Canoe Sailing: 1866 – Present

Many say recreational sailing and canoeing started in 1866 when Scottish lawyer and philanthropist, John McGregor, published an account of a journey across the rivers and lakes of Europe in a sailing canoe. His book, ‘A Thousand Miles in the Rob Roy Canoe’, became a best seller and sparked an interest in canoeing and small craft sailing which spread from Britain to the rest of the Western world as access to leisure time, and the money to spend on it, increased. In the same year as the publication of his book, John McGregor founded the Royal Canoe Club. Several other notable voyages in the Baltic, along the Nile and the River Jordan followed. Further accounts of canoe sailing journeys across Europe before the First World War were also written by Warrington Baden Powell and Robert Louis Stevenson.

Sailing canoes went on to become the first internationally raced small boats with several notable contests between British and American sailors for the New York Canoe Club Challenge Cup. The evolution of racing sailing canoe design lead to the development of an extremely fast monohull racing machine called an ‘International Canoe’ or ‘IC10’ which is still raced worldwide. However, interest in sailing canoes as small cruising boats waned as sailing dinghies and small yachts became more affordable.

In the UK a sailing canoe revival started in 1990 when a canoeing enthusiast and builder of small sailing boats, John Bull, advertised a challenge for a 23 mile long open canoe sailing race on Ullswater. To his surprise, over fifteen canoes arrived. The event was a great success and, together with several of the participants, John Bull founded the Open Canoe Sailing Group, This small organisation has successfully promoted canoe sailing in the UK ever since. Modern sailing canoes are often very seaworthy boats and have proved capable of challenging coastal voyages whilst also being equally at home on lakes and rivers. Their small beam and lightweight construction means they are easily transported, can be launched from any beach and, when the wind is light, they can be paddled comfortably at a speed of 2 to 3 knots.

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