Tag Archives: packraft sailing

Packraft sailing; MRS Nomad S1 + WindPaddle II

MRS Nomad Index Page

I’ve been waiting for the right kind of wind to have a proper go at WindPaddling my MRS Nomad. Sunday was not that day with SW gusts up to 25mph. Yesterday was more like it: direct from the west at 10-15 meant a chance to run down the full length of Loch Ossian with the wind erring towards the road for the walk back or if it all went wrong.

You forget that starting at the upwind end all is relatively smooth and calm, but soon the fetch kicks up and stays that way. Progress gets a bit lively so you need to be on top of things which includes stashing the paddle safely. I found tucking it across the boat under some red sidelines (left) worked well and are more often useful for manhandling the boat. Lunging after a lost paddle would be bad; so would letting go of the sail’s ‘reins’ and having the boat run over it. The sudden drag and deceleration might see the racing boat slew sideways and flip you out. And before you come up for air, your packraft is skimming across the loch like a crisp packet.

I don’t know if gusts vary in direction but you also need to constantly modulate the reins left to right to keep on course. It’s said downwind sails like the WindPaddle have a narrow windspeed window which tops out around 15mph. After that, they start fluttering left to right in an effort to shed the load, as mine did a couple of times. Going out in stronger winds may be too hard to handle or very exciting. As it is, the maximum hull speed of a packraft must be about half that and, just as a cyclist’s energy to overcome wind drag grows exponentially, so too you can only push a paddle boat so far. A packraft is about as hydrodynamic as a training shoe.

With the gloomy skies I was initially a bit nervous. Controlled by the wind and without a paddle in your hands felt disconcerting; a sunny tropical locale would have fixed that I’m sure. As usual with packboat sailing, it’s never just sit back and skim along like yachts seem to do; you have to keep correcting. At nearly 3m with the skeg fitted, the MRS is longish which must help keep it on line. And as mentioned before, with the WindPaddle you can steer at least 30° off the wind.
According to the GPS, 9.3kph (5.8mph) was the peak speed, though most of the time I was zipping along at about 7.5kph. It felt faster as wavelettes broke to either side and occasionally over the bow. With the big Corry paddle, at maximum paddle exertion on flatwater I can hit 6kph for a couple of seconds. So once you relax, sailing can be a fast and energy-saving way of covering distance, and the WP stashed easily under the DeckPack.

I was expecting to walk back but gave paddling a go and stuck with it, hackling along at 2kph with rests every 10 minutes. Fifteen minutes sailing downwind = a 50-minute paddle back.
I still think for the price, weight, bulk and ease of fitting and use, a WindPaddle is a worthwhile packboating accessory.

Skinning the Sevylor slackraft

See also:
Slackraft river trials
Slackraft sea trials

As promised, I’ve invested in a Sevylor Caravelle PVC dinghy. Cost: £34 delivered complete with pump, oars, repair kit, manual in ten languages and a box which is bound to come in useful one day. The heavy-duty Super Caravelle model, as modified by Narwhal, is out of stock in the UK until next summer, although an Intex Sea Hawk is the same thing and can be ‘skinned’ of its outer hull (as in the graphic, right) in the same way to make a lighter, narrower and nippier ‘PVC packraft’ – see bottom of the page. That’s the purpose of what is being done here, in case you’re wondering.

Pre-skinned and rolled up, the Sevy was about the size and weight of a proper Alpacka packraft, but awaft with that dizzying scent of PVC which takes you back to Mallorca in the late 1960s. Fully inflated, it’s too wide to take seriously, but it stayed like that long enough to enable the outer chamber to be surgically removed with a bread knife. Unfortunately, it’s on this outer chamber that the half-decent ‘high volume’ Boston valve is fitted – all the rest (2 floor chambers and the inner hull) get poxy, beach ball-style push-in valves which, in the latter case, take a while to inflate due to the pencil-thin aperture. Perhaps the Boston can be grafted onto the inner hull; what’s the worst that can happen? I’ll find out soon enough as it also took so long to deflate the remaining hull by squishing the push-in valve I decided to cut it out there and then and slap on the Boston valve from the trashed outer hull over the hole (above left). This was the first time I used MEK solvent to clean PVC. This stuff is pretty damn potent and ‘cleans’ the PVC a bit like paint stripper removes paint! Tellingly, it’s also known as polystyrene cement and has uses for welding too, so use it sparingly on PVC pool toys or they’ll dissolve before your eyes.

The squidgey little foot pump (right) is very light, but slow, especially when trying to get enough pressure into the main chamber for the slide-marker to move down and line up with the ‘A’ on the SevyScale™ (below left). This is a pressure guide so you don’t burst your new pool toy – easily done with thin, stretchy PVC and sharp words. But by chance the Sevy valve plug fits neatly onto the end of my K-Pump which is much quicker at inflating. The Alpacka air bag sort of screws into the Boston valve too, but you need a K-Pump to get max pressure.


Testing the newly glued on Boston valve, the boat was losing air, but it didn’t look like the glued-on valve was at fault. As it happens the bath was full so a check revealed a tiny, half mil hole near one of the seams underneath. I’m fairly sure I didn’t jab the boat with the knife while skinning it, so it must have come like that or my carpet is sharper than I think. Lesson: test all chambers in your cheap pool toy before running a coach and horses through the warranty by attacking it with a knife – that’s if you can be bothered to send it back instead of dab some glue on the hole, should it also be faulty.
The oars are mere fly swatters as previously noted. It’s possible they could be joined together into a packrafting paddle, but why bother; there are decent Werners and Aqua Bounds under the bed so the oars can join the scrapped outer hull at the local dump.

It has to be said, once skinned it’s 36″ (91cm) wide, 60″(152cm) long, and no more than 12″ high at the bow, so there doesn’t look to be a heap of buoyancy left over for the likes of bloated boaters like me, but the floor also holds air unlike an Alpacka so a spell on a river will reveal all. As mentioned, if it’s enough to stop me sinking, I may invest in gluing a spare sheet of tough nylon onto the base. It may add weight but will make the Caravette unstoppable; that’s unless a sharp-clawed bird lands on the deck or it gets splashed with MEK.

With half a dozen attachment points cannibalised from the outer hull and glued onto the stripped-down packboat with some Bostik 1782 (right), it now weighs 1550 grams; about half the weight of my current Alpacka Yak and about half the volume once rolled up. So compact, it could even make a flat-water towing platform for the Yak – for carrying a bike for example, as I’m not sure it would so easily fit on the bow, especially with camping gear.

River trials will follow shortly, or I may well head straight out to Rannoch Moor for an overnighter with Intex chum Jon who lives up there – see the vid above from last summer. He has also been inspired to skin his SeaHawk 1 bloat into a purposeful packslab. Might be good to take the Yak as a spare up there; if Loch Laidon freezes up round the edges the ice spikes might be too much for our pool toys.

Slackraft river trials
Slackraft sea trials

Packraft MYO sailing

See also this

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.

Homemade packraft or kayak sail

For my original post on the idea of IK sailing, with various videos, click this
For my first go packrafting with the sail, click this, and in a kayak, see this
A cheap ‘Windpaddle’ sail

A few years ago I got a batch of discounted Decathon Quechua ‘2 seconds 1’ pop-up tents (right; £20) for a desert tour I was running, and have a couple leftover. Now everyone’s offering cheap pop-ups. People love the idea and though I don’t suppose this is a tent you’d want on the north face of Annapurna in a gale, when you arrive at a camp tired after a day of desert biking, you just want to click your fingers and, Abracadabra, you have a cozy shelter to call your own.

Whoever came up with the idea of flexible hoops sewn into a 3-D form to spring apart and make a tent or shelter was ingenious. I still marvel at it today. It seems a photographer John Ritson got to idea of adding fabric to a flat loop in 1985 and invented the collapsible Lastolite light reflector (right) after he saw a carpenter fold the blade of a bandsaw (See the bottom of this page). I imagine a Lastolite (a 38-incher costs £50) was the motivation behind the WindPaddle idea, but from a plain disc to a tent is quite a leap.

So I took a knife to one of my used Quechua tents.  Bad though it felt shredding a perfectly functional shelter, in the spirit of the Inca shaman, it will be reincarnated as a sail – or more ill-conceived clutter to shove under the bed.
Dismembering the Quechua gives two giant hoops of 4mm nylon-coated alloy and another of 6mm. Having been told that WindPaddles can deform easily under strong winds, I chose the thicker wire to use for the hoop (Gallery pic 2, below) in the hope of reducing this possibility. (Warning: when opened up these springy wires can fly about all over the place).

Cutting the thick loop in half and rejoining it with the metal collar/tube (don’t lose this bit) gives a hoop of around 40 inches or 1 metre diametre making a sail area of 0.785 m2 (8.45 ft2) – similar to a WindPaddle, but with negligible dishing. I built up the sawn-off end with some cloth tape to stuff into the collar-tube, and then taped it all up (so it’s easily undoable).
There’s enough fabric in the main body of the tent’s flysheet (Gallery pic 1) to make two 40″ disc sails if you cut from the middle, so 1 tent fly = 2 sails. I only worked this out after I cut. You want to use each curved end of the flysheet with as much orange hem-sleeve as possible (Gallery pic 4) – it saves on sewing later. You don’t want, as I thought,  the flat middle section which of course won’t become a smooth disc once formed into a loop with the wire. Gallery pics 5 to 9 show how to gather up the slack, trim it, tack it down and get the Mrs to sew it up as if she hasn’t got enough work to be getting on with at this time of year.
Gallery picture 10 is the sewn-up sail with a handy gap at the bottom for I don’t know what and which also happens to coincide with the position of two little hooped tabs at 5- and 7 o’clock which you can use mount it to an Alpacka’s rearmost bow loops using mini snaplinks (Gallery picture 11). By chance there are 2 more sewn-on plastic rings at 10- and 2 o’clock to mount a control string. The length of string I used happened to be just right to wrap around the folded over tent, though it’s all under tension and pretty unstable; you might want something like a bulldog clip to stop the sail deploying unexpectedly. I also think my control string may be on the short side, but it’s what was lying around.
My disc tent doesn’t have anywhere near the dishing (depth) of a WindPaddle or an umbrella-like spinnaker sail I am told. I still haven’t worked out if this is significant (it is). One would imagine a deeper WP-like sail – a ‘bowl’ rather than a ‘saucer’ – would be more stable downwind but less good at tacking across it (probably correct) but what do I know? Last time I sailed a boat was over 35 years ago.
I suspect a flip-out disc sail like this is probably a compromise when it comes to sailing effectively, but then so are pack boats. If round sails were such a good idea the Vikings would have them. It may even prove to be not fully useful and so just more junk to carry about which is why, after trying the umbrella, I chose to make one for next to nothing rather than spend £140 ($215) on a WindPaddle in the UK. It was easy to make, is light (250g or 9oz), and it can swapped between my Alpacka packraft and Sunny IK in the time it takes to unclip 2 snaplinks and attach them elsewhere.
Other uses include something to sit on, a doormat for the tent, a windbreak, sunshade or umbrella. There is a slight problem: you can’t see where you’re going, especially on the shorter packraft with a metre-wide sail a metre on front of you, but on most water that ought not matter too much and if it does, I can cut in a window (like a WindPaddle) if that is the sail’s only flaw.
As to how it sails, Monday after Christmas had a good southerly wind and the warmest day for weeks (ie: above freezing), but the reservoir I chose was a rink and looks like it’ll be that way for a while. It’s been the coldest December in the UK since records began so a test run make take a few weeks to complete. To see how it sailed first time out, click this.