Originally built by the native Powhatan tribes along the Chesapeake Bay, these boats were adopted by early English settlers, who discovered that the sturdy craft could handle the rough waters of the Bay and carry a heavy load. For more than three centuries, the log canoe was essential to life on the Chesapeake Bay, the United States’ largest estuary, for travel, harvest and trade. The suitability of this open, shallow vessel for navigating and fishing along the Chesapeake waterways led to its adoption and assimilation by European colonists using imported tools and technology.
Beginning in the 1840s, log canoe racing was a spinoff from workboats racing one another between oyster bed and market to get the best price for their goods. A massive sailing rig was added to a Tilghmans Island canoe hull, thinned to reduce weight, transforming the workboat into a racing vessel. The outrageous amounts of canvas to increase speed resulted in a problem: in a strong wind the boat can tip. This necessitated windward ballast upon which a canoe’s crew could sit on and use their body weight to counterbalance the craft.
The early 20th century saw the construction of purpose-built racing boats as well as organized racing competitions in the northern Chesapeake Bay. These races became a annual organized competitions that were and continue today to be held in the Chesapeake Bay, where the crews pit themselves against each other and the wind in order to reach the finish line.
While there may not be many of these boats still racing today, those that do race they have a fearless breed of sailor for crew. In order to balance out the wind in the enormous sails these crews climb out on windward ballasts over the water with nothing keeping them there but their strength and determination. Though at times even that is not enough and the sails and the sailors meet the water instead of the finish line. If you ask them about their boats they will say there is no other like them and they are worth the challenge.