Proa "Victor T"
I've been a wooden sailboat lover since Lowells Boat Shop built me a 12 foot
sailing dory-skiff in 1984. But I've been fascinated with Pacific outrigger sailing
canoes since I saw one in the Peabody Museum, Salem, Massachusetts when I
was around 16 years old. I was going to build one eventually, but my divorce
hastened the decision: I now had to leave the dory at my mother's house in New
Hampshire as I moved to an apartment. And I had to somehow build the canoe in
my apartment, and store there too. The answer: build a small boat, and design the
main hull to bolt together in two 7 foot pieces. That's how you keep a 14 foot
boat in your bedroom!
The Victor T (named after my father) came together over two years and cost
about $300 ignoring a few tools I bought. It was a crude boat reflecting (1) my
poor skills and (2) the fact that I had no plans: it went from my imagination and
right to the wood, so it sort of came into being as I built it. It also had to fit in
the back of a small SUV with the rear seats folded down, so extreme-nesting was
called for, thus the nesting-triangle planform. (Would not do it that way again;
would just build light for roof-topping. See Gary Dierking's "Wa'apa" canoe,
easily built from his plans).
It served me well, and I later improved on it with a 16 foot tacking outrigger built
more traditionally (in a garage!) after bought a small house. (Read more about the
Victor T experience at www.instructables.com, "Make Life Better with a
Sailboat-in-a-closet.") Some photos below:
The Victor T (the
vaka or main hull)
in two 7 foot pieces
in the spare bedroom
The assembled main hull (vaka) with test
fit of the crossbeams (akas) that will attach
to the outrigger float (ama). The first
version in 2004 used bolts; in 2005 I
shifted to more traditional lashings, which
are strong but flexible = better. Later I
would also cut out heavy solid wood and
add watertight decks fore and aft.
The triangular profile nested closely
together so I could squish the boat into the
back of my small SUV. The bottom up to
the waterline had fair water flow lines
though waves sweeping higher would meet
the growing "crease" -- I wouldn't do it
that way again. I would deign pieces light
enough to spread out as needed and put on
a roofrack -- or design a skinnier hull, a
couple of feet longer, if I had to squeeze
into a station wagon or SUV with rear
seats folded down. 8 foot hull sections
could still be built and stored inside an
It all fit in the back of my truck, which
was good, because the apartment manager
didn't allow trailers in the parking lot!
The unpacked boat looks like this. It takes
about 45 minutes to assemble if I use the
Polynesian sailing rig, and if no curious
people come over to chat; they often do,
but I don't mind. This is still the 2002-2004
version with the hasty (=ugly) float. I built
a better float in 2005.
And it is together, with the
canting Polynesian "crabclaw"
rig. This boat is now a "proa"
because, as in the sailing culture
of much of the Pacific, it has no
designated front or back: the sail
reverses ends using the mast as
a crane, and on the new "tack"
(we call it a "shunt" when sailing
Pacific proas) what was once
the stern is now the bow. I use
no rudder: I use the sheet and
body-weight shifting to steer,
and it works fine. I do use a
leeboard (swings for adjustment)
which is a western feature;
Pacific peoples used paddles to
to resist leeway forces.
Here we are in 2005 with the new ama.
This was a closer to a neutral buoyancy
ama like a traditional log ama in a sense. It
had about 40-50 lbs displacement of foam
flotation but freely flooded with water to
provide ballast to windward. The "feel" of
the proa was different -- you sailed from
the canoe cockpit usually and at most
leaned back on the side seat to
counterbalance -- the ama would easily
sink -- though slowly enough to react and
recover -- if the sail went aback on a wind
shift or a bad shunt. Very different kind of
sailing, taught me much through this
And it still works: here, a good day in New
Haven harbor sailing at about 6 knots.
Yes, a crude boat (an occasional boat-goof
has sneered at it, but most boaters admired
the project), but it was fun, cheap, doable,
storable, transportable, and I can't tell you
how much it meant for me to do this. My
next one will be a little better (in progress
You should make one, too. If you feel it will
cure something in you (and it will) don't let
anyone stop you. Humans are smart; humans
find solutions, and so will you.