While the first requisite in a canoe is a properly designed and constructed hull, there are a number of minor parts, generally summed up under the head of "Fittings," that are hardly less essential to safety, comfort and convenience, and which, with the sails and rigging, make up a complete craft. Perhaps a more correct term for these numerous details would be equipment, but the word fittings is generally used.
This feature distinguishes the modern canoe from its savage progenitors, as, excepting the kayak, savage canoes are undecked, and its shape and position are important considerations. As a general rule, the smaller the well, the better; as less water can get below, there is more covered stowage room, and the boat is much stronger; but, on the other hand, there must be an opening long enough to permit sleeping, storing long spars below, giving access to hatches below deck, and, on occasion, taking a companion. The wells of the early Rob Roys were elliptical, 20 in. wide and 32 to 36 in. long, requiring no hatch, the coaming, 1 in. high above deck, being bent in one piece, as in the drawing. This small well, resembling that of the kayak, was almost a necessity, as the boat was so low and wet in rough water.
A step in advance was the old Nautilus well, which was from 4 ft. 8 in. to 5 ft. long, and 20 in. wide, a length of 16 in. being shut off by a movable bulkhead just abaft crew's back; this portion being covered by a movable hatch, with a similar hatch at the forward end, leaving an opening of 2 ft. or a little more for the crew. This well, with its ugly octagonal form, while a decided improvement in many ways, more than any other feature earned for the canoe the dismal epithet of coffin, once so frequently applied to it; besides which, owing to the number of pieces (eight) it gave no strength to the deck, and the joints soon opened and leaked, while the almost square end forward did not throw the water from the deck, but sent spray back over the crew.
In 1878 the Shadow canoe came out with an elliptical well 20 in. by 5 ft., covered by four hatches, so arranged as to close the well entirely in shipping the canoe; or by removing one or two hatches, making room for the crew when afloat. The first point was a decided advantage, but it was found in cruising that on a warm day the canoe became very hot below with hatches fitting closely around the canoeist, and when they were removed there was no room for them unless piled three high forward, and liable to be lost overboard.
At the same time the first Jersey Blue canoe appeared with a rectangular well 18 in. by 5 ft., 1 ft. being abaft the crew, the coaming at sides of well extending over the forward deck and forming slides for a sliding hatch, which could be quickly pulled aft, covering as much of the well as desired, while a rubber apron, kept rolled up on top of the hatch, completed the covering. This arrangement answered the purpose of protection, but the square corners and sliding hatch were clumsy and heavy in appearance.
At the same time a canoe was built in Harlem having a pointed coaming forward, with a slight flare, the first of its kind, in America at least, and in 1880 the Sandy Hook and Jersey Blue canoes were fitted with pointed coamings, but not flaring, the first of the style now so common being put in the Dot in place of the Shadow well in 1881.
This form of well, shown in Plate IV., is in outline similar to a Gothic arch, and in addition the sides flare outward, throwing off all spray at the sides. The after end is made either round or square, the latter giving
more room when two are carried. A chock of mahogany (q) in the drawing, is fitted in the angle, belaying pins or cleats being sometimes put on it. This form of coaming is well fitted to hold an apron, the fore end of which, being fitted to the point of the coaming, cannot wash off, and no spray can beat in under it. The well may be partly or entirely covered by hatches, as desired.
Another important feature in a well is its width, which must be regulated by the size and intended use of the canoe. In a narrow and shoal boat, such as the Rob Roy, a width of 18 in. will be enough, as the side decks will be wider and less water will come over the side, while the crew can still lean out to windward, but in a wider and deeper boat there is less danger of water over the side, and the coaming being higher above the floor will interfere with the crew leaning over, and therefore should be made wider, the usual width being 20 in.
American practice in canoe sailing, especially in racing, differs materially from the English; the crew, in America, almost invariably being seated on the weather deck, in sailing to windward, the feet braced under the lee deck, the body leaning well to windward, and the steering being done by means of a tiller on the after deck, but in England the crew is seated low down in the canoe, a portion of the deck abreast the body being cut away and the opening closed at will by a hinged flap, the weather one being closed and the lee one opened at the end of each tack, only the head and shoulder being above deck, offering but little surface to the wind, With this arrangement a narrow well is allowable.
That canoeists may judge for themselves as to the value of this feature for their work, we quote from the London Field the opinions of Messrs. Baden-Powell and Tredwen concerning them. The former gentleman says: "In describing the canoe fittings of the present day, the side deck flaps must not be omitted. In a sailing canoe it is all important, but I do not admit its great utility in a traveling canoe, at least not for general work. Where the chief work is to be lake sailing, side flaps will be very useful; but where much hauling out and jumping in and out is to be the order of that day, side flaps are utterly out of place. The side flap was first introduced in the Rob Roy in 1868, but did not appear in the next edition of that name. It has, however, now become a general favorite, and it is to be found in every sailing canoe. If fitted to the traveling canoe, the after end of the flap should be just forward of the backboard beam, and it should be strongly hinged at the outer edge; and, in short, strongly fitted in every way, as it is just about the place that one's hands lay hold of to raise the body in case of a sudden jump up or out. A broken, and perhaps lost overboard, flap would be a dangerous mishap to a canoe, if caught at the time in a breeze at a mile or two from land."
Mr. Tredwen, after describing some of the canoes that he has designed and built during the past fifteen years, continues. "It has already been observed that the flap side decks have not been fitted to all the Pearl canoes, and that where a canoe has been built with them, they have been subsequently discarded, and that the next canoe built without them has subsequently been altered by the addition of this contrivance. The result of this varied experience is to establish them as a very valuable adjunct to a cruising canoe if properly applied and fitted, otherwise they are better omitted. There are two essentials besides the flaps themselves, consisting of two sets of coamings around the openings cut in the deck. The first coamings are parallel and close to the cuts across the deck, and consequently at right angles with the ordinary well coamings, and are screwed securely to the deck, and their inboard ends butt on to the well coamings. They entirely prevent any leakage along the deck from forward or aft, into the openings of the flap side deck.
"The second set of coamings are placed transversely, hinged to the deck, and when raised their inboard ends fit closely against the beading or coaming of the hatch cover; and they are not intended to exclude leakage along the deck, but they serve as catches around which the mackintosh coat fits. to prevent any sea breaking into the well. The inboard ends must therefore project about half an inch above the hatch cover when they are raised. Many canoes have had these hinged coamings fitted without the fixed coamings, and without sufficient width to project above the hatch cover, and as they neither exclude water running back along the deck, nor provide a holdfast for the mackintosh, the whole contrivance has been condemned."
In this country the first step in this direction was in the Elfin, a New York canoe, which in 1878 had her coamings cut and hinged; the first real side flaps being put in the Sandy Hook in 1881, since which they have been tried in various canoes, but have not come into general use. Their construction is shown in the drawings.
In the Pearl canoe, the well, which is almost rectangular, is covered by a forward hatch in two parts, the after portion, extending to the body, being hinged to the forward part, so as to lie flat on it, when opened. On its after end is a beading, over which the skirt of the canoe jacket is drawn, this skirt also being held, by a rubber band run around its lower edge to a similar beading on the after hatch, and to the hinged coamings described; the deck flaps opening inside the wide skirt, so that there is no entrance for water below. Where it is desired to close the canoe entirely, the well is covered by three or four hatches, fitting closely together, as shown in the drawing of the Shadow. These are held down by a bar running over them fore and aft, one end of which is inserted in an eyebolt at fore end of well, the other padlocking to a similar bolt aft.