Speed of an Outrigger Canoe

Early European explorers of the Pacific Ocean were amazed at the speed and weatherliness of some of the outrigger sailing canoes they encountered. This performance was accomplished without metal fasteners or fittings of any kind, while sails were woven of plant leaf material and were very porous to the wind. Their speed was the result of the low, wave-making shape of the hulls, the huge righting moment derived from an outrigger or second hull, and the lack of heavy ballast. An outrigger sailing canoe’s windward sailing ability varied, depending on the local design, but it was superior to that of European vessels of the time. Modern sailing crafts are better performers to windward but at a huge cost inexpensive, high-modulus (low-stretch) materials in both the sails and rigging.

canoe designs contained in this book are capable of reaching speeds up to about 12 knots(14 miles per hour) when you are sailing with the wind on your side (beam reach) or just aft of your side (broad reach). When you are sailing into the wind, the average speed is between 5 and 6 knots. Greater speeds are possible with bigger sails and greater overall beam, and you are certainly welcome to experiment. Over the years, I’ve become less concerned with ultimate top speed and more concerned with a light canoe’s ability to keep going in almost no wind. I’m a sailor and I’ll only paddle if I must.


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