Boats I’d Like to Design: Canoe Yawl

Photo of Rozinante Courtesy of

One of the first designs I fell in love with was L. Francis Herresshoff’s Rozinante.

There was one being built at the “Boat School” in Lubec in 1973.

Reading L. Francis’ Compleat Cruiser fleshed out the story behind this wonderful craft.

It’s fitting that coming to writing about designs I return to this boat, to this type.

Over the years other canoe yawls have held a special place in my heart. I was fortunate to have the opportunity to design WoodWind, I named the design Beach Point 18, after where I grew up on Cape Cod.

The 18 is a bit compressed. There’s been a tendency for hulls shorter than ideal. An outgrowth of cost-cutting, exacerbated by trailer-sailing.

In this design, it came about due to her owner’s need to fit WoodWind in his garage to complete her construction after I’d built the hull, deck, and cabin in my old shop in New York State.

Most recently I’ve been brought back to my love of Canoe Yawls by Thomas Armstrong’s series featuring Constance on his blog, 70.8%.

An Albert Strange Wenda design, recently built by Fabian Bush. Constance has also been featured over at, Canoe – I’ve removed this link. It no longer connects to their site. – These views of her sailing and resting in a tidal estuary exemplify their powerful appeal.

Canoe Yawls embody a double nature shared by many of us coastal sailors. We are drawn to the shore. We spend whatever time we can afloat, but we are not sea creatures, more amphibians. These boats are so well suited to estuarine sailing as to be a wonderful expression of that dual nature. They are equally at home afloat in choppy tidal waters as snug amongst the reeds high up a winding marsh.

I grew up between a bay-side beach and a brackish marsh. Beach Point lies between Cape Cod Bay and Pilgrim Lake, the old East Harbor. The smell of marsh mud at low tide is one of my most cherished olfactory memories. It is an aroma of supreme fecundity. Marshes and estuaries are the sea’s nurseries.

These lobed structures with winding passages branching from brachia to alveolae are like lungs for the ocean.  Just as the Amazon is for our atmosphere. Tides are their diaphragm, pumping sea-water in and out to mingle with fresh water. Bright, warm sunlight nurturing the young who will follow that tide seaward to a wider life amidst the perils of the open sea. My first and greatest teacher, as well as my home.

Rozinante has roots with the whaleboat. This tied in not only with my home’s heritage, but also the pivotal role reading Moby Dick had for me as a youth. Albert Strange’s Canoe Yawls bring to mind another literary influence of long-standing, Erskine Childers’ Riddle of the Sands.

I’ve been captivated by this glimpse into a life, a time and a place. This story connects with aspects of my own youth. Childers’ image of an amateur, sidelined from the establishment, and keen to make a difference when presented with what Arthur Davies calls, “My chance.”

Boats act on our imaginations and the way they connect with us intimately. Our involvement with boats, whether just reading and looking at them, or designing, building, sailing them, provide routes to what has been called the better angels of our natures.” Our time spent with boats strengthens our connections with the natural world, its rhythms, and also with aspects of our cultural histories. These engagements feed us.

This is behind the term recreation, the activities that grew up around it.

L’ Francis knew this. Albert Strange knew it. Erskine Childers…. Melville, so far ahead of his time, must have known it too!

The prime conditions for what is now a quaint, traditional activity may have past us by. If there ever was an ideal moment and place, Albert Strange’s life and Arthur Davies’ fictionalized existence probably came closest.

Since then, the means to what had been considered a relatively modest form of boating has receded as a realistic possibility for many. Estuaries and marshes have been seriously degraded.

Any outing, instead of simply nourishing us with an immersion within the bounty and strength of the natural world, now either depresses us or demands that we turn a blind eye to its condition. Those of us who still care about such things are in retreat along with the Fiddler crab, the Mud Skipper and the Woodcock.

These conditions have a direct impact on our lives. They do so for everyone, but we are more likely to notice, to feel it in our bones.

This is a good thing. Mourning over a loss, even the anger we feel towards senseless destruction wreaked in our name, are healthy reactions. Much preferable to a numbed paralysis, sleepwalking as the destruction continues.

The intersections of all of these currents is what drives me to persist in the folly of designing small craft.

This brings us back to Rozinante. Named after Don Quixote’s wispy mount. L. Francis, the son of the great Nathaniel Herresshoff, was keenly aware that the moment for such things was already on the wane even in his day. He knew that our choices were to either admit defeat in the face of overwhelming odds or to stand and tilt at our windmills, that in doing so, we at least stand witness to what was and what might be again, someday.

This is far from a call to nostalgia. Those of us who look to the past for guidance. Who look askance at promises of Utopian futures held out as baubles in front of children, are used to this charge.

The root of remembering comes down to an act of putting together again:


We look to the past, and the present that’s grown out of it, for lessons. To discover what has endured. What has failed to endure.

We take those lessons to heart. We restore what can be restored. We fashion out of what is at hand a new circumstance to bring what we value to life.

We don’t re-enact the past. We don’t fall for visions of perfection in the future. We just seek to express our natures, to find ways of engaging with what matters to us.

A daunting task. Just as Childers felt in his day, on the eve of immense disruption and danger, somehow small boats and those of us who love them can find a “chance” to do our part.


Published by Antonio Dias

My work is centered on attending to the intersection of perception and creativity. Complexity cannot be reduced to any given certainty. Learning is Central: Sharing our gifts, Working together, Teaching and learning in reciprocity. Entering into shared Inquiry, Maintaining these practices as a way of life. Let’s work together to build practices, strengthen dialogue, and discover and develop community. Let me know how we might work together.

17 thoughts on “Boats I’d Like to Design: Canoe Yawl

  1. What a nice surprise to read this…and on my birthday!I too have read Herreshoff’s “The Compleat Cruiser” over many times (bought a copy in 1968 from John Atkin) and, like you, fell in love with “Rozinante”. Far too expensive for me (clergy salaries are not wonderful) but great dreaming material. Your 18 footer seems more in line with the money I might possibly be able to pull together and, as you note in this essay, I am of the shoreline and bays, not the open ocean. Herreshoff and Francis B Cooke have been my inspirations and I like the simple way they did things…oil lamps, simple rigs, etc. Another source of enlivenment has been the Ransome “Swallows and Amazons” series…again for the themes of simplicity and self-reliance and big adventures in small waters. I have had two boats in my life – both of them to Ted Brewer’s “Grand Banks 22” design…nice little vessels in just about every way, but circumstances (mostly my wife’s health issues) conspired to interrupt the whole thing. But one may still hope… and you seem to feed these hopes. Thank you.


    1. Thank you David!

      It’s a bit of whiplash to just finishing the homey little tasks of putting a blog post “to bed” and to find an enthusiastic comment waiting!

      You’re so right about Swallows & Amazons. I came to those relatively late, but they are right up there!

      There’s value in the dreaming…


    1. They are lovely!

      One more thing that didn’t fit into the essay that I wanted to mention about Constance. The colors of this boat are wonderful. I like to call these shore colors. The hull is the green of the marsh grass surrounding her in her berth. Her bright-work is the color of old dry grass. The deck and housetop are pale lilac, one of the colors found on the inside of spider crab shells here in New England. Some are a pastel yellow, some buff, some a pale green, and some pale indigo. This lilac tone, as with all the others, only lasts a short while in the sun before bleaching away to white. These colors reflect her surroundings and are soft and subtle enough to change with the light and the weather. Look at how the deck matches the mud in the first image and then the cloudy sky in the second.

      A boat is a canvas. It’s a shame when that’s not taken into account when their colors are chosen. That’s not to say that Rozinante’s austere white with a red bottom isn’t appropriate. It’s wonderful in its own way. The forms of the sails and of the hull are abstracted in white so we can see their shape clearly and note the rhymes between air and water. The deep red of iron, of hemoglobin, or rust; anchors the hull in the water. Her bright-work and spars share the same tones and tie it all together and back to he materials from which she was made.


      1. You see boats through an artist’s eye and write of them as a poet. I pause again to see more than I did before: mesmerizing.


  2. It’s a bit of a conundrum. So many of us love canoe yawls, and so few of us choose them. This shape seems to reverberate on a couple of levels. First I think is the strongly feminine nature of the form which strikes us at a deep, visceral (even mystical) level. Another is what Geoff Kerr, introducing Ian Oughtred at Mystic this summer, posited as a kind of genetic memory of double enders, and challenged the small crowd to raise their hand if there was no Scandinavian blood in their heritage. Not a hand went up.
    Yet another connection to these boats, for those aware of it, is the fascinating development which took place at the turn of the 19th the Humber estuary. The Strange/Holmes nexus, it could be called, but other designers were involved, and the whole lot paralleling and feeding on the development of decked sailing canoes, which had developed into a sort of prototype mini canoe yawl.
    I suspect a major reason these boats are not as often built as transom stern boats are has nothing to do with seaworthiness (canoe hull are legendary for their seaworthiness)but more to economy and utility, a transom boat is likely easier to build and has more usable space per LOA. Another intelligent and gently provocative post Tony, thanks.
    ps. One of my favorite canoe stern boats is Chuck Paine’s ‘Frances’, and her little sister ‘Carol’, both of which could and should be adapted from their Bermuda to a yawl rig, gunter, gaff or, dare I say it, lug. The flush deck versions are stunning.


    1. You are right about the mismatch between the affection so many have for the type and its relative rarity. How much of that is due to marketing bait & switch?

      There seem to be many things we tend to consider “too beautiful,” or “impractical” for us. As Wayne would put it, “I’m Unworthy!” The focus on undigested practical considerations that you bring up – not that you haven’t considered them in context – in most discussion about boats is one of the reasons I’ve taken up this challenge and begun Boats for Difficult Times as a mouthpiece. Unless we allow ourselves to see past truisms like “double-enders are more expensive,” and allow ourselves to feel and articulate the deeper incentives that tie us to boats, we may continue to miss the mark. As boats once again grow dear, this becomes a greater concern.

      This isn’t to say there aren’t grains of truth in the old saws we bandy about. It’s just that unless we put them in perspective, they do more to confuse us than to enlighten.

      I’m not bringing this up to criticize your comments, only to point to the need for a broader perspective in the general discussion about boats. Your site, 70.8%, does address boats from many angles and give room for many voices.


  3. Tony, I don’t take your comment as criticism at all, but rather a call, as you say, to take a wider view. Over the years a boat that pleases will, in terms of the whole economics of the boat relationship, factoring in fulfillment, personal pride, emotional attachment and involvement, prove far more economical in terms of maintenance(it’ll more likely get done), use, satisfaction and reward.
    First, the project undertaken with an eye to monetary savings trumping the hearts desire is probably doomed from the start, may not even be finished and will never prove a satisfying meal, used less, maintained less and possibly ultimately discarded. Your ‘savings’ just vanished. It may be that what you are pointing to is that in difficult times we don’t have the luxury of that kind of mistake. The axiom here may be, do the research, gain the knowledge, and build for the long term, consider it a marriage. Which it is. Indeed, I’ll refer back to the inner boat of our earlier conversations and name it anima or animus, depending.
    Not to imply that quick and dirty or instant boats don’t have their place, experimentation is very healthy and lots of ideas would never see the light day otherwise. I’m all for proving grounds, and evolution. But most us want to build (ourselves) or commission, a long term relationship. So in good times or bad, take the time to know what you want, what you need, and figure out how to make it happen, rather than be constrained by false economics.


  4. This discussion is fascinating. The late Joel White said that beautiful boats were loved and looked after when homely boats were neglected (or words to that effect)in his article mintroducing the “Sallee Rover” to “WoodenBoat” readers years back. I fully agree. There is something so satisfying on working to bring out the beauty in a boat that is designed as a work of art from the beginning. Canoe yawls are a type that stimulates that creative urge in an owner. And the earliest canoe yawls were, I believe, much more like your 18 footer than the later, heavier, full keel versions that Albert Strange developed and of which Herreshoff’s “Rozinante” is a most romantic evocation. Their owners would load them onto a railway car and transport them to where their desired sailing location was…early “trailer sailing”, I suppose. Albert Strange’s little “Cherub II” makes your design seem almost luxurious by comparison.


  5. What a lovely article! Of course, I’m a bit biased, because the Rozinante you show (named, fittingly, Rozinante) is now in my custody. (The photo in your post is of her under her former owner, Michael Reid, a wonderful shipkeeper who did much to maintain and restore her.)

    I think I fell in love with Rozinante–the design,not the particular boat–when I first saw a photograph of one. Surpassingly beautiful. What I have realized since having one is that they are very practical, too, within their limits. The double berth in a Rozinante, for instance, is far more commodious than you would find on any other boat of her length, and this despite her narrow beam. The trade-off is that the berth takes up the majority of the cabin space. But this, like all canoe yawls to my knowledge, is a boat to sail, not to live aboard. And sail they do!


  6. Thanks for this blog on canoe yawls. If you recall I contacted you in my pre email days regarding Tart. Since then there has been a lot of water under the keel. I joined up with the Albert Strange Association but never got one of those lovely craft.
    We went to Marthas Vinyard last fall and loved it seeing the traditional boats. This year we will again head up in that direction.
    I still have my Marieholm Folkboat in the UK and in a moment of craziness decided to buy a motor launch ( lovely old woody with a near canoe shaped displacement hull ) because we were getting less mobile with time. I dont say my sailing is over because I will have a sailing dingy on deck. Thanks.


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