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Our Self-Rigged Sailing Canoe

The 17-foot Old Town sailing canoe that we learned to sail in the 1970s was perfect for camping on the shores of the distant Bahamas. It was small enough for the two of us to lift in and out of the water, but still big enough to carry our camping gear, food, water, clothes and a typewriter. Granted, it did not have enough room to carry us as well. But that is another story.

The 17-foot Old Town sailing canoe that we learned to sail in the 1970s was perfect for camping on the shores of the distant Bahamas. It was small enough for the two of us to lift in and out of the water, but still big enough to carry our camping gear, food, water, clothes and a typewriter. Granted, it did not have enough room to carry us as well. But that is another story.

Since those early days, we’ve graduated to a 19-foot square stern Grumman canoe, which we use for beach-cruising and coastal camping in both Florida and Cape Cod. The 119-pound Grumman has the heaviest carrying capacity (1,100 pounds) of any boat my husband, Michael, and I can lift on and off our car and carry to the water’s edge. It also has a tough frame and skin, which is essential for skidding over sharp rocks and oyster bars. Although our boat has been in service since 1954, when it ran freight on the Mississippi River with a 20hp engine and a planing plate, it still has no dents, gouges or leaks.

We rigged the boat ourselves with a sliding gunter rig described by Todd Bradshaw in his book Canoe Rig. Besides making leeboards, thwarts, a mast step and rudder, we also modified a set of Sunfish spars to hold the 73ft2 reef-able sail. Yes, we could carry more sail, but we like to see under the boom, and 6 knots is fast enough.

For camping trips we crafted a snap-on cover that has skirted openings at the fore and aft seats, so we can still steer while protecting our gear from rain, sun and spray.

Our canoe holds two week’s worth of gear for cruising Florida in winter and Cape Cod in summer. From Buzzards Bay we regularly car-top the boat to various locations along Cape Cod. We sail from Wellfleet, along the marshes and beaches to the Long Point Lighthouse at Provincetown. Waquoit Bay, with Washburn Island, is a marsh and beach-picnic cruising favorite. For shorter trips we sail across the Cape Cod Canal to Marion or through the bay to Woods Hole.

Though our Florida home is inland, we’ve taken our canoe for sails, paddles and occasional week-long cruises along both coasts. We’ve canoe-camped along the Big Bend canoe trail on the Panhandle, car-topped to St. Augustine to sail inside the barrier islands and cruised out of Flamingo for a week in the Everglades. This winter we launched off the southwest coast for some days of sailing Pine Island Sound while tent camping on Cayo Costa Island. At all of these sites we have sheltered waters into which we can launch and retreat, and best of all, miles of beach and shore to ourselves.

all photos by Ida Little

Ida Little and Michael Walsh are the authors of Beachcruising and Coastal Camping which they update regularly at beachcruisingandcoastalcamping.com

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