Right now the skies are slate grey while white horses gallop across the sound and the washing hangs horizontally. Ardmair just recorded 49mph. But as often happens up here, Sunday was forecasted as sunny with winds of just 4-5mph; a perfect day to paddle the 15-odd miles to Ullapool. Come the morning the predictions had inched up to 6-7mph, still manageable. Even the three-metre tide was with us, turning as we set off from the awkwardly rocky shore below my place (below right) for a run that we figured would span the six hours until high water at Ullapool.
Six of seven mph winds don’t sound much, but coming right at us from the SSE it was enough to raise a chop of up to a foot over which my K40 slapped like a RIB. Jon’s Scorchio LV cut stealthily through the wavelets like a blacked-out commando with a knife in his teeth. You got to hand it to these proper sea kayaks, they look as good as they go, until you need to hop in or out of one or carry it on your head. As it was in the conditions we had we were pretty evenly matched.
An hour later we were abreast of Horse Island and heading out into mare incognita. But not before I’d lost half my paddle. I was just thinking I really must get a leash for this thing for windier days, even if it means yet more entangleable cordage lying across the cockpit. As I made this vow I decided to wipe the sweaty right grip in the crook of my elbow, and in doing do, popped the button and flung half the paddle over the side. Mayday-mayday! Jon took a while to manoeuvre his 17-foot cheese-cutter into position, although I probably could have retrieved it using the single paddle. Must remember not to do that again. As we entered Horse Sound the wind rose into double figures and white caps formed so we bowed our heads towards the point at Rubha Dubh Ard opposite the guillemot-clad skerry of Iolla Beag (see map). We then passed the last of the dwellings around Culnacraig and edged towards the 2400-foot mass of Ben Mor Coigach which tops out just a mile from the shore. I wouldn’t be surprised if that is the steepest summit-to-sea gradient in the UK. Slip up there and you’d roll uninterrupted straight down into the sea with a huge splash.
Two hours hard work on deck and it was high time for a refuel, so we set our sights on a beach formed by the creek which runs off the back of Ben Mor. But with more slip, slap and slop over the waves, it took twice as long as it looked to get actually there (left). It’s since occurred to me why. In this pic the ordinary-looking mountain seems quite near, but its actually an unusually big 2400-foot (730m) mountain far away. Or we were just slow.
After the spell of fairly intense paddling, walking on the stony shore took some adjustment, but it was good to unbend. Up above a lone walker was pacing the thin path which runs along this steep, exposed coast east towards Ardmair.Duringa snack I kicked about among the usual enigmatic flotsam: a giant tennis ball, a baby elephant’s welly and a Filipino flip flop. I picked up a bit of old rope to sell on ebay later while Jon pinched some nice stones for his giant aquarium back home. During our break the wind had abated a little and as we set off again through a seal patrol, Isle Martin helpfully blocked the wind-borne fetch from the southeast. The creased, folded and weathered sandstone of guano-covered red cliffs drifted by, suggesting a second visit on a calmer day, but it was after 2 o’clock so we decided to save our energy and clipped the edge of the Isle. We didn’t want to leave it too late and end up paddling tired up the narrow part of Loch Broom on a turning tide and a headwind.
As it was I was hoping to snatch a quick sail (left) as we turned briefly southwest towards Rubha Cadail lighthouse, but while I did creep forward perceptibly, it was hardly worth it; bad angle and too much lee off the point. Still, the good thing with the Pacific Action sail is that it’s light, lies out of the way and is no effort to flick up on the off chance of a breeze. Rounding the stumpy lighthouse near Rhue, (below right), we could look back across outer Loch Broom to Polbain and the Summer Isles – maybe we should have planned the day in the opposite direction. Whatever, now it was time for the final 3.5-mile stomp into the wind to Ullapool jetty, hoping that the afternoon ferry from Stornoway wouldn’t sneak up from behind and wash us into the middle of next week.
I observed that Jon typically cruised at four strokes for my five and put it down to the superior glide of his hip-wide LV. In fact he was deploying a textbook exemplification of PPT or ‘proper paddling technique’, instilled by his personal paddling trainer (also PPT). I’d read about this technique in books: put blade in by your feet while turning torso and pull back by re-pivoting the torso, not just pulling on the arms like an ape climbing a vine. It worked; I was a bit faster but it all felt a bit stilted and robotic, not the way I naturally paddle, for better or for worse.
However you do it – ape-vine or PPT – it’s fun to paddle a little kayak into a port used to big boats coming and going from who knows where. Ullapool sea front milled lightly with late-summer tourists and it’s possible to interpret one’s arrival as faintly heroic in their eyes, at least compared to a gannet floating beak-down in an oil slick. Sunburned, crusted with wind-dried salt and not a little stiff, we pulled our boats ashore just over six hours after leaving Polbain. With probably five hours of actual paddling to cover what was indeed only 15 miles but felt more, that’s a fairly ordinary 3mph moving average. Not something to get Ullapool’s summertime bunting in a flutter. Had the headwind been stronger it would have turned into a right old slog, but always with the option of a take-out and ice cream at Ardmair then an a hour’s walk to the car.
We did wonder what it must be like doing this day after day out here as say, Gael has done lately. We celebrated with a creamy cappucho and a slab of buttered fruitcake at the Ceilidh Place (as good as it gets in Ullapool). Recharged and with the anatomical creaks re-oiled, we reckoned we could have pushed on for another three hours if we really had to. But we didn’t so we popped into Tescos for more saccharine tucker and drove home.
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 (left) 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 sailboats and windsurfers 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 (left).
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 crisscrossing Loch Raa a few times (above right), I went around 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.
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 spread 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 practice 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.
After a great paddle in Shark Bay with Jeff and Sharon a few years ago, we’d vowed to try the more exposed transit of the Ningaloo Reef, from the small resort of Coral Bay, north along the west side of the Northwest Cape through Cape Range NP as far as Tantabiddi boat ramp. All up about 150 kilometres or a week’s paddling.
The entire coast of WA is bare, windy and exposed to swells raised by storms in the restless Southern Ocean, with few settlements and little shelter or natural sources of freshwater to speak of. Only the extensive lagoon of Shark Bay and the reef-protected shoreline of the Northwest Cape provide potentially interesting sea kayaking, sheltered from the daily sea breeze, even if access to fresh water is still a problem.
What makes Ningaloo special is that the continental shelf is relatively close to the shore compared to the northwest coast up towards the Timor Sea. This fact, as much as the presence of the reef, explains the unusual diversity of marine life which led to the marine park’s UNESCO status. Small fish, turtles, rays, small sharks and dolphins live or visit the lagoons between the main reef’ and the shore, while bigger creatures right up to humpback whales, tiger sharks and not least the whale sharks for which Ningaloo has become famous, usually feed along the outside edge.
After a 1200-km overnight drive from Perth, we arrived at the Coral Bay (CB) where Jeff’s first comment on easing himself out of the driving seat was ‘Jee-zus, look at the swell out there!’. The reef lies just below the surface a kilometre offshore here, and the Indian Ocean breaks on it unceasingly, forming a glaring band if ice-white surf, at times thrown 2-3 metres into the air. That wasn’t an undue worry for us as we were planning on staying well inside the near-continuous Reef, but the winds were another matter.
Following weather reports over the preceding weeks I was beginning to wonder if September (early spring) such a good time after all. Asking around, many said a month earlier (as we’d been at Shark Bay) would have been fine – or May, or in high summer between cyclones. Everyone had their own suggestions, but the fact was right now the forecast for the next week (left) was 20 to 30-knot winds from the east or southeast, with gusts half as much again. As a result all fishing and tourist boat charters were cancelled out of Coral Bay.
Sounds grim unless you’re into tough conditions, but the good thing about following the Ningaloo is that it’s easy to bail out and cross the low coastal dunes to a rough 4×4 track that runs just inshore. A few cars ought to pass along it each day, so I figured even though I’d never go out in an F5 or 6 in the UK (where the seas are bigger, the skies greyer and the water much colder), here with reliably sunny 30°C days I’d give it a go as we’d never be far from the shore. We’d considered starting halfway up the coast at Ningaloo Homestead and just doing the less exposed northern stage, but the other two were keen to do the full run from Coral Bay (left). And anyway, getting Jeff’s van in and out along the Homestead’s corrugated access track with his 55-kg Perception kayak on the roof was not ideal.
Sunday Jeff and Sharon drove out to leave caches of food and water at the Homestead and another point up in the Cape Range park, while I investigated logging our route plan and details with anyone who was interested. Turns out that was a short list as most marine activity in Coral Bay was concerned with nipping out through the reef in motor boats for the day of fishing. Kayaking beyond the Bay itself was unknown and I was told within a day we’d be out of range from the local volunteer rescue services anyway. But we had my sat phone, Jeff had a VHF, plus a chart and we had a GPS each. The weather wouldn’t suddenly get much worse; it would be challenging from the start, so we knew what we were taking on.
Monday 6am and Jeff was raring to go; no time for breakfast – straight to the beach from where our mission that day was to cover 40 clicks, even although we had 9 days to cover the other 110 kms to Tantabiddi during which time we planned to linger and enjoy some reef exploring.
We loaded the boats on the shore, set off and flicked up our Pacific Action V-sails. Behind us, a curious crowd of early morning dog walkers had gathered while I struggled to follow a straight line across windy Batemans Bay (‘Coral Bay’). The sea was flat enough but the Incept seemed hard to control as the sail flapped or swayed violently from side to side. I tried to imitate the sail position Jeff was running on his big tandem, but soon even he reckoned it was already too windy to use the sails, so we pulled them in and paddled around Point Maud into the big scoop of coastline that leads north some 60km to Point Cloates below the Ningaloo sheep station.
The wind still blew offshore at this time which helped flatten the seas just as Jeff predicted, but soon a mile-long gap in the reef let the ocean swell through from the left. It rolled beneath us harmlessly and crashed with occasional fury on the sandy beach far to our right. As the morning progressed we tried sailing again. With years of experience and a well set-up boat, Jeff was much more proficient at this, but during the stronger gusts I was again struggling to get to grips with the K40. Where was the 10kph+ rush the PA sail had promised? Testing it in Scotland had hinted at this potential, but now the winds were an order of magnitude greater. One problem was the force of the wind had loosened and pushed my mast feet forward, so lessening the all-important elastic tension which keeps the sail pulled upright, especially at lower angles. At one point Jeff leaned over and tightened the straps (and later I revised the straps to link directly to a couple of lugs) but as the hours passed I could feel myself losing confidence in my boat, too busy trying to control it or keeping up to even grab a drink, take photos or just look around.
At the sandy Bruboodjoo Point we pulled in for a snack after five hours paddling. Unknown to us, there was a camp here called Nine Mile, occupied by self-sufficient recreational fishermen. Having already covered 20kms, I wasn’t feeling reassured about what lay ahead, when a woman bathing nearby confirmed that the winds were set to get stronger through the week.
We set off again into what was now a strong southwesterly – the daily ‘sea breeze’ which rolls in in late morning along the entire west Australian coast and is known as the soothing ‘Fremantle Doctor’ down in Perth. In this stronger wind I was even less able to sail as steadily as the tandem. We had tried long and short line towing (rather than rafting up alongside) but under sail or not, the bobbing Incept was all over the place, fouling the Perception’s rudder and at times pulling me over or burying the bow. After a bit of that I decided to revert to paddling, but by now even doing that in a straight line was a struggle.
At the time I couldn’t pin down the source of the difficulty, but I’d probably never been out in such winds. Jeff thought my rudder was ineffective or not articulating fully, but it was doing as well as normal for a mushy foot linkage system with a bit of rudder cord drag due to the packed payload. Could the rudder be too small or short to operate with the sail? Unlikely. Later I wondered if I may have reached the operational limits of the wind-prone K40 – at least when combined with my rudimentary skills. My boat was about as high above the water as Jeff’s, but with much less weight below, and at 17kg, was less than a third of the tandem’s weight. And even with a rudder, it still lacked the sharply defined stern and bow ‘keel-edges’ of a hardshell to enable it to cut and hold a line in the water against back- or sidewinds. As it was, it was a bit like trying to ice skate in slippers; you can work up some speed sure, but directional control is minimal.
This blobby shape is an inevitable consequence of inflatable kayak design that’s difficult to get around until full dropstich came on the scene. The result – with sail or just paddling – was that the light kayak’s hull itself was as prone to back/side winds as the sail, and so weathercocked (back end coming round) as I zig-zagged inefficiently to try and counteract it. Weathercocking is not unique to IKs of course. and I don’t think the boat’s trim (load level – about 30kg) was off – there was 10kg of water right at the stern. It’s just that in the current conditions the K40’s light weight, buoyancy, rounded hull and high sides conspired to push it about on the water, even if those high sides and the boat’s innate rigidity greatly helped limit swamping compared to the bendy Gumotex Sunny in Shark Bay a few years ago. The sail needed more tension to stay up when pulled down low, but that was easy to remedy and I noticed also occurred on the Perception where Sharon had to hold up the upper mast at times.
I can’t be certain those observations about the boat’s handling are correct, and perseverance may have overcome them, but even when the K40 had sailed steadily in less strong winds earlier that day, it was still much slower than Jeff’s 20-foot-long tandem whalesharkboat with its bigger 2.2m PA sail. I assumed weights and hull profiles of the two boats would have matched up, but as well as being a hardshell, length has a lot to do with it, so instead of keeping pace with J&S in my new, faster, sail-equipped boat, even when I sailed well I was left just as far behind as I’d been a few years ago paddling the Sunny in Shark Bay. It was all going Pete Tong and I foresaw this was how those stories in Sea Kayaker ~ Deep Trouble begin: “Jeff, Sharon and Chris left Coral Bay in clear conditions but with strong offshore winds forecast. They were equipped with blah blah but had no blah…“ As the tandem surged on I sponged out the swill taken on by the towing and a bloke in an alloy dinghy or ‘tinny’ came over to ask if I was OK. It was an encounter that was to pay off soon. I set off again, paddling with the odd small wave breaking from behind. The tandem was fast becoming a speck up ahead. It was decision time because at that moment, without a chance to talk over options with the other two, getting widely separated like this didn’t seem like a good idea. After the unexpected Nine Mile Camp, there was nothing till the Homestead from where it would be more awkward to bail out if I’d had my fill by then. I looked back at the Camp, now a couple of clicks behind. Up ahead the tandem’s sail was nearly as far off with no sign of them slowing down. I decided I’d pull in. Hopefully, the other two would notice that, stop so I could catch up and get the van keys and rejoin them on the less exposed waters north of Yardie Creek in a few days time.
‘Thank God that’s over’ I remarked with relief as I landed and lifted the boat over the exposed coral slabs marking the tide line along the beach. It was about 2pm. I grabbed a bottle of water and set off north along the coast to meet up with the J&S who I was sure would do likewise soon. An hour later I reached a very conspicuous zone boundary post just before a small headland – an obvious place to wait, I thought. I climbed onto the structure and scanned the beach about a kilometre ahead. Was that a boat or just a rock? There was no sign of the distinctive PA sail and after 15 minutes nothing had moved so I decided that they had shot on ahead. Short of something holing my boat, there was no reason for them to think I couldn’t paddle ashore and they knew I had water, food and comms and so could work it all out.
I returned to the boat, finding a handy half-full water bottle on the way, and paddled slowly south into the wind for an hour and a half back to the scattered collection of caravans at Nine Mile. Over the dune I walked to the nearest van where an Australian flag curled and slapped in the wind.
“Hello, is this immigration?” I said with a grin to the old guy, mimicking one of the Asian boat people who frequently beach themselves on WA’s shore. “What?” “I saw the flag and thought this was immigration“ Clearly my joke was going down like a lead lure. “Oh that, I just use it to see where the wind’s blowin’ from.” I see. Pardon me.
Jim was one of the many retired Australians who now far outnumber backpackers up north, as they seek to escape WA’s southern winter. Coral Bay’s caravan parks were full of them and, as I was to find out soon, every site in Cape Range NP up ahead was full of ‘grey nomads’ too. Hardier and better-equipped types based themselves for longer periods at zero-facility sheep station sites like Nine Mile, where rents were cheaper and stays unlimited. Even then, Jim (the guy in the tinny who’d asked if I was OK, earlier) told me that normally Nine Mile would have had 60 vans parked up. The unseasonably strong winds over the past couple of weeks had driven off most of them, leaving just a dozen diehards. With summer on the way and fishing in such conditions difficult in a tinny, Jim was about to head south himself.
I explained my situation and asked whether he had a radio to call Ningaloo Homestead. Many vehicles have these in the north. Jeff had made an arrangement to check in with the Homestead on his untried VHF that evening, so could get my message and leave the van keys there. Jim only had a CB, but he did have Ningaloo’s phone number. He expressed repeated surprise that the other two hadn’t waited once I was so far behind, but I figured they’d recognised I’d had my fill and bailed.
I tramped back to the boat as the sun sank and on the satphone explained the situation to Jane at the Homestead who thankfully got it all in one take. They’d experienced worse kayak dramas before. She’d pass on my request for keys when Jeff turned up there next day to retrieve a cache of food and water he’d left with them just before we’d set off.
Long story short Jeff and Sharon had stopped just a few kilometres ahead of the point I’d walked to and waited for me till next morning to turn up. When I hadn’t, Jeff walked back to Nine Mile, found out what happened, walked back and continued on towards the Homestead, arriving the next day. Separated by 10-15kms that night, we both had rough nights of tent-flattening winds after which the site host at Nine Mile offered to drive me back to Coral Bay where he was heading anyway with his laundry. At the caravan park the host and I set to the van doors with coathangers and zip ties until they yielded. Though we couldn’t get past the immobiliser to hotwire it, the van became a handy base while I worked on a new plan.
By now on the notice boards in town there were Strong Wind Warnings for entire northwest coast of WA. I updated our status with the DEC (parks authority) and, not a little anxious myself now after more calls to the Homestead, a day later finally spoke with Jeff. He apologised for not stopping earlier – I suspect the sailing was just too good and I too had been looking forward to the rush of being batted up the coast with my feet up. His VHF didn’t get through and his walk to Nine Mile explained the day’s delay in getting to the Homestead.
With that sorted out, all that remained for me was to wander around the Coral Bay campground eyeing up likely candidates until I succeeded in persuading a young Brit backpacker that for fuel and 50 bucks, it would be an awesome adventure to drive me 120kms to the Homestead and back in his clapped-out Suzuki banger.
If Jeff’s $1500 van was rough, Rory’s 20-year-old Suzuki Swift truly had three wheels in the scrapheap. Even he admitted it would probably not make it to Darwin as he and his mates had planned. The CV joints clattered like a football rattle and I’m sure the 60 clicks of corrugations along the homestead access track brought the Suzuki’s imminent Big Bang forward a few weeks.
At the Homestead Jane confided that the southern bay up to Point Cloates was indeed the more exposed ‘open water’ stage of the Ningaloo passage and the wind had certainly come up on Monday afternoon. When it blew like that for ten days at a time, she admitted it drove her nuts. But all this as least boded well for the more sheltered northern section of the paddle in a few days time. The car got us back to Coral Bay where I started the van up and headed north to Exmouth, planning to meet J&S at Yardie Creek in three days time.
Not much wind today, but with a few refinements to try out it was worth taking the Pacific Action sail out on a regular ride over to the island. I chose my big-faced Corry paddle and it has to be said it’s quite a strain (the opposite of a Greenland paddle) when you’re a bit out of condition. But then I bought it primarily for the packraft. What felt like a worthwhile breeze heading out to the island was probably more than doubled by the 4mph I was chucking out. Knowing I could afford to be, I was pretty tired once I reached Tanera Mor’s rocky shore. The state of the tide? who knows – coming in I think so it was with the wind, but I really think it makes little difference around here most days. As the graph left and the video below both show, I had a bit of trouble getting it up and never got close paddling speeds while sailing back. But once I did get on the wind, it was a bit of a revelation to find I could pin the sail at a certain stance and, providing the rudder was on the case to, just sit back and enjoy the slow ride. It may have taken me longer to get back, but I could have easily read the Sunday papers, checked my email or just looked around and enjoyed the scenery, had most of it not been suffocated by the clouds of an imminent downpour.
It was also a surprise to learn I was not the prisoner of a given wind angle, but could modify it by up to 180° or maybe even more. At one point back near the beach, from the lapping of the passing waves across my beam it looked like I was paddling a few degrees upwind. Conditions were exceedingly tame but the cord-lock things worked pretty well and their position alongside the cockpit was just fine to slide them up and down. At one point I tried paddling with the sail which I’d assumed would be rather tricky. Sure, the control cords got in the way a bit, touching my hands as I paddled, but it was possible to paddle lightly and so – as the graph shows – raise the speed with little effort to 4mph. Had I tried paddling harder I think I’d have outrun the sail, but it proves a good point: it need not be either paddle hard into the wind or sit back and sail; you can sail and paddle too if conditions allow- or enable it, gaining a bit more speed and exercise. I may try fixing the shock cord a little further forward to the nose which may help keep the sail up at marginal (low) angles or low wind speeds. I also need to tighten the webbing a little more, so the mast feet touch directly toe-to-toe so that, at the angle they’ve been locked against the masts, they’ll splay the sail out more readily. The Google Earth screenshot of the GPS track on the right features the long-sought OS layer – useful as GE’s close-up resolution hereabouts is terrible. With it you can depict all the accuracy of a true GPS track over a detailed OS map. It’s a simple kml file found here. Download and open with GE and it’s there to click in the sidebar on the left when/if you choose to view OS maps in GE. Thanks to Gael A. for sending the link. As things stand today I’m pleased I bought the PA sail; primarily for its simplicity of installation, deployment and possible repairs, its ease of use in the hands of a sailing beginner like me, the compactness when furled, as well as its ability to pulled down fast and attached/removed from the Incept in a minute or two. All that remains to be assessed is the kayak’s stability in rougher and windier conditions. The forecast shows a bit more wind on Tuesday so hopefully, there might be some surf-slicing sail action to grab then.
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 dimensions 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.
Up 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, 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-Loka 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.