This is not your typical how-to book, as the title may suggest. While there is a well-presented discussion about rigging your canoe for sail, the author takes the reader on a brief romp through the history of naval architecture and provides social commentary on the relationship mankind has had with boats. Its subtitle, A Complete Builder/User/Experimenter/Historical Guide and Philosophical Treatise, is a synopsis of the book’s contents. The promise of practical information on creating a workable, inexpensive, lateen sailing rig for a canoe or other small boat is fulfilled, along with a fascinating exposure to a variety of hydrodynamic theory and design details. For example, did you know a dolphin has a total surface area of 40 square feet?

The goal of a $50 sail rig that can be constructed in 5 hours (50/5) seems very attainable. The author argues that the simplicity and low cost of an easily transported and maintained sailing vessel is preferable to the complexity of a cruising yacht. He does a good job of describing the concept of a sailing canoe and supports his claims that a lateen rig is a practical choice for the 50/5. His materials include a closet rod for the mast, electrical tubing, and other hardware-store metal parts for supporting the mast and holding parts together, exterior plywood for leeboards, some 3/16-inch nylon rope, and an acrylic tent fly for the sail. Fabrication and attachment of the mast, sail, and leeboards are described in clear fashion in the first part of the book. Building and sailing concepts are simply presented and do not presuppose any sailing knowledge on the reader’s part.

The second part of the book presupposes a greater degree of sailing experience and engineering knowledge, but it is not beyond the capability of interested sailors. The arguments are compelling, but not always well supported in the limited space given. Aspect ratios of sails and blades, wind-pressure calculations, discussions of wetted surface area, and the frontal area of dolphins are all mentioned. The information made me think about some of the long-held “truths” I have about certain concepts, and the historical perspective is fascinating.

Bill Mantis is well read on boat design and hydrodynamics. If you’d like a simple guide to creating a practical sail rig for your canoe, buy this book. If you’d like to have your intellect stimulated with discussions about hydrodynamic design, historical, and political commentary, or witty comments about the common condition, buy this book.

The $50, 5-Hour Canoe Sail Rig by William C. Mantis (Mediterranean Avenue Press, 1999)