Proas, Prahus, Similar Craft FAQ
Version 1.7 December 18 1996

Craig O'Donnell
Contact me with comments or additions.
John McCallum, Applegate Boatworks
Applegate Web Page
John Kohnen
John's Nautical Links
John's Nautical & Boatbuilding Page
...and lots of great advice from Dave Culp
Dave's Speedsailing Page


What is a Proa?

Where can I find plans?

How about building a proa and a crabclaw sail?

Where Can I Find Proa Information:

On the Web?

In Books?

In Magazine Articles?

What is a Proa?

A proa is a Pacific outrigger sailing canoe, originated by the island peoples of the North Pacific. It comes in various sizes and configurations. In its purest form, it consists of a narrow canoe hull with a very flat leeward side and an outrigger and float always kept to windward. Instead of tacking, a proa switches bow for stern by reversing the sail and rudder in a sort of a switchback maneuver sometimes called shunting. (Don't ask me to describe this. Read the WoodenBoat #83 article.) So it always keeps the outrigger assembly to windward, using it to counterbalance pressure on the sail.

It typically has one sail of an equilateral triangle/lateen shape, or curved-yard "crabclaw" shape. For some more information on the relative efficiency of various rigs, see WoodenBoat #92 (Jan/Feb 1990).

There is no reason your proa couldn't have an unstayed Chinese junk sail, Sunfish lateen sail, windsurfer sail, or sprit-boomed leg-o-mutton sail that simply rotates in its step. For experimenting, a simple sprit-boomed l-o-m (or 'sharpie sail') is probably quickest to rig using some bamboo or lumberyard spars, and some polytarp or Tyvek. It's up to you to figure out how the sheets and lines lead, though.

There is no reason you could not have a twin-staysail proa, using one sail in either direction, a kite-propelled proa, a wing sail, or use any other rig which seems interesting. Maybe a square-rigger.

See also Phil Bolger's Proa plans for a triangular, battened, pre-cambered, double ended sail.

A proa should be the ultimate cartopping boat, since it's akin to a fat kayak with a sail and an ama. (I dare you to design one using PVC tubing, a secondhand kayak and a used sailboard). If it matters to you, it also should be fast.

Proas were made from logs, palm leaf matting and bamboo. A DIY proa can be made from pretty much any double-ended, narrow boat big enough to turn around in, e.g., a proa-kayak might be tough to handle! A classic proa is sailed with the crew sitting around so the ama is just above the water - a real balancing act. Others have experimented with hydrofoil proas.

The 'prahu' is the general name for an Indonesian sailing boat, and some of these are similar to the proa. See Haddon and Hornell for the full scoop.

This proa, Blue Joseph, was built by John McCallum. Note: The pontoon or 'ama' can be any size. Its two functions are to counterweight the wind pressure on the sail and to allow people to walk around in the proa when 'shunting' or 'tacking'.

You can make a functional proa from just about any canoe, which is nice if you'd like to sail your canoe. I am slowly making a cheesy Coleman 15 into a proa.

You may see a reference to an "Atlantic" proa. This refers to a sort of catamaran designed by Dick Newick [Cheers]. It has a long ama mounted on the leeward side and was tried in a transatlantic race.

From Gary Dierking:

Just to clear up a few misconceptions; Polynesians in general and Tahitians, Tongans, Samoans and Fijians never used the proa configuration. Their outrigger canoes have distinct bows and sterns (and very nice ones too with plumb or clipper bows and long overhanging sterns).

A Tahitian canoe (as you can see on any postcard from Bora Bora) sails with the ama to windward or to leeward. There is a long balancing plank opposite the ama for the crew to prevent the very non-buoyant ama from diving.

Proas are found almost exclusively in Micronesia (like Satawal). I've been very fascinated with proas for over thirty years and in my Pacific cruising era, tracked down and examined every one I could find. There's a 60' Marshallese proa here in Auckland at the maritime museum now and it would be hard to conceive of a more ruthlessly functional sailing machine. The humbling part is that they had no metal to put in the canoe or to use for tools.

Where can I find plans?

Some plans appear in magazines (below). Contact John McCallum at Applegate Boatworks about plans for a "stitch and glue" proa.

John writes:

I have designed and built what I would describe as a prototype proa. I do not have a set of finished plans for sale yet. But I can tell you a little bit about the boat.

My younger son named it Blue Joseph. I got the sail plan from Joseph Webber's drawings from Captain Cook's expedition. The hull is kind of a generic Polynesian proa, close to the boats from Puluwat and Satawal. The hull started out as a paddling fishing boat with no sail rig.

I thought that the fly fishermen might like a very stable casting platform. So I designed the boat with a flat bottom 12 inches wide so that they could stand up and cast and have room for their feet. I could never convince the fishermen to try it so I was left with a proa on my hands. Sailing is my first love anyway so I designed the sail rig.

The Polynesian Proas have a deep V bottom to provide lateral resistance. I wanted to find out how these boats sailed without a daggerboard. But my boat had a narrow flat bottom, so I added a shallow keel with the same profile as the Puluwat boats. The mast is a fir pole with a dumb sheave at the top for the halyard. The yardarm is held to the mast with a simple rope parrel.

I laminated the curved yardarms from spruce and recut the crabclaw sail from an old Lightning mainsail. While developing the sail rig I have made three amas (outrigger floats), three steering oars and two keels each one bigger than the previous version.

Blue Joseph is small for a sailing proa. In Hawaii and Puluwat the smallest sailing proas were about 20 feet long. My boat sails about as fast as a modern monohull daysailer, which is pretty good for a stone age rig with a 60 sq ft sail. The boat is a gas to sail, flying on a reach with the ama skimming along the tops of the waves is quite a thrill.

The sailor tacks (shunts?) by pulling the tack of the sail from one end (bow?) to the other with a continuous loop tack line and shifting the steering oar. Then grab the other side of the continous-loop sheet and sheet in the sail. The process is highly entertaining nautical comedy.

As designed, the boat is a pretty good compromise. It is easy to transport and easy to walk around in. It is very fun to sail but because of its accidental evolution as a sailboat it is not a super speedboat. I have in mind a follow up design which would be more specifically a sailboat.

The new Proa might be 20 feet long with an asymmetrical V bottom. I am still thinking in terms of duplicating a real Proa to see what the old design can do with modern materials. I have not decided whether to have a 100- or 120- sq ft sail.

I built this boat for myself with a minimum of plans. I have a study plan drawing but I don't have a set of plans ready for amateur builders. My usual plans include Lines drawing, Plank Expansion drawing, Detail drawings, materials list and building instructions. What I have for the proa is a simple Lines drawing, a Plank Expansion drawing and a simple Sail Plan. I hope to get the full set of plans ready later next year.

How about building a proa and a crabclaw sail?

From Dave Culp:

Craig wrote:

Dave, what do you make the boats out of? My other interest is bamboo in boatbuilding, pretty much a lost art here in the West and probably dying elsewhere. Turns out that bamboo was popular in sailing canoes and racing boats back about 100 years ago for masts and such, and that into the 20th century New Jersey 'sneakboxes' often used bamboo for small sail rigs, since it does grow wild up the Eastern seaboard.

Dave replied:

Early on, I built the proas of *very* cheap and often salvaged materials. The hulls were carved foam, typically salvaged from dock floatation, and all tubing was ordinary automotive muffler tubing--custom bent by a kindhearted muffler shop at their cost.

I have a philosophy that, for experimental boatbuilding, it is important that the cost of the hard bits be cheap enough that you aren't tempted to re-use something (which might have horrible performance characteristics, but was bloody expensive, and is paid for), when design parameters dictate starting anew.

As time has gone by, and my personal finances could dictate, I've built of more and more expensive materials, but they're still *relatively* cheap, and I still throw boats away. IMO, the above must be tempered by the utility of the cheap/salvaged materials. My muffler tubing boat weighed, all up, about 10 lbs more than if I'd had high-tensile alloy bent and TIG welded. This was acceptable to me, and resulted in 90% savings. And sure enough, I threw it away before it rusted out (but just barely).

Oh, my current materials of choice are foam sandwich, using fairly expensive foams ("fairly expensive" in a small boat, means adding $50-100 to the whole project, comparing the cheapest foams over the most expensive--there's just not enough of it to matter), and 'glassing with uni-directional glass (not carbon) with vinylester or vinyl/polyester resins.

These are half again the cost of cheap polyester, but still half the cost of epoxy, and the physical properties of glass and vinylester are very good. (I just built a new set of daggerboards with it. Design loads are 150% of the boat's weight. I bet they wouldn't be 3 oz lighter, and no stiffer, if built of vacuum bagged carbon/epoxy).

I also still use solid foam, carved to shape and 'glassed. This allows the most freedom in shape and lets my "artistic" abilities come through. Plus, I picked up an aversion to sinking, especially in front of the tv cameras, many years ago.

I like the idea of bamboo, though it has horrible rot characteristics. The problem is, unless you go out and cut it yourself, where are you going to get it?

Many years ago, the AYRS suggested using ordinary aluminum extension ladders for akas. Many members tried it, and it works *very* well. They're light, cheap, and plenty rigid. You usually get two with each ladder, though, so you can either buy one with a friend, build two boats yourself so you can hold your own regattas, or just stand the extra piece in the garden and use it to climb trees ;-)


From John McCallum:

Craig wrote:

A crab claw question: did you actually make a crabclaw sail for your proa?
Out of what? How did it work? What are the halyard and sheeting specifics?

John replied:

Yes I did make a crab claw out of an old dacron lightning main sail. It is 60 sqft. It works great. It is surprisingly good to windward, very docile during tacking <shunting?>.

It develops a huge weather helm down wind. Mike Ishizki told me that out on Satawal they hardly use the steering oar upwind, they control the boat with the sheet and by shifting weight. But downwind the steersman has to push hard on the shaft of the steering oar with his foot. I have been through three successively bigger steering oars.

The halyard is show in the drawing that I sent. It is just a dumb sheave with a rope halyard. I made a simple rope parrel to control the upper yardarm while raising and lowering the sail.

The sheet is a continous loop tied to the lower yardarm and going back to the boat and under the akas in the hull and back out to the sail. The tack line is also a continous loop going from the tack of the sail back along the lee side of the hull then back through the hull under the seats and akas to the tack of the sail. Mike said that this is how they do it way out in the wild west Pacific.

By pulling on the appropriate side of the tack line you can pull the sail from one end of the boat to the other. I really should make a video of the process, it is quite a circus.

Proa Information on the Web

From Dave Culp:

Great proa FAQ, Craig. I've been interested in these boats for 25 years, since reading Canoes of Oceania in high school.

At the risk of banging my own drum, have you seen the kite powered proas I've been building for the past 18 years? Kite power lends itself perfectly to proas; they require no messing about to reverse tacks, they must wear about, thus shunting is a natural, and they can be sailed from a longitudinal track on the leeward rail, thus *always* keeping the boat in perfect balance, self-steering at all times *without* a rudder at all.

Check out these:

Photos of both Crossbows, and two of Slingshot, both as trimaran and as
proa. Includes what construction data and dimensions I could find (I
mis-stated several construction details in an earlier post).

Sketch, plus reprint of AYRS article on SheerSpeed; an aerodynamic balanced, single foil hydrofoil.


Dave Culp Speedsailing
2004 Silverlake Way
Martinez, CA 94553
Telephone: (510) 284-1101 x 326 (days)
(510) 689-4360 (eves)

Here are more spots on the Web where you may be able to find Proa information. If we keep searching we will find all 45 of the world's proa enthusiasts...


Building a Proa with Peter Fynn
Good job on a Constant Camber proa. Really nice photographs of the proa under construction.
Email Peter.
Flying Proa of the Marianas Islands
Text and pictures from 1748, online 250 years later. The same pages as the modern Pacific Proa, below.

Hawaii Canoe Building

A general background on Hawaiian sailing canoes helps you understand how proas were built without metal fastenings. This is the Polynesian Voyaging Society page, with links to more information.
The PVS and the Bishop Museum seem to have done quite a bit of research in Polynesian double canoes. Together they have a web page that goes into detail of how they built some of the latest canoes that they've sailed around the Pacific.
(Tom Van Wyck)

Repositories of Primary Sources
Maybe 1500 archives of historical information (text, photos) online.
You're on your own once you get started with this one.
me know what you find. (John McCallum found this).


Order back issues or just harass columnist Peter Spectre via email!

Proas of Micronesia
Gary Dierking's computer-modeled proas. Gary's from New Zealand.

Hawaiian sailing canoe info from a society dedicated to preserving the tradition. These are two-hulled, catamaran-style canoes, but the pictures of crabclaw sails in action are worth a look-see.

The UNofficial A Y R S Page
The one, the only, the original wacky dudes from the Amateur Yacht Research Society will be 'hapa' to have you as a member. AYRS has published report after report on speedsailing, proas, multihulls, sail efficiency, and more. Page by
Simon Fishwick. AYRS publications are listed below.

A Modern Pacific Proa
This appears to be a 60-foot luxury boat, as yet unbuilt. Computer rendering in 3D. However the historical and background proa material is excellent.

Multihulls Magazine has had articles on proas. See below. Email to Multihulls.

Where Can I Find Proa Information? - Books

From John McCallum:


I know that you already have some of these, here are some that I have found. The first two books are incredible.

Polynesian Seafaring - the original sketches from the 18th century voyages of Captain Cook and Admiral Paris, including the drawings of Joseph Webber with Cook's expedition. Webber's drawings are like photographs.

Wangka - plans of contemporary traditional Pacific multihulls and some windtunnel data.

East Is A Big Bird - an amazing and empathic view into how radically different stoneage thinking is from European thought. It is also a fun account of sailing on the big proas.


More Books
Austin, Robert and Ueda, Koichiro, photos by Dana Levy
  New York, Walker/Weatherhill, 1970
  LCCN 70096051
Bloomster, Edgar L.
  Sailing and Small Craft Down the Ages
    United States Naval Institute, 1940/1968/1969
    (Alphabetical encyclopedia of boat types, most with silhouette drawings,
    many Pacific craft, bibliography)

Bolger, Phil
  The Folding Schooner: and Other Adventures in Boat Design
  International Marine Publishing Company, 1976
  pp. 91-98 (Commentary and plans for a 40' plywood proa)
  ISBN 0-87742-083-1  LCCN 76-8779
  Boats with an Open Mind
  International Marine Publishing Company, 1994
  pp. 116-120 (Commentary and study plan for a 19'6" proa)
  ISBN 0-07-006376-1
  VM321.B677 1994
  The Sailing-Boat, 1872 (Later editions by Folkard?)
    pp. 462ff (Reproduced in Messing About in Boats)
Dodd, Edward
  Polynesian Seafaring; a disquisition on prehistoric celestial navigation and
    the nature of seagoing double canoes, with illustrations reproducing
    original field sketches, wash drawings, or prints by artists on the early
    voyages of exploration and occasional written reports from on-the-scene
  New York, Dodd, Mead, 1972.
  L.C. Subject(s):  Navigation, Primitive --Polynesia
  GN440 .D65
Doran, Edwin Jr.
  Wangka: Austronesian Canoe Origins
  College Station: Texas A&M University Press, 1981.
  L.C. Subject(s):  Canoes and canoeing --Islands of the Pacific
                    Navigation, Primitive --Islands of the Pacific
  ISBN 0890961077  LCCN 80006108
Feinberg, Richard
  Polynesian Seafaring And Navigation: Ocean Travel In Anutan Culture And
  Kent, Ohio: Kent State University Press, 1988.
  L.C. Subject(s):  Ethnology --Solomon Islands --Anuta Island
                    Polynesians --Industries
                    Navigation, Primitive --Solomon Islands --Anuta Island
                    Canoes and canoeing --Solomon Islands --Anuta Island
                    Industries --Solomon Islands --Anuta Island
  GN671.S6F46 1988

Haddon, A. C. and Hornell, James
  Canoes of Oceania
  Honolulu: Bernice P. Bishop Museum, 1936-38.
  Special publications - Bernice P. Bishop Museum; 27-29.
  Three volumes:
    v1. Hornell, J.  GN4.B4 no. 27
    The canoes of Polynesia, Fiji, and Micronesia.
    v2. Haddon, A. C.  GN4.B4 no. 28
    The canoes of Melanesia, Queensland, and New Guinea.

    v3. Haddon and Hornell  GN4.B4 no. 29
    Definition of terms, general survey, and conclusions.
Handy, Edward Smith Craighill
  Houses, Boats, and Fishing in the Society Islands
  The Museum, Honolulu, Hawaii, 1932
  Bernice Pauahi Bishop Museum. Bulletin no. 90
  Q11 .B4 no.90
Horridge, G. Adrian
  The Prahu: Traditional Sailing Boat Of Indonesia
  (drawings by Chris Snoek)
  Kuala Lumpur: Oxford University Press, 1981
  ISBN 0195804996  LCCN 82940417
  A nicely done, comprehensive book. Photos and drawings.
  The Konjo Boatbuilders and the Bugis Prahus of South Sulawesi
  Greenwich, London: National Maritime Museum, 1979
  Maritime monographs and reports; no. 40 0307-8590
  ISBN 0905555260
  The Lambo or Prahu Bot: A Western Ship In An Eastern Setting
  Greenwich, London: Trustees of the National Maritime Museum, 1979
  Maritime monographs and reports, 0307-8590; no. 39.
  NOTES: Bibliography: p. 40-41.
  L.C. Subject(s):  Praus --Indonesia.
  ISBN 0905555236 (pbk)  LCCN 81190385
  VM351.H67 1979
  Outrigger Canoes of Bali and Madura, Indonesia
  Honolulu: Bishop Museum Press, 1987
  Bishop Museum special publication, 0067-6179; 77
Hollander, N. & H. Merte
  The Last Sailors [anyone have comments on this one?]
Holmes, Tommy
  The Hawaiian Canoe
  Hanalei, Kauai, Hawaii (P.O. Box 869, Hanalei 96714)
  LCCN 82-234748//r89
  A little lacking in actual plans, but full of construction
  information, photos, background, history.
Thomas, Gladwin,1916-
  East Is A Big Bird; Navigation and Logic On Puluwat Atoll
  Cambridge, Mass., Harvard University Press, 1970.
  L.C. Subject(s):  Puluwat Atoll. Navigation, Primitive
                    Cognitive styles -- Puluwat Atoll
  ISBN 0674224256  LCCN 75095922.
  Whincup, Tony Nareau's Nation - A Portrait of the Gilbert Islands pub: Stacey International
Not a book on boats, more a "coffee table" book on the Gilbert
Islands, but it does include a number of photos of small proas,
some of which are fairly detailed. I don't suggest that it's a
"must have", but if like me you saw it going cheap in a secondhand
bookshop, it's worth a second glance. (Simon Fishwick)
Norwood, Joseph
  21st Century Multihulls
Norwood presents some good arguments for his "modified-Pacific
Proas" in 21st Century Multihulls. You can *buy* the book from
AYRS for 10 GB pounds. Well worth it, IMHO (and the fact that
I "work" for the AYRS doesn't cloud my thinking one whit ;-)
Joseph Norwood is an *outstanding* author, and knows his
stuff. (Dave Culp)
From Ava, MULTIHULLS Magazine:
"Just thought I'd let everyone on the list know this to save
a lot of hunting for 'unavailable' books. The out-of-print books
possibly may be found in out-of-the-way secondhand bookstores,
your library -- or -- through the Lending Librarians of the
larger U.S. multihull associations."
Cheers by J. Morris, D. Newick & T. Follet
-out of print since the late 1970s
We, the Navigators by D. Lewis
-still available through MULTIHULLS Book List or directly from
University of Hawaii Press, Honolulu, HI 96822. (I don't know
whether they would sell single copies - we order in batches)
Polynesian Seafaring by E. Dodd
-out of print for many years.
Taratai I & Taratai II by J. Siers
-out of print as of about 4 years ago.
Multihull Seamanshiip by Mike McMullen
-sold out a few years after the 1976 OSTAR in which Mike went
missing, mysteriously... which caused a lot of people to buy
his book.
21st Century Multihulls by Norwood
-came out last year and is available through MULTIHULLS.


Where Can I Find Proa Information? - Magazine Articles & Other

The Journal of the Polynesian Society v. 1-? 1892-?
  Wellington, N.Z. [etc.] Polynesian Society
  NOTES: Vols. 1-50 called also no. 1-200. Vols. for 1892-1941 contain the
  transactions and proceedings of the society. Vocabularies of some of the
  Polynesian languages included.
  GN 2 .P7
Messing About in Boats
  (contact Bob Hicks, 29 Burley St., Wenham MA 01984)
  July 1, 1988; Vol 6, #5
    Short article: I have not seen this issue.
  Sep 1, 1988; Vol 6, #8
    Sailing a South Seas Proa
    Photo, p. 22
  Nov 1, 1988; Vol 6, #12
    Moa About the Proa pp. 10-12
    Reprint of info from _The Sailing-Boat_, Coleman, 1872.
  Jan 1, 1989; Vol 6, #16
    Fast Sailing, Racing Proa pp. 18-19
    Reprint of Ralph Munroe's plan from The Rudder.
  Mar 15, 1989; Vol 6, #21
    A Long Way from Commodore Munroe by Mac McCarthy p. 25
    Photo and commentary.
  Nov 15, 1989; Vol 7, #13
    Budget Cartop Proa by Don Betts pp. 18-19; cover photo
  Feb 15, 1990; Vol 7, #19
    Proa Update by Don Betts p. 22
    Phil Bolger's Proa (Commentary and plan)
The Rudder (magazine, early 1900s)
  The Fast Sailing, Racing Proa, designed by Ralph M. Munroe
  Comments, plans, also printed in at least one of The Rudder's plan books.
  From the Mid-Pacific: letter & photo
  Small proa, approx 18 ft; pontoon about 9 ft.
  [I xeroxed the page but forgot to note the issue date - COD]
Sail and Sweep (magazine, early 1900s)
  A Freak Flying Proa by Carlton Whitby
  Comments, plans. A weird one with double outriggers canting upward and
  pivoted. [Same deal, I didn't note the date]
To order back issues go here.
  #14, p. 7
    CROSSBOW II (Comments)
    Crossbow is a speedsailing boat, don't try this at home.
  #49, p. 94
    Quick and Dirty Boatbuilding (Article, plans)
    Wacky article on the first Sikaflex Challenge.
    15-1/2' paddle proa made from 2 sheets plywood and 32ft of 2x4.
  #54, p. 56
    FISH TRUCK (Comments, plan)

  #83, p. 58ff
    CIMBA (Comments, photos, plans)
    JZERO (Comments, photos)
    KAURI (Comments, photos)
    KAURI (Cover photo)
    Supermodern, but in one case cheap, proas. Excellent article!
  #77, p. 52ff
    The Janggolans of Madura (Article, photos)
    Crabclaw Sails, Junk-like vessels, wonderful photos.

  #92, p. 76ff
    Sail and Hull Performance (Article, photos)
    Crabclaw sails. 
[Apparently AYRS has published the full report that this
 comes from. Contact the AYRS. - COD]
    August 1929
    Flying Proas of the Ladrones by William Kilmer
    Good diagram from an account by Baron Anson, 1748.
The Navigators (video)
    Documentary of the "last living master" of Polynesian navigation
    New Film Company, 7 Mystic Street 211A, Arlington MA 02174
Flying Proa in _Eighteenth Century Rigs and Rigging_ (book)
  See p. 162-165
  Text and several drawings including fittings diagram.

Proa References in AYRS Publications (from Simon Fishwick)

Booklet number, followed by page references.
From Fiona Sinclair's AYRS Index, to be published real soon now.
AYRS Booklets are published by:
Amateur Yacht Research Society
London GB - W1N 3XX
Proa - Atlantic
Proa - Pacific
Proa designs under 15'
Proa designs from 15' to 20'
Proa designs from 20' to 30'
Proa designs from 30' to 40'
Proa designs over 40'
Proa one-way:
Proa one-way (either side)
Proa one-way (Polynesian)
Proa reversible (Atlantic)
Proa reversible (Micronesian)
Proa reversible (Moa)
Proa (Amaran)     

 Multihulls Magazine [no article descriptions available yet]
May/Jun 1980
Mar/Apr 1981
Mar/Apr 1994

Copyright 1996 Craig O'Donnell
Electronic retransmission and sharing OK
Email for permission to reproduce in fixed media (CD-ROM, Print, etc)

Some Pictures of Proas

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