Grapeview Point Boat Works

81 E Grapeview Point Rd + Allyn, WA 98524 + 360-277-9015 + boat_works@yahoo.com

The Voyages of John MacGregor

A Brief Account of the Origins of Double Paddle and Sailing Canoes

John MacGregor (1825-1892) was a Scotsman of eclectic interests with a taste for adventure. An oarsman on an eight-man crew during his Cambridge University days, he developed a life-long passion for small boat paddling and cruising.

He searched for his ideal boat - one that was safe, portable and manageable. He wanted to face forward when paddling, using a double paddle similar to that of the kayaks of the natives of Kamchatka. He wanted a simple seaworthy design, small enough to fit in a railway carriage.

His first boat along these lines was designed by Searle & Son of Lambeth, England, who routinely built racing shells and other small craft. The boat was 15’ long with a 28” beam. It had a lapstrake hull, cedar deck, and standing lug rig with jib. It weighed 80 pounds. He used a seven-foot double paddle for propulsion and steering. This was the first of a series of lapstrake cedar and oak boats, all named Rob Roy.

MacGregor’s reports of his first voyage in this boat, a three-month trip on the major rivers and lakes of Western Europe during the summer of 1865, captured the imagination of the English public. Within months of his return, he formed the Royal Canoe Club, and the canoe craze was launched. His account of the first trip, A Thousand Miles in the Rob Roy Canoe, became a bestseller in 1866, as he reported on a different world than that commonly seen by the touring English public. His tales of the simple life he encountered on his voyages appealed to the imagination of countless would-be boaters.

The following summer he traveled to Scandinavia in a new slightly shorter and narrower canoe. His fame spread across Europe as additional accounts of his experiences were published.

In 1867, MacGregor had a yawl designed for him that he could sail from England to France. This boat was 21’ on deck with a 2’ bowsprit. It drew 3’ and had a 7’ beam. It carried far less sail than it was capable of. In his opinion, it was worthwhile to sacrifice speed for comfort and safety.

In 1868, MacGregor traveled further still, in yet another Rob Roy, this time reverting to a double-paddle canoe. He toured Egypt, Syria, and Palestine. His continuing journeys in such exotic locales added to his popularity and the enthusiasm of the public for personal exploration in small craft.


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