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Dugout Canoe Design and Construction


At sea, size is not a safety factor, it is a comfort factor. Almost any boat can be safe at sea if you know its limits. Cruising safety is knowing a few basics:

Design - Know what makes a boat sail efficiently in heavy seas.

Crew needed to handle a boat. Dugout cruising is usually single handed.

Weather - Time of the year when winds are favorable.

Prevent fatigue - Systems to let the wind do the work of steering and sailing.

Hull - Dugouts are very heavy with thick sides and bottom. The Liki Tiki Too had 2 inch sides and 6 inch bottom. This bottom could pound on rocks for a long time before it would break up. More important, the thick bottom gives the hull self-righting stability, such as lead in a keel does.

An aluminum canoe has no self-righting stability. They will flip in strong wind or when the load becomes off balance.

Warning! Do not try ocean cruising in light weight lake boats. They will be at the mercy of the wind and waves. Heavy displacement and self-righting ability are extremely important.

Decking - A completely decked over hull is a must with no recessed cockpit below the water line. Waves that come on board must go back to sea instantly. Not a slow drain from inside the boat. The cockpits in very small boats is an open hatch during fair weather. Inside, there is only room to sit or lie. The living section should be forward and storage aft. Keeping heavy weight aft makes steering easier.

The Argentine man had an open boat with no outrigger. He must have been bailing all the time. He was swamped twice during the 10,000 mile voyage. The first time he lost everything between Panama and Tahiti. A yacht found him and all he wanted was provisions to reach Tahiti. The second time he had to hang on to his swamped dugout for 22 hours, waiting for the hurricane to passed, before he could bail out.

Cabin - One section should have enough head room while sitting on the floor. Each day, bedding is rolled up and put away. The stove is set up on the floor and put away with the dishes after meals. The floor is cleared for chart work and reading.

Ventilation - To prevent mold, the areas below deck must be well ventilated. This means building a ventilation system where air can flow in while keeping the water out during heavy weather. During mild weather, hatches can be left open. One hatch should be at each end of the boat so the air can flow through the hull.

Outriggers - Weighted keels give sailboat’s stability. Dugouts do not have a lot of displacement to support the added weight, so double outriggers are used instead of keels. Outriggers do the same work, but not as efficient. Keeping the boat right side up is their primary purpose.

Mast - Masts on dugouts need to be short. Gaff rigs with long boom are used to get sufficient the sail area. Short mast has a lot less strain on the rigging than tall mast. Tall mast and deep keels are used in high performance boats.

Dowel rods are driven through the mast near the top, to support stays and halyards. Eye splices in Dacron rope are looped around the mast. Halyard blocks are held with shackles that pass through the eye splice.

Rigging - Dacron rope is sufficient for standing rigging for mast under 25 feet. Wire rigging is used to reduce wind friction for windward sailing. Not needed for downwind boats. Because short mast has little strain, Dacron stays can be fastened to cleats on the hull. No turnbuckles are needed.

Sails - I made my own sails with canvas and roped the edges. This is a lot of work. Buy used sails, it is much easier. The main sail can be spiral laced with Dacron rope to the mast.

Use block and tackle for all running rigging. Dacron rope for halyards. Nylon rope for sheets. Do not use winches.

Rudder - A rudder with tiller is the most efficient. A wind activated trim tab attached to the end of rudder will offer easy self-steering. Jib sheet and shock cords attached to the rudder can give effective self-steering also.

Wood - Yellow Pine from your local lumber yard is all the wood needed. Mast and boom can be 4x4’s with the corners rounded off. Dowel rods were driven through the mast and boom to work as cleats and stops for stays, halyards, sheets.

Where there is a lot of strain on wood such as outriggers, put notches in hull and beam to limit movement. Shallow notches withstand strain very well.

Dowels driven through 2x4’s make excellent pin rails.

Line - Three strand rope is spliced with an eye and looped around the mast or boom. Rope stays had an eye splice that went around the mast and held in place at the top of the mast by the dowel through the mast. Blocks were held in place by shackling it to a short rope that had two spliced eyes, the length wrapped around mast or boom. Thimbles need to be inserted into a splice that shackles will pass through to prevent chafe.

Steel Parts - The only steel I used in my dugouts was limited to galvanized wood screws, lag screws, carriage bolts, eye bolts, thimbles and shackles. I made pintles and gudgeons (rudder hinges) out of wood. Hard dowel rod for the pintle and shaped the gudgeon to fit. I put 6,000 miles on the Liki Tiki Too with this arrangement. There was very little chafe.

Cost - The low cost of dugouts is very attractive. In 1970, My "Liki Tiki Too" boat and trip cost $3,000. This was way more money than necessary. I had it, so spent it.

The Argentine man sailed 10,000 miles and spent less that $1,000. for his boat and trip expenses. Ocean cruising can be the worlds best travel bargain.

Sailing Routes

Outrigger boats are down wind crafts. They cannot sail to windward against ocean swells. Sailing routes are planned where the wind blows, that is down wind. Where the wind blows is where you want to go.

Windward cruising is extremely uncomfortable in any kind of boat. Few people do it. One advantage of pointing high is to clear land easily. With right kind of planning, this problem can be avoided.

Most cruising is in the tropics, sailing from east to west. West to east sailing is at high latitude’s of the North Atlantic and North Pacific during the summer months.

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