Thursday, August 28, 2008

Kayak Sailing in Western Virginia

The past couple of days have been cool and rainy in the Valley, with my rain gauge registering about 3 inches so far. While the weather clears, I thought I'd do a posting about kayak sailing and the system I use on my boat, since there have been a couple of inquiries.

I purchased a Spirit Sail for my kayak when I was in Ely, Minnesota a few years back on Burntside Lake. The system consists of a mast platform, an adjustable mast, and a sail.

The platform attaches to the hull via four screws & nuts or four suction cups. I have not attempted to screw into any of my hulls, so I've been using the suction cups. Unfortunately, the suction cups do not attach very well to my plastic hulls (they apparently do a better job with fiberglass), and besides, the suction cup rubber is now brittle and cracked after several years worth of use in fresh and salt water. I tried using vasoline to create suction, but even that didn't work.


So I initially used several bungees to secure the platform to the deck, which was fine in a light wind, but not so great in, say, a 20 mph breeze. The bungees weren't strong enough to keep the sail from lifting the platform off the deck and pulling it over on its side. I then moved on to metal chains to hold it down, and that seemed to work fine.


The sail itself is wonderful. After I finally hit on using chains to hold down the platform, I found that the sail picks up the wind and just rockets the boat across the water. I've been using this setup off the coast of South Carolina lately, and it works really well. A rudder comes in very handy to help steer the boat in strong winds - no doubt about that. Especially if the boat tends to weathercock in following seas. Without a rudder, one has to use the paddle to steer. The system is flexible enough to use on nearly any body of water, from the open ocean to smaller lakes and rivers.

The adjustable mast, at least when using the mast platform, allows you to arrange the sail at a 90-degree angle to the length of the boat, or at 45-degrees on either side. The sail itself also has a window.

The sail has two 'arms' that slide onto the mast. And the sail itself can be folded in half for storing, similar to tent poles. I can slide the sail into one of the kayak hatches when I'm not using it.


My 17-footer has a forward rod holder. I decided to use PVC and a couple of bungees to anchor the mast instead of using the provided mast platform. In this case, two small sections of 1" PVC pipe and a 45-degree tee, plus a couple of bungees to hold down the mast. So far so good, but I haven't tested this setup in strong winds yet, and it could very well be that the mast is not anchored strongly enough to keep the sail from rotating in strong wind. We'll see.


The only downside to the sail is that it can be difficult to slide onto and off the mast in a strong wind. When sliding it onto the mast, you need to be downwind, and once you get the first arm down on the mast, you have to be 'ready to go,' because once the second arm slides on and the sail fills with air, the boat will take off. It's not that big of a deal, just something to be aware of.

All things considered, I'm happy with the current set up, and I use it nearly any day the wind is strong enough to fill the sail.

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