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by Ken Preston, Bainbridge Island, Washington – USA

I was minding my own business, riding back into Hue from the Beach at Thuan An when off to my right, in the channel that parallels the road for quite a ways, I spotted a 16-foot bamboo basketry sailing canoe going at a rate of knots before the gusty tailwind I'd been riding. I've known since 2010 that there are a few small sailing surf basket boats working off the beach south of Thuan An, but I've never seen a sail anywhere on the inland sea behind the island and I have definitely never seen a sail in the river system around Hue. . .and I've never imagined anyone sailing one of the little one-man paddle canoes.

Sixteen foot sailing canoe near Hue

Fast as he was going, my motorbike had no trouble running ahead to set up an ambush. First, I found a gap in the trees that would give me a fair shot of him-but just a quick one. So I stopped and set up there, and a few seconds later he popped out from behind the trees. That was good for three frames and he was off ahead. Again, no problem, the bike out ran him easily and next we came to a low bridge he'd have to get under! I bailed off and left the horse on the street and took up a position mid-stream to watch him come on. As soon as he got within telephoto range I began shooting and then, just as the rig was about to completely fill the frame, he reached forward, scooped up the boom and mast and lowered the whole rig! I had wondered about that bridge. Apparently he knew for sure: not enough clearance even for his little rig. But, he had it down and draped over side in just a few seconds, picked up a pair of the local hand paddles (one for each hand, like cut-off canoe paddles, very handy for fishing) and slipped under the bridge in a heartbeat.

I turned around, apologized to a lady on a motorbike who wanted to get by me where I stood like the troll on the bridge. She just smiled and squeezed by and I noticed as she did that she was hauling a new chest style freezer (still in carton) on the back of her bike. . .but it was a narrow bridge anyway. Which is just as well, I was ready and got good shots of the rig going back up.


I lost him after that, the road and the creek parted ways, but it was enough of a meeting to provide a lot of information.

First, the boat: tar covered bamboo basketry, about 16 feet x 30 inches, more or less, shallow, double ended, with a lot of rocker and a bouncy sheer line. There are hundreds of them and they're used all over the inland sea behind the barrier island, and less often up the river to Hue. They are most often paddled these days by a single man either with a kayak paddle (Cross-cultural influence no doubt!) or a pair of the hand paddles that this gentleman used. They fish in fairly big water behind the island, with no swell, but sometimes quite a wicked wind chop, and seem to handle about like a somewhat chubby Greenland style sea kayak, though they're completely open and have no auxiliary flotation.

The rig was identical to but smaller and lighter than the ones I’ve seen out on the island’s surf boats (though there are only a few of them rigged to sail). It’s a standing lug sail of about 30 square feet, with a very short luff and some interesting rigging characteristics:

  • They don’t bother with a halyard, rather the yard is secured to the mast with a loop over a small dogbone toggle right at the mast head.
  • There is a snotter (for want of a better term): a short line made off permanently from the forward end of the yard down to the mast. It keeps the yard peaked up without putting strain on the luff of the sail, which is soft—no heavy reinforcing.
  • The leech is much longer than the luff, three times at least.
  • The boom is simply lashed to the mast, no fancy fittings at all.
  • There are two sheets: one from the tip of the yard, leading down to the aft stem head. In sea boats I have examined, it leads to the skipper’s hand, but it isn’t clear in this photo sequence that he has a hand on it, it may just be made off to the stem and only adjusted later if need be. The main sheet from the boom tip runs to the sailor’s hand.
  • The sailor sits about amidships and props a long kayak paddle over the side to be both lateral resistance and rudder. Handling the paddle along with the whole rig and the two little hand paddles when he shot the bridge was clearly quite a juggling act.
  • I can’t prove it, but it appeared to me that the mast was simply stepped into the bottom of the boat and a notch in the back of a thwart. His right foot blocks the view and I’m pretty sure that is because he was holding the mast in the step with that foot! Certainly he got it down without any problem when he got to the bridge.
The wind was running 15 and gusting higher. He was sailing her with the gunnel at the water, letting her head up a little and leaning outboard a bit in the puffs, but mostly just letting her get along. It was a casually excellent performance by a skilled sailor, and from the amount of other stuff on board, I have to believe he was working the boat, not doing it for fun (though it must have been a real pleasure).

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