If you were looking for a relaxing afternoon on the water, the log canoe would not be the boat for you.

In its Aug. 9, 1954 issue, LIFE magazine wrote about a temperamental and demanding form of watercraft that was popular in the Chesapeake Bay area. The magazine described the log canoe as ‘fast, easily flipped, and tricky to handle.”

Tricky sounds like an understatement. In a log canoe the crew members had to place their body weight on boards that were propped up in the boat and extended out over the water. They did this in order to keep the boat from tipping. What’s worse was that if the winds shifted, the crew would have to dismount and move the boards to the other side of the boat and then mount them again, all without capsizing the boat in the process.

Here’s how LIFE put it:

It requires a crew of nimble-footed gymnasts whose chores are as precarious as a tightrope walker’s. Because the slightest breeze will capsize it unless the towering masts and a 1,000-square-foot expanse of sail are counterbalanced by human ballast, the crew extends boards out from the windward side and scrambles out on them to maintain the delicate equilibrium. When the wind shifts or the easily tipped craft comes about on a different tack, the boards must be shifted from one side to the other in maneuvers that require precise teamwork and add an exhilarating touch to the ancient art of sailing.

The log canoe may have required expertise to sail, but it was also picturesque, as evidenced by the photos taken by LIFE staff photographer George Skadding. And as impractical as these boats may seem, they continue to be part of the local flavor in the Chesapeake area today, with log canoe regattas running through the summer.

Log Canoe sailboats racing on the Chesapeake Bay, 1954; crew members needed to hang over the side to keep the boats balanced.

George Skadding/Life Picutre Collection/Shutterstock

Log Canoe sailboats racing on the Chesapeake Bay, 1954; crew members needed to hang over the side to keep the boats balanced.

George Skadding/Life Picutre Collection/Shutterstock

Log Canoe sailboats racing on the Chesapeake Bay, 1954; crew members needed to hang over the side to keep the boats balanced.

George Skadding/Life Picture Collection/Shutterstock

Log Canoe sailboats racing on the Chesapeake Bay, 1954; crew members needed to hang over the side to keep the boats balanced.

George Skadding/Life Picture Collection/Shutterstock

Log Canoe sailboats racing on the Chesapeake Bay, 1954; crew members needed to hang over the side to keep the boats balanced.

George Skadding/Life Picture Collection/Shutterstock

Log Canoe sailboats racing on the Chesapeake Bay, 1954; crew members needed to hang over the side to keep the boats balanced.

A log canoe sailboat sailing in the sea, during the race at the Chesapeake Bay, July 1954.

Log Canoe sailboats racing on the Chesapeake Bay, 1954; crew members needed to hang over the side to keep the boats balanced.

George Skadding/Life Picture Collection/Shutterstock

Log Canoe sailboats racing on the Chesapeake Bay, 1954; crew members needed to hang over the side to keep the boats balanced.

George Skadding/Life Picture Collection/Shutterstock

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