Tacking a Canoe

The first series of maneuvers (above) are performed by a former WAM trainee Sylvester Clement. The second set (at bottom) were taken during a national canoe race in the early 2000s. Photos: Karen Earnshaw

The following tacking description was excerpted from the document An Analysis of the Walap’s Performance by Dennis Alessio. (Note that this excerpt describes tacking — or ‘shunting — a ‘walap,’ which is the biggest style of canoes.) 

Tacking (diak) begins with one of the sailors going forward and untying the stay to loosen the foot of the sail. He then reties the stay to a mark whipped in the line so that the mast can go no further than to the vertical position.

At the same time a second sailor stands ready at the other end of the canoe. When the canoe has begun coming around to face the wind, the sailor holding the sheet lets it go, freeing the sail to spill all of the wind.

The man at the back of the canoe then leans hard on the stay so that all of the weight of the sail is transferred to the foot of the mast, and sailor number one picks up the sail and begins walking it to the center of the canoe.

As the first sailor takes the sail to the center of the canoe other sailors take the sail and pass it around the mast to the second sailor who holds the sail in position while the wind comes into the sail to turn the canoe to sail on the same course, only this time from the opposite end of the canoe.

A third sailor readies the sheet as the first sailor returns to his end of the canoe and loosens the knot in the stay and stands ready to help steady the mast and position it in its forward tilt while the second sailor continues to the end of the canoe. It is not until the second sailer has the sail almost to his end of the canoe until the first sailor positions the mast to its forward tilt, by slacking the stay on one end, and the boom and yard is tied to its final resting place on the other end. Sailor number three adjusts the sheet and continues sailing (Fig, 7.1-7) At the beginning of this process, sailor number one kicks the steering paddle off of the side of the canoe, it is tied to the center of the canoe with a line half the length of the canoe, and when the tacking is complete, the paddle has drifted to the other end of the canoe where sailor number two simply picks it out of the water and continues to steer.