Cape Canso 23

Plywood Lapstrake Trailable Gaff Cutter

Cape Canso 23 gaff rig
Profile of Cape Canso 23

Small coastal cruiser

~ Pretty as a picture

~ Shallow draft to get away from the crowd

~ Extra long berths for tall people

~ Extra long cockpit to sleep under the stars

~ Take her home for the winter

~ Modern full-batten gaff rig

~ Sister to Cape Cutter 19, Cape Henry 21,
Cape May 25, Cape Charles 32 &
Cape Deseada 36TC

~ Plywood plans for amateur builders

~ Plywood kit suppliers North America & elsewhere

~ Flickr Album



Credit Card

Boat Sites


As of May 2022, the Cape Canso 23 is the newest in the range that started with the Cape Cutter 19. That boat proved to have durable appeal and attracted commissions for larger sizes. Over 20 years the range expanded upward through to the Cape Deseada 36TC and I have no doubt that it will expand into still larger sizes in the future. They all look alike, for the good reason that the clients who commissioned the various designs wanted them that way. These boats are all full of character, able and seaworthy, with a good turn of speed. They have displacement hulls, so will not plane in strong downwind conditions but will account well for themselves on all headings in most conditions. All are detailed for plywood construction by amateurs or professional builders.

The Cape Canso 23 was commissioned by a Canadian family, with the first boat to be built by Big Pond Boat Shop in Mahone Bay, Nova Scotia. They have previously built a Cape Henry 21 woodwork for completion by the owners.

The Cape Canso 23 fills the gap that has existed for awhile between the Cape Henry 21 and the Cape May 25. With a bit more space than the smaller sisters, a convertible dinette area works well for a more versatile interior. The layout shown here has an enclosed head and three berths but an alternative four-berth layout like the smaller boats will also work, with the portable toilet stowed under modified companion steps.

Cape Canso 23 Accommodation
Accommodation of centreplate version

Hull construction methods are as for the others in the range, comprising stringers over permanent bulkheads, with the stringers placed at the chines to simplify construction and reinforce these important joints. There are additional stringers midwidth along the bottom panels, from the foreoot to the transom, to stiffen these wide panels and also to help with pulling in the twist needed for the fine bow sections. Centreline has a plywood backbone through to the centreboard casing and a long skeg aft of the casing. These three components combine to make a stiff hull.

The deck configuration has a sunken foredeck for improved safety when working there at sea. It also eases stowing the staysail/jib when lowered if set on hanks rather than a furler. The broad cabin roof is great for relaxing at anchor or when sailing in flat water conditions. The cockpit is nearly 7'6" long, for even the longest of crew to stretch out in comfort and the broad coamings are very comfortable seats when sailing or when partying at anchor.

Cape Canso 23 hull section

The hull has good performance characteristics. It is almost all waterline length, a sure way of improving speed for a given weight under most sailing conditions. It is fairly fine up front at the first chine, with a hollow to the curve of the waterline. This gives good penetration to punch to windward through waves and wind chop. Flare to the upper sections and a broad forward deck give reserve buoyancy for dryness and decent interior accommodation. Aft she is quite beamy to make her forgiving downwind. This also gives the ability to carry the cockpit loads without excessive changes of fore and aft trim.

The rig shows two headsails, being a Genoa and a Yankee, as well as a staysail. The Genoa is intended to be used without the staysail and the Yankee would be used with the staysail. Genoa and Yankee have luff wires and roller furlers that are easily removed from the bowsprit for folding. In strong winds the staysail is intended to be used as a working jib for a fully inboard rig. The mainsail has two full battens below the throat and one short batten above that level. It has a high-peaked gaff, which gives good efficiency without a topsail. The low aspect nature of the sail plan allows her to carry a lot of sail, more than is normal for similar size cruisers with more modern rigs. The result is surprising performance in light to moderate conditions.

Cape Canso 23 deck layout

The bowsprit is hinged on the foredeck so that it can be folded aft to lie along the deck when not in use. This is most likely to be done for access to tight moorings and for trailing. The main forestay is the one to the stemhead, so she can be sailed with the bowsprit shipped.

The mast is hollow timber, fabricated by the birdsmouth method. The boom is goose-necked to the tabernacle rather than to the mast, allowing the mast to be dropped without removing the boom.

We include full size Mylar patterns of the bulkheads with the stock plans, to assist those building from scratch. We also offer optional Mylar patterns of the hull panels, useful for those builders who are concerned about cutting the correct shapes for the hull skin.

Most builders who take on this project will learn some new skills along the way. That is one of the reasons why we build our own boats rather than buying. Any person with reasonable woodworking ability should be able to produce a Cape Canso 23 of which they will be proud.

Drawing List


LOD 6.84m (22' 5")

LWL 6.49m (21' 4")

Beam moulded 2.60m (8' 6")

Draft 0.53/1.44m (1' 9"/4' 9")

Displ to DWL 1690kg (3725lb)

Displ light 1335kg (2942lb)

Ballast 650kg (1433lb)

Waterplane area 8.7sq.m (94sq.ft)

Immersion rate 89kg/cm (498lb/inch)

Wetted surface 12.8sq.m (138sq.ft)

Sail area (main + genoa) 32.6sq.m (351sq.ft)

Sail Area/Wetted Surface 2.55

Sail Area/Displ 23.2

Displ/length 172

Prismatic coef .52

Block coef .31

Fineness coef .64

Righting Moment @ 30 deg 695kgm (14858ft.lb)

Mainsail 18.39sq.m (198sq.ft)

Staysail 6.95sq.m (75sq.ft)

Genoa 14.19sq.m (153sq.ft)

Powering 8hp outboard

Headroom on centreline
1.34m (4' 5")

Clearance above seats
0.85m (2' 9")

This design is dimensioned with both metric and imperial measurements.


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This page was updated 10 April 2023

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