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by Mississippi Bob Brown, MAIB, Volume 22 - Number 17, Jan 15, 2005, p. 25.

A skeg can be a quick fix for a poorly designed boat or an essential part of a good boat. I have used them both ways.

A few years back I raced canoes a lot. I felt that no canoe tracked well enough. We would add skegs to our boat to try to get a few more strokes per side before we needed to change sides. As I got older my thinking changed and I came to realize that sometimes a boat must be turned.

As I phased out of racing I began to look at boats that made more efficient use of my energy. I was still designing boats that tracked well. I usually designed canoes with no rocker. That did the job with no other help. A friend gave me an unfinished rowboat. This boat was about halfway between a guideboat and a dory. I got a bare hull with gunwales but no seats or decks. I installed thwarts and two rowing stations. The placement of these seats was a guess and I did fairly well at that. On my shakedown the boat slid about a lot so I added a small skeg. This helped a lot.

On one very windy day I was out rowing with a friend. He had a 14' Whitehall built from Mystic Seaport plans. I learned real quick that my boat would crab into the wind just fine but his Whitehall wouldn't. His 14' Whitehall simply slid off down wind and didn't perform well at all in those conditions. His Whitehall had too much skeg built into the wineglass stern. I had guessed right. I built two kayaks that helped me understand what a skeg can do for you. The first was Lowtec, my first attempt at designing a stitch-and-glue kayak. I had looked over the lines from a Chesapeake Cape Charles. The boat had altogether too much rocker and needed a skeg to make it paddle well. I made a couple of trips in Lowtec, then designed the Simplicity. I reshaped the side panels and developed a much better bottom shape that needed no skeg.

A few years back I built several of Marc Pettingill's Sweet Dreams. I built the 13' version first. Aside from raising the sides 2", I built it pretty much to his plan. I wanted to try building a tortured plywood boat and figured that a little boat like this would be a simple, cheap test. Much to my surprise I had built a fairly nice boat to paddle.

I was dabbling with freestyle paddling at that time and the Sweet Dream did this quite well. I liked the boat well enough that I decided to build another shorter one. I next built the same boat in 12' but I did some modifying in the ends. This boat would turn on a dime and give me change but I didn't really like it that well. The boat was a great creek runner but it didn't do much else very well. I added a skeg and put it up for sale.

[Images do not enlarge in this article, ed.]

The skeg I added to the 12' Sweet Dream.

I built a third Sweet Dream after doing my headwaters trip on the Mississippi. I wanted a solo boat large enough to carry my bedroom and my kitchen, so I built a 14-footer and raised the sides up about 3" above Marc's plan. This boat was to become my cruiser for the occasional camping trip that I do. After paddling it for a while I decided that it should also have a skeg. When I am traveling I paddle sit and switch style and a skeg would improve the boat.

This time I kept it small. I started with a 3/8" x 3/4" keel on just the stern third of the boat. Where the stern curved away from this keel I filled in the space with a plywood wedge and faired it in creating a very smooth skeg. This change improved the boat dramatically.

The Skeg on the 14' Sweet Dream.

I designed one boat around the skeg. Twenty years back I built my first Tern. This stripper was a very nice paddling canoe. It was only 14.5' long but it was quite fast for such a short boat. After years of paddling the Tern I knew what I could do to improve it.

The Tern 2 was the last stripper that I built in my shop, it may well be the last ever as I have learned that cedar sawdust is really hard on the body. The Tern 2 has all the same stations as the Tern but I pulled in the gunwales slightly and added a bit of rocker. The boat has about 3/4" of rocker forward and about half that much aft. I also added a retractable skeg much like you often see on kayaks.

The retractable Skeg, on Tern 2.

I made an aluminum skeg and housed it in a fiberglass trunk. This is very much like a sailboat centerboard but much smaller. I operated it with a single length of parachute cord that ran through fairleads past the seat to a jam cleat under the starboard gunwale. I now had the best of both worlds. I had a boat that turned fairly well yet ran true with the skeg down.

The case that houses the skeg on Tern 2.

I have written about my "Foam Barge" in the past. This boat was a disappointment for me. On the first test it was obvious that the boat had no intention to track at all. This boat really needed help. I concluded that if a skeg would help than multiple skegs would be better. I ran three keelsons the length of the bottom that all blended into the skegs. The skegs helped but the boat was still a disappointment.

The multiple skegs on the Foam Barge.

There is one boat in my fleet that I didn't build, it is an Old Town kayak. I bought this boat very cheap at a canoe auction. The boat is a classic from the time that Old Town still built fiberglass boats. It is a high volume river runner made of glass. After paddling it I wasn't happy with my purchase. The boat was in real good condition and I felt that I might use it more if I added a skeg so it would track better. I was not about to start gobbing a lot of glass onto this classic, so I taped on some plastic wrap for a parting agent and built a boot that fit over the stern and built a skeg into this removable boot. I have tested this rig by duct taping it on and it does definitely help. When completed I will simply have a bungee that will hold it on attached to the cockpit rim.

The removable skeg from the Old Town

Skegs, sometimes they can be a salvation.

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