Part 1

By William Watt, Ottawa - Canada


Part 2

This is about an old fibreglass canoe. I bought it in May for $25 at a street sale in our neighbourhood. Over June and July I restored it, made accessories for transport, gave it extra floatation, and rigged it for sailing.
Getting it home
Cheap planter


First the canoe was restored. The cast aluminum breasthooks had pulled out of the manufacturer's weak glassing job. The steel bolts fastening the padded plywood seats and yoke had rusted through. The glass roving had not been completely filled, roving ends had not been trimmed, there were rough spots which could injure bare feet, and the roving had not been attached at the ends. I bought a half litre of polyester resin (about a pint) for $15, fixed the defects, added metal reinforcement before pop- riveting the bresthoooks back on, installed hardwood seats cut from an old bed frame, and replaced the yoke with a thwart made from a used red cedar 2x4. The ends of the thwart were carved to hook under the aluminum gunwales and were coated with polyester resin for hardness. Thinned linseed oil was used to waterproof the seats and thwart. Brass bolts were purchased and their heads aligned in proper fashion.

Out with the old
In with the recycled

I looked around to see what I had on hand to spruce up the oxidized exterior, and came up a detergent scrub, rinse, half-and-half linseed oil-and-varsol sealer, 500 grit auto polish to take down the oxidation, and carnauba auto paste wax for a hard top shine. Thankfully the gelcoat wasn't stained. The canoe had sat unused in the previous family's back yard for about ten years. It was clean and sun bleached. There was one fibreglass patch. It was nicely feathered but was loose along one edge where the gelcoat had not been roughed. The loose bit was cut off with a utility knife and a bead of household epoxy laid in with a toothpick. Some dings, deep scratches, and two collapsed surface bubbles were filled with epoxy and talcum powder. These were covered with bits of cellotape to smooth them until they cured. Epoxy was spread along the keel ends where they had been chewed up, filling, sealing, and providing resistance to further wear. For storage the canoe is overturned on a 55 gal plastic drum cut in half which gets it up off the ground and neither rots nor rusts. The canoe will be out there all winter with a 2x4 propped under the keel to keep the weight of snow and ice from changing it's shape.

Kept outside


I live about a mile from the Rideau River and canal in Ottawa so I cartop boats and carry them to the water. To lighten the load a roller was added to an old suction cup roof rack I found at a rummage sale a few years ago and restored thinking it might be useful some day. The roller is a piece of plastic pipe slipped over a wooden mop handle. Two hardwood blocks raise the mop handle off the rack. A bead of polyester resin along the top of the mop handle reduces friction and wear.

Rack - parts
Rack - assembled


A cart was made to take the canoe to the water. I got the wheels at a bicycle recycling co-op where I volunteer, off kid's bikes with solid tires. I don't want to be bothered inflating tires. Both are front wheels. Two by four lumber (1.5" x 3.5") spacers work for adult bike wheels but for the kid's wheels the spacers were trimmed to 3.25". The canoe was turned upside down and leveled to custom fit the cart, like trying to fit a table on a barrel. I made the cart no wider than the hull to get down the narrow space beside my house into the back yard. The contact points on the cart are cushioned by stapling or gluing on scraps of latex-backed vinyl flooring with contact cement. The wood is screwed and glued with PL Premium polyurethane mastic.

Cart - parts
Cart - assembled
Cart - canoe loaded
Tight squeeze into back yard

To load the canoe onto the cart I lift one end of the canoe, slip the cart under, and push the cart to the middle with my foot. To help load the canoe on the car a plywood pin was made to keep the stern of from sliding off the cart.

Cart - stern on
Cart - lift and load

Paddling Launch

I don't know why they bother putting seats in canoes. The way to paddle is kneeling amidships to one side. In perfectly calm conditions the gunwale can skim the surface, what Bill Mason's daughter calls canoe ballet. Note that my knees are cushioned on an old life preserver. Also note the light line around the thwart to which the knapsack is clipped.

In the water


I wanted to rig the canoe for sailing. I imagined sitting on the gunwale, and righting after capsizes. That called for extra stiffness and for floatation. I decided not to drill holes or to attach anything permanently so I can have the original canoe back anytime I want. For floatation 1.5" rigid insulation was cut into three strips and trimmed to fit under the thwart and front seat. I collect scraps of insulation from renovation projects in my neighbourhood. The pieces were spread with PL Premium and wedged in place to cure into a curved laminate. To stiffen the hull some red cedar 2x4 was cut up and wedged underneath the thwart to take the strain, spread the load of sitting out over the gunwale across the bottom of the canoe, and to hold the floatation in place. This is all held together by screwing two small blocks to the wood once everything is wedged in place. There is 28 pounds of floatation on each side but it's not enough to keep the gunwales above the surface for bailing after a capsize. I should add more.

Floatation & framing

Since I already had a couple of small sails, only three steps remained; first, to add a deck with seating, second, to add a forward bulkhead to take the sail, and third to add lateral resistance.


I've seen photos of old time sailing canoes with sliding seats extending out over the gunwales. I made a less elaborate overwide deck so I could sit on the gunwales. A pair of bolts under the thwart hold the deck in place in case of a capsize.

Deck - topside
Deck - underside
Deck - installed
Deck - dry land test


Supporting a mast without drilling holes or gluing anything to the hull was a challenge. I made a removable bulkhead with a vertical plywood box to take the mast. The bulkhead keeps the sideways force of the mast from distorting the shape of the hull. I've used cross bracing and bulkheads when rigging small plywood boats for sailing before. It works really well. This bulkhead can't move forward in the canoe because the hull narrows. To keep it from moving backwards a thwart goes over the gunwale outside the canoe. It can't move back because the hull widens. Making them fit at the same spot and bolting them together once they are in place keeps both from moving and fixes the bulkhead in place. The mast pushes forward on the top of the bulkhead but pushes back on the bottom of the bulkhead. That force is countered by a line from a hole in the bottom of the bulkhead to the hand hold in the breasthook at the bow. The line is actually an old dog chain with a clip, because chain won't stretch. I wanted to make something lighter out of bicycle brake cable but don't have the hardware. Maybe later.

Bulkhead - parts
Bulkhead - assembled

The bulkhead was positioned 4 feet in front of the leeboard, based on what I'd learned from sailing similar small narrow boats without rudders. To keep the rig light and simple my small sailboats don't have rudders. I steer them something like a windsurfer, adjusting bodyweight and angle of sail. The absence of a rudder alters the centre of lateral resistance from the usual. The leeboard doesn't go under the centre of effort of the sail. The two rudderless boats still in my possession have 5 foot wide sails and masts 4 feet ahead of an angled daggerboard. I positioned the bulkhead for the canoe that distance too.

Two earlier boats
Bulkhead - installed
Bulkhead - dry land test

To be continued tomorrow...



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