Log canoe

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File:Log Canoe Edmee S and Point Lookout Tower.jpg
Log Canoe Edmee S. on a trailer at the Chesapeake Bay Maritime Museum with the Point Lookout Tower in the background

The log canoe is a type of sailboat developed in the Chesapeake Bay region. Based on the dugout, it was the principal workboat of the bay until superseded by the bugeye and the skipjack. However, it is most famous as a racing sailboat, and races continue to be held.

The history of the log canoe is closely tied to the development of the oystering industry on the bay. In pre-power days, the log canoe was an inexpensive craft which could be assemble without recourse to shipbuilders; before the dredge was made legal in 1865, the log canoe was sufficient to the needs of oyster tongers. It did not have the pulling power necessary for dredging, however, its log construction was combined with characteristics of other vessels to form the first bugeyes, a much larger and more powerful vessel. As motor power became available, watermen who were not dredging gradually abandoned sail power; also, the supplies of suitable timber were gradually exhausted. Log canoes were often converted to motor power, and new workboats (such as the Chesapeake Bay deadrise) were motored from the start and used frame construction instead of logs. Many of the existing log canoes have suffered some conversion of this sort during their lifetimes.

Over the same period, however, the ad-hoc racing of canoes evolved into a semi-formal sport, and boats began being purpose-built for racing. From 1885 onward various clubs and associations sponsored organized races. This continues to the present, and racing canoes have been built as recently as 1974.

File:Log canoe at Chesapeake Bay Maritime Museum.jpg
Log canoe hull showing construction, Chesapeake Bay Maritime Museum

Hull construction

The typical log canoe is constructed from three to nine logs joined lengthwise and carved to form the lower portion of the hull. Additional height is obtained with smaller pieces fitted together and joined to the outermost (or "wing") logs. The resulting hull is sharp-sterned and shallow, and a centerboard is added which pierces the center (keel) log.

Details of construction, particularly at the stem and stern, varied over the region. Also, Virginia boat builders did not use models, whereas most Maryland builders would start from a half-model of the hull. Surviving log canoes range in length from 27 to 35 ft. on-deck.


Rigging varied considerably, but most later log canoes were two-masted, resembling a modern ketch rig. The masts were always steeply raked and unstayed, and the jib was flown from a bowsprit. The rigging of the sails themselves took several characteristic and unusual forms. The main and fore sail were not attached to the boom at the foot, but instead attached only at the clew. This evolved further to the "goosewing" form, in which the sail became trapezoidal. The pointed clew was replaced by a spar, attached to the boom at its center. This allowed for more sail area than the spacing between the masts would allow for a regular triangular sail.

The rigging of the jib was similarly unusual. The foot of the sail was mounted on a spar, and the center of this spar attached to the end of the bowsprit with a pivot. This allowed for a larger jib which could serve as something akin to a spinnaker when running.

A final characteristic feature was the use of hiking boards to keep the boat from overturning. These were long, flat boards which hooked at one end under the cockpit and stuck sideways over the opposite gunwale. Crewmembers climb out onto these boards to counterbalance the force of the sails, thus preventing the boat from heeling over. These were particularly important to racing canoes, whose sail area and lack of ballast made them hopelessly tender without these measures.

List of log canoes on the National Register of Historic Places