A really big canoe?


Over the past few decades, maybe a bit longer, boats have evolved to become power boats.  We don’t row so much anymore.  Too hard.  Too slow.  Can’t carry enough.

Of course, we have also evolved some pretty efficient sailing vessels but 99% of them are powered by an auxiliary and when the boat has to keep to a schedule, the motor is often employed.   Wind is not dependable.   In effect, these motoring sailors are very often used as inefficient power boats especially in the general area of the Salish Sea.

Bottom line: we are now dependent on powered boats.  Especially if the boat is employed in work rather than recreation.  And powered boats are dependent on oil.

The writing is on the wall.

We coastal off-the-gridders are even more dependent on powered boats and, for a variety of logical reasons, we choose outboard powered boats most often.  Altho today’s outboards are much more reliable than previous iterations, they are also a great deal more complicated.  Your basic off-the-gridder, so handy in so many ways, hasn’t got a clue how to fix a modern outboard.  We are not only dependent on outboard motors but we are also now dependent on the outboard mechanics.  And they live and work on-the-grid in the city!  

This is an Achilles heal of the first water, so to speak.  And we are going to have to address it.  If not now, then not long from now.

The kinda guy who thinks along these lines is the creative (or, in my case, the fearful) type.  He or she wonders how to design a boat that will be more useful when oil becomes too expensive.  Something efficient, something that can do work and carry people, something that is safe in a nasty sea and, if possible, something requiring as little maintenance as possible.  Such people are, by the nature of the challenge, more likely to be found in either marine design studios or out here living the life.  And the ones out here not only design their creations but they also build them.

Our little community is a veritable hotbed of marine design on a per capita basis.  We have a sleek little proa-type slipping around.  White, fast and beautiful.  It is also odd and somewhat restricted in function but it is very easily driven and quite adaptable to sail.  We have an admirable effort at a light weight aluminum power cat that has yet to make a successful debut – but the idea is good.  We have more than a few long, narrow, skinny boats that seem like cousins of canoes and they are very efficient, very fast and quite rowable in a pinch.  For practical reasons (they are cheap to build) they are the current leader in the practical boat stakes.

And there are more including old tradional designs, a reverse hull design, a modified, older-style displacement design and any number of modified runabouts.

The ideal boat would, of course, be efficiently functional under all means of power – motoring, rowing, sailing and/or any combination of the above.  But functional includes – first and foremost – weight carrying.  Bulk.  People and stuff.  And that requirement limits rowing.  It also limits the design in so many other ways.  In fact, there is no design that does the job as desired.  Such a vessel is the holy grail of boat design.

“Shouldn’t sea-worthy be first and foremost?”

I suppose.  But our area is usually traversable in small, cheap, less-than-great boats and the people just pick their weather.  You’d be surprised how many light, tippy, car-top type boats are in use.  Sea-worthy is a close second but getting the job done is the whole point of getting in the boat in the first place so the work is likely deemed more important (until a heavy sea is encountered, of course).

“Why tell me?”

Because if you are ever to consider getting off the grid and moving up the coast, choosing the right boat is a much bigger decision than you might first think.  In fact, it is a HUGE decision if you also include the future ‘oil’ factor.  Just as I have come to know about the giving and taking, the balancing of components, the better-way-to-do-it when it comes to alternative energy, I am also learning more and more about something as simple as ‘the boat’.

There has to be a better way to do it than we have been doing.  And we have been doing designs based very much on cheap oil.  Time for something new.

And all of us out here are trying to figure that one out.

5 thoughts on “A really big canoe?

  1. Just a note from a Prairie landlubber, but wouldn’t a fuel efficient small diesel inboard be good for a basic marine transport? I suppose the associated running gear is more complicated. I have a friend in Nanaimo that takes me out on his 17? footer with a big Yamaha outboard and that thing drinks gas at an alarming rate. Ladysmith to Ganges and back cost about 60 bucks in fuel last time out.


    • Yes. A small diesel inboard is considerably more efficient. More expensive to buy, install and maintain, however. Plus inboard engines occupy ‘inboard’ space, a premium on small-ish boats. And your Ladysmith-to-Ganges run illustrates the growing problem perfectly.


  2. Forward into the past with the 1920s wood gas generator for mobile use by German engineer Georges Imbert. A green solution! It burns fir bark or whatever fuel you put into it.


  3. Hi Dave
    As you know I always enjoy the energy challenge. Go to http://www.AlcoholCanBeAGas.com, and buy the book of the same name too. It describes everything you need to make ethyl alcohol (ethanol) – it’s a great solution to the energy problem. It is virtually liquid sunshine, is greener than most solutions, and is a very practical alternative to fossil fuels. Half of Brazilian vehicles run on ethanol. In your climate, you can make ethanol from seaweed, among other things.


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