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A jolly big canoe

Few of mankind’s invented contrivances can match the ship or boat for diversity of design, of size, of appearance. In contrast to the monstrous seven-masted schooner Thos. W. Lawson, here’s a handy little vessel in which the Lawson’s weary skipper might just wish to escape.

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It’s a canoe-yawl, one of the numerous small paddle craft designed and built in the late 1800s for young sportsmen and older sailors with a sense of adventure. Built using plank-on-frame construction, they were generally between 13 and 18 feet, might carry 150 to 180 square feet of sail (including jib), and had a slight, full-length keel with a modicum of lead ballast — 20 pounds or less.

The rig shown is a balance lug, where neither the gaff nor the boom are connected to the mast by jaws. Rather, they are attached and held more loosely by lines. The mizzen carries a batwing sail. The skipper is wearing his watch cap, and, by the look of the waves, there’s a breeze piping up.

These were no dayboats. The long, narrow cockpit ringed by a low coaming was roomy enough, and there was under-deck storage for cruising gear — clothing, food, a portable stove. Equipped with a canvas canoe tent, owners would take off for weeks at a time in these little boats, camping as they went.

“The service to which the canoe yawl can be put is almost without limit,” said one veteran canoeist. Another described his vessel as a “jolly big canoe, one that will take two people, and sail and row with a pair of sculls, and look after herself a bit. And in her, two vacations were pleasantly passed.”

The drawing here is from a book in my collection, “Small Yachts, Their Design and Construction,” published in 1885 by Field and Stream Publishing in New York.

This article originally appeared in the April 2009 issue.