International Canoe
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IC History pages

History of the International Canoe: 1850-1900

The eighteen sixties saw an upsurge of interest in canoeing, particularly cruising, or voyaging as it was known at the time. John MacGregor was one of the first to popularise the sport. His 'Rob Roy Canoe' had a simple lug-sail to assist when the wind was favourable.

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Rob Roy Canoe

MacGregor, as well as travelling and writing, founded the Canoe Club in 1866, which was designated the Royal Canoe Club in 1874. An early member was Warrington Baden-Powell who developed the canoe as a specialised sailing vessel, and by the 1870s sailing canoes were taking part in organised racing, and providing keen amateur sport at reasonable cost at a time when yachting was an activity for the wealthy.  The balance lug main and mizzen rig was the favoured rig of the 1870s, although other rigs were tried and spinnakers were of course used for running before the wind.  These canoes, of which the best known are the Nautilus canoes, would be sailed sitting as though for paddling and carry bags of lead shot which would beshifted to windward at each tack for improved performance.

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Canoe sailing soon spread and fleets were also established in the USA and Canada. National competition began in Britain in 1875 when the RoyalCanoe Club put up the Sailing Challenge Cup whichis still competed for at the UK NationalChampionship.

International competition began in 1884 with a challenge, led by Baden-Powell, for the New York Canoe Club International Cup, the oldest international trophy for small sailing craft.  The rules required that the races be held in thehome waters of the Holder and subject to a challenge on behalf of a club representing a foreign country.  The British lost, as the Americans had unloaded their bags of shot and taken to sitting on the windward gunwales of their Canoes.  Worse was to come: in the late 1880's a light and agile American Paul Butler began the dastardly practice of sitting outside his Canoe altogether on a sliding seat.  Bitter controversy raged in Britain about the slidingseat but it was eventually allowed in 1894 then banned ten years later for several years. Butler also introduced the self-draining cockpit and clutch cleats for the sheets.

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The next step which led towards the International Canoe was due to the sailors at the Royal Canoe Club, in particular Linton Hope and Bertram de Quincey who took over as the leaders in Canoesailing.  In 1894 Linton Hope designed a sailing canoe for the lower Thames which was one of the first to carry a pivoting centreboard.  This wasthe cruiser class which became known as the 'B' class and was developed, becoming the most popularsailing canoe in the early 1900s.  At this time the under-body rudder was becoming the most common, though not universally liked.

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Historical information up to 1990 comes from Andrew Eastwood's History of Canoe Sailing in Britain, which is available on CD, contact Andrew Eastwood on