Tag Archives: Pacific Action sail video

Walking with Sharks – kayaking Shark Bay

Looking for shark attacks? – go here
Sea kayaking on the Ningaloo?  It’s here
Packrafting the Fitzroy River – this way please
Originally written in 2010

Why doesn’t anyone paddle around Shark Bay, Jeff? It seems ideal for beginners like us.”

Name puts them off I reckon. It’s famous for big tiger sharks. National Geographic did a doco there once.”

Oh really?” I said. “I thought it was just a name…” and took a thoughtful sip from my coffee.

It was 2am in a roadhouse on the Coastal Highway north of Perth, Western Australia (WA). I’d flown in from London that evening with my boat-in-a-bag and together with Jeff’s girlfriend Sharon, we’d hit the road for the 1000-kilometre drive to Shark Bay.
Perth-based Jeff and Sharon were river paddlers and windsurfers and I’d done a couple of French rivers in my Gumotex Sunny as well as some coastal days, but the three of us were new to kayak touring at sea. All we wanted was a safe but inspiring introduction and despite the name, we were sure the shallow, sheltered waters of Shark Bay would fit the bill.
The Bay itself is really a stretch of the otherwise exposed WA coast on the Indian ocean, and the Shark Bay area is protected by two thin peninsulas which protrude north like elongated harbour walls for 200 kilometres. But at an average depth of only ten metres, Shark Bay is of little use to shipping and is best known for the daily dolphin visits at Monkey Mia beach. A regular tide of tourists flow in and out of the resort, but having made regular visits there myself as a guidebook writer covering WA, I’d long suspected there was much more to this ‘Australian Baja’ than beachside photo opportunities with Flipper and the family.
wss-sb-mapApart from anything else, Shark Bay is a UNESCO World Heritage site, one of only a handful to fulfil all four criteria, being an area of evolutionary significance; ongoing ecological processes; superlative natural phenomena and biological diversity. Actually it’s five once you factor in the presence of Jeff. With such impressive credentials we were sure its less-visited corners would be ideal for a mid-winter’s exploration in kayaks.
Once I established with the local parks service that paddling in such an exalted environment was permitted, I was surprised to find just one online account of a kayak tour of the Bay –  a quick visit by Australian canoeing legend Terry Bolland. Compared to Bolland’s adventures in the croc-ridden inlets of WA’s northern coast where ten-metre tides run like rivers, his Shark Bay excursion read like Lance Armstrong pedalling down to the shops to buy some milk.
Jetlag meant I was conveniently alert for the overnight drive and as the sky coloured with the dawn, we crossed the 26th parallel and passed a sign welcoming us to the fabled ‘Nor’ West’. We rolled into Denham, halfway up the Peron Peninsula and Shark Bay’s only settlement, populated by a mixture of snowbirds jammed into the caravan park, permanent retirees in pristine bungalows and some fishing and tourist operations. We parked outside the café and waited for it to open.
Our plan was not too ambitious. Paddle north from Denham about 60 kilometres to the tip of the Peron Peninsula, round Cape Peron to the east and cover the same distance south to Monkey Mia Dolphin Resort, a trip that might take up to a week. We aimed to take advantage of the prevailing southwesterlies on the exposed west side of the Peron and deal with the same as headwinds on the more sheltered southbound leg.
wss-stashThere was no fresh water on our route and even the townsfolk of Denham paid a premium for desalinated drinking water. So after breakfast we followed a network of 4WD tracks to the tip of Cape Peron, our halfway point, and buried a cache of water and snacks. Jeff and Sharon had a Perception Eco tandem kayak the size and weight of a taker but as I was about to find out, it didn’t take much to swap my Sunny Gumotex inflatable, even with a light load.

To the Big Lagoon
With our cache stashed under the paprika-red cliffs of Cape Peron, we set off from Denham at dawn the following day. The waters were soothingly calm and soon a reliable southwesterly saw Jeff hoist his Pacific Action sail.
Bye,” I said forlornly “see you later.” But they took pity on my kayak-shaped airbed and hooked me up for a tow to the first of many mostly unnamed capes by which we’d measure our progress on a marine chart.

These propitious conditions didn’t last long. Soon the wind swung to the northwest, obliging us to dig in for what was to be two and a half days of relentless battling. I actually enjoy getting my teeth into a headwind, buoyed up by sightings of the extraordinarily rich marine life that gives Shark Bay its special UNESCO status.
Sharon had chalked up a checklist of ‘must sees’: turtles, sharks, rays, dolphins and dugongs (sea cows). By our first beach break a green turtle had already passed beneath her bows and later, as we towed our boats through the knee-deep shallows up to half a mile off shore by way of a rest, startled manta rays submerged on the sandy seabed took flight as if shot from a bow. Strike two for Sharon.
Our destination that first day was the intriguing Big Lagoon which probed the peninsula’s flank like a tidal glove and promised a sheltered camp site. Twenty kilometres out to sea Dirk Hartog Island broke the horizon; Australia’s westernmost point. The eponymous Dutch seafarer recorded the first European landing there in 1616, nailing an inscribed pewter plate to a pole. What he saw of the newfound Terra Australis was uninspiring: flat, arid and dense with scrub. It was another 150 years before Captain Cook mapped Australia’s less harsh east coast and brought about British colonisation.
A less historic lone pole marked the mouth of Big Lagoon and as we rounded the entrance a mass of cormorants took flight, the air filling with the whiff of their oily wings. Though we’d snacked on some oysters during our afternoon wade, the day’s hard paddling had given us all an appetite so we pulled over among some mangroves for an overdue feed and a reappraisal. It was already 4 o’clock and with the tide and the wind were now against us we decided to leave the exploration of Big Lagoon for another day and scooted across the channel to the nearest sandy beach to make camp.

sharker

Walking with Sharks
Though only ranging around a metre, the tides in Shark Bay seem to have a mind of their own. Some days there are two as normal, but the following day there might be only one and a half, or even a single 13-hour high. This had caused Jeff some consternation with the tables, but dawn brought the tide right to our feet and once loaded up, we glided out across the mirrored lagoon. It was to be only a momentary pleasure watching our boats speed silently over the seabed; out in the open the northwesterly was hunched up and waiting for us. Heads down, we worked our way up the coastline, occasionally stopping to investigate an old pearl divers’ camp. Western Australia’s famous pearl industry had begun in Shark Bay in the mid-1800s and the corrugated iron stumps of the shacks around us, now brittle with rust, dated from that period.

Sharklet attack!

Tiny fishes skimming over the surface alerted us to the distinctive tail and dorsal fins which were chasing them. Soon metre-long sharks began darting between our boats, racing at us then veering off at the last-minute in a flurry of spray. We assumed the bulky silhouettes of our trailing kayaks kept the young sharks from attacking, a theory that gained credibility when Sharon ended up running towardsthe beach, screaming as the sharklets circled her menacingly, homing in for a nip.

ws-armrest

Presently the waters cleared and we hopped back into the boats, steering out into the wind around sandbanks as a line of ochre-red cliffs many kilometres long passed by. As they ended we hauled the boats ashore to set up our beach camp and with daylight to spare, wandered off to explore the beach. I found a washed-up conch the size of a watermelon while Sharon and Jeff came across a midden of oyster shells left either by 19th- century pearlers or maybe the Yamatji Aboriginal people who’d occupied the Bay prior to colonisation.

To Cape Peron
Up with the sun again, but there was no calm put put-in this morning. It would be another tough haul to reach Cape Peron and our mouth-watering cache. By 9am Jeff estimated it was blowing at 20 knots.
What’s that in English!?” I yelled., although the answer was immaterial.
About 30 clicks!”

Was it possible to paddle against 30kph winds? My gumboat flexed with the swell as the sea surged over the sides. Now without the protection of Dirk Hartog Island the unfettered Indian Ocean was crashing against the shore. Still, every vicious headwind had has a silver lining and as we hacked at the water a pair of dolphins popped up to say hello. Less than 48 hours into our sea safari and only the elusive dugongs remained on Sharon’s checklist.
The seas were getting as big as I’d ever experienced, but I figured as long as the Eco did not disappear behind the swell it was not that bad. I still find the idea of sea kayaking intimidating, but two days of hard paddling had toned me up and I felt confident I could face the day’s toil. Partly this was because my Innova had the reassuring stability of a raft, even if that included comparable manoeuvrability and speed! It was something I appreciated when, after breaching a gnarly reef to grab another snack on the south end of Broadhurst Bight, we set off to cross the bay to the northern edge.
That turned into a punishing marathon with the confused seas barging at us from all sides. Tying on to Jeff’s stern I’d pump water out regularly while the distant shore inched steadily by. All around the once-comforting seabed was now an unfathomable inky blue abyss.
Two hours later we staggered onto the sandy headland, having covered just five kilometres. Our morning’s efforts had put us just a couple of clicks from the tip of Cape Peron and sure enough, just forty minutes later, with my boat swilling again with seawater, we managed to land on the sandy beach and retrieve our cache.
Stuffing our faces with jellies, sausage and now with plenty of water, we were keen to round the Cape because at last the wind would out of our face! We pushed out and once rafted up, Jeff hoisted his sail which filled instantly with a satisfying SLAP! Soon we were skimming along at two or three times our paddling speeds, water lapping over our bows, southeast into Herauld Bight.

Sailing with Dugongs
We were sitting back, our paddles over our knees and enjoying chatting without yelling when Sharon exclaimed “Dugongs!!” Several huge dun-coloured profiles emerged against the dark seagrass bank on which they’d been feeding, and before long we were right among a herd of twenty sea cows, caught unawares by our stealthy windborne raft. At times our bows nearly ran over them, the water ahead exploding as their powerful tail flukes blasted them out of range.

ws-dugongs

By dusk our unexpected run downwind had doubled our day’s mileage. Once ashore I foraged for firewood while Sharon and Jeff got cooking. As we wolfed down our food, wafts of a gorgeous aroma drifted over from the fire. Intrigued, I walked over and realised one especially large chunk or timber was precious sandalwood. A century ago WA had got rich quick supplying this raw material for incense to nearby Asia. Now the last reserves in WA were said to be in Shark Bay. We pulled the log off, finished off the meal and with the wind still blasting down the bight, retreated to our tents.

Across Hopeless Reach
By the time I’d dried out my tent after it blew into the sea following an overnight storm, the tide had come in to meet us again and under sail we windsurfed round into Hopeless Reach. Here, prophetically, the wind dropped and it was back to good old-fashioned paddling, albeit on much calmer seas. By mid-afternoon we could see Cape Rose a few kilometres from Monkey Mia resort and so strung out the day with fruitless fishing and exploring the scrubby cliff tops on foot

Shark Bay chartAs we approached Monkey Mia next morning bottle-nosed dolphins cruised past, soon followed by a tourist catamaran and all the commotion of the resort. We beached the boats one last time and while Jeff hitched back to Denham to get the van another ranger-led dolphin visitation ensued before a line of excited tourists. Sure it’s fun seeing a dolphin close up, but the three of us couldn’t help feeling rather smug about our thrilling encounters out in the Bay. The tourists were standing ankle deep with half-tame dolphins, but we’d worn the paint off our paddle shafts, sailed with sea cows and walked with sharks!

See also: Packrafting in northwest Australia ~ some ideas

Kayaking Ningaloo – Part 2

Part 1 is here. Gallery at the bottom of the page.

After a spell of snorkeling in Coral Bay and reading in Exmouth, I drove round to the ocean  side of the Cape and met up with Jeff and Sharon near Yardie Creek in the Cape Range National Park. Later they told me they’d had their camp swamped early one morning by the tide, but had an exhilarating run around Point Cloates dodging humpback whales and covered up to 55km a day, all under sail.
But all was not well with our ill-defined status in the national park. Most visitors arrive by car or tour bus and book their camp sites well in advance if staying a few days. Wild camping is not on, but as I’d discovered to my surprise in Exmouth, all of Cape Range’s few campsites were booked for days in advance and occupied for weeks, with newcomers queuing from 8am at the park entry gate near Tantabiddi for any vacancies. Rocking up off the sea in kayaks was highly irregular and Jeff and Sharon had been given a bollocking by the head ranger who reluctantly negotiated a fixed itinerary for us to follow through the park and ranging from 4- to 20kms a day, until we left at Tantabiddi.
While waiting for the other two to arrive, I took a quick scoot in my underused boat up Yardie Creek gorge (left), a 2km cleft in the otherwise flat coastline. Official boat cruises run up here to spot bat-eared rock wallabies, a trip that I must have done in my time when updating the travel guide. But even running Yardie in my own boat, I thought by WA standards this was a long drive to a very ordinary gorge. Send them off to Karajini or the Gibb River Road and leave Yardie to the wallabies. While there though, I gave my problematic sail another spin to remind myself it had not become a complete flop. With a more secure fixture of the mast foot straps and the elastic cord positioned right on the boat’s black nose, it worked well enough in the light breeze, but could still do with some sort of bowsprit (sticky-out front pole) to get the elastic clip still further forward – a solution that’s easier than making alternative mounts for the sails masts.
I set off to Pilgramunna Camp where a note from Jeff explained that an extramural pitch had been allocated for us boat people. Months earlier I’d spent ages on the DEC website looking for kayak touring regulations in Cape Range but had found nothing and so concluded it was the same ‘come through but leave no trace’ deal as at Cape Peron down at Shark Bay. Turns out there are no formal regs for kayak tourers visiting the park as it seems only a few kayak parties pass through each year. But as the park is about 60km long along the shore, you’re going to need at least two nights in the half dozen official campsites which mostly probably need to be booked in advance in the more tolerable seasons. That’s something that is difficult to plan for if coming up from Coral Bay, nearly 100km away.
With our pitch allocated, I set off in my kayak to meet up with Jeff and Sharon coming up from the south. We were soon reunited on the water (left) and shared the stories of our separation. They were low on food so back at the camp were pleased to tuck into a cake Sharon had baked for the trip and which I’d managed to resist eating during my days hanging out.
Early next morning we were all set to complete the less demanding two-day run along the reef up to Tantabiddi, but now northeasterlies turned on us as the back end of a high pressure system moved east over the continent. At least these were conditions I knew the K40 and I could handle, right up to the point when our sub-walking pace progress dropped to zero.
The winds scuppered any reef viewing opportunities off the boats and a momentary pause in paddling effort (left) saw the boats stall and drift backwards at least as fast as we could move forwards. But here at least were the fabulous azure lagoons and shell-white sands of Ningaloo.
Just before Turquoise Bay we stopped for a snack at which time Jeff took a quick scoot in my empty Incept (left). He proclaimed my boat was light and fast but my PA sail tension was still too slack or the mast-to-elastic clip distance too short. That was something I’d thought of and re-rigged the front tensioner further forward on the nose of the boat (left), though I may try the bowsprit idea mentioned above. Anyway, that was academic in the current headwinds so Jeff led the boats off on a lead while Sharon and I took advantage of a current the ran along the point leading into Turquoise Bay created by the lagoon filling with overspilled surf which ran out as a riptide through a gap in  the reef (left). Compared to Coral Bay, there were many more soft corals here (below) along with all the usual fishes. CB’s coral gardens got trashed by a cyclone a few years back.
That done we hacked on northwards across Turquoise Bay, busy with Sunday day trippers, and occasionally took to walking out boats in the shallows as we’d done in Shark Bay. As we did so we passed a couple of stocky reef sharks as well as several turtles and rays.
By the late afternoon it was clear that after nearly a week at sea, Jeff and Sharon didn’t have the puff to make it to our pre-ordained camp in the portly tandem, so we pulled in on a beach for a much more satisfying wild camp and a great feed laid on by Sharon from a food cache we’d retrieved earlier in the day. To avert any alarm or searches we left a phone message with the head ranger. As the fire died down we dozed off at 8pm and the wind dropped off, promising a good night’s sleep. Its howling was replaced by the distant roar of surf breaking over the reef.
Early next morning we got the break we were hoping for – near still conditions. After forensically tidying up the camp, we headed out towards the surf line and finally had a chance to enjoy a little of what we’d come here for – gliding serenely over the reef just a few feet below, past fishes, sharks, turtles and rays. No need for a mask or glass-bottomed boat today, it was all laid out below us for an hour and a half until the north winds returned us to business as usual.
Mesa Camp came and went, with a report passed to the head ranger that we were breaking with his proscribed itinerary and making our way out of the park that day. Turtles dashed all about as we nosed into Mangrove Bay, a welcome change from the unending string of scrubby low dunes that lined the shore all the way up from Coral Bay, if not Perth itself.
Another spell of wading brought us finally to Tantabiddi boat ramp by which time I’d divined a new paddling technique probably known to all: pushing off the mushy inflatable’s footrests actually enabled a rigid torso rotation which notably increased speed for little extra effort. With energy to spare after only a day or two’s paddling, at times I was even inching past the tandem until we nudged ashore at the ramp. Jeff and Sharon performed a ‘paddle high five’ after completing their challenging 150-km run up from Coral Bay, most of it alone.
The boats and gear got hosed down at the fish station while I hitched back down to Pilgramunna to retrieve the van. It was nearly dark by the time I arrived and I must have spotted and dodged up to 100 roos on the 40-km drive back. I’ve never seen so many kangaroos. The park was infested with bounding marsupials: ‘Ningaroo’ they should call it.
So, I ran out of easy conditions for a good sea paddle through Ningaloo; something I suspected may happen even before I left the UK. But wasn’t too bothered. I got a couple of days in and that lovely calm morning and knew that a meaty packrafting adventure lay another 1000 clicks up the road in the Kimberley (see map below). I got the impression from Jeff and Sharon that, apart from the humpbacks and not least the satisfaction of having kayaked the entire way from Coral Bay to Tantabiddi, I hadn’t missed that much. Unlike Shark Bay, here it was the reef that was special, best appreciated in calm conditions or on the end of a snorkel. Otherwise, you might as well be battling the winds anywhere along the WA coast.
I can’t be sure I’d reached the limit of the K40 (as described in part 1), but until I get more experience I’d certainly reached my limits in trying to handle the kayak in very windy conditions I’d not normally tackle back in the UK. That still leaves a lot of easy sea kayaking and fun rivers to do yet.

 

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.

Packraft sailing

See also this post

First sunny spring day around here so we went out to try out the flip-out disc sail I made over the winter on my Llama and Steve’s Big Kahuna. Wind was forecast at about 8 mph but was gusty – a bloke in a dinghy sailboat said it was up to 15 mph.
Folded and clipped on the packraft, the sail sits out of the way and can be opened and – more importantly – closed easily with a twist, as long as you have a clip of some sort to keep it closed (and that clip is attached to the sail so it does not spring off and sink to the bottom of the lake…).
Initial impressions were disappointing, I did not rip off across the reservoir like a hooked marlin out of a Roadrunner cartoon. But watching the vid back it’s clear the boat did noticably drift downwind across the reservoir with the sail aloft, often at speeds similar to paddling (about 3 mph). Problem with the sail on the Alpacka was the boat soon turned off the wind one way or the other, swinging left and right. The pointier Kahunayak was better, especially once Steve trailed his paddle like a skeg. Didn’t get to try that on the Llama as I was fiddling about with the string trying angle the sail so as to steer the boat into the wind. This worked quite well in correcting the direction as you can see in the vid, but staying in that position was a problem.
Could this be due to ‘wind-spill’ off the flat disc sail which lacks dishing like a WindPaddle? Maybe. It will be interesting to try it on my ruddered Incept IK when it turns up, as well as the new-shape Alpacka which I am picking up next week.
More testing to come this summer up in windier Scotland with my all-new packboating flotilla. Or just enjoy this 2014 video from Finland by JP. More here at leftbound.