We parked up at Loch Raa where we’d tried umbrella sailing last year without much success. Initially G said we were nuts to go out in this wind, so we sat in the car and ate our butties like a semi-retired couple in a Peak District car park. But by the time I’d finished working out a way to attach my home-made sail to the Incept’s bow, she was already on the other side of the loch.
This was my first time trying out my 0.78m2 sail on a kayak, but I’d recognised the value of sailing in Australia a few years ago with a mate hooked up to a Pacific Action (PA).
Here in the UK I get the feeling sails on sea kayaks are seen as even less sportsmanlike than rudders – just not cricket, but an Incept IK is excused from such protocols. Anyway, in terms of efficiency my home-made jobbie wouldn’t be a patch on a proper PA, but I’m not planning on crossing the Indian Ocean just yet. Made from an old tent and with the ability to twist down to half the deployed size, my rag sail was a good way to experiment with the idea and techniques of sailing. If it came to it, I can buy a PA or Bic anytime.
The wind was still batting over Loch Raa (Ardmair recorded a max of 33mph today) so I hacked upwind, flat out at 2-3mph, drifted round and let my rag sail get a fill. Considering the paddling effort it took to get there, I wasn’t exactly ripped out of my seat, but that’s probably a good thing for a first go. I was concerned a side gust might catch me out and pull me over. I took a few downwind runs and found myself cruising at around 3.5mph, topping out at 4.3mph once I neared the downwind shore at the end of the fetch.
At around 4mph it begins to get fun, with the bow carving through the waves. Stability was great, I never felt out of control and would have like to have gone a bit faster. All I had to do was stash the paddle, hold onto the string and foot the rudder. In lulls I needed to support the sail with my paddle (left), but later found if I let it reach forward it stayed up. Set up for a packraft, my control string was a bit too short with the sail six feet ahead of me.
I did try to steer and travel off wind by twisting the sail and ruddering, but not sure I fully got the hang of that. Doing this takes two hands to pull one string back, but if I rigged a rigid handlebar into the string (a bit like a water skier), that might enable one-handed twisting, plus easier holding at other times. Or perhaps a cinchable attachment to the hull is the way to go, leaving yours hands free to who knows, add a little paddle power.
Thing is, if I hacked into the wind at 2-3mph I could probably have paddled downwind at 4mph. I may try a proper downwind paddle v sail test next time, but as we all know, what downwind paddling gives you in push, you put in as tracking effort to avoid weathercocking, especially without a rudder.
At the wind speed that day, sailing wasn’t so much about going faster as saving effort. Plus it was more fun than I expected to surf along for free, mainly because it didn’t feel at all risky. But this was on a small loch with waves less than a foot high. Half an hour earlier on the sea the chop was a couple of feet; I imagine that would require more concentration and with less possible speed on the rougher surface.
Sailing downwind you don’t get the sensation of the wind in your hair, but the GPS and the splash off the bow tell the story. On one run we rafted up and the sail still pulled us along at over 3mph which was pretty good for two fat boats. As I approached the shore on my last run I lifted the rudder and straight away the back came round, as it seemed to do when I tried sailing in a pack raft. So it seems a rudder or at least a skeg is the key. To steer accurately with a paddle would be pretty tricky, but I may try that one time. Visibility wasn’t really a problem; to get a closer look just tug it back out of the way.
Having thought it all over, I have updated my hypothetical analysis of the £50 Bic Sail (left) on the main packboat sailing page with a couple of pics. For the couple of hours it took me to make my disc sail, I think fifty quid on something that has actually has some kayak-based testing and design put into it is not such bad value.
I also tried out my thigh straps. Problem was one of my messy patches had half unglued so I couldn’t put any force on them. But they fit well, are comfy and easy to adjust, don’t feel like they might trap you, and are a definite improvement for either powering on or boat control in choppy water. The positions marked on the Incepts hull felt just right.