In the beginning when I was keen to try anything, I paddled Sussex’s River Arun and the upper Rother too. Neither made me want to rush back to tick off the other tidal rivers of southeast England. You feel you’re in a sunken, silty, reed-chocked ditch passing below treeless agricultural land and with limited, muddy take-outs. But Robbo was taking his Full DS Yakkair for a burn up; a good chance for me to check the boat out as well as try something new. He’d worked out the tides: putting in on a 6.5-m spring tide at 11am in Upper Bedding (the former medieval port of Steyning) would scoot us up 10km to the tidal limit under the A281 bridge near Shermanbury.
In Beeding there’s a free car park at the east end of the village by the playing fields (maybe toilets), plus a garage and a Subway nearby. Arriving with Kahuna Steve at the steep east bank just south of the bridge at 10.30 (above), the river was flowing downstream like rivers do and faster than we could paddle against it. Had we timed it all wrong? But by the time Rob and his two young chums were on the water with us an hour later, the moon was doing its work and the river was flowing as fast in the opposite direction, backed by the southerly breeze pushing through the Steyning Gap in the South Downs.
Yes it’s another tidal Sussex ditch with lots of day-amblers either side, but who can complain being on the water on a sunny day in a boat you brought in on your back and gangs of menacing swans to dodge? Robbo was spinning like a break-dancing turtle in his tiny Twist, Steve was piloting his old Feathercraft Kahuna, the folder nursing a broken plastic rib from last year’s Danube run. And E&L were in Rob’s dropstitch Yakkair which you can read about here.
As we cruised effortlessly northward, the chat subsided and the river got narrower. Reeds and fallen trees closed in to just a boat’s width at times. Upstream I noticed a couple of access steps on the west bank – maybe private but the only way of getting off the river with some elegance, if needed.
We reached the fork in about an hour 20. Northwest leads to Bines Bridge, romantically depicted by renowned 1960s illustrator, Michael Codd. Look him up: he’s rendered loads of idealised Sussex illustrations from the late-medieval iron ore industry right back to Neolithic hunting scenes.
Taking off up the east arm, very soon a submerged weir slowed down the three skeged IKs. The Yakkair needed a lift over. Then a fallen tree appeared to block the way but the boats squeezed through. Here we met a local couple in their new Itiwit 3-seater. These must be the most popular IKs around right now, maybe because Decathlon were able to meet the huge demand after the first lockdown this summer.
From here the scenery picked up briefly. The fields didn’t run to the water’s edge and riverside willows dangled over the stream. We reached the four-arched bridge near Shermanbury about 2pm for a snack (easy take out on the right), but had it in our heads we should turn round pronto. It soon became clear the spring tide here kept rising up to 3pm, a full 2 hours after Shoreham, maybe pushed up by the day’s wind.
The weir bar that has been six inches below the surface on the way up was now two feet under. Good to know The wind had strengthened and was now in out face so there was nothing left but to have a work-out. Steve and I pulled ahead as gradually the flow turned our way; the Downs making a good marker for where we were headed. We got back in about an hour 30 and managed to crawl out without covering ourselves and the boats in mud. As Steve sagely observed, anywhere else in the world there’d be a civilised jetty to encourage paddling.
About the Adur tides: High tide in Upper Beeding (Steyning) is about 45 minutes after Shoreham and about 2 hours at Shermanbury. That brings up the brain-twisting notion that water levels are rising upriver while falling at the estuary. Somewhere a spooky patch of slack water is migrating silently upstream. With a skeg the weir bar is submerged enough about an hour before a high spring tide at Shermanbury bridge. Neap tides may not submerge it so just take the left fork towards Bines Bridge and see how far you get.
Next time it would be fun to start in Shoreham, at least 7km downstream from Upper Beedimng, and take more time at the top end – maybe at the Bull Inn near Shermanbury bridge – before riding the current and tide all the way back. You’d hope there’s a mud-free take out or slipway somewhere in Shoreham harbour.
A few shots from our first visit to the Summer Isles in 2006 with my original Gumotex Sunny and Mk1 Safari and when it seems the weather was unusually good for August. One day we paddled out as far as Tanera Mor and Tanera Beg, as well as Achnahaird and Loch Sionascaig and Osgaig and thought it was all a huge adventure.
You may have read in the Shark Bay story what a relief it was to turn into the wind at Cape Peron, get Jeff to flick up his Pacific Action sail (below left) and shoot down across the Reach, with me clinging to Jeff’s hefty sea kayak. There’s a bit more Pacific Action sailing action attached to an Incept K40 in this video. To me, sailing a kayak or packraft is a smart idea in the right conditions and with kayaks, some people think so too. The now moribund US-dominated packraft forum didn’t get so excited when a bloke demo’d his WindPaddle (see below); perhaps in the US most packrafters do rivers, not lakes or certainly not sea. In Scotland where the lochs can be long wind-channels and the boggy ground alongside horrible to walk over with a full pack, sailing a packraft down a 20-km valley full of water in half the time it would take to paddle makes sense.
V-sails and Umbrella sailing I never got round to fitting a Pacific Action sail [left] onto the Sunny IK. In the UK they cost around £250 but it’s more or less two sticks and a sheet and some string. Here is a great thread on SotP about making your own V-sail, although now I notice the original model of the PA sails going for as little as £160 in the UK to make way for the new, mostly clear models. I read about a guy who mentioned he umbrella-sailed his packraft back across an Arizona lake on an afternoon breeze. So with an old brolly I’ve barely used in 20 years, I gave it a go.
First time was in the Sunny kayak on a very windy day – too windy in fact. I found an out-of-the-way loch on the north side of Stac Polly mountain, hacked into the 20 mph headwind, turned round and opened up the umbrella expecting to catch the wind and rip back to the shore like an ekranoplan. No such luck. In a way the good thing with a brolly is that it inverts long before it drags you out of the boat and across the lake like a character from a cartoon. But because of that in-built safety overload, I couldn’t get going. Oddly, all that happened was instead of the bow coming round downwind, the boat kept getting side-on until the brolly inverting on a gust. Why side on? Was it the fact that the sail’s pivot point was effectively my shoulder in the middle of the boat, and not a point fixed on the front end? Could be.
A few days later I tried with my much lighter Llama packraft, but this rare day there was not enough wind to prove anything. As you can see left, I tried to use the paddle as a rudder, but on that day it would have been better used in its traditional role.
Flip-out disc sails Since then ‘flip-out’ disc sails came to my attention: lighter, simpler and more compact than a PA. They work like those clever flip-out tents (see below): release a sling and it springs into shape on an unfurling hoop or batten. I made myself one from a spare tent.
Here is a great IK page by a French gonflard, Andypink picturing all sorts of kayak sails and having assessed all out there, he designed a 1.2m2 ‘spoon sail‘ which is now being sold by Bic (right) for about £50 – just under half the price of a smaller US-made WindPaddle (good canoer’s review here). As you’d expect, the places selling the Bic in the UK merely parrot the blurb from Bic with no detailed analysis or photos of it in use. To do that you have to dig into Andy P’s blog; there are photos of an actual Bic-in-action here and here and especially here (also left, his picture cropped for clarity). You can see there are no less than three attachment points on each side of the sail. Having used my similar but ultra-basic home-made version, I’d say the properly designed Bic differs in the following ways:
It has a window – always nice to see what’s ahead.
I assumed the inverted teardrop shape would make it unstable, but I suspect the close base-mount points make it easier to pull the sail hard down to one side for angling off the wind at up to 45°. And like a PA, it’s bigger up top where there’s significantly more wind.
The ‘control string’ attaches to the side of the sail at three points and then is attached to the hull (not one point and held in the hand like my MYO disc). I presume they are all chosen in position and length to maintain a certain optimal form.
It appears the dishing as featured on a WindPaddle and its knock-offs is not necessary.
Here’s a good intro to kayak sailing on Douglas Wilcox’s inspiring Scottish sea kayaking blog. DW paddles hardshells mostly, has actual sailboat experience and these days uses a fixed Flat Earth sail (a jib?) which I don’t think would work on an IK. Douglas told me that on the faster boats they all use (proper sea kayaks with bows sharp enough to cut week-old brie) the WindPaddle proved to have a fairly narrow range of operational effectiveness (same with the Bic I imagine). In a strong wind the flexible hoop distorts and loses effectiveness; and in a light wind they find it’s barely worth the bother. But don’t forget this is in a slick kayak that can easily be paddled at 5mph while slicing through the swell. A packraft manages about half that and fast IK like a Seawave or Incept maybe 70-80% of that speed. So at the lower wind speeds I can paddle, a sail may be worthwhile – and in sail-distorting high winds; well, it didn’t happen with mine in 20mph winds (F4-5). I didn’t go that fast, but I can’t see me voluntarily being out at sea at wind speeds of 30mph, which is F6. It’s F7 out the window right now, pelting down and the sea looks utterly grim.
A ‘0.9m2’ WindPaddle is the same size as my disc sail, left (ie: 1m diametre which = a radius of 0.5m x 0.5m x π actually = 0.785 m2, but perhaps the dishing makes a bigger area?). As this guy suggests, this may not represent great value for money for a nylon sheet in a hoop plus some string. My own disc sail seems to work OK, but I may end up trying a Pacific Action – see below. My only reservations might be that it’s yet more stuff and a Bic or PA may be a little more complicated to rig and operate than a plain old disc sail.
More kayak and packraft sailing thoughts I forget of course that my disc sail was primarily made as a portable sail for my packraft; I never really expected it to work on what was my Incept IK, but having done so anyway, I think at 0.78m2 it’s too small and too low. I block much of the backwind and I’ve been told the higher a sail the better it works; it’s just that too much height can affect stability in a gust. We don’t want that.
We were out yesterday on Loch Broom with Steve and Micheal in the Feathercrafts and me in the K40. By the time we finally put in at the back of the loch near the river, it had gotten windy and the fetch up the valley was pushing up a short chop which mid-loch, made forward progress slow. But now I have a nifty way of carrying my disc sail securely and out of the way on the Incept (right), I went right ahead and deployed it for the return. As before, I found that a stiff headwind paddled into at 2-3mph (see graph, left), didn’t correspond into a scintillating downwind glide under sail. Top speed was just over 4mph at which point things begin to get interesting and you want more. But most of the time Steve was able to keep up and even take pictures between paddling his Kahuna, so all I was gaining was some rest rather than extra speed.
Nothing wrong with resting on the move, but compact and handy though it is, I think my home-made disc sail is too small to get the K40 moving with my weight in it, let alone adding a camping payload. Researching more about V-sails, including the SotP thread mentioned above, I see that here and there PA sails are getting discounted to nearly the same price as a WindPaddle.
Having thought it over and actually seen one in use, a PA is more like the real thing compared to any disc sail, whose USP is that they’re compact and deploy in a flash. What a WindPaddle, Bic or my home-made disc sail can’t do so easily on the water in anything longer than a packraft is fold up easily. On an Alpacka you just reach forward and twist the disc sail down out of the way and clamp it, but alone on a choppy sea in a long kayak, it’s far out of reach on the bow of my Incept, unless I just pull it back and lash it down over my knees. A headwind would hold it in place like that, but one may have other things on one’s mind in heavy conditions and a side- or backwind gust could catch it where it might dig into the water and act as an unwanted sea anchor, upsetting the boat. We don’t want that either.
Update – a cheap Windpaddle knock-off So, having experimented with the concept of kayak sailing for little outlay, I can now see the value in actually buying something like a PA that’s made for the job, partly because we’re intending to paddle the Ningaloo this September where a sail will be useful, and sail-savvy Jeff (left) will be there to give me some tuition in the art. Short version: it didn’t go so well for me. Where’s a windy day when you want one? Not today, but the next time I must take the Alpacka Yak out with the disc sail and see if the new shape and a bit more experience makes any difference. As you can see here, it wasn’t so conclusive with the old shape Llama on a reservoir in Surrey, but the pointier Yak, a bit of paddle rudder finesse and a stiff Hebridean breeze may make a difference.
Imagine it. It’s a good summer and you have four or five days to spare, but you’re based in the UK, wracking your brains to find a decent river nearby to satisfy that urge for a good short trip, a couple of nights camping, pubs and a little white-water thrill. Britain’s, or more accurately Wales and England’s paucity of suitable rivers that are actually navigations (permitted) and therefore free from legal hassles means your list of choices is short and the Wye is bound to be near the top. It’s said to be Britain’s finest canoeing river. It probably is, but the problem is nature gave us very few to choose from before bureaucrats and landowners stepped in. Your next problem is the state of the river and whether you’ve got the right boat. The Wye has a good variety of speeds and moods and very variable rainfall; at times it’s too dangerous and claims the occasional life, though those are often novices in rented canoes. Photos you’ll find on the web will often show dramatic class III scenes, probably taken at Symonds Yat, but these are show-off photos which aren’t typical of the conditions, even at Symonds Yat. And you’ll see whitewater paddlers wearing helmets in glass-smooth water, which makes you wonder what they know that you don’t. So choosing which boat to take is a tough one for the Wye, unless you’ve got one boat, and it’s a Gumotex Sunny. I was reluctant to take my new Feathercraft Kahuna as I thought I’d scrape the bottom too much and also feared heavy water at Symonds Yat might be too much to handle. So I borrowed the Sunny and in four days of paddling never bottomed out once, though the water levels were quite high. The rest of our group had similar concerns. John had added outriggers to his aluminium Grumman canoe, but I think that was due to worries by his front-paddler, my sister Sally. John’s mate Snoz was the strongest paddler and took a plastic Pelican canoe, the only boat he owns, and my mate Michael paddled his double Pouch folder as that was all he had to hand.
The river starts off nicely and slower boats won’t fall too far behind. Bends and shallows provide ripples and eddies for entertainment and the surrounding scenery deserves all the praise it gets, though I won’t get poetic on you. The ‘no landing’ signs commonly seen on the bank remind you that canoeists are not too popular on this river. Even pubs have ‘no landing’ signs but with some determination we managed to find a place to tie up and climb out to visit the Boat Inn, which has a miserable camping garden and no customers.
We later rescued some rental paddlers (right) whose boat was stuck in some trees on a fast corner while one of their number had somehow found himself on the other side of the river at a point where it was running too fast and deep to cross. The Wye not the wildest river, but you won’t often get a mobile signal and there aren’t many roads nearby so if you get stuck, you’ll have to get yourself out of trouble or hope someone paddles by.
Our first night was spent just above Monnington Falls. It’s a muddy scramble up a bank till you reach some steps, then an orchard campsite with a decent shower at the far end. Having a light boat is a big advantage here, though a plastic canoe could be safely tied up and left by the river. A nice spot and you can worry yourself all night about how bad the falls might be next morning. In the event, the water levels were so high that the falls were submerged and the only trick was to turn fast enough to avoid being tangled up in trees in fast water. More beautiful scenery, more ‘no landing’ signs.
Hereford for lunch, but is there a good spot to land and get a lunch by the river? No, not at all, the city pretty much turns its back on the river, but we were able to tie up under a bridge and walk to a huge Tesco and bring back something. The river carried us on at a fair clip to Lucksall Caravan Park for our next night. A tiny jetty, steep steps with tight turns and a roller so you can pull an empty boat straight up the high bank are all that’s on offer, and the owners regard that as a great facility, but they don’t kayak. Groups of rental boats with bossy leaders monopolise the landing for an hour or more in the morning. All we can do is brew-up and ignore them.
Lunch and a pint await you at Hoarwithy where there’s a primitive campsite and a field with a bull in it between us and the pub. At that point I found out that my sister had a fear of bulls but my greater need for a drink overpowered that. In the afternoon Snoz showed us he can paddle standing up for hours at a time, even through minor ripply stuff. The evening brought us to Ross-on-Wye and the White Lion, a riverside pub which welcomes paddlers with camping in front of it. The awkward take-out is rocks and mud and again I was glad to be in the Sunny. The last day for us was through Symonds Yat, the last possible concern for nervous nellies, then past Monmouth (the river runs around it and you won’t see much of the town) and our finish at Redbrook, where we had left our other car. After Ross, the river picks up a bit more and enters a high-sided valley. There’s a view of the river from the Offa’s Dyke long-distance footpath that is said to be one of the finest in England (though at this point the Wye is about to return to Wales), and I wouldn’t argue with that, though ‘in the top 20’ would be fairer to say. In summer the colours and leafy splendour are fabulous and it’s peaceful indeed, a blissful meander as you approach Symonds Yat.
There’s a good pub to stop at to get some Dutch courage if you need it, but the high levels made it pretty straightforward for us. Symonds Yat is a straight shot, just line up right and you’ll be through it quickly enough. After that Snoz pulled out a bottle of Wood’s rum and some Coke to celebrate and we drifted in the sun, occasionally scrambling round our boats to find leftover food to finish off for lunch. We finished at Redbrook though things looked very enticing downriver. The Wye becomes tidal after Tintern, with no take-outs (due to muddy banks) until Chepstow.
So is it a great river for paddlers, a must-do? I proclaim it’s a fantastic river, and if you haven’t the energy or time to get over to France, it’s one of the best you’ll find in Britain. The great shame is that so little has been made of it. European rivers have towns and villages facing the river rather than facing away from it; there, rivers are tourist attractions and every effort is made to allow tourists on the bank to enjoy river views and for paddlers to land, get out and spend a little money. By contrast the Wye is a shocker, for none of this sort of development has occurred. The proliferation of ‘no landing’ signs, frequent references in the guide book such as ‘prior permission for landing requested, call 01299….’, the shabby and half-hearted take-outs, where they exist at all, it’s is a disgrace to our country, especially on a river that’s often referred to as our finest for canoeing.
I’d take the Sunny again on this sort of river, it’s a very versatile boat, mid-range for speed so you won’t be too far ahead or behind, totally stable and easy to get in and out of, and very secure in rapids and shallow water. OK you might get a soaking but you’d have to try hard to tip this boat on a river like the Wye.
Resources ‘Wye Canoe?’ is the book to get for this river, if only for the maps. As the official guide it’s full of the kind of rules and regs you didn’t want to read, but it’s got all that you want for planning.
WYE (Hereford to Ross on Wye) – classic touring. WYE (Ross on Wye to Symonds Yat East) – a classic touring paddle. WYE (Symonds Yat East to Monmouth) – a classic trip, with the famous Symonds Yat rapids. WYE (Monmouth to Redbrook)
The Aire Cheetah seat (left) turned out to be no worse than the inflatable original, but was a bit lighter – even though it weighs just over 2kg. I’ve also set it up so I clip the seat to the boat’s seat mounts (which originally used a knotted bit of rope) so I can take it out at camps or to dry/clean the boat. Plus, along with the box for a footrest (below), it’s one less thing to pump up.
Firm backresting was a problem with the OE seat; or to be precise, fitting points to hold the back of the seat upright as you push back with your feet. Because the support strap is attached from the seat top to the front seat base, as you lean bank it just pivots rather than supports. The 410C is much better in this respect. To cut a long story short, I imitated them by gluing mounts to the hull’s side tubes to attach to the seat top. This way the pulling force is in a better line and the seat doesn’t pull down. Some say though that the old-style seat have better back support than the plain Mk2/3 style Sunny seats. Since fitting on the side tube mounts (the real answer to this problem) I don’t think about the seat now which must mean it works. The Aire seat is still a bit heavy though.
Footrest The OE inflatable footrest pillow was non-adjustable (on the 410C it is) and always too far away to be effective, even for me at 6′ 1″, so I replaced it with a 5010 Otter box (left), which of course has uses to store stuff on the water.
However I then noticed the strain of me pushing back off the box was tearing the lower seat mount tabs glued to the hull (where the rope used to be). The box is now attached directly to the seat with adjustable slings. This way I now push inside a ‘closed loop’ made up of the seat and box, so only straining the sling and clip joins which make up the loop – and not the boat mounts. Of course this does mean there’s some energy-absorbing slack between me and the boat, but it’s a gumboat not a K1 racer alas, so will have to do.
Although I find I’m happy to paddle with my legs lying flat, when you want to go for it a firm foot brace and a bent knee are much better, but require a fairly solid seat to push against. The long box-to-seat strap loop seems to work OK and I discovered a side benefit; the straps can be pulled over my knees to make thigh braces (right); another possibly handy feature when the going gets rough. It’s not like bracing directly off the hull or anywhere near as good as with a SinK’s ‘underdeck’; it’s more to achieve good paddle thrust using the core not the arms which they keep telling you to do. And anyway, even in the roughest rapids I’ve done, the Sunny feels stable enough without thigh braces and if anything I prefer having my legs free to stick out to steady myself (or fall out neatly). The Sunny usually swamps long before things get hairy enough to tip it over.
As mentioned above, sometimes I feel with the Cheetah seat that my butt ought to be a bit higher. It’s also pretty heavy at 2 kilos (4.5 lbs). Now I’ve inherited a spare new-style Alpacka packraft seat (left), I may try and adapt it to fit the Sunny. The Alpacka seat is not half as robust as the OE Gumo Nitrilon seat so it needs to be supported in a way that won’t wreck it. I haven’t worked out how to do that is yet; maybe a stick across the hull like a Grabner, but that requires gluing. This seat will be higher than the Aire which is an important feature with kayaks: butt higher than heels is much more sustainable, comfortable and efficient for paddling, so you want to set a seat as high as you feel safe, bearing in mind CoG and stability as discussed here. The Alpacka seat also weighs just 220 grams (half a pound), saving nearly 1.5 kilos, or nearly 10% of a Sunny, and a bit of bulk… (but I got rid of the Sunny before I had a chance to work this one out).