent information on most everything innvolved . . . and now I know I need to train the wife and leave the dog ashore. Thanks!
Well, call me foolhardy but I've had my ex wife and two kids out in my 16' sailing canoe on a day the resorvoir was blowing whitecaps.
Realy officer, I was only able to save myself and the kids!:eek:

I've also had a weeks worth of camping gear and my two kids while sailing in front of July afternoon thunderstorm in the Adirondacks, we took in some water over the leeward bow but the boat handled beautifuly!
Michael -

That brings up a good point -- just how wet does the bow area get when sailing under normal conditions in a well-trimmed boat? Can someone near the bow seat expect to get splashed over the gunwales when moving at a good clip?
getting wet

I've been sailing small craft since I was a kid and one thing you learn to expect is that you are probably going to get wet, especially if there is enough wind to really have fun and get the boat moving.

And I, like most avid sailors I've met it's the challenge of sailing on the brink of control and disaster that makes it fun.

So I tend to go sailing more in the warmer months when the water is warm.

To answer your question it is really a matter of the conditions you are sailing in not so much the trim or number of passengers, you could sail all day in a light breeze and not get a drop of water in the boat.