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by Bruce Kissinger - Watertown, Wisconsin - USA

Starting in the 1880s, the use of a decked sailing canoe for camp cruising became popular. In 1894, C. Bowyer Vaux said "There is not a prettier thing in the world than a canoe under sail. It is a little butterfly on the water". The great designer Uffa Fox stated:

"These canoes... There is nothing I know to equal it. There is the feeling of speed, and the clean rush of air, as the water rushes swiftly underneath you. There is also the joy of gliding low and swiftly over the water, the only sounds being the swish of your canoe through the water and the singing of the wind through your mast, rigging and sails."

Inspired by this history, I was delighted to see that Jim Michalak recently developed plans for a sailing canoe that used modern stitch-and-glue techniques.

Last fall I purchased plans from Duckworks and finished the boat this summer.

I have sailed it a number of times on local lakes but really wanted to take it on a camping trip.

Some Duckworks articles make me jealous because of their exotic locations and superb sailing conditions, but I've been reflecting on Tom Pamperin's columns about backyard circumnavigation and started looking for places closer to home. Recently, I did a short weekend trip on a seldom visited area named the Willow Flowage. The Willow Flowage is located in the north woods of Wisconsin and consists of 4,200 acres (1,700 hectares) of sandy lake shore dotted with many bays and islands. There are 30 rustic campsites accessible by water and perfect for a weekend trip or longer.

The sailing canoe is an ideal boat for these types of waters, because of its shallow draft (3 inches / 7 centimeters), large storage capacity, and ability for self-propulsion in case the wind dies or you need to navigate small creek or rivers. On my boat, I use a Greenland-style double bladed kayak paddle that attaches to small blocks on the deck. These blocks store the paddle securely when not in use - yet keeps it close to hand if needed. A Greenland-style paddle can easily and inexpensively be constructed and I found that a very long paddle (10 feet / 3 meters) is useful to reach the water while keeping the paddle low for efficient paddling.

The Michalak sailing canoe is 15.5 feet (4.7 meters) long and 36 inches (0.9 meters) wide. It carries two sails with a total area of 52 square feet (5 square meters) and weighs around 120 pounds (54 kg). It can carry two adults or one adult with lots of gear. In addition, the floor is flat and can easily accommodate a sleeping bag if on-shore camping cannot be found.

In the front of the boat there is about 4 feet (1.2 meters) of storage with about the same amount in the rear of the boat. I'm an experienced backpacker and having this much storage seems a tremendous luxury. On my boat, I built a round hatch for the front and thought this would be very convenient when in the boat. However, the front mast position blocks access somewhat and I may install another hatch on the top of the front deck. One of the rear hatches is easy to access when inside the boat, but the rear-most hatch can be difficult to reach and is best suited for opening from outside the boat.

In theory, in big waves water can sweep over the rear of the boat and spray can enter the rear hatches. Since I don't own any dry bags, I put things that I wanted to keep dry - like my clothes, sleeping bag, and dry food - in the front. Bulkier items were put in the rear. The boat can easily support the gear needed for a multi-week trip with one adult and I hope to take longer trips in the future.

I chose to cut out the top deck with a fair amount of protection from waves and spray when under sail and the boat stays fairly dry. The side-mounted leeboard that is used on many Michalak designs is simple and effective. The boat also has a small skeg in the rear and the combination of leeboard and skeg seem to help the boat track straight. Surprisingly, you can stand in the boat if needed and it is much less tippy than a typical canoe or kayak. On this trip, my Irish-Setter puppy accompanied me and seemed to enjoy looking out to check our progress or sleeping near the front mast protected from the wind and waves.

There are several traditional methods used to control the rudder in a sailing canoe including a continuous rope system with pulleys or pedals. I used a bamboo pole attached to the rudder yoke that acts as a Norwegian push-pull tiller. The system is responsive, can be operated from any position in the boat, and yet does not get in the way if I need to paddle the boat. While I have not taken the boat on any major rivers yet, I suspect that the rudder would be very useful in these kinds of conditions.

On my weekend trip, I got a late start getting to the launch site but was able to quickly find a large campsite in a small bay nestled in a stand of tall red pines. Because of the shallow draft, I could land directly on the beach and unload the boat.

The autumn leaves were just starting to change and the day warm with a hint of cooler weather to come. I quickly setup camp and started a small fire for cooking dinner. The Willow Flowage has a few fisherman and duck hunters in the fall, but soon the sun sank and solitude reigned. The Flowage contains a number of hiking trails and the next day my dog flushed a wild turkey while walking through the woods. I packed up and then sailed up the main lake channel for a few hours. Going home, as I neared the boat launch, a large bald eagle glided overhead. A perfect way to end a weekend adventure.

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