The Online Magazine For Amateur Boat Builders














Entry #1


drawings - stats - boat - budget - explanation - bio



16.75' LOA
15.75' Length w/o rudder
15.5' LWL
3' Beam
2.5' Beam on waterline
5' Beam on roof rack
8' Beam rafted
11' Beam catamaran
19" Height
14" Freeborad
3.5" Draft
79 lb Weight bare hull
415 lb Displacement
3.5' Hoop tent headroom
6' Oars
12' Mast
72 sq ft Sprit sail

NOTE: lengths on some drawings have been shortened in the bow and stern to accommodate width of drawing paper and computer screen.


The proposal is for a pair of plywood sailing canoes which can be rafted together or configured as a catamaran using X-shaped plywood cross beams. The canoes are decked over with lockable hatch covers. Hoop tents cover the hatches for sleeping . Small storm hatches keep the interior dry in bad weather. Propulsion is sails and oars.

It is assumed the canoes will just be used for the trip and can be discarded after, so they will be built strong but not long-lasting. Construction is ¼” meranti and ½” fir exterior plywood fastened with red cedar chine battens, zinc-plated wood screws, and PL Premium construction adhesive over spruce 2x4 and 1x3 framing. Plywood seams and edges are double-sealed with polyester resin but not taped. X-beams and oars are glued with epoxy. Hull finished on the outside with semi-gloss latex house paint. Paint or linseed oil on the inside.

Each canoe weighs less than 100 pounds. It can be hauled ashore and over obstructions by one person while skids protect the bottom. It can be carried by two people. A roof rack allows the canoes to be transported on top of a car. I’ve also drawn a dolly made from the front forks and wheels from two discarded bicycles attached to plywood boxes slipped over the X-beams. The dolly is optional.

The sprit sails are made out of durable cotton canvas sold inexpensively as painter’s drop cloths. At 72 sq ft there is plenty of power for the wetted surface and displacement of these narrow hulls with length/beam ratio of 6. The canoes will be lively and fun to sail. Reef points would allow the sails to be shortened . Storm sails would be made out of cutoffs. Small narrow hulls are best sailed sitting on the bottom of the boat easing the sheet in a gust, as described by T F Jones and experienced on my own narrow sailboats. A person can sail all day and not become tired. A comfortable cushion and backrest are essential. I’d glue a rowing/sailing/paddling cushion up out of layers of rigid foam. Decks at standard chair height make for comfortable sitting out. There is a small hatch in the rear deck for stowing the mast inside the hull. I’ve included a drawing of a ketch rig for less able sailors, replacing the tiller with a yoke to accommodate the mizzen mast. The ketch rig masts can be stowed through the cockpit.

The canoes can be sailed as a catamaran. I’ve drawn a spinnaker sail hoisted on an A-frame made of the two masts which would be ideal for running downwind. The catamaran configuration is a change from heads up canoe sailing.

The canoes can raft up. It’s not fast because there is no room for water to pass between. Rafting would be good for meal breaks etc., taking advantage of river current.

Oars provide auxiliary power. They fit between the hulls of the catamaran. Oars must be strong, with blades of wood, not plywood, and tips covered in sheet metal or glass fibre soaked in resin., as the oars will be used for paddling, poling, and pushing off.

Hoop tents provide enough headroom to sit up, and like a dog house, to get up on all fours and turn around, which is plenty based on experience with my home made tent. The back of a tent is sprung open as an awning allowing the rear deck to be used for covered cooking and eating. Toe rails should be installed on the rear deck to keep things from sliding or rolling overboard. On the raft the tent material can be tied across both canoes making a combined hoop tent. I’d make the tents out of polypropylene builder’s paper (Tyvek, plain side out for appearances) and ½ inch PVC electrical conduit.

T F Jones pioneered the use of X-beams for boom spars on sailboats. Removable X–beams link the two canoes. The boxes which receive the X-breams must be parallel and the same distance apart on each canoe. The X-beams are made of two lengths of ½ inch plywood with a slot sawn half way up each. The two pieces have their outer edges rounded and sealed with resin, and are glued together with epoxy. The ends are tapered to ease inserting the beams in the boxes. Small blocks are glued in, between which to drop a pin to keep the canoes at the desired distance apart. The routine I imagine for inserting the beams while afloat is:

  1. each person inserts one end of a beam in a box, one person forward and one aft, and pins it in place.
  2. each person tosses the other person a line to use the pull the canoes together.
  3. each person goes to the other end of the canoe and pulls on the line to draw the canoe in.
  4. each person inserts the free end of the beam in the box, heeling the boat as needed to adjust the height, and pins the beam in position.

There are shelves or brackets under one side deck on which to stow the X-beams, oars, and tent poles out of the way off the bottom of the boat.

There is floatation in the cargo. More floatation is provided by empty plastic containers and by foam glued to the underside of the deck.

Storm hatches have been drawn on the diagrams. They are equipped with home made spray skirts. The purpose is to keep water out of the boat when it’s necessary to travel in the rain. All hatch covers are cut out of the hatch opening and enlarged with plywood edges to fit over the coaming and each other. The storm hatch would have its curved coaming glued up from sawn scraps of plywood.

The daggerboards are on opposite sides of each canoe. It’s not essential but will provide for more balanced catamaran sailing.



Maximum days between checkpoints
0 Ft. Benton, Montana
15 Williston, North Dakota
9 Pierre, South Dakota
6 Sioux City, Nebraska
11 Kansas City, Kansas
13 St. Louis, Missouri
15 Memphis, Tennessee
10 Vicksburg, Mississippi
11 New Orleans, Louisiana
90 Total


Fixed Costs
$460 2 canoes, oars, tents, sprit sails
$200 used spinnker sail
$350 2 walkie-talkies, 2 used GPS receivers, charts and maps
$500 celebration in New Orleans
n/a travel to and from river
n/a medical insurance for 3 months in USA
$1510 fixed costs

Variable costs
$ 90 accomodation ($1/day)
$ 135 transportation ($1.50/day)
$ 495 groceries and cooking fuel ($5.50/day)
$ 120 eating out ($10/week)
$ 68 entertainment ($0.75/day)
$2582 reserve
$3490 variable costs
$5000 Total



The first 15 days crossing Montana is Stephen Ladd's time. After Montana Ladd reported clear sailing. After Montana an average speed of 9 mph is assumed, 4.5 mph current plus 4.5 mph rowing or sailing. Distance was stepped off on two sets of maps and compared to partial actual distances on Internet webpages. The canoes must cover 38 miles per day to complete the cruise in 90 days. It only takes 4.25 hours a day to go 38 miles at 9 mph. The trip is easily done in 90 days. Eight checkpoints were chosen and the 90 days divided up based on distance. This is the maximum time it can take between checkpoints and stay on schedule. If the cruise is running over time the canoes can be loaded onto the roof of a rental car and moved downstream.


The strategy is to spend as little as possible and maintain a large reserve for emergencies and opportunities.

I went on solo car camping trips in the USA lasting up to a month, keeping careful account of all money spent, and never averaged more than $23 a day. There will be no gasoline or campsite fees on the river trip. Two people can do it on $10 a day operating costs. After negotiations with the significant other there is money budgeted for eating fast food occasionally, and $500 for a celebration in New Orleans at her complete discretion. To keep the contest fair to everyone I've assumed the cost of travel to and from the river can be ignored, as well as the cost of medical insurance for people coming from outside the United States.

I've allocated up front costs for a couple of walkie-talkies and used GPS receivers so the two canoes can always be in touch, can locate each other regardless of visibility, and will stay together.

Fur traders carried high calorie pemmican for energy on long river trips. I eat my own trail food formulated on a nutrition spreadsheet. It is a complete diet at minimum cost and weight. I would cache trail food along the way, mailing packages to myself ahead of time or arranging for someone to ship by overnight express when I telephone from places along the way. It would constitute half of the food intake.

The only significant transportation cost is renting a car as Stephen Ladd did to stay on schedule. I would not expect to get behind with the sailing canoes but emergencies and irresistible opportunities might occur. Like him, I would call around to find a car waiting to be returned . There is plenty of reserve money in the budget. Unlike Ladd, I would have a roof rack tucked away in the stern of one of the canoes to avoid damaging the roof of a rental car.


William R. Watt
Ottawa, Canada

When I put my last contest entry in the mail I swore there would never be another one. This is it.

River information comes from Stephen Ladd's "Three Years in a 12-Foot Boat". I've addressed the problems by drawing on accounts of canoeing big Canadian rivers and from sailing small canoes I've designed. Ladd befriended a couple who were paddling a canoe and made it safely, but slowly, to New Orleans. Canoes are rafted up on large Canadian rivers. There are photos in Bill Mason's books. My preference is sailing and rowing as Ladd did although his boat drew nine inches and was underpowered. The closing scene in Bill Mason's film "Song of the Paddle" shows his family of four in two canoes lashed together with green poles flying a spinnaker from a pole A-frame mast, and they are just flying.