Tag Archives: home-made kayak sail

Kayak disc sailing – Incept K40

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 up wind, 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 (right), 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 (left), 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 tof the new £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.

Homemade packraft or kayak sail

For my original post on the idea of IK sailing, with various videos, click this
For my first go packrafting with the sail, click this, and in a kayak, see this
A cheap ‘Windpaddle’ sail

A few years ago I got a batch of discounted Decathon Quechua ‘2 seconds 1’ pop-up tents (right; £20) for a desert tour I was running, and have a couple left over. Now everyone’s offering cheap pop-ups. People love the idea and though I don’t suppose this is a tent you’d want on the north face of Annapurna in a gale, when you arrive at a camp tired after a day of desert biking, you just want to click your fingers and, Abracadabra, you have a cosy shelter to call your own.
Whoever came up with the idea of flexible hoops sewn into a 3-D form to spring apart and make a tent or shelter was ingenious. I still marvel at it today. It seems a photographer John Ritson got to idea of adding fabric to a flat loop in 1985 and invented the collapsible Lastolite light reflector (right) after he saw a carpenter fold the blade of a bandsaw (See the bottom of this page). I imagine a Lastolite (a 38-incher costs £50) was the motivation behind the WindPaddle idea, but from a plain disc to a tent is quite a leap.
So I took a knife to one of my used Quechua tents.  Bad though it felt shredding a perfectly functional shelter, in the spirit of the Inca shaman, it will be reincarnated as a sail – or more ill-conceived clutter to shove under the bed.
Dismembering the Quechua gives two giant hoops of 4mm nylon-coated alloy and another of 6mm. Having been told that WindPaddles can deform easily under strong winds, I chose the thicker wire to use for the hoop (Gallery pic 2, below) in the hope of reducing this possibility. (Warning: when opened up these springy wires can fly about all over the place).

Cutting the thick loop in half and rejoining it with the metal collar/tube (don’t lose this bit) gives a hoop of around 40 inches or 1 metre diametre making a sail area of 0.785 m2 (8.45 ft2) – similar to a WindPaddle, but with negligible dishing. I built up the sawn-off end with some cloth tape to stuff into the collar-tube, and then taped it all up (so it’s easily undoable).
There’s enough fabric in the main body of the tent’s fly sheet (Gallery pic 1) to make two 40″ disc sails if you cut from the middle, so 1 tent fly = 2 sails. I only worked this out after I cut. You want to use each curved end of the flysheet with as much orange hem-sleeve as possible (Gallery pic 4) – it saves on sewing later. You don’t want, as I thought,  the flat middle section which of course won’t become a smooth disc once formed into a loop with the wire. Gallery pics 5 to 9 show how to gather up the slack, trim it, tack it down and get the Mrs to sew it up as if she hasn’t got enough work to be getting on with at this time of year.
Gallery picture 10 is the sewn-up sail with a handy gap at the bottom for I don’t know what and which also happens to coincide with the position of two little hooped tabs at 5- and 7 o’clock which you can use mount it to an Alpacka’s rearmost bow loops using mini snaplinks (Gallery picture 11). By chance there are 2 more sewn-on plastic rings at 10- and 2 o’clock to mount a control string. The length of string I used happened to be just right to wrap around the folded over tent, though it’s all under tension and pretty unstable; you might want something like a bulldog clip to stop the sail deploying unexpectedly. I also think my control string may be on the short side, but it’s what was lying around.
My disc tent doesn’t have anywhere near the dishing (depth) of a WindPaddle or an umbrella – like a spinaker sail I am told. I still havn’t worked out if this is significant (it is). One would imagine a deeper WP-like sail – a ‘bowl’ rather than a ‘saucer’ – would be more stable downwind but less good at tacking across it (probably correct) but what do I know? Last time I sailed a boat was over 35 years ago.
I suspect a flip-out disc sail like this is probably a compromise when it comes to sailing effectively, but then so are pack boats. If round sails were such a good idea the Vikings would have them. It may even prove to be not fully useful and so just more junk to carry about which is why, after trying the umbrella, I chose to make one for next to nothing rather than spend £140 ($215) on a WindPaddle in the UK. It was easy to make, is light (250g or 9oz), and it can swapped between my Alpacka packraft and Sunny IK in the time it takes to unclip 2 snaplinks and attach them elsewhere.
Other uses include something to sit on, a doormat for the tent, a wind break, sun shade or umbrella. There is a slight problem: you can’t see where you’re going, especially on the shorter packrsaft with a metre-wide sail a metre on front of you, but on most water that ought not matter too much and if it does, I can cut in a window (like a WindPaddle) if that is the sail’s only flaw.
As to how it sails, Monday after Christmas had a good southerly wind and the warmest day for weeks (ie: above freezing), but the reservoir I chose was a rink and looks like it’ll be that way for a while. It’s been the coldest December in the UK since records began so a test run make take a few weeks to complete. To see how it sailed first time out, click this.