I wrote an article
for Duckworks Magazine a while back outlining a multipurpose
sailing and paddling boat that I thought would work
for me. The objective was to build a 21’ outrigger
canoe as a paddle craft with a single outrigger. Part
two of the article was to make a sailing trimaran
with a second set of crossbeams with a second float.
The final part of the plan I never completed was
to make a catamaran for cruising with friends. I bought
plans from Gary Dierking for his 18’ Ulua. This
boat also has the ability to scale up nicely all the
way to 27’ long if desired. He also included
plans for a trimaran style of crossbeam. This is where
I got off track.
I regularly use my father-in-law’s Hobie Wave.
It is just over 13’ long and sports 98 square
feet of sail. I thought my new outrigger should have
more than that. I had a sail maker draw up and cut
a 128 square foot sail. The foot of the sail is 11’
in length (bottom of the sail) to clear the long cockpit.
It is a leg o’ mutton style with generous roach
and a big reef point. It is also tanbark in color
This is NOT the sail that Gary Dierking specified.
Can you see trouble over the horizon? Designers, believe
it or not, actually have some reasons why they specify
what they draw. I knew that. I also thought I knew
better. For example, Holopuni
is a production Hawaiian sailing canoe. Holopuni models
use a 100 square feet of sail. The same sail area
is used by the Hawaiian Sailing Canoe Association
on their racing canoes.
I scaled up the amas to an 8” diameter at their
largest point and made them longer at 16’. Hopefully,
they would stand up to my bigger sail without turning
into submarines. I got the crossbeam dimensions from
DGS Watersports, who build racing canoes. Cool stuff
and helpful guys.
I didn’t ask DGS about the float volume—big
mistake. Another mistake was the mast I made ended
up way too heavy. One error was picking up an aluminum
tube that was double the wall thickness of what it
was supposed to be. The one I got was 12’x .250”
instead of either .156” or .188” max wall
thickness. I also used bird’s mouth construction
for the upper section using ¾” thick
Douglas Fir. I did taper the staves on the table saw,
which is a potentially dangerous and scary operation
since the staves were 14’ long. Long story short—the
mast is too heavy for easy stepping. The mast must
be 40-50 lbs.
When all that weight was piled onto the canoe with
an 18” overall beam and an 18’ waterline,
my freeboard quickly disappeared. Two 200+ pound guys
aboard didn’t help either. Both floats weren’t
planted in the water, but it was close.
I found that the freestanding mast was plenty capable
of supporting the 128 square feet of sail, but the
hull wasn’t designed for that much torque and
twisted a bunch in gusts. Stepping the heavier mast
was a back breaker too. The lake where I usually sail
has a rocky shoreline. I need to step the mast while
afloat or standing on the dock with the bow jammed
under it. Not a good time to have passing powerboats
creating wakes! After nearly killing both myself and
the boat, stepping that mast, I found I was looking
into carbon fiber masts.
Additionally, the larger floats weren’t large
enough. They tended to bury once the boat was just
starting to get going the speeds multihulls are capable
of running. This is especially true on the wind when
flipping forces are highest. Running was much better.
Keeping a course paddle steering Hawaiian style was
a huge challenge with my inexperience and regular
canoe paddle. Experienced Hawaiian steersman use huge,
oversized, and massively strong paddles. Now I know
why. The S shaped wake we would leave behind from
the occasional, accidental jibe was pretty funny looking.
On top of that, I couldn’t hike out to counter
the burying of the floats since I was paddle steering
and confined to the aft seat “poking”
the steering paddle.
It all added up to a boat that looked quite beautiful
and functional, but did not perform as hoped. Designers,
experienced sailors, and folks with a bit of common
sense shake their heads and mutter. I realized changes
must be made. The canoe’s low freeboard was
first on the list of things to fix. It tended to swamp
when slicing through boat wakes with the typical load
aboard. Bailing and paddle steering aren’t a
I contacted Gary Dierking about possible solutions.
My idiotic changes to a beautiful and functional design
didn’t make him too happy. He did suggest some
solutions that would work. Adding the raised cockpit
would work to eliminate the swamping tendency. Larger
floats would eliminate the submarine impersonations
by my first floats. I remembered how hard it was to
get fair floats with the surfboard construction style.
This made me seriously think about sailing reefed
all the time and call it good.
About this time, Gary was writing a book about building
canoes. He asked for some pictures of the Ulua canoe
I had built. I was happy to agree to it. He sent some
pictures of other canoes that had been built to the
design. I completely changed my thinking once I saw
those images. I was not going to butcher the beautiful
lines of Gary’s Ulua design by adding a box
on top! Instead, I was going to go back to the design
as intended. Designers, experienced sailors, and folks
with a bit of common sense nod their heads and sigh
Instead of building an addition (more weight) to
the canoe, I would build light crossbeams and use
just one float that I had already. This is how the
Hawaiians intended it anyhow. I might even have a
sail built to Gary’s design and use a carbon
windsurfer mast to keep things light. Basically I’m
going to convert the boat back to the original Ulua
stretched to 21’. That modification actually
carried the designer’s go ahead.
So, this question loomed large… What should
I do with all those carefully crafted parts and pieces
from the trimaran attempt? The answer to that question
will have to come in part three of the story.
Dan St. Gean