Old Town Sail Canoe restoration

Hi all,

After many years sitting on tires in the brush behind my mother’s house, I decided it was finally time to rescue the sail canoe we used when I was growing up. It’s an Old Town Penobscot with a sailing rig, including big heavy wood dagger boards and a similar rudder. I remember it sailed a bit like a bathtub compared to the sunfish I sailed at summer camp. I also remembered the boat being very heavy, but to my surprise it actually doesn’t seem that much heavier than my royalex Wenonah Heron, so now I’m wondering if it’s royalex as well, or something similar. Does anyone know off-hand when royalex when into and out of production? Can I figure out the manufacture date from the serial number stamped on the hull? What else could the hull be made of? I don’t really see the weave of fiberglass but maybe it’s under the paint? Seems too light to be poly/plastic and too heavy for something like kevlar.

As you can see, the wood work is in very sorry shape. I can replace the thwarts and yoke easily enough. For the bow seat with the mast brackets, does anyone sell parts for sail canoes anymore? I’m guessing not and that I’ll have to track down some ash lumber and try to recreate it, rescuing as much old hardware off the current seat as possible. That route leads me to using webbing rather than caning on the front seat, in which case I’d want to do the back to match. This goes against a nice retro look on the restoration, but I’m not going to learn to cane and not sure I want to put in the money to have someone else do it.

Thoughts and suggestions welcome!!! Thanks!




The Penobscot is definitely a Royalex boat.

Old Town hasn’t offered the mast step bow seat in many many years, but you might be able to find someone at the Wood Canoe Heritage Assn site who can make them or knows of a source. http://www.wcha.org

I would say that if you want to restore it as a sailing boat for your own purposes, go for it, but I’m doubtful it would increase the value of the boat to anyone else, since sailing canoes are more traditionally wood/canvas rather than plastic. Just a thought before you put too much time or effort into it.

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Benson Gray over at WCHA is a great grandson of the founder of Old Town Canoes
and is a sailing canoe expert.
He has several wood canvas Old Towns and should be able to help you

Thanks, @Offshore and @kayamedic for the tips! I’ll check out WCHA.

If I decide to go with a regular canoe rig and just replace the seats, thwarts, and yokes, are there preferred suppliers out there for parts? I know Old Town sells some but perhaps there are better places to get them? Thanks again!

Old Town’s wood frame seats are (or at least always have been) a little different in dimension from what Wenonah and a few others use, so to avoid having the holes in the gunwales off a little, I’d go with OT branded replacements. Any Old Town shop can order them for you (if you don’t have one nearby, feel free to PM me, since I’m a dealer in the Chicago area, and we can ship). I’d recommend webbing seats over cane, unless you like the idea of replacing them every decade.

Yes. Ed’s Canoe

Curiously the OT website lists seat hardware but not seats. A supply problem perhaps? You can cut down seat braces easily to fit your paddling station. It may be that for your needs and size you should move the seats. Or not.

“A supply problem perhaps?”

Yes. OT has halted direct consumer sales on many products in order to make sure they have enough inventory to complete dealer orders. Same is true with parts from several other brands, and supply will remain tight for the coming months, so anyone looking at parts should be prepared for a wait.

Thanks! I’ll check with my local outdoors store first. I’ve gotten a yoke from them before and I think they’re carrying OT kayaks these days. But I’ll keep you in mind as a back-up!

Thanks for the suggestion, Ed’s looks like a good resource to have on hand.

When you say changing the seats, are you talking lowering, or moving fore/aft? I’m not sure what the future of the canoe will be (keeping, giving to family members, or selling), so hard to anticipate proper fore/aft trim. Plus, I’ve never drilled holes in a gunnel and would be nervous to do so - seems like a potentially expensive opportunity for a mistake!

A couple extra holes in the gunwales isn’t a problem at all. Make the boat work for the use at hand.

You can fix that boat in an afternoon. It is the newest sailing rig around. It is rare to see anyone sailing a canoe these days. They are tender under sail and capsize easily. they were popular at one time, but that was a long time ago.

Get it back in the water and send us some photos. Just remember to dress for immersion. Good luck.

Thanks, @ppine! I could get it in paddling form in an afternoon, given the right parts (which are supposedly hard to come by these days - will check my local supplier this weekend). Part of the problem with the sailing rig is that the sail, dagger boards, and rudder are still buried under a substantial pile of junk in my mom’s garage, condition unknown. But, I’d like to get it in sailing condition by next season.

I must say, my memory of sailing it, compared to sunfish, was that it wasn’t much fun to sail. But maybe a bit of maturity and a bit more experimenting and experience with it will change my mind.

As for dressing for immersion, it’s been long enough since I sailed, and particularly since I sailed a canoe, that I will not be doing sail trials in this thing until water temps warm up in the late spring/ early summer!

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I would dig out that sail before putting an penny into the setup. If that is junk, I think this whole thing is a lost cause and it just becomes a regular canoe

@mike93lx Totally! I’m starting with the yoke and thwart which will be needed regardless. I emailed Old Town and they replied very quickly with the proper lengths for the thwart, yoke, and seat. I’m holding off on the seat until I confirm the condition of the rest of the parts - as you suggest, if the sail or dagger boards aren’t functional, this will end up as a paddling canoe.

There are plenty of used sails around that do not cost much. Making dagger boards is no big deal. Don’t let that stop you.

On the other hand canoes do not “point very well.” They can run just fine before the wind, (downwind). I have used a bed sheet plenty of times between two canoes.

They can reach okay with two dagger boards. That is sailing across the wind, perpendicular to the wind. But they will not beat at all, sailing toward the general direction of the wind.

Yeah, after to learning to sail in sunfish, the couple times I sailed in a canoe growing up I remember it feeling pretty darn sluggish and not performing terribly well. I read a forum post recently claiming that where sail canoes really perform is taking advantage of downwind conditions on long trips, which aren’t really in my future. If I’m wilderness tripping I tend towards trips with in more varied waters and with portages - not exactly sail canoe territory. And, tacking up and down the lake in a stiff wind with a sail canoe might not be so exhilarating as a hull made to be sailed. But, I still plan to confirm my memories of the thing, assuming I can gather the parts to get it sailing again.

Nice name. I am a retired forester.
That is why I mentioned carrying a bed sheet for downwind conditions.
A spare paddle can be lashed admidships to act as a daggerboard.

Thanks! Yeah I’ve used the ground sheet from my tent for downwind canoe runs. Good idea on the paddle daggerboard!