TopKayaker.Net: Guide To Kayak Sailing

Feathercraft Java & Pacific Action SailFeathercraft Java & Pacific Action Sail
by Duncan Sayers

I have been the proud owner of a Feathercraft Java Inflatable Kayak for sometime now, and am pleased to say that it has exceeded all my expectations. To put things in persepective, I previously owned a fiberglass hardshell sea kayak. Due to a house move, and subsequent loss of storage space I had to rethink my kayak setup.

This led to the purchase of the Java. I considered many different types of folding boat, and settled on the Java for its simplicity (read speed) of assembly, an important consideration because I am unable to keep the kayak assembled at home. Note that I have no affiliation with either Feathercraft, or Pacific Action, other than using their products.


This would be much faster if it wasn't for the attention the boat gets when I'm putting it together. However if I'm left alone, I can generally assemble the boat from car boot to water in around 15-20 minutes. Likewise for disassembly. One thing to note though is that it can be a bit of a pain to dry, as there are lots of nooks and crannies in the fabric for water to linger. Other than that, it's not much more effort than lugging a hardshell boat on and off roof racks.


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PACIFIC ACTION SAIL AT TOM'S TOPKAYAKER SHOPWe carry the Pacific Action Sail and a variety of Sails & industry standard hardware for kayak modifications.
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The Java is slower than my previous boat, which is to be expected (it's shorter, wider and floppier). One thing I have noticed however, is that as the conditions deteriorate, the speed difference is less noticable due to the stability of the Java. I'm able to concentrate more on forward movement, and less on staying upright. My previous boat was a 16ft long Selkie, which is a pretty quick boat, but a horrible thing to paddle with a following sea, even with the retractable skeg down. Its fine bow had a habit of catching when surfing, causing the boat to act rather unpredictably.

In contrast, the Java seems to behave very reasonably, which is why in rough conditions it is a pleasure to paddle. It is noticably slower into a headwind than my old boat, but on any other point, it has much better manners. Another bonus is the confidence that if you push it too far and end up in the drink, you're easily able to hop back on again without mucking about having to roll. Note that I've never actually tipped the Java other than on purpose to make sure I could get back on. I reckon you'd have to do something pretty crazy to end up swimming by accident.

Feathercraft Java & Pacific Action SailBecause I haven't had the chance to paddle any other sea kayaks in rough conditions, this isn't by any means a comprehensive comparison. However given my limited experience with other boats, I'm more than happy with the way the Java performs. There are always compromises with any design - the Java seems to have plenty of good features to make up for those inherent in its configuration. Comfort

Ah, bliss...no more dead legs! The Java is amazingly comfortable, and if you do feel the need to stretch your legs, you have the room to do so (or hop in for a swim). I'm now much happier to spend longer times in the Java than my old boat. I suspect that this will also reduce the performance gap between the Java and my old boat over long distances, due to less fatigue caused through discomfort.


I wanted a sail that could mount well forward, so that it would overcome the natural tendancy to weather helm, enabling me to sail without a rudder. I discovered the New Zealand made Pacific Action Sail. I thought this looked promising, mounting the sail on the exposed sections of frame near the bow. First I checked with Feathercraft to see if the webbing loops sewn into the deck of the Java would be strong enough for a 1 square metre sail - they confirmed promptly that this would be ok. I then emailed Pacific Action, and after a bit of conversation describing the problem they offered to make a slight customisation for me to help mount the sail, at no extra charge. They also have a "satisfaction guarantee" which gave me the confidence to order it online.

Feathercraft Java & Pacific Action Sail*Note picture right: The Pacific Action Sail needs a spacing of a minimum of 35 cm between the attachment points on the hull. Normally this is ok, but the only solid place to strap it to on the java is to the frame, which is narrower than this. Part of the reason for the width requirement is that in it's normal configuration the pacific action mast base has a webbing buckle on either side. In order to narrow the width required between attachment points, Pacific Action made me a single strap with a single buckle. As it turned out, this still wasn't narrow enough, which prompted me to make the mounting plate you can see in the pictures. Buckles & webbing strap can be purchased through Tom's TopKayaker Shop. Puchases support TopKayaker.net articles & forums.

The sail arrived a couple of weeks later, and after a bit of mucking about trying to mount it, I ended up making a small plate cut out from a plastic chopping board to run the mounting straps through, and subsequently around the frame. This spread the mount points wide enough to get the tension required for the system to work correctly. It also gave the added bonus of preventing the deck mount from chafing the deck fabric.

Feathercraft Java & Pacific Action SailFeathercraft Java & Pacific Action SailThe only other modification was to buy some larger snap clips than those supplied in order to be able to attach the sheets and shock-cord forestay to the deck webbing loops on the Java.

It should be noted that the masts supplied are designed to split in half, so the whole assembly can pack with the boat into the bag supplied with the Java.

When not in use, the tops of the masts tuck under the straps that secure the seat to the deck.

Feathercraft Java & Pacific Action SailRelease the sail from the strap, and it springs into life thanks to the shock-cord forestay.

On the water

Shhh...don't tell the government. This is so much fun, they'd make it illegal if they found out. The photos are taken on a calm day (around 10 knots), but I've had the sail up in around 15-20 knots and there are only two words to describe it - giddy up!

The boat sails brilliantly without the need for a rudder, only using the retractable skeg that comes standard with the Java and the occasional stern-rudder corrective stroke. It can be sailed on all points of sail from a dead run through to a reach, even moving through to a shy reach as the apparent wind angle moves forward slightly as you speed up. There is enough clearance to allow you to paddle and sail at the same time.

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Downwind it is possible to steer the boat using the sail only, by tweaking the sheets to adjust the sail's angle to the wind. In a decent blow, I hook my towline onto my lifejacket to avoid having the boat sail off into the distance without me after a spill, although I haven't managed to ditch yet (perhaps I'm not trying hard enough).

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