International Canoe
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IC History pages

History of the International Canoe: 1950-2001

In 1954 Tony Rutherford finished Valhalla from a hull built by Austin Farrar. She was the first canoe to have a sliding seat which was both curved, had a ladder and was wider at the aft edge than at the front edge. It was also stepped on its undersurface, showing a strong similarity to the modem Swedish seats. The most successful developments of 1954 were that of Uffa Fox and lan Proctor who both independently designed canoes with a chine stem, first adopted by Linton Hope for the 1914 design Tritonelle but subsequently prohibited.

1957 was the first year that canoes had entered handicap racing, since the war. They finished far ahead of all but a catamaran, with the result that the Portsmouth Harbour handicap was altered, so that the Canoe headed the list of single hulled boats.

The first World Championship was held at Hayling Island in 1961 and was won by Alan Emus of Britain. In addition to Britain, the U.S.A., Germany and Sweden were also represented.

During the 1960s the design of the IC was again felt to need modification, and the ends were narrowed. The changes were made by Peter Nethercot, and it is this design which became the one-design hull in 1971. This gave further impetus to the spread of Canoe sailing so that the IC is now sailed in at least ten countries in three continents, with recent World Championships attracting around 60 competitors.

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Tony Marston was perhaps one of the major influences in the fleet in the 1970s, taking an interest in the production of a glass-fibre Canoe along with Peter Wells and others. Marston can take credit for introducing the centre mainsheet to the Canoe in Britain, following trends which were taking place in Sweden, to reduce the tendency to capsize when the mainsheet was released.

The early 1980s saw significant improvements in the boat and rig tune of the top British ICs, as well as better techniques in boat handling particularly to windward. This was brought about by the British being outclassed by the Swedes and Americans at the 1981 World Championships and by the Americans in 1984. Led by Colin Brown and Chris Eyre in particular, there was a completely redesign of the British boats and sails to match and then improve on the Swedish and American Canoes. Brown successfully reintroduced the daggerboard which reduced drag and the amount of water carried in the slot. Rig control was also improving with stiffer masts and bending controlled by a strut to allowpre-bend if required. This improved the sail setting and avoided the excessive twist which was characteristic of Canoes of earlier years. Twist could be induced if required, for example for heavy weather when the top of the main is overpowering the Canoe.

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For 1987 many canoes were fitted with seat carriages which moved fore and aft. These had been seen being used with great effect on the Swedish boats at Rock the year before, where they had proved to be far superior in heavy winds.

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The 1990s have seen a significant rise in the numbers of ICs being built and raced, the majority having carbon-fibre hulls built by Rob Michael (Razorback Boats) and increasingly using carbon-fibre masts. The rule on wing-masts was relaxed in 1997 to encourage rig developmentand the mass of allowable correctors increased to 10kg with a view to possible future hull weight reduction. Experiments have begun with fitting an asymmetric spinnaker to the IC, led by the UK, and such is the performance gain that this is being developed further.

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The IC still proudly holds the distinction of being the fastest single-handed mono-hull racing class, and must surely continue to develop to maintain this, with asymmetric spinnakers being a possible way forward.

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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 andreweastwood@hotmail.co.uk