Tag Archives: kayak disc sail

Pacific Action V-sail revisited

Windy but warm and dry thanks for asking – a good afternoon to take the IK out sailing. I’ve not done that since Ningaloo last September (top right) when I was blown away so to speak, but not in a good way.
Even before then I can’t say I’d got the hang of the Pacific Action V-sail which should add up to either hurtling from crest to crest with all hands on deck – or kicking back and getting a free ride while looking around at 3mph. Both are good fun but neither scenario seems to last more than a minute for me.
Remounting the V-sail to the K40 was easy. I clipped the front ‘sail-hoisting’ bungie about 8 inches further forward, right out on the boat’s nose using a loop of string and tape (right) as opposed to using the boat’s lift handle-ring. Fixed here it ought to help keep the sail up when pulled down low to one side by increasing the angle and distance from the sail’s feet. It’s an idea we came up with in Australia in an effort to make the K40 controllable in the strong winds.
Winds today (left, from 3pm) weren’t quite as strong as WA but were getting there. And anyway, I was out on small lochs with no rudder-lifting ocean swell to deal with – another reason we thought the K40 got squirrely in strong winds out in WA. The K40s large draught but low weight acted like a sail of it’s own, weathercocking the boat.
To reacquaint myself, I first took a spin on the smaller Loch Raa. I’m never really sure what I’m doing so just try various angles and approaches until the kayak catches the wind. I’m told that sailing directly downwind with the sail fully upright is less efficient (or is that with regular, fixed-mast sails?). With the PA you can get a good speed for a while, but soon the sail starts rocking violently from side to side as it sheds the excess blast – my strong recollection from Ningaloo. I assume that’s just a sign of the sail exceeding it’s speed limit, though I think Jeff’s hardshell did it less.
Off the wind about 45° and up to 90- or even 100° (ie; slightly upwind) seems more stable but slower, with the sail cranked down low to one side. But even then a consistent speed or direction seems hard to maintain for long. Is it my poor technique, the design of the sail when applied to my IK, or just an aspect of gusting and shifting wind? As it was I felt the unloaded boat was rather light, though in Ozzie last September 20+ kilos of ballast didn’t help much either.
Big sail boats and wind surfers seem to manage OK, but it seems hard to get a smooth, steady run while sat back with the cleated-off sail doing the work. Usually I’m yanking hard on the rudder to get in line, or have handfuls of lines trying to trim the sail for best effect. The tiny ‘finger-and-thumb’ cleats are just too fiddly to use in a hurry or mild panic, and often require two hands to release the jam. I wonder if hand-sized cleats exist for the thin cord, or some better device all round? Something like a sliding tube you could grab, but with a release button, a bit like a mountaineering jumar or the lighter Clog rope ascenders.

I came across this image of a Micronesian waharek boat newly built on an ancient design. Looks like a big V-sail to me but crucially, it has an outrigger.

Even then, on seeing the speed readings (above), it surprised me how fast I could hack into the wind at 2.5–3mph, admittedly with some effort (needed to keep the kayak pointed ahead). Coming back with the big sail I only got over 5mph a couple of times, and often moved barely more than upwind, although using much less energy of course.
After criss crossing Loch Raa a few times (above right), I went round the corner onto Loch Osgaig. Out in the open and with the wind bouncing off nearby Stac mountain, there should be room enough to get some speed up, providing I could hold on.
Down by the boat house put-in, the fetch was slapping a one-foot chop onto the shore, even if the loch’s only two miles long. It’s worth mentioning too that being zipped into a drysuit definitely eased the anxiety of being tipped over – in other words I could relax more even if it felt like Kew Gardens in there, though I did wonder if being tied to the boat as well as using a paddle leash would have been better still. Audrey Sutherland usually tied herself to her IK which on a windy day would otherwise be gone and out of reach before you even came up for air.
I set off and sliced the waves as best I could and stuck at it until I got opposite the small plantation. Here I stowed the paddle securely, got blown round and unfurled the v-sail, ready to snatch it back down should it all be more than I could handle. In fact there were only a couple of hairy moments As you can see from the speed graph (right), my paddle out was pretty steady and straight, but under sail, speeds and direction were all over the place. A couple of times either a gust or the optimal line saw the boat fly at along at over 5mph (left), but it never lasted.
It does make me wonder what the PA sail is good for on my K40. In winds of over 15mph it seems hard work to maintain. Is it an inherent flaw of a lose, articulated mast – and one whose feet are not pressing directly onto a solid hardshell hull (I use a plastic dinner plate to saijeffspread the load/reduce wear). The fact is, Jeff managed fine on Ningaloo (right), ripping along in a boat that was four times heavier than the Incept. And in Shark Bay a few years earlier in the same tandem tanker, he was towing me in my Gumboat.

A 10-15 mph breeze does often correspond to a nice steady sail, but that does seem a rather narrow margin of operation – something I recall someone else saying to me about V sails. I think it’s a combination of more practise required, hampered by the fact I’m in a light, buoyant, flaccid-chined IK. It makes me wonder if the WindPaddle is worth another look (it was and I did), though I’m fairly sure the PA V-sail is more versatile; I doubt you could ride at 90°+ to the wind with the deeply dished WindPaddle. Another good thing about the PA is that it’s out of the way when down but dead easy and fast to deploy or stash. Just throw it up and see if it takes to the wind. Out this time I also felt that the thigh straps were particularly useful when edging the boat against the gusts.

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

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.