Boat Building Academy students launch a stripper canoe with sailing rig

Strip-built canoe under inspection at the harbour. Photograph by BBA student and photographer Derek Thompson LRPS BBA Director Tim Gedge presents Chris Smith with his certificate after the launch.  Photograph by Jenny Steer

Chris on his maiden sail.  Photograph by Jenny Steer Chris, Colleen and Cally preparing the EllaJen's maiden voyage. Photograph by Jenny Steer




Boat Building Academy student Chris Smith from Dundee built this Selway-Fisher designed 16ft Canadian sailing canoe, with the help of included Paul Hutchins, who is from the South Devon.

Named EllaJen, the canoe is strip-planked in western red cedar, with a resin-infused inner laminate giving a lighter structure and higher quality finish. Chris chose the design because wanted to build something a bit different, and a canoe he could sail as well paddle fitted the bill.

Find out more about Chris’s canoe at his blog here, and see a photographic diary of the build here.

Before joining the Academy, Chris completed a degree in marine sport technology, which enabled him to kit the canoe out in modern racing dinghy style, with a light-weight carbon-fibre mast and racy rigging and control lines.

Chris has now now applied to take a masters degree in maritime engineering science at Southampton.

Co-worker Paul is busy establishing a workshop and business in Tavistock specialising in traditional and bespoke joinery, traditional boats, shepherd’s huts and gypsy wagons. The business is called Tavy and Tamar Boat Builders and he can be reached at

PS – While we’re thinking about the BBA, don’t forget the raffle to raise money for a permanent workshop at Lyme for Gail McGarva. There are just a few days left, and the prizes include an eight-week woodworking course and £100 towards materials for a personal project piece, a five-day traditional wooden boat building or wooden boat restoration short course, and a day with Gail in her workshop. More than £1000 has been raised so far, and tickets will also be available at the Lyme Gig Regatta on the 14th August – which is also the day of the draw.


Tony Bibbington sails and paddles Macgregor’s route in a Rob Roy canoe

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Rob Roy canoe gear – click on the drawing for a larger image

I’ve just learned that Mersey Canoe Club member Tony Bibbington last year sailed and paddled from Oslo to the Baltic, following Victorian pioneer John MacGregor’s paddle-strokes all the way. My thanks to Brian Smith for letting me know about this, and for pointing out that there are some great photos online at – click on the 2009 calendar and then on Nov 4, and you will find photos of his trip round Heligoland.

It was a 500km trip that he had to complete in three weeks due to the that old enemy work, but perhaps the most jaw-dropping aspect of the whole thing is that Tony was  determined to follow exactly the same route as his hero and did so using a 138-year old original Rob Roy canoe made by Sewells of London that he restored himself.

This insistence on following Macgregor’s route caused a few problems along the way – the first  of which was that the spot from with Macgregor first launched his canoe in Norway is now someone’s back garden. Thankfully, the owner proved friendly and Tony was on his way.

An article in the magazine Canoe Focus tells the story of a varied journey, sometimes tedious, sometimes  beautiful, and with plenty of incidents worth retelling, with Tony dressing as a Victorian gentleman canoeist and meeting an artist determined to paint his portrait; moments where, like Macgregor before him, Tony had to drag his canoe out of a stream water and use a car or other means to reach the next patch of water; and a final landing in which he landed inside the perimeter of a factory security fence. Luckily, on that occasion his path was smoothed by the security man who had read about Tony’s expedition in the newspapers.

How did Tony get on with his canoe, and how did she stand up to the journey more than a century after she was first made? In the Canoe Focus article Tony himself was happy to quote Macgregor: ‘The Rob Roy has proved herself able ”to sail steadily, to paddle easily, to float lightly, to turn readily, and to bear rough usage on stones and banks, and in carts, railways and steamers; to be durable and dry, as well as comfortable and safe” just as she was originally designed to be. MacGregor’s theory was that ”a canoe ought to fit a man like a coat”. The Rob Roy had been a perfect fit on my journey and I look forward to our next adventure.’

I think the whole thing is an extraordinary story with at least four heroes in addition to old John Macgregor himself: Tony for being brave enough to set out on an arduous 500km paddling and sailing trip in unknown country  in a 138-year old canoe, his family for travelling with him and enabling him to make the journey in a modern age without horses and carts in wide use in remote areas, and the dear old boat itself.

For more on Macgregor, click here; to read Macgregor’s account of his own trip to the Baltic, click here.

An entertaining article about sailing canoe pioneer John MacGregor

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A Thousand Miles in the Rob Roy Canoe

‘After taking on supplies at Gravesend, I shoved off into the tide, and lit a cigar, and now I felt we had fairly started,’ wrote philanthropist, barrister and pioneer of the Victorian canoeing craze, John MacGregor in his classic A thousand miles in the Rob Roy canoe.

He seems to have been a highly entertaining if largely bonkers character, from what we learn from this article published in Sea Kayaker Magazine.

I really must get around to reading Macgregor’s book myself!

See this post for construction information and ‘plans’ for Rob Roy-style canoe described by Neison in his book Practical boatbuilding for amateurs.