Saturday, January 5, 2008

Book Review: Building Outrigger Sailing Canoes

Building Outrigger Sailing Canoes
By Gary Dierking
International Marine, 2007
ISBN 9780071487917
Review by Bob Holtzman

Gary Dierking is an American who has lived in New Zealand for many years. A skilled boat designer and builder, he has been fascinated by multihulls since his youth, and he has devoted much of his professional energies to catamarans, proas, outrigger canoes, and their ilk. While much of his work is, full custom, he also series-manufactures at least one outrigger canoe of his own design in composites (i.e., fiberglass).

In Building Outrigger Sailing Canoes, Dierking presents three of this own designs in full detail for amateur construction. These boats are:

  • Ulua: A 17'9" Hawaiian-inspired design with a tacking rig for strip-plank construction

  • T2: Also 17'9" and strip-planked, based on Micronesian canoes, with a variety of shunting sailing rigs

  • Wa'apa: inspired by Hawaiian "three-board" canoes, and designed for stitch-and-glue plywood construction, she can be built as a 16-footer, a 24-footer, and/or in modular sections that allow the owner to switch back and forth between these two lengths with the inclusion or exclusion of a central 8' section between two 8' fore and aft sections.

These are beautiful boats, even the square-sided Wa'apa, but if your dream of the south Pacific includes floating idylls in calm lagoons with fruity alcohol drinks in a coconut shell, these boats won't do it for you. Looking at their lines, one can only conclude they are screamers: exciting craft that should keep any sailor on his toes and run rings around most sailboats twice their length.

Dierking includes complete building plans for all three boats in the book and, with its 8.5" x 11" format, reproduction is large enough (just) to build any of the designs right out of the book. (If your eyesight can't handle the size, or you want the greater precision that larger plans might allow, they are also available in larger formats from the author: The step-by-step explanation of the building procedures is concise and clear: so much so that one wonders why authors of other books on strip planking and stitch and glue construction need twice as much space to cover the same ground. Perhaps it's partly a function of Dierking's 3D how-to illustrations, generated in a drawing program and extraordinarily concise and clear in their own right: they reveal how the things go together more clearly than any number of 2D drawings and verbiage. This is one multi-skilled individual: he can design a boat; do the research on the cultural background; draw; write; and his workmanship as a boatbuilder is of a very high order.

The only thing that keeps me from being too envious is that I was his editor at International Marine (yes, this is the disclosure), and in that role, I do believe I considerably improved the book's organization. Indeed, I'm immensely proud of having helped bring this book into publication, for I feel it's one of the best boatbuilding books published within the past five years or so (I've read a few!). But the credit is the author's.

Of real importance is Dierking's presentation of numerous sailing rigs: several versions each of tacking rigs and shunting rigs, including an original, windsurfer-like shunting rig of Dierking's own design. (He calls it the Gibbons/Dierking rig, named for naturalist Euell Gibbons, but I feel he's being too modest. The rather crude rig that Gibbons designed provided only a bit of general direction to Dierking, and it suffered from tremendous weather helm. Dierking's version is really unique, perfectly balanced, and very sophisticated.) He gives the pros and cons of each rig type and provides useful guidance in how to sail a shunting rig -- something with which few Western sailors are familiar.

The boats are not simple -- they have a lot more bits and pieces than your average design for amateur construction of comparable displacement -- but none of the procedures are difficult. To build any of them, you will need a certain amount of dedication. They're also rather limited in their applications. For their length, they won't carry much, and they provide essentially no protection from the elements, so neither cold-weather sailing nor camp-cruising are really practical. But the benefits are numerous: they're beautiful; they're attention-getting (I think it would be impossible to take one off your roof rack and start assembling the components on the beach and not draw a crowd); and they're really, really fast.

Good book; good boats: very highly recommended.


  1. Hi Bob and everyone

    I am in the midst of building a Gary Dierking Ulua design. You can follow the (slow) progress here on my blog:

    I haven't bought this book, since as best I can tell there is an 80% overlap with the written material that Gary provides with his plans, which are $100. It's good stuff, though, and if you are considering building a canoe then it's well worth it.

    This is my first boat, and I can tell you that it is biting off a lot for someone new to boatbuilding and woodworking in general. But you won't get such a beautiful canoe anyother way! And sailing canoes are very 'in' right now.

    BTW, my GF is also an acquisitions editor, interesting parallel.



  2. Hi David,

    Thanks for posting. Looks like you're doing a fine job on the Ulua. Please keep us up to date on the project (especially when you launch).

    You're right: it'd be hard to get a boat that looks as good as a stripper any other way. For those who do want a simpler approach, Gary's book includes plans for a stitch-and-glue boat that is quicker/easier than a stripper. (The hull, however, represents only part of the job. Outfitting and rig will be equally time consuming, regardless of hull design.)

    Bob Holtzman

  3. thanks for the wonderful article. you have done a fine job on fiber glass canoe. this will help a number of common people like me and teach a new lesson in the field.