How a Minnetonka Sloop Changed Sailing Boat Design Forever

by | Apr 2019

Lake Minnetonka sailing boat the Onawa

Photo: Deanna Bunkelman

The history of a popular sailing boat.

The Onawa, a 26-foot, shallow-draught sloop, was instrumental in changing the design of sailing boats at the turn of the 20th century. Built in 1893 by “Minnetonka’s Boat Builder” Arthur Dyer for Hazen and Ward Burton, the boat was conceived with the idea that greater speed could be attained by sailing over the water, rather than through it.

The boat was inspired by the design of a canoe and was flat-ribbed, thin-planked and canvas-covered. The Onawa had no ballast and carried only 400 square feet of sail (it was common for a boat of that size to be heavily ballasted and carry 1000 square feet of sail).

The Onawa sailed under the colors of the Minnetonka Yacht Club and won all races it entered in 1893, averaging one minute per mile faster than any boat. Per existing rules, the weight of the crew could not exceed two pounds per each square foot of sail, limiting the crew to 800 pounds. With only five men, the agility of the crew and the uniqueness of the boat design made it a winner.

The Onawa was donated to the Excelsior-Lake Minnetonka Historical Society by the Burton family and is on display at the ELMHS museum.

Deanna Bunkelman is the president of the Excelsior-Lake Minnetonka Historical Society and writes about local history in her monthly column. Learn more about the history of local sailing at the ELMHS annual fundraiser on May 8.


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