Kayak Sailing is FUN !!!

Sail vs. non-sail... which one looks like a "cool cruiser" ;)
Sail vs. non-sail… which one looks like a “cool cruiser” ?  😉

Now  be honest! Have you ever fantasized, in a following wind, under a heavy load , somehow .. harnessing that wonderful wind to help you get along….? Now don’t lie! I suspect EVERY sea kayaker has in one point or another thought like this. 😀

Springtime 2015 I found myself trying out something completely new. GnarlyDog  convinced me to give kayak sailing a try. Uptil now I’d only tried using windpaddle sail briefly, but did not like the concept at all as it is strictly downwind sailing and while it does not require a rudder equipped kayak, it works better with one… And I’m not going to install a rudder on my kayaks. End of discussion! Also it ties ones hands to operating the sail…

First time kayak sailor getting the hang of it! :D Lake Vanaja, Finland
First time kayak sailor getting the hang of it! After about 45 minutes 😀 Lake Vanaja, Finland

Gnarly suggested  SeaDog Sails, whom I contacted and some weeks later I received my first SeaDog Sail ! Its been fun ever since! It was early may 2015 when I was able to go out and start learning to use the sail.

About the sail, it is surprisingly smart set up. Contrary to common beliefs it DOES not require a rudder for installation! A skeg would be nice to have but basicly one can sail decently without a skeg installed, however here one will need to use corrective strokes or a paddle rudder quite often. That said I will be retrofitting a skeg in all of my kayaks!

Vortex and Whisper with Instaled with SeaDog Sails
Vortex and Whisper installed with SeaDog Sails. Sails are “up”

The sail basicly operates as follows: When you want to sail. You release it from “Stowed on deck” configuration, pop  the mast into its “mast up” configuration, cleat the up haul line and “Voila” ready to sail! If the going gets rough or you need to go into the wind, then you reverse the previously described operation and your kayak is back in its “pure kayak – mast down” mode. Quite simple! With a little practice each operation takes  no-more than 5-7 seconds to perform.

High wind testing and learning. This was Markos (orange kayak) second time out kayak sailing!!! No he didn't swim
High wind testing and learning. This was Markos (orange kayak) second time out kayak sailing!!! No he didn’t swim

While under sail, one can still use the paddle for correcting strokes, stern rudder or bracing… or not! So the sail does not tie the hands while sailing. Only during mast uphaul or downhaul, and tweaking the sail angle with the cam-cleat,  ones’ hands will be doing other than paddling. This last feature is one of my favourites!

Peacefully coasting along autumn 2015, Lake saimaa, Finland
Peacefully ghosting along autumn 2015, Lake saimaa, Finland

Another misconception is that this sail is purely for downwind sailing. Not true!  Depending on the sail set up,  kayak configuration and your sailing skills one can sail beam reach and perhaps even close reach. My rough best estimate has been to sail maybe 25 degrees into the wind, on a sharply chined kayak and quite a bit of edging…

However there are some little requirements or rather common sense suggestions before one should start installing a sail on ones kayak!

  1. One should be a confident and able kayaker. Minimum requirement (in my mind ) for kayak sailing is that one should be able to do self rescues, braces + some kind of eskimo roll. I haven’t had to do a single roll or self rescue under sail, but the fact that I know I can perform these gives me all the more confidence to handle the kayak under sail… me hopes ! 😉
  2. Some understanding about the concept of sailing comes handy.. though starting with light winds and  an instructor close-by one can be self taught quite quickly to kayak sail! I’ve had two “experimental students” to test this claim and both are still alive and breathing and in friendly terms with me.. 😉
Punching thru.. Lake Vanaja, Finland
Punching thru.. Lake Vanaja, Finland

While kayak sailing isn’t for the first or second time, “beginner” kayaker it does open a whole new world for the more experienced confident kayaker- A world of fun if nothing else!

At the writing of this I have logged some 360 kms with sail, of which approximately half have been under touring/expedition conditions. Most if not every km has been either fun or educational and thus very interesting! Introducing the sailing concept into kayaking also opens the world of sailing and wind in a new way to the kayaker.

I will not dwell into sail installation in this post, that will come later. However there are a couple of excellent blogs that covers sail installation: Douglas Wilcox’s site and  GnarlyDog News

Contrary to common beliefs.. A kayak sail will not make the kayak go faster! Well THAT fast.  Usually the defining factor is the maximum hull speed. But it does help make the kayak go at hull speed with minimal paddling! Going above hull speed will require high winds and following seas.. and that while is FUN as anything, it does add certain risks. I’ve usually been able to clock 9-11 km/h in winds of  approx 10m/s. This wind speed I have found to be the maximum safe wind speed. Any higher than 10 m/s one needs to be on ones toes, alert, awake and accept the fact of a cold bath.  I think the strongest winds I’ve encountered and still stay upright was in the 14 m/s range. The highest speeds that my GPS have logged momentarily under sail, high winds+following waves have been 16.4km/h and 17 km/h. This was with the Guillemot Expedition Single without any load.

Coasting along in a light to moderate breeze. Lake Saimaa, Finland
Coasting along in a light to moderate breeze. SeaDog Commander installed on the Guillemot Expedition Single Lake Vanaja, Finland

Under full expedition load I have been able to coast along at 6-7.5 km/h in a run or a broad reach, using the paddle as a rudder only. With light assisting strokes I have been moving about 8-9.5km/h.

The newest SeaDog sail , the Commander is my favorite, the added reefing points add more versatility to the sail. The sail is more efficient sailing into the wind than the previous models. The older Code Zero Black Diamond maybe easier to handle for a beginner than the Commander,  but the commander has the reefing option so this changes the balance quite nicely.  I have ordered the sail with the lower panel with Clearview panel, giving me some forward visibility, which can be useful in narrow (and congested) waterways.

Clear skies and Fairwinds, Lake Saimaa, Finland
Clear skies and almost no wind.. SeaDog Commander installed on the Guillemot “SnG”, Night Heron kayak Lake Saimaa, Finland

All of the SeaDog sails I have used thus far have excellent work quality!

Autumn sailing in Lake Saimaa
Autumn sailing in Lake Saimaa

Here’s a couple of my favorite sailing videos that I’ve found online – from downunder. Courtesy of GnarlyDog The first one shows how the sail works.

And some just sailing that brings a smile on your face..