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by Dave Gentry - Harrisonburg, Virginia - USA

I'm here at the WoodenBoat School, in Maine, teaching a few classes, and recently got a chance to try out a classic sailing canoe design I've been itching to sail for decades.

"Piccolo" - she's a traditional lapstrake sailing canoe (held together with nearly a thousand tiny copper nails, all clenched over), yawl rigged with standing lug sails, and is about 13' or so. She is pointed out and offered to each and every potential sailor at the WoodenBoat School, but has only ever been sailed a handful of times. Perhaps just twice in the last three years - including today...

I took her out for a couple of hours, in 6-10kts of wind, off Eggemoggin Reach, here in Maine. Pretty much perfect conditions, though of course the water temps are deadly if you end up in the drink for very long!

You can see a few drawings and pics of her on WoodenBoat's various sites, and in the book "Ten Wooden Boats You Can Build".

Impressions: She goes well, tacks poorly, jibes with little fuss, points fine but makes a lot of leeway if you pinch. She has only a long shallow keel running the length of the bottom, rather than a leeboard or somesuch. I did not miss messing with a leeboard or having a trunk in my way, though it was certainly slower getting somewhere upwind than the canoe I regularly sail, which has a nicely shaped board. A few quick sculls with the rudder and backwinding the main were required to tack her, every time.

Like most any boat, she's fastest on a beam reach or a bit lower, and I got her going pretty fast a few times. No matter the point of sail, she voices a hypnotic swish and gurgle as she goes through the water.

The mizzen was was fire and forget. I trimmed her a little loose at the dock, got in, and never messed with it again. I suppose I could have gained a bit more speed, or used it for balance, etc, but there was zero need to do that, and there was no way my bum shoulder was going to let me hunt around behind me for the sheet and cleat. A bit of re-rigging would have made actively trimming that sail something that I could do.

As for tacking, I'm quite ready to use a mizzen when it's a viable option. It wasn't really, for me, the way this particular boat is rigged. In any case, the issue was getting her head to wind - a necessarily gradual process with her 12' long keel - without the mizzen's active assistance. The likely answer, looking at the pics, would be for me to have scooched forward - all that immersed area aft was working against pointing up that high. I'd be interested in test sailing one rigged a little more conveniently, and playing with the mizzen and the CLR.

All in all, I was very at ease sailing this boat, and would have had no qualms about taking her out in even windier conditions. I also got a chance to try her out in some more extreme conditions when a rather large lobster boat, going nearly full out, passed by me at a distance of about 60'. Passed me . . . but only because, with about 15 seconds to go, I altered course radically to avoid an impending collision. Fun! I got some waves from the oblivious tourists in the back, then I got some much more meaningful waves from the back of the boat. I suspect the entire front half of my canoe was launched up and out of the water - but we recovered with no consequence . . . except for a little less regard for the legendary skills of the Maine waterman. {I assume he was talking to a pretty tourist girl, and just didn't see me.}

My old BolgerĀ Eeek!

Moving on, I first read of Piccolo over 20 years ago in an essay by Phil Bolger. In it he remarked about Piccolo's remarkably delicate intricacy of construction (and he was not wrong about that!). Bolger went on to present his alternative, a simple plywood sailing canoe that could be built in a week or so. It was a test bed, but also sort of an antithesis of Piccolo's paradigm. He called his design "Eeek!" - in contrast to the noise a piccolo makes. Twenty years ago I built an Eeek! and sailed it as much as I could . . . and she could do everything Piccolo can. Bolger got that part right, for sure.

But maybe all the time, money, effort and dedication Piccolo demands is worth it in the end. I highly recommend taking her for a sail if you get up here, or at least checking out the design.

More pictures as well.

Dave Gentry

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