The placement of you and your sail rig in the canoe is part science and part of the art of sailing well. In order to sail safely and under control, it is essential to obey the physical laws of balance. In order to sail with aplomb under challenging weather conditions, it is essential to understand how to balance your rig. The best part about sailing a canoe is that you learn about the harmony of the elements inside the canoe with those elements outside the canoe. One note of warning: it is not quick and not as easy as it looks!
Balancing the Rig
When you use a regular sailboat, the rig is already balanced and ready to sail. When you install a rig on a canoe, it is necessary to determine where to install the rig so that it will be balanced and safe. Balance is the ability to steer the boat in a straight direction and in a stable, controlled manner with minimal stress under varying conditions of speed and weather.
Let's say you have a complete rig and a canoe. Find the center of the canoe and sit there. With your legs facing forward, the leeboard thwart goes approximately over your knees. When sailing, it is easiest to control the boat if you sit near the leeboard thwart.
Mast Step and Leeboard Thwart Placement
The mast step should be placed in relation to the location of the leeboard thwart and vice-versa for a balanced rig. It is recommended that you start by using secure clamps to attach the leeboard thwart to the gunwales so that you can make adjustments.
Find the center of effort (CE) of the sail. Mark the spot with tape. The center of effort of the sail should be over the leeboard thwart and then move it a little aft. If you cannot move the sail aft, move the leeboard thwart forward. (You can find the optimal position when you sail by fine tuning through trial and error.) The leeboard provides the center of lateral resistance or the CLR. An instructional book on sailing will explain how the vertical relationship of the CE and the CLR provides the driving force to make the sailboat move forward.
The location of the mast step goes forward according to the dimensions, or the width, of the sail. If you are using your canoe with the seats in it, the back thwart of the bow seat may be a good location for the mast step. The greater the distance from the CE to the CLR, the harder it is to control, or steer. Some people who use a 44 square foot lateen sail, depending on the width of the sail, set the mast thwart about 26 or 27 inches from the leeboard thwart, or 24 inches when using a marconi sail.
Sailing the Canoe
With a thwart for a backrest, a nice day, and enough flotation to fill about half the canoe, check it out! (Roughly, there is an inverse relationship between the amount of flotation you have in your canoe and the amount of flotation you may need.) Both pivoting the leeboard up and down and moving your weight fore and aft are the easiest ways to affect the balance of your sail rig. Fine tuning can mean leaning forward or putting a leg on the gunwale.You may want to use your foot to move the leeboard up and down slightly as you become experienced in your boat. Sailing with the hull flat, sitting in the bottom of the canoe, is more effective than heeling the canoe.
To bring the bow toward the wind move your weight forward. It should not be necessary to paddle in order to turn the sailing canoe around. Not only can you adjust your weight and the sail, one at a time, but you can adjust the leeboard by pivoting it up and down. To go into the wind, or tack, put the leeboard in a vertical position and lean forward.
To sail before the wind, raise the leeboard to a diagonal and lean your weight aft. If you still have trouble steering, then you can move the leeboard thwart: towards the mast to get more windward helm.
Warning! Obviously, it is important to be able to control the steering for stability and safety. If it is hard to steer or the boat is hard to control your rig may have lee helm. This dangerous condition means you may zoom downwind mercilessly! Another fortuitous result may be a broken rudder, capsize or collision. Lee helm is the unbalanced state when the bow of the boat pushes to the downwind side or to the lee. This happens when the center of effort of the sail is forward of the center of lateral resistance, or leeboard. To correct for this condition of lee helm, you need to move the leeboard thwart slightly forward of the sail's CE, an inch at a time. You want a slight windward helm, which means that the canoe will turn into the wind and stop if you let go of the sail and steering. This is how sailboats are supposed to be designed. Less this seems too simplified, it is interesting to know that other variables which affect balance include hull shape, size of the rudder, amount and placement of weight inside the canoe, amount of sail trim, wind and many other factors.
TESTING YOUR RIG FOR BALANCE
Fine Tuning In Light Air
On a fair day with steady winds, about 10 knots, the leeboard straight down, try these maneuvers:
- Sail the canoe to turn into the wind and come about. If your canoe is difficult to turn into the wind and moving your weight forward is not enough, try readjusting the leeboard thwart further forward, as soon as possible! This condition is known as lee helm and can be dangerous. In strong wind, steering the canoe will be difficult and out of control.
- Steer the canoe dead into the wind with the leeboard down. Let go of the sail and helm. The canoe should stay dead into the wind. If not, move your weight to find a good balance. If it steers into the wind too easily and the tiller has a hard pull, you have too much windward helm. It may be necessary to move the leeboard thwart further aft.
- Steer on a beam reach, let the sail out 45 degrees in light air. The canoe should sail straight with only a light touch on the tiller.
- Sailing downwind, in 10-15 knots, the canoe should steer straight without resistance from the tiller.
- Sail the canoe with a paddle instead of a rudder.
- Sail the canoe without a rudder or a paddle by shifting your weight: forward to go closer to the wind and leaning aft to go away from the wind.
- At a later date, check the rig in heavier air for balance.
- If you add or subtract a passenger, this weight and its placement affect the balance. Repeat these maneuvers. You may need to change the location of the leeboard thwart.
Readjust the leeboard and position of the leeboard thwart until you find the optimum sailing ease. If you need to move the leeboard thwart, just one inch can make the difference!
Steering With a Paddle
This is a good way to test the balance of your canoe in a light breeze. It is like learning to eat with chopsticks. Once you get used to it, no problem! A shorter paddle than usual is recommended. Be sure to carry a spare! A wood paddle is the least slippery; cord or a leather piece wrapped and sewn around the shaft at the point of contact retards slipping.
Place the paddle on the lee side of the boat, or, the same side as the sail. With one hand, rest the paddle shaft on the gunwale and hook your thumb under the grip. In light winds, under 10 knots, it should not be hard to hold the paddle down. If so, shift your weight. Allow time for the boat to react.! To steer, hold the paddle blade in the water just as much as you need to in order to go straight. If you find it is too hard to hold the paddle down, it is either too windy or your sailing canoe is not balanced.
To turn into the wind lean forward, shift the paddle to the other side and hold it on the opposing gunwale.
For more information on balancing a rig, see Chapter Four ("Balancing the Rig of A Small Sailboat") in John Gardner's Classic Small Craft You Can Build, published by Mystic Seaport Museum, Mystic CT, 1993.
Marilyn Vogel, National Sailing Committee, American Canoe Association
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