“When I use a word,” Humpty Dumpty said in rather a scornful tone, “It means just what I choose it to mean – neither more nor less.”
Lewis Carroll, Through the Looking-Glass, Chapter 6
We don’t want to be too dogmatic about things, and anyway we probably all know a canoe yawl when we see one. These are the elements which most would agree characterise it:
- A slim, easily-driven decked hull with a stem at each end
- Yawl rig
Very narrow craft (say 3ft 6in or less) are sailing canoes from which the canoe yawl was derived — they have their own active associations of enthusiasts.
The low aspect ratio of the yawl rig suits the narrow beam better than would a single-masted rig, and its divided sail area assists helm balance, manouevrability, and progress in strong winds.
A canoe yawl may be without a jib, therefore without the ‘jib and mizzen’ capability for safe, well-balanced progress in a blow. But this apparent deficiency can be eliminated with a main quickly and easily reefed right down, ie the fully-battened lug, or ‘club’ rig, developed in the 1880s at the Humber Yawl Club.
The sails may be of any fore-and-aft type, and in any combination, for example sprit, lug, gaff, bermudan. Whether the mizzen is before or behind the rudder post (the technical definiti0ns of ketch and yawl) is of no consequence to us; it’s more a matter of sail distribution and proportion.
Some interpretations of ‘canoe yawl’ admit designs with no mizzen; although this deprives them of some useful abilities, in other respects they do represent our kind of sailing, so you may find examples here.
Most canoe yawls are centreboarders, and trailable (not a term known to the pioneers, their equivalent was “transportable by train in the guard’s van” – good luck with that today!) but there are larger ones with fixed keels, also known as canoe yachts
A canoe yawl is a subtle combination of hull and rig proportions which, in general, cannot be achieved by conversion from another type such as a sloop or cutter. It is highly unlikely that the hull would suit, being too beamy, and the mainmast would likely need relocating. Such an exercise, with no guarantee of success, is probably ill-advised.
For a given building cost the canoe yawl gives less accommodation, but greater length, than a sloop or cutter, so reducing capacity and increasing mooring charges; this accounts for its unpopularity in the commercial marketplace. But if your idea of fun does not include sailing or sleeping 4-up in a small boat; if you avoid marinas where possible; if you demand beauty and performance in your boat; and if you desire the most appropriate rig for the single- or short-handed sailor across the full range of conditions likely to be encountered — including those where many sloops or cutters would be unmanageable — then you have come to the right place.