It’s Midsummer’s Day up here in the MidSummer Islands, but it’s barely over ten degrees and blowing from the northwest. Now my Seawave PRV saga has been resolved, there’s enough (but not too much) wind to sail the four miles over to Achininver for a visit. It’s the last day of paddleable weather before we pack up and head back south with the geese.
It’s also my first chance to try out my trolley with wrapped-round inner tube tyres. It’s less than a mile down to the beach and the racket of solid plastic wheels is gone. This trolley really is one of my better ideas for the Seawave. It ditches the need for a car for short hops, and elsewhere means you can paddle somewhere and wheel back if there’s a road or decent track.
As it’s chilly and will get splashy on the paddle back, I slip into my Anfibio dry suit. If the sailing goes awry and I fall in, I have an impression of being protected, even if its insulation effects will be marginal. Best of all, I can dip myself into the brackish loch behind Badentarbet beach for a salt rinse and be dry by the time I wheel home.
My WindPaddle is the 1.2m Adventure II model, big enough to haul the 4.5-m Seawave with me in it. I flip it out and off we go, trying to steer SW for Rubha Dunan point. Only it’s not really working so well. Apart from the usual sail swaying on bigger gusts and flopping back on lulls, whitecaps are rolling in from the right, pushing me onto the Achlochan peninsula. Later I realise this drift is probably because the Seawave’s skeg (no bigger than my hand) is too small to stop the light Seawave drifting across the wind which across the bay may be turn WNW. This is why sail boats need keels and dagger boards. If I had a third hand or a passenger, the paddle could’ve been used as a rudder, but as it was my hands were full managing the sail and trying to take the odd photo. You don’t want to risk losing the paddle.
I’m pushed into the rocky shore where the refracted waves and added fetch make things a bit lively, but the ever-stable Seawave is reassuring. So with a quick cross-fold, the sail is stashed between my knees and I paddle on to Rubha Dunan. Once round the corner the sea is smoother but the wind remains so I cruise past the sandstone cliffs towards Badenscallie Beach, an alighting point for Horse Island. Out of the lee the waves build up and with the odd gust the Seawave races on. When you’re not trying to control the sail, it is a marvel to sit back and look round as the water tinkles past the bow.
It took me an hour-fifteen to cover the four miles to Achininver Beach, at times lazily sailing slower than I could paddle. It took only another 15 minutes to hack back non-stop into the wind at 2.4mph, but by the time I got in I was just about pooped. It was a fun excursion, but to make it worthwhile you need more wind than you’d want to paddle back against. A better use of the sail would be going somewhere and not having to crawl back.
Time to head back up the hill, dry out the boat and roll it up for this season in the Summers.
“I claim to have proved that the sea itself provides sufficient food and drink to enable the battle for survival to be fought with perfect confidence.”
Alain Bombard, The Bombard Story (1953)
Many packboaters have heard of Alone at Sea (right, and discussed below), Hannes Lindemann’s famous account of his sail-assisted, mid-Fifties Atlantic crossings, first in a dug-out canoe and then in a production Klepper folding kayak. As a doctor, Lindemann used his expedition to examine the physiology and psychology of enduring long weeks at sea alone.
Although he was already an experienced sailor and ocean kayaker by this time, Lindemann’s Atlantic goals may well have been spurred on by a meeting withFrenchman Alain Bombard (right) in Morocco in 1952. Also a doctor, Bombard was at the time engaged in exploring unorthodox ways of extending the survival chances for those adrift at sea. When they met, Bombard was about to set off across the Atlantic in a 14-foot RIB (rigid inflatable boat or dinghy) equipped with a sail – but with no food or water.
His book starts in 1951 when he estimated 200,000 people died at sea each year. Half perished when a disabled vessel struck the shore – ‘Fear the land, not the sea’ as a sailor’s adage goes – but about a quarter died while adrift in life rafts, surrounded by water and potential food.
Bombard was convinced that as long as sharks, madness and weather didn’t finish you off, indefinite survival at sea waspossible by drinking moderate amounts of seawater, as well as the less saline juice pressed from fish, and all supplemented by windfalls of rainwater. Fish could also be eaten raw or dried, while teaspoonfuls of plankton gathered in a stocking-like mesh could address vitamin needs. ‘Lobster puree’ was how he initially described the taste of the seaborne slime which he later grew to loath. All that was missing from a balanced diet were carbohydrates, to which Bombard believed the human body could adapt.
The key was to start drinking seawater as soon as fresh water became unavailable and before becoming seriously dehydrated. This sea-water-only practice was something about which Lindemann professed some scepticism. In his first dug-out trip his legs swelled up as a result, he thought, of drinking small amounts of seawater. Later, when he didn’t drink it they were mostly fine. But Bombard found no such ill effects early on, while adrift with a friend for a few days in the English Channel. Of course Lindemann was suffering in the torrid, tropical climate of the Gulf of Guinea while Bombard spent just a few days in the Channel during his first experiment. Although Bombard recorded many ailments, he reported little such swelling in the Atlantic; you do wonder if being able to move around his Zodiac more freely may have helped circulation, although Lindemann was never completely cockpit-bound on either of his crossings.
What does for many castaways is that once adrift and with all fresh water exhausted, it’s only in a state of acute desperation that they turn to seawater (or urine). By now severely dehydrated, the kidneys can’t handle the sudden accumulation of toxins and an agonising death soon follows, supporting the mariner’s lore that drinking seawater was fatal. According to Bombard the key was to drink early but drink little.
With the aid of sponsors, benefactors as well as supporters in the field of oceanography, he used an early incarnation of what was to become the well-known and widely licensedZodiacinflatable dinghy. (The Bombard brand of RIBs still survives today). He christened his own craft L’Heretique (the Heretic) which demonstrates how he thought he was perceived.
With much less experience at sea than Lindemann, in 1952 he set off from Monaco for the Balearics with an English companion and experienced sailor, a journey not without privations at sea and which on land included a hostile press eager to exploit his drama while keen to catch him out. A small store of emergency food and water was officially sealedand placed in his boatand though he was at times desperate, it was never used by Bombard – partly because certainly in the mid-Atlantic he was at timesthrowing excess rainwater overboard and was never short of fish, despite what many had predicted. Shipping on from Ibiza to Tangiers (where he met Lindemann) for the Atlantic stage to the West Indies, he correctly interpreted his English companion’s dithering as a change of heart forwhat lay ahead and so set off alone, while later praising his companion’svaluable contribution. (Lindemann interprets this episode less generously).
You can imagine the ordeal that followed. A fortnight or so to the Canaries – a dangerous stage for any small sail boat and one which Lindemann chose to skip in the kayak. And then over two months across the Atlantic to Barbados where he arrived just before Christmas 1952, desperate to let his wife and new-born child know he was alive. Pushed along by irregular trade winds but travelling off the shipping lanes, he only encountered two vessels on the way. On one ship, the Arakaka, met less than a fortnight from completion, he succumbed to a regular meal that was offered, but following weeks of raw fish, his starvation-hardened willpower went into a spin which he claimed very nearly finished him off.
At times it reads like a voyage in outer space of The Life of Pi, full of wonder as well as terrifying episodes: strange creatures, sound and lights, phosphorescence and a loyal escort of birds and dolphinfish or dorado (which also helped replenish his larder).
As well as his physical health, his mental state and morale were also closely scrutinised and well recorded, including his prolonged despair as land failed to materialise for weeks (most of the time his longitude was out by 10° or 600 miles). He demonstrated dogged defiance as storms swamped L’Heretique for hours on end, as well as the irrational conviction of being persecuted by inanimate objects – all exacerbated by the monotonous fare, incessant damp and interrupted sleep.
Loyal ‘Kleppards’ rightly hold Alone at Sea in high acclaim and ensure that it’s still in print, but whatever Lindemann achieved, you have to salute Bombard’s bravery, resolveand not least the commitment to his unconventional experiment in surviving for weeks by living off the fruits of the sea.
Reading the book I had a thought that perhaps Bombard had rediscovered a long-lost human ability or knowledge for surviving at sea. How else does one suppose people like the Polynesians colonised the Pacific, or humans got to Australia tens of thousands of years earlier and long after any land bridge? In fact his ideas had already been raised in the film of the Kon-Tiki voyage which had been released in 1950. Heyerdahl’s Wiki page says this of his 1947 expedition:
“Kon-Tiki demonstrated that it was possible for a primitive raft to sail the Pacific with relative ease and safety… The raft proved to be highly maneuverable, and fish congregated between the nine balsa logs in such numbers that ancient sailors could have possibly relied on fish for hydration in the absence of other sources of fresh water.”
The Kon-Tiki film (on youtube) mentions extracting fish juice, eating plankton as well as mixing 40% seawater with fresh, but on reading Bombard’s book you still get the feeling he took it all a big step further, critically examining the full nutritional potential of living solely off the sea, and then having the guts to put his theory brutally to the test while learning a few hard lessons on the way.
Bombard’s extraordinary adventure brings to mind another incredible voyage that took place at the same time, that of Australian Ben Carlin who sailed and drove an ex-army amphibious jeep called Half-Safe around the world (right). It took him ten years and cost him a wife or two, but in overlanding terms nothing else comes close. As with Bombard, many couldn’t believe the jeep had motored across the Atlantic and then been driven up to London.
Although long out of print, I found an original 1953 Andre Deutsch edition of The Bombard Story for a couple of quid on the web, impeccably translated it has to be said, by a chap called Brian Connell.
Alone at Sea A couple of years after meeting Bombard in Tangiers, Lindemannalso put himself to the test by crossing the Atlantic alone in, of all things, a heavily-keeled West African dug-out canoe he had made in Liberia where he was stationed at the time. Here’s a little newsreel of the boat.
He took off again a year later, this time in a smaller and less robust Klepper Aerius folding kayak (right), fitted with two masts and an all-important outrigger to partially compensate for the lack of a keel. Little changed, the legendary Aerius is still made by Klepper today. The Pouch we used on the Speyis a close copy.
I recall being disappointed when I realised Lindemann hadsailed his Klepper across rather than paddled it, which shows how little I know about ocean paddling! Indeed, I believe it wasn’t until 2011 that a 64-year-old old Polish guyAlexander Doba, managed to actually kayak paddle alone – not sail or row – between the African and South American mainland, although his specialised craft was noslim sea kayak, buta specially designed 23-foot, half-ton, self-righting contraption with a watertight sleeping compartment, similar to those trans-Atlantic rowing boats. Such features enabled Doba to keep at it for over three months, sitting out contrary wind and currents until he finally reached Brazil. Doba completed a much longer 4500-mile in April 2014 in a similar boat (left), crossing between Lisbon and Florida. As this article says:
My kayak was equipped with an electric desalinator that produced around 4.5 litters … of fresh water per hour. It needed electricity, which came from a big solar panel that charged the battery… I had two spare manual desalinators, which I had to use. It took me about four hours daily to get six liters for all my needs. So instead of resting or paddling more I had to pump the water. I wanted to use my legs, so I fixed the manual desalinators in a way so I could use them with my feet.
Back to the story. Overall I found Alone at Sea the less engaging of the two books, partly because there are no less than four trips covered which adds up to a lot of horrendous days and nights at sea with waves washing over his decks and smashing off rudders. The end of the Klepper trip does pick up though, as utterly exhausted through lack of sleep, Lindemanndrifts through hallucinations and altered states following two weeks of terrible storms.
Hisgreat achievement was preparing himself as well as he could mentally, using prayer, meditation, what we now call ‘visualisation’ as well as affirmation (‘I will make it’; ‘Keep going west’), and what was then known as autogenic training, a relaxation technique on which he was later to write manuals. All this must have helped Lindemannkeep going, when other individuals would have allowed a capsized boat to slip away. Towards the end of the book there’s a telling photo on a Caribbean quayof a hunched, emaciated but still smiling figure; Lindemann had lost over 25% of his body weight and on arrival his pulse was down in the 30s.
At one point Lindemann says an odd thing though: ‘Surely I took with me the least amount of food of any boat that has ever made the Atlantic crossing, at least much less than Alain Bombard’. It’s unclear if this is an outright accusation of cheating, or an out-of-context dig at the sealed reserves which Bombard carried but, as far as we know, did not use. Sure Bombardcarried reserves; if his ‘heresy’ was flawed he didn’t want to die. He carried a radio too (it broke).
Such spats over a rival’s authenticity and integrity are common among adventurers competing for the same goal, and in his summary Lindemanngoes on tomention photos published of Bombard taking on supplies of food from the Arakaka. It’s much more than the ‘shower and meal’ Bombarddescribes in his book but still, 50 days of fish juice and plankton was surely enough to prove a point.
It has to be said though, I did feel the supposed agonies of the ‘psychologicalhunger‘ which befell Bombard following the Arakaka meal (and which proved ‘very nearly fatal’) was not so convincingly portrayed. Could he have been scoffing away merrily away all the way to the finalé? Bombard also records losing around 50 pounds of weight as a result of the ordeal.
It is true that Lindemann succeeded in making the crossing from the Canaries with his own provisions plus what nature provided with no human assistance whatsoever. He makes another dig at Bombard’s patronage and sponsorship from Zodiac, but I read Bombard’s book as the story of a guy who primarily set off to experiment in living off the sea, but like any castaway, took what was given in moderation. His preparations and qualifications seemed skimpy because he had the sealed reserves to fall back on. His goal was not to complete the crossing in complete self-sufficiency; while at sea he also sought to evaluate the viability of inflatables as life rafts, something he continued to champion and (one reads) take on commercially long after it was all over. Lindemann acknowledges this latter fact.
So though less rigorous in his execution, whether genuine or contrived, Bombard does succeed in painting himself as a more sympathetic character, missing his family and his Bach, as well as his food. He even had a little doll as a mascot which got pictured in the book. Lindemann had a speargun. And to my mind Bombard recorded his self-diagnoses more compellingly too, though reading both books back to back I could have been desensitised to registering the finer points of Lindemann’sprotracted trans-Atlantic suffering.
Lindeman was clearly much more experienced, and better prepared, particularly mentally. But I interpreted certain anti-social and even cruel elements, presumably a consequence of the pressure to succeed in the huge task he’d set himself. This included a resolve to outdo Bombard – a guy who had no shoulders of recent predecessors to stand on and so perhaps, like Ben Carlin, has paid the price in the history books.
Lindemann’s book was originally published in 1957 and, as far as I can tell, was released in English about 35 years later and remains in print; a nicely produced small hardback with colour illustrations and a map.
A less illuminating article (in German) about drinking seawater and which cites the controversy between the two authors.
As of early 2021 it seems WindPaddle.com are no longer in business. But there are plenty of knock offs around.
WindPaddle Adventure II Weight: 385g (+ 45g ‘reins’ with 2 mini carabiners) Folded 3 times: (takes a knack) 40 x 45cm ø Folded twice: (easier/quicker on the water) 60cm ø Open: 116cm ø
I’ve been waiting for the right kind of wind to have a proper go at WindPaddling my MRS Nomad. Sunday was not that day with SW gusts up to 25mph. Yesterday was more like it: direct from the west at 10-15 meant a chance to run down the full length of Loch Ossian with the wind erring towards the road for the walk back or if it all went wrong.
You forget that starting at the upwind end all is relatively smooth and calm, but soon the fetch kicks up and stays that way. Progress gets a bit lively so you need to be on top of things which includes stashing the paddle safely. I found tucking it across the boat under some red sidelines (left) worked well and are more often useful for manhandling the boat. Lunging after a lost paddle would be bad; so would letting go of the sail’s ‘reins’ and having the boat run over it. The sudden drag and deceleration might see the racing boat slew sideways and flip you out. And before you come up for air, your packraft is skimming across the loch like a crisp packet.
I don’t know if gusts vary in direction but you also need to constantly modulate the reins left to right to keep on course. It’s said downwind sails like the WindPaddle have a narrow windspeed window which tops out around 15mph. After that, they start fluttering left to right in an effort to shed the load, as mine did a couple of times. Going out in stronger winds may be too hard to handle or very exciting. As it is, the maximum hull speed of a packraft must be about half that and, just as a cyclist’s energy to overcome wind drag grows exponentially with speed, so to you can only push a paddle boat so far. A packraft is about as hydrodynamic as a training shoe.
With the gloomy skies I was initially a bit nervous. Controlled by the wind and without a paddle in your hands felt disconcerting; a sunny tropical locale would have fixed that I’m sure. As usual with packboat sailing, it’s never just sit back and skim along like yachts seem to do; you have to keep correcting. At nearly 3m with the skeg fitted, the MRS is longish which must help keep it on line. And as mentioned before, with the WindPaddle you can steer at least 30° off the wind. According to the GPS, 9.3kph (5.8mph) was the peak speed, though most of the time I was zipping along at about 7.5kph. It felt faster as wavelettes broke to either side and occasionally over the bow. With the big Corry paddle, at maximum paddle exertion on flatwater I can hit 6kph for a couple of seconds. So once you relax, sailing can be a fast and energy-saving way of covering distance, and the WP folded up and stashed easily under the DeckPack.
I was expecting to walk back but gave paddling a go and stuck with it, hackling along at 2kph with rests every 10 minutes. Fifteen minutes sailing downwind = a 50-minute paddle back. I still think for the price, weight, bulk and ease of fitting and use, a WindPaddle is a worthwhile packboating accessory.
Packboat is my made-up word for easily portable boats that roll into a bag but deploy in minutes, in contrast with hardshell kayaks or canoes in aluminum, plastic, or composite. I’m here to suggest that if lugging a cumbersome hardshell on your overland rig isn’t for you, then a packboat weighing from 2 to 40 pounds and never bigger than a backpack might well be, while adding another great way to explore the outdoors…
We decided to lap the tip (left) of the Coigach peninsula. Doing it clockwise put us in the lee of the afternoon’s southwesterly once in Enard Bay and better still, we’d catch high tide at Achnahaird, enabling us to paddle up the creek to complete a near full loop back to the car via the freshwater lochs of Ra and Vatachan.
I remember being quite nervous the first time I did this way back in 2013 in my Amigo – in the other direction from Achnahaird. Looks like I’m not the only one – I blame the Pesda guidebook. It felt like a long old slog west then north between the Ristol islands – the tidal Ristol channel was dry. But by the time we’d passed the reefs of Reiff and reached the sparkling beach at Camas Ghlais (below) we were already more than halfway round.
Sitting on the beach, on warm days like this and always looking to refine my set-up to a razorbill’s edge, I sometimes think a sturdy football-sized net bag to take a beach stone would be handy to anchor the boat out in the shallows. This way it won’t beach itself, get hot and purge air which can make the kayak soggy once back in the cool water. It’s one slight drawback of running PRVs on all 3 air chambers. I could probably find some washed up net up among the flotsam and make one. Or I could Buy [a ball bag] Now on ebay for a £1.62. Leaving the sandy bay, I give the Seawave a quick top-up with the K-Pump anyway.
On the north side on the bay we nosed towards a slot cave, but white streaks running down from the ledges suggested nesting birds had hung out ‘Do Not Disturb’ signs. Either I’ve never noticed them before or there are lots more nesting birds around this year. It’s the end of May but there are still tiny snow patches on An Teallach and Beinn Dearg – maybe the season is late.
North of Camas the unrestrained swell was bouncing back off the low cliffs and small dazzling waves were breaking over semi-submerged rocks, making for a rough ride. But it’s all relative and showed what a sheltered life I lead, paddling mostly in and out of the protected Summer Isles.
We passed on sandless Faochag Bay and on turning the point of Rubha Coigach all was calm as the grand panorama of the Assynt peaks came into view (above). From the right: Quinaig; Canisp behind Suilven, Cul Mor, Stac Polly in front of Cul Beag, and the group around Ben Mor Coigach. It’s one good reason to do the paddle in this direction. There’s a bigger version of the Assynt panorama here taken on the road above Achnahaird. I really must work out how to do that panorama photo-stitch thing.
Coming down the Enard Bay side, we tried to explore some other caves with green moss streaked with guano, but got dive-bombed by angry shags.
Back out in the bay an unpredicted northwesterly picked up – time to launch that WindPaddle which has been sitting in my kit bag unused for a year or more. Initially, the breeze barely reaches 6mph – we could have paddled faster – but it sure was fun to kick back, look around and let the boat waft quietly along, free from the splish-splosh, splish-splosh rhythm. I wonder if self-driving cars will be the same.
It’s been a while since I’ve done this but the WindPaddle definitely felt better than my homemade efforts from years ago, as well as the knock-off WP I bought a year or two back. I tried a V-sail too but have never really got the hang of kayak sailing. It seems the sweet spot is hard to find: either the wind comes and goes and the sail flops, or it blowing so hard the sail can’t handle it and you’re clinging on. Still, I look forward to giving the WP a spin in slightly windier conditions. For the compact size and light weight I get the feeling it may be worth keeping.
The breeze picked up and we chugged along at a brisk stroll. But even then the WindPaddle feels satisfying to use. I think the key is the sprung tension of the composite batten (rim); it retains the circular shape of the bowl which means it’ll stay up as the wind drops and keep shape as it rises, then can be confidently scrunched down to a packable size without breaking. Doing that during a bit of a blow may be tricky, but it can easily be pulled back and tucked down unfurled over the legs (right). It’s only a downwindish sail but as with previous disc sails, I like the way you can steer intuitively by pulling one line back; a skeg must help but there’s no need for paddle-rudder assistance.
It was nice to look around in the quiet but I also missed that thrill of thrust when a sail catches and holds a good passing gust. Eventually we could stand the relaxed pace no more and the geef paddle-assisted us towards a stony beach at the mouth of the Allt Loch Ra creek. Squawking oystercatchers were guarding their nests. Left, by the bothy at Badentarbet last year; don’t stand on the eggs.
Refuelled, we paddled upstream for a bit then I tow-waded the boat, reminding me of the shallows of Shark Bay in 2006 – a good way to rest after what felt like days of headwinds. The short wade brought us to within a couple of minutes’ portage of Loch Ra just over the road. Now on fresh water, we dragged through the reeds before another short portage over into the adjacent Loch Vatachan. Picking a passing place close to the shore, the geef walked off to get the car while I rinsed off the seawater – another good reason to paddle this loop clockwise. It’s 15 miles and about 5 easy hours to loop the Coigach loop.
Adding a rudder to the Seawave inspired me to drag out my cheapo disc sail. I last tried it three years ago on the Amigo (below) when it worked OK, even without a rudder. But of course, a rudder is much better for keeping the boat on the wind while sitting back with the paddle on your lap and your hands on the sail lines.
Pulling the sail out the 3mm fibreglass rod or ‘batten’ broke. I bought some more which, if anything, felt more pliable than the original but before I took it out it was broken in two places. Long sections of fibreglass rod in greater diameters can’t be sent bent so incur much higher postage charges which made reviving my KnockOffPaddle uneconomical. Worse still, removing the splintered rod from the sail (before I decided to ditch it) filled my hands with glass splinters for days. Nasty stuff.
I looked again at the original WindPaddle whose prices have dropped in the UK. Their Adventure II model is up by 13cm to 119cm or 47″ in diameter, making a claimed area of 1.42m (as usual, π x r2. doesn’t add up to ‘1.42’ but never mind). It folds down to 42cm or 16 inches diameter but with squidge some more (ovalise) to tuck securely into the floor of your boat, and weighs just 400g (+30g for a control line). I asked about the cheaper Scout sail and why it’s rated at 4–15 knots when the new Adventure II is rated at 6–30kn. It’s not just the bigger area; the Adv II has a significantly stiffer composite batten to help hold its shape. That’s important and why ships don’t have rubber masts.
A problem with all sails is that they can start swinging from side to side in a recirculating frenzy before either settling down, collapsing or diving for the drink, possibly when the wind is more than they can handle. I recall with previous V and disc sails that lot of your time is spent managing that motion, rather than galloping across the waves like a flying fish, but the promise of achieving that is why I persevere. Update 2021: After having much better results with a AirSail on a packraft, I think some of this swinging could be down to clipping the sail to slack decklines, and not directly to mounts on the boat’s hull. I will try that next time.
When the £116 sail arrived, it certainly had a better quality feel than my smaller knock-off which went for under £20 on eBay and are now under a tenner. The sail fabric feels thicker and the crucual perimeter batten isn’t a regular GRP rod-like in a tent, but a flat flexible composite band about 8mm by 1mm. It takes significantly more effort to fold the Adventure II three times into its 16-inch hoop, but that should result in a more stable sail in action. Sea trials here.
Spring is here, time to sharpen our paddles! While you’re doing that, here’s a Seawave sailing vid with a sail kit (right) from kayaksailor.com. With the lee boards it all looks a bit complicated for me, but perhaps that explains how they manage without a rudder. Notice the hull folding up from 1:40. Don’t know if that’s down to the breakneck speed under sail, or he needs some uprated side chamber PRVs. For more sail posts, see the IK sailing category somewhere on the right.
Update 2019: I’ve not used my MYO rudder since I made it in 2016 and sold it with the boat in 2020. Partly because I’ve only done day trips predicated on nice weather, but also it’s all just more faff and clutter, not least the lines and footboard. As explained earlier, for multi-day trips you must deal with the winds you’re given so a rudder is a good idea. But even then, you only notice your relative lack of speed (due to sidewind paddling correction) alongside others. Alone, you’re as fast as you are [grasshopper]. Rudders are not about steering as they are on powered boats; in a kayak they’re about enabling efficient, balanced paddling on both arms by compensating for the boat’s deflection by side winds.
While waiting for rudder bits to turn up, we went out for an evening paddle round Eilean Mullagrach. It was pretty calm but at no point did I think, ‘Darn, I wish I had a rudder’. When it came to turning corners we just paddled hard or dragged a blade and round we came. But the Seawave rudder project carries on like a supertanker with a jammed… rudder, if for no other reason than it’s fun to experiment and a rudder can also work as an articulated skeg when locked out – something I may look into when it’s all done.
Ironing out the flaws with the prototype added up to attaching it more securely at the back and making the pedal board out of something more responsive and durable. By coincidence, all these components can be sawn from a single piece of 450 x 300 x 12mm LDPE chopping board (above) which costs from £8 on eBay in a range of colours. This is 50% thicker than the smaller board I used on the prototype plate so doesn’t need doubling up and gluing to make it rigid.
At the back I slimmed the rudder plate right down to a simple strip of 65mm x 450mm, glued a block on the end to better support the gudgeon swivel pivot sleeve and added the crucial second fixing under the portaging handle (above left). I also added a triangularish screw plate underneath (left, with red cord) so it all sits snug in the stern. With the hardware and saddle strap that now adds up to 306g (the rudder unit weighs 450g with its running lines). Even though it’s slimmer than the proto plate, it weighs about the same because it’s now 12 mil. But looks a whole lot neater.
The pedal board is from the same slab but uses stainless hinges, not zip ties. I’m reminded, you’re constantly making small adjustments as you paddle so pedals need to be as taut and responsive as possible. Once I’d trimmed the board and pedals a bit (left), with hinges it came in at 660g. The board and maybe the pedals could have been made from 8mm if there was some to spare – but an 8mm board wants to be ~450mm wide to sit snugly in the boat’s side channels. Like the rudder, the pedal board will be subject to strong forces in heavy seas so also needs to be solidly jammed in. Meanwhile, I noticed the floor-laminate prototype board (right) gained nearly 15% in weight after getting wet – a sign it won’t last long. Still, it made a good template.
I do wonder if something like the Grabner rudder pedal bar (left, similar to Gael’s old H2) would be much lighter, as solid and as effective as my board. It costs €70 plus €30 for a pair of Zoelzer pedals. I can’t really see how I could replicate that alloy footrest bar – out of copper tube filled with resin perhaps (like this motorbike rack)? It’s held securely in place without fittings by being jammed in the channel cavity between the floor and the sides (like my board), but a check with Gael advised me against it. As it happened, I’d pretty much decided the same mid-test run (below). A sliding ally bar plus seawater isn’t a great combination and might bend or break, or the pedals snap. I know the ally backrest bar on my Amigo wasn’t up to it and Gael’s backrest broke (though it was ancient). My plastic version may weigh double but should be solid. Interestingly, just as a bag of clam cleats turned up to make a quicker way of fine-tuning the rudder pedal lines from the cockpit, I see left that Grabner use them – a good sign.
The weather here’s about to crack and then we’re moving south, so in a rush I took the revised rudder plate out for a test with the creaky waterlogged pedal board. Heading towards Horse Island tidal passage, I didn’t need a weatherman to know which way the wind blew: from the WNW at about 12mph.
Initially, the boat needed constant small corrections to maintain a course, and there was some stiction, hopefully down to the zip ties on the soggy pedal board. I tried a few tight turns and marvelled at the control and how sharply the boat swung round like a pedalo. The rudder plate is now as rock solid as anything fitted to an IK can be. Again, I consciously tried not to correct with my arms, just my feet, which were twitching regularly.
At Horse Island I was way too early to pass through the passage, but as it was probably my last paddle here till next year, I decided to head for Badentarbet. Turning north, closer into the wind the micro corrections were no longer needed and the boat ran as if on a skeg, but without arm corrections. I’m pretty sure paddling 20–30° off the wind would have required arm steering, but I just hacked away towards Rubha Dunan on the mainland as the wind increased. When I tried a bit of downwinding, protracted rudder juggling was needed to keep the back-end in line.
I passed through a channel on the headland and the NW wind got steadily stronger so crossing the bay to the beach seemed to take ages of effort. By now the small corrections I’d been making were no longer necessary, perhaps something had bedded in, the knots had tightened up or, like riding a bike, I’d just got the knack of minimal rudder movement to keep the boat on track. But upwind paddling is comparatively easy so I tried across the wind, now running over 15mph, and a bit more downwinding which gave me that unsettling Ningaloo feeling. This must be the weak point of a buoyant, windprone IK (especially when unloaded), and maybe all kayaks and canoes too. The chop was only a foot high but were there a swell of a metre or more, the rudder would be briefly lifting and the stern sliding. I wonder if in such conditions a combination of rudder and skeg (which is always submerged) might be a way of limiting weathercocking? Or perhaps just more practice is required. There’s also another solution that might arrive here in time to try out.
As I neared the beach the wind was hard in my face but I realised I was actually on good form, unlike on the Tanera run with the prototype. So I hammered away with all I had until my strake hissed onto the sands. Paddling hard is all helped by my brilliant, bent-shaft Werner Camano paddle, no less than ten years old this summer. It still clips together with a satisfyingly ‘clunk’ and has very little play. If it ever got lost or abducted by aliens I’d buy another without hesitation.I was glad I’d got stuck into a longer test run than planned, and am now confident my MYO Seawave rudder is in the ballpark. Hopefully, the new pedal board will complete the job.
Total weight: 300g rudder plate + 450g rudder + 660g pedal board + ~100g rigging = 1.51kg (3.3lbs), or < 10% of the boat’s weight
For about £200 posted I could have installed a 2016 Seawave rudder kit, but from all the images I could find at the time it was unclear exactly how it secured at the back – there must be their version of an unseen triangular underplate, but even then it’s still a stressed-out single point attachment. My additional under-handle fixture eliminates any chance of pivoting.
And the plywood Gumotex footboard (right) appears to sit loose and seemingly will also pivot on that single strap. Production versions may differ and let’s not forget that adding all this complexity also adds a risk of breakage or damage. The simplest solution is usually the best, but the 160-g skeg will always be clipped in the boat as a back-up and a Seawave is controllable (if much slower) with no tracking aids at all. It’s worth remembering: a rudder isn’t about day-to-day tracking, it’s about maintaining a course when the boat gets pushed about in stronger winds. In such conditions a skeg is essential and a rudder is an improvement, as explained here.
On the beach, prior to lugging the boat over seaweed-clad boulders, it took only 30 seconds to unclip the rudder mechanism from the plate to pre-empt stumbling and damaging it. Since then I changed the rudder plate mounts with tool-free knobs and an eyelet (above). When rolling the boat up it was best to pivot the rudder plate around the drain hole 90° to pack better.
Within hours of finishing my prototype rudder I set about finishing it properly, and after a test run to Tanera Mor, made further improvements before trying it again. The whole set-up wants to be mountable/removable without any tools or knots to untie. I used mini karabiners to attach the various lines but realised snaplinks with a ring are better, as they’re permanently attached so won’t get lost. I recall the fine wire clips on my Incept rudder and after hours of webbery found out they’re called fishing snaps (right). Let me tell you, you can spend a lot of time online trying to figure out if size 00 is bigger than size 8 and still end up buying ones so small you need tweezers to open them. Moving on, some ringed karabiners (black, right) now do the job.
I only know two knots from my climbing days and still regularly use the Figure of Eight, (right and left) a quick way to put a loop on the end of a line that’s easy to undo. If you want to feed an Fo8 into a fixed ring (like the black krabs, above), just knot a loose ‘8’ near the end of the line, then feed the loose end back in and around the Fo8 all the way out again. And add a lock knot for good measure.
Lines shouldn’t be knotted directly to a fixed object, especially if it’s pivoting, but on the rudder’s lifting pulley there’s no room to attached a krab or mini shackle. The lowering pivot has a hole and channel for a nipple (right). I suppose I could track down a short length of appropriate wire cable, but for the moment it’s a job for our good friends, the zip ties. I also moved the rudder lifting knob to the right side: forward to lift (slightly more effort); pulling back to drop seemed intuitive.
In this pre-optimised form I crossed the two miles to Tanera Mor with a light WSW wind at 2 o’clock. First, like a bush pilot, I checked my flaps: up and down, left and right, then started the engine and pushed on the throttles. Very soon something was wrong. I was having to rudder hard left and the pedals were leaning way forward. I stopped to knot the lines to take up some slack, but still the boat was turning into the wind and the rudder was very slow to respond.
With a skeg on, it’s usually the bow that pushes round on a crosswind. Was the new rudder assembly making more windage to push the back around? More stopping to add knots to the pedal lines. I was also reminded that with a rudder you don’t just set it and paddle away, but are constantly making tiny corrections. You probably do the same with your paddle and a skeg, but never notice until it gets obvious (the whole point of fitting a rudder). For this reason a rudder wants to be as smooth-running and taut as possible.
The forecast was cold and northerly so, over-dressed in a cag and dry pants, all this foot and arm work took it out of me as I resolutely tried not to correct with my arms. It was a relief to arrive at Tanera’s 200-year-old pier. Mooring up, I noticed my rudder plate was dislodged (left), explaining why the pedal tension and tracking had gone awry. It was only when I got back that I noticed I’d fitted my nutted ‘underplate’ upside down and the nut had pulled out. Oh Brother What a Plonker. I locked down the plate with a zip tie and readjusted the pedal lines yet again.
It was also clear that my scrapheap pedal board was rubbish. Heels resting on the board (left) put them two inches higher than normal – not good for paddling efficiency, comfort or pedal actuation; perhaps quite good for neglected muscles. That was easily fixed by turning the board around.
After an hour exploring this historic corner of the island (now no longer possible with the new owner’s developments), I headed back and immediately noticed a much more responsive rudder – now you’re talking! It was like driving with all the wheels done up tight. Lower heels gave a much better angle on the pedals and I noticed I was now operating the pedals with the outer edge of my feet, as I recall on the Incept. Line drag was minimal but now the wood laminate pedal board creaked and the zip tie hinges were a bit mushy. I’d already ordered another slab of LDPE chopping board to make a pedal board out of something more water-resistant than compressed dust, as well as the extravagance of proper marine-grade hinges (well, that’s what it said on eBay). I tried a quick bit of disc sailing too but it wasn’t really windy enough – more on that later.
As I neared Badentarbet beach the g-friend happened to swing by and, showing her some moves, I was amazed how sharply the boat could turn at low speed in the shallows, almost like a handbrake turn. Of course, this is kayaking not The Sweeney, but it’s good to know it worked. I also got a chance to test my newly bootied Kokotat dry pants – they worked like they should, too.
Back at the house, I realised the pedal lines had been cut before considering the need to move the pedal board forward for tandem paddling. Luckily, more Dyneema turned up next day, so I re-used the former yellow cord for the rudder lifting lines and ditched the saggy red paracord. Much tauter action.
The wheeled cord locks turned up too (right). I had a suspicion they wouldn’t work for adjusting rudder lines and I was right. They need tension from the same direction while snugged up against the edge of a stuff sack or something. I tried doubling the lines with two pulling the same way but the red Dyneema is too thin, hard-surfaced and slippery to work with these locks.
I settled on a ‘truck tarp knot’ then got the idea that the locking guyline adjusters off my Vaude tent might do the job – and they glow in the dark too! My Odyssee has guylines to spare.
I set about making small improvements, including adding two holes in the boat’s back deck triangle (as Gumotex do on post 2016 Seawaves) to make a cleaner run line for the pivot lines. It’s no great pleasure stabbing a red-hot poker into your favourite IK, but a side benefit is the rich aroma of burning Nitrilon rubber, not some cheap PVC. I’ll track down some nice eyelets later.
Once I realised the rudder board had come undone because I’d mounted the nut plate incorrectly, it was clear the strap looped to the rearmost deck line sleeves weren’t doing much. The main mount was through the drain hole, which relied on the large nut plate (left) underneath to stay fixed, plus the saddle strap (left) limiting any yawing. The whole plate could be slimmed down to resemble Gumotex’s factory version.
So I think I’m going to follow up on my own speculation and either form a triangular nut-plate below the deck to help keep the rudder plate in line with the boat, or I may make a new long thin plate (yellow, left) that reaches back past the kayak’s portage strap. With a slot to get round the handle, I’ll poke another hole in the deck and this way the plate will have two mounting points plus the saddle strap and will not deflect.
Rudder 1.1 While waiting for more chopping boards to turn up, I went out for another run with the Mk1.1 set-up. Much windier this time – 15 to 20mph from the SW. Normally I’d not go out in this, but the point of the rudder was to ease effort and improve control just before such conditions set in.
That was the theory. In practice I struggled to get out of Old Dornie harbour against the wind and soon had to put in to readjust the pedal lines. What now!? The luminescent Vaude clamps were effective but not a 4-second job like they should be. They can go back on the tent. A better line locking mechanism needed. If I’d looked back I’d have noticed the rudder plate had become dislodged yet again by the forces pushing the boat around. That explained why getting right out of the harbour was such a slog, let alone tackling the 15-knot headwind and lashing rain. Deceptively, there were few whitecaps out there, but a deep swell was rolling through, probably lifting the rudder out of the water. Who’d have thought it was Midsummer’s Day.
Turning back, I hoped I might get a bit of a run on the wind, but control was even worse – shades of Ningaloo but without the mangos and barramundi. Back at the pier, it was a relief to see it was only the rudder plate at fault, although I’d not have been surprised if it was just too windy for any sort of IK-ing today. While waiting for ‘what-do-you-think-I-am-a-bloody-taxi-service?’ to turn up, I strolled along the exposed shore on the off-chance of finding some LDPE jetsam, but all was glistening seaweed and frayed rope.
Rudder 1.2 I’m running out of time with the luxury of having the sea at my doorstep. That evening it occurred to me the rudder plate was always deflecting clockwise because the lip of one glued-on reinforcement plate underneath pressed against the stern and stopped it turning the other way. I did what I’d considered initially and glued a thin strip of LDPE to act as an opposing locating edge so the plate sat more securely once saddle-strapped down to the boat’s triangular stern.
This surely should be enough to keep the plate in place, but while I was fiddling I made a template for the triangular nut plate which might further help locate the rudder plate (right). When more LDPE turns up I’ll cut one out and melt another M6 nut into it. if this doesn’t work a longer plate with another through-the-deck fixture below the portage handle (as visualised above in yellow) ought to fix this once and for all.
Other jobs: trimming off the board’s unneeded flab to make the current haxagonal shape, filing down the edge of the rudder body where the lifting line rubbed (right), and one more tweaking of the rudder pedal lines.
I headed to back to the harbour where it was still blowing about 15mph, but within a minute suspected it was pivoting again, possibly from the pull when dropping the rudder. The added locating strip wasn’t enough. Who knows how Gumotex manage it but on this set-up the surefire solution is a second in-line fixing point (as above) and perhaps that triangular under-plate to stop the mount pivoting once and for all.
Partly, these issues are due to underestimating the forces that a combined 120kg of paddler in a 4.5m-long kayak moving at 4mph puts on a rudder and its mount. Add some wind, current and waves and how well the small blade is fixed to a big boat becomes critical. Nearly there, brothers and one clear benefit: the ability to sit the kayak on the ground with no skeg stress. I can see me leaving the rudder on there full time and adding some sort of bombproof lock-out to make it the mythical articulated / lifting skeg.