Tag Archives: IK & Packraft sailing

Windpaddling to Achnahaird

The packboat sailing page



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 half way 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 (above left), 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 oystereggsand 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 oysterchaAllt Loch Ra creek. Squawking oyster catchers 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.

Seawave sailing video


kaysailSpring 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.




Kayak and packraft sails

Updated summer 2019

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 [video and 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 down wind, 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 thenflip-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 sail boat 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-sai-sailormade 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 (above left).
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.

Pic below:  not given up on WindPaddle sailing yet.

coi - 8

Fitting a Pacific Action sail on Incept K40

See also this post as well as this post about using the PA in strong winds in Western Australia. There’s a video there too.

I’m pretty sure my 0.78m2 home-made disc sail is too small to push the 4-metre Incept along until wind conditions get beyond the pale. Recognising that, I tracked down a 1.5m Pacific Action for £175 instead of the usual £250 which is a bit much. As I mention here, you can easily make a V-sail yourself from bits of plastic piping and old trousers, but life is short and as I’ve experienced a PA in action in Shark Bay, I’ve treated myself. The nearest B&Q hardware store is half a day away.
They call it a ‘1.5m’ sail, but unless I am very much mistaken it’s more like 1.15m2 if you calculate the area of the Isosceles as 146cm across the top and 174 up the sides (graphic on right; or base x height of about 170 divided by 2). PA round those dimesnions up on their website to 150cm and 180cm,  but that still doesn’t add up to 1.5m2 or 16 square feet. Maybe I should chill out a bit; a Ducati 900SS is actually 864cc and so on. As you can see left, it’s about twice as big as my 0.78m2 disc sail and it certainly looks like a metre-and-a-half square, so perhaps my sums are wrong. And it’s bigger in the right area too: up high where it counts. Plus you can see where you’re going – always handy in busy traffic lanes.
The sail comes in a compact bag of less than a metre. Can’t weigh things here but they claim 1.9kg; could even be less. Inside you get the two, 3-part masts made of thick glass fibre, the sail, fittings and rigging or lines, plus adequate instructions* for what turns out to be a fairly straightforward task. These instructions and fittings are obviously aimed at hardshells, be they SinKs or SoTs. With an IK you have to improvise a little. It helped knowing that there’s a picture of a PA sail on the Incept website (right), as well as this Kiwi guy’s video (bottom of page). The supplied cleats (sliding cord locks) are tiny and I recall Jeff replacing them on his Perception tandem for Shark Bay, but see below. Because of the confusing instructions combined with my congenital density, I misunderstood their simply application. On my first go at sailing the PA I was holding and maneuvering the control string by hand, as I did with the disc sail.
sai-clipUp front the snaplinks (right) I’ve used to mount the disc sail also happen to be ideal positions for the PA’s webbing loop. And the bow handle ring toggle is the just about the minimum 12 inches ahead of the mast feet to take the shock cord clip (left) with which the sail springs forward when you release it. If that’s not quite enough far forward (as I think may be the case), I can stick a D-ring patch a few inches further forward right on the nose of the boat (as left). This position/angle may be more important than just getting a good spring forward, but also affect the sail support. We’ll see.
In Australia a few months later we did see. Further forward was indeed better (as right), but I suspect still not optimal. When you think about it, the front attachment for the elastic would be better if it was set higher that the level of the mast feet. That’s because when you’re reaching across the wind with the downwind mast almost horizontal with the hull (as pictured left), the angle of leverage to keep the upper mast up gets very low; at 5-10° the tensioned elastic is almost at the same angle and so the sail collapses as shown in this video at 1.16. This happened to me all the time in Australia as the sail was pulled low to cope with the strong sidewinds. If I go ahead with my nasal bowsprit idea as mentioned here, I’m now thinking it might also be an idea to raise it a bit; have an upcurved bowsprit so the sail is more readily held up when reaching (near-horizontal).
While in Australia I also pushed the snaplinks to mount the sail straps directly through the black lugs and not around them as pictured right. This was because the strong wind was pushing the sail mount (a plastic plate) forward, making it go slack, reducing the elastic tension and causing more problems with handling. But by the time I made all these adaptions we were locked into two days of headwinds so I never really had a chance to see if it made any great difference.
Back to the original mounting story set in Scotland in summer 2011. It all went together easily enough, until it became clear some fittings were missing from the pack which for some reason looked like it had done the rounds with a few previous customers. Most fittings were not needed for my IK, except the four ¾-inch self tappers with which you permanently fix the mast feet position in relation to your kayak’s deck angle and with the sail splayed. According to the instructions* and this picture I found on the web this is an ‘8g ¾-inch’ screw, but that seems way too long to have two from opposing sides – one alone would act more as a bolt than a self-tapper getting a bite, but that is what they recommend; the subtext is these screws are important to make a solid fixture. What’s not made clear (or is perhaps obvious) is that you ought to pre-drill guide holes deep into the plastic mast feet lugs for the screw can get right in there. Some hardshells will have a bevelled or convex foredeck which is why you must set the mast foot angle (MFA) specific to your boat for optimum operation. On my set up, the MFA is horizontal (flat) as I’m using a plastic chopping board idea as PA suggest to give the feet the all-important support and avoid wear on the PVC deck. The feet move around quite a lot under tension as you pull the sail this way and that but, as I found first time out, the angle of those feet against the mast (as well as the webbing tension) must be solid if the sail is to spring up and open or splay out.
The sail rolls down out of the way and doesn’t interfere with paddling, though it does mean yet more cordage hanging around; you could get in a right old muddle if you don’t keep on top of it. PA do advise paddling with a knife or a less pointy rope cutter. I have a quick-grab Benchmark one (left) attached to my PA.
It was gusting up to 40mph before the local weather station packed up, and at times the sea was covered in foam streaks and swell, so I went to a back loch for a spin. Typically by the time I’d crawled into a dry suit in case I fell out and got dragged along by the sail, the wind had just about died, but it gave me a chance to test it out in tame conditions. That evening my paddling speeds back into the wind were greater than anything I managed under sail, but I was getting the hang of it and even got the knack of running almost across the wind. The vid from that session isn’t worth uploading unless you’re having trouble sleeping; I hope to have another session when the wind returns and on a loch that’s longer to the wind.
Lessons learned: need those self tappers to lock the feet, luckily the local store had some that may do the job. And I’ve since located that chopping board a bit better to the boat with some slots and zip ties until a better solution is required. 

Rigging the sail-adjusting cleat
Working out how to rig the control cord to alter the sail angle was actually rather simple once I put my mind to it. As mentioned, you get some small plastic cleats in the pack whose use is unclear. But digging around online for an alternative cleat (as other PA users tend to fit), I discovered what the PA comes with are very much like, if not exactly Clamcleat Line-Loks. Now I know what they are, their fitting and application is more clear. It’s not illustrated or explained in the PA instruction leaflet* I received; in fact I’d go as far as to say that the tiny yellow picture of the rigged Line-Lok in the PA leaflet is the wrong way round compared to what’s illustrated in the Clamcleat gif on the left. But even though (as I found) it does work crudely when rigged the wrong way round, I think I finally get it now. A Line-Lok a nifty solution to tensioning a tent guy in the Arctic as the link shows, but as Clamcleat’s gif on the above right also illustrates, you need two hands to release it – not something that may be easily available in rough conditions while trying to grab your paddle and not spill your tea. But so far I’ve found in the light conditions I’ve been out in, one handed works fine and if it’s a real panic you just pull the sail down in a jiffy.
In fact, testing the correctly rigged locking cleat off a chair leg, it’s possible to achieve the release movement by spreading your fingers as long as it’s not too tightly jammed in the cleats, while adding tension (pulling the sail back/down) is certainly easy.
Having worked out how to string them up, the next question is where to attach them to the boat. By trial and error I found that cutting the supplied 4-5m line in half, rigging as above and then clipping the stainless steel clip to the K40 at the plastic lugs just behind the seat seems just right (left; it shares the left side lug with the rudder lifting line). Even though the Incept image with the red boat above seems to use the more forward points, fixed like this it puts the full sliding range of the locking cleat within arm’s reach while sat in the cockpit; or at least that’s how it looks on the lawn. I used the spring clips supplied to fix the control cord to the mast shackles, but at one point while sailing one unhooked itself from the shackle, so better to knot the cords securely to the shackle as PA recommend. To see how it sailed first time out, see this.

NB: A more recent set of fitting instructions were sent to me as a pdf from Pacific Action and are much clearer.
As far as I could see it wasn’t to be found on their website.