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.
Normally on a decent weekend up here (as pictured left) there’ll be half a dozen vans with their distinctive kayak racks parked down at the beach. This weekend they’d all clearly read the forecast, but keen to get some hours in for an upcoming plan, kayaking chum Jon took a chance on the long drive up. The good thing with the lie of the land hereabouts is there’s usually somewhere sheltered to go wherever the wind’s coming from. Except perhaps during a northwesterly as predicted for Saturday and which bowls straight up the skirts of the prevailing lochs and valleys.
With it all laid out on my doorstep, Saturday afternoon we put in at sheltered Old Dornie harbour (left) and tried to head out round the adjacent isles, but I lost my nerve at the sight of the oncoming swell and increasing wind. Eager though we were, we reverted to Plan A, turned round as if on a tight rope and settled for a couple of hours solo re-entry practice, something I’d yet to try in my Incept K40.
Being a hardsheller, Jon works on his roll from time to time, but hasn’t quite got it nailed yet. He’s got a good alternative though, re-entry and roll, they call it – getting himself into the semi-submerged kayak on its side and then once in and braced, doing the hip flick and paddle float lift to get himself upright, at which point he pumps out the hatch compartment.
Me, I tried lunging onto the deck from the water, as I would on my former Sunny or my packraft. But the K40 bobs quite high when empty, so I was surprised I managed it, perhaps aided by the added buoyancy of my dry suit.
The problem is, once slumped belly down over the hatch (above), what next? You fall back in, that’s what next, because trying to turn onto your back tips you off long before you get your legs securely down the hatch. Perhaps with a bit more practice and finesse it could be done, but this was pretty calm water so realistically, just as on a hardshell sea kayak, it’s usually too tricky to pull off unaided. I then tried with my new paddle float as an outrigger. Would you believe it, re-entry was much easier and also pulls less water in as the boat remains more upright. Hook a leg over the floating paddle shaft and scuttle aboard. From this position I found it was fairly easy to flip round and drop bum first into the hatch and then stuff the legs in.
On that day I was carrying my two Watershed dry bags full of camping gear to see how it handled, so they helped reduce the boat’s possible swamped water volume, but even then any deckless IK conveniently self-drains when flipped back over – no awkward, X-rescue hauling over another kayak’s glossy fibreglass deck to drain. Once in the K40, there were only a few inches of water to bilge out, certainly not enough to cause sloshing instability (the true reason why you need to drain a kayak fast following a deepwater re-entry – not because you’ll get your pants wet). One thing I noticed was a rope knife attached to my pfd got caught on the hatch coaming, and also all this grovelling around over my wet kayak’s deck pulled the bite valve off my new CamelBak/pfd set up which then drained away. That will be £4.99 please. Now I know to reposition one and tuck in the other to avoid any snags. Spraydeck newsflash! The massively oversize cheapo spray deck I bought and modified (left) still required a lot of scrunching. But having actually used it, my feeling is the K40 sits so high it’s not going to be needed unless it gets cold or I’m heading for river rapids. At other times it’s just more clobber to carry around, wash and dry. Maybe I’ll get to see the value of it as my experience in the Incept extends. On a much lower sea kayak like Jon’s P&H, a deck is pretty essential.
The other way to get back into an Incept from deep water would be to simply unzip the decks and haul yourself on. No paddle float needed, although it occurred to me yet another use of the Watershed bags, particularly the smaller yellow Chattooga, could be as a paddle float (left). Any dry bag will do, but you know the Watershed’s won’t so much as seep a drop like a roll-top will after a few minutes, and the Chattooga even has some clips which can be used to secure a paddle blade.
If not using any type of outrigger float, a bit more water will swill into the K40 as you pull over the side to get back in. Ideally you then want to crawl up through the unzipped hatch hole as you got aboard, ease around and take your seat. But now you have the fairly tricky manoeuvre of trying to zip up the decks, all while hanging onto your paddle and not tipping back in. As I found first time out, without the support of another boat or a float, reaching the fully opened zip pulls on the Tasman is quite an unstable stretch from the seat, even with the grab loops I’ve tied to them. Longer loops might get in the way so some sort of a hook stick is needed if no one is around to do it for you. Regarding the K40’s zippy deck, as long as I wear a dry suit I can see even less need for it at sea in the conditions I’m every likely to go out in. Only on a WW 2 or 3 river would it be handy (with the spray deck) to save the boat swamping and the need to find a bank to drain it. If you’re paddling undecked, getting in from deep water all so much simpler, just like an SoT, and if not there’s a good section on the informative Kayarchy website illustrating all sorts of deep-water rescues.
Next day we set off to try and actually paddle somewhere, but off the beach it still looked horrible (left and right); 15-20mph winds but now from the SW. We paddled towards the Isles anyway, but after 15 minutes I didn’t like what I’d guess you’d call a boat-stalling ‘short chop’ which would only get worse further out. While hacking away warily, it occurred to me that focussed as you are in such conditions, it takes some effort to think of others or even keep track of them, and should they flip while you’re barely coping yourself, it can all go horribly Pete Tong. After all, no one usually capsizes is calm, wind-free conditions. That’s why we wanted to get some practice time together out here. The plan had been to go as far as camp the previous night, but the miserable weather and a fully fitted house just a mile away nixed that idea.
It wasn’t actually that gnarly, just not much fun and possibly about to get less so. As we did a U-ey I was encouraged to observe my Incept that morning felt less intimidating to turn than Jon’s slinky P&H. Again, no great surprise; his boat is floating stick insect with the turning circle of a stretched limo. The K40 is wide, has a rudder and – now that I’ve seen pics of me in it – the ends sit out of the water even with my weight and a 10-15 kilo load aboard. Is that a lot of ‘rocker’ or a little, I forget, but it turns easily with rudder + paddle strokes, and with the rudder up can spin on its axis with a lot fewer paddle strokes than Jon’s Scorpio. And with fewer edgy moments too. I was getting the feel for the Incept in rougher water.
So we sailed ourselves back to the beach, fighting to steer with the tailwind. Once there we settled for messing about closer to the shore, practising more turns out on the swell or paddling parallel to waves to gauge tippiness, secure in the fact that we were constantly getting blown inshore.
I was open deck that day, but noticed where the Sunny would have flexed and swamped over the rounded sides where I sat, the more rigid and higher-sided K40 stayed mostly dry. I was also conscious that even though they are also more clobber and something to catch your foot on, the thigh straps I’m waiting to glue in would surely help control in rough water. Either that or I see them as the only possible explanation for my lame kayaking skills! With the deck off we also tried paddling the Incept two-up – me sitting in the back facing backwards. That’s a total weight of at least 180kg in our gear, 20kg over what the Tasman is rated for. Jon reported the boat was tippier like this and had it been a serious requirement, I could have laid down to improve stability. One thing I noticed open deck is that there’s less back support from the low seat – a common problem with IKs using inflatable seats, and one reason I went for a Aire Cheetah seat on my Sunny. Clearly with the deck on the flexible coaming helps as a back rest and by the end of that day I felt the tops of my legs straining a bit in a bid to maintain upright. The problem is there is nothing solid to brace the feet against either, but I imagine this is another benefit of fitting thigh straps.
Having mastered many new skills, we had a quick scoot in the packraft (above); fun and very stable in the conditions, but also so slow you’d run out of puff before getting anywhere. The initial instinct in the chop was to try and jump it like a BMX bike; it sure would be fun to try surfing it on bigger waves one time.
Suddenly a glassy calm befell the bay, just as a private weather station near Ullapool recorded accurately in the graph on the right. Great we thought, let’s make a dash to the Tanera Mor about a mile and a half away, so we can say we got off the mainland – an ‘open water’ crossing! In this way many foolhardy newbs sail off to their doom, I suspect, because little did we know it was just the wind clearing its throat and refilling its lungs before coming back from new direction and harder than ever. But not before we’d managed to cross over and nudge the island’s sandstone cliffs (left) with our bows.
The previous day and that morning I’d been put off in similar- or even easier conditions but now, after a few hours playing around we were more tuned into our boats and even headed back diagonally across the stiff back wind and swell to make it a bit more difficult. Me of course with the aid of my rudder; without it I’d be correcting all over the place and need to stern-rudder, as Jon occasionally did. With backwind ruddering, I noticed it’s not a simple matter of holding the rudder at a certain angle because the tracking continually goes off, presumably as a quartering wave rises and drops behind you. A constant pedalling of the rudder controls was required to keep on the track. Don’t know if that’s normal, but I’d hate to wear out my rudder lines prematurely. So not a totally wasted weekend. Now we know we can get back into our boats alone one way or another, and can actually handle F4 conditions within sight of the shore, even if next time we go out, initially we may not feel that way.