TopKayaker.Net: Guide To Kayak Sailing

Rob Lyon Tsuanmi Tandem w/ Vee Sail. VancouverKayak Sailing with a Vee Sail
by Tom Holtey

I had the pleasure of "test sailing" the Primex/Deluge Kayak Sail sent to us by Rob of Lyon Expeditions. I mounted it upon my trusty Wilderness Systems Tarpon sit-on-top kayak and waited for wind conditions that were suitable to give it a good run. (10 to 20 MPH) I had a nice run on Squam Lake in NH using this rig.

This is a "V" Sail - essentially a down wind sail, like the more modern JNR Sail, Pacific Action Sail, or kite sail. A rudder mounted to your kayak (Highly recommended.) can help to adjust your course so it is not purely down wind. You probably will not be able to get more than 10 - 20 degrees off a down wind tack.

For those of you who have sailing knowledge, that tack would be Running Before the Wind. Beating, Close Hauled, and Reaching tacks, will be impossible. (Points of Sail pop-up window). A kayak is not really a sailboat, lacking a centerboard, (rudder in some cases) and a sophisticated sail and jib. (See Phillip Dang's "Kayak Sailing With A Drifter") A "V" sail is perfect to take advantage of a favorable wind, to propel your kayak and take a break from the drudgery of paddling. Sure beats holding up your windbreaker!

Mounting the sail was easy. The Primex sail rig is equipped with a "Universal Deck Mount" (UDM) that will easily fit onto most kayaks with little, if any, customization. The soft construction will not scratch the deck. The UDM has four adjustable straps with clips (clips are removable if necessary) that will clip or strap down to a wide variety of deck rigging, hatch closures, strap eyes or what ever may be handy to attach to. Custom placement can easily be achieved by adding strap eyes (See Sailing Hardware section in Tom's Shop) in strategic placements or by adding perimeter lines. In the center of the UDM is a large plastic buckle that mates with the mast base(s).

UDM Universal Deck MountThe sailcloth is a light, but sturdy nylon fabric. It is a bright yellow, an excellent safety color, increasing your chances of being seen, identified as a sail craft, and getting your right of way from the power boat crowd. A clear see-through window is placed appropriately where one needs to look out across the bow. This of course is a V shaped sail and has two masts, with two "sheets" (Nautical term for a rope that controls a sail.) The masts are lightweight fiberglass poles that are segmented with shock cord inside, making them foldable like tent poles. The sheets, called "control lines" in the directions included, are then attached to clips that are velcroed onto the paddle shaft with the lines held fast by the paddler's grip on the shaft. The paddle is held out in front of the rider, like a windsurfer would hold their "boom." (Nautical term for horizontal member that help control the angle of the sail.)

The recommended mounting position of the UDM is on the fore deck, just in front of the cockpit. Rob has found that this is the best place to mount the sail rig onto a sit-on-top kayak. You will see a slightly different mounting on a sit-in-side kayak in the instructions included with the kit. I went with Rob's recommendations and found the placement to be good. However, I am not a very large person, nor do I have long arms, and I decided to mount the UDM onto the center consul just a tad forward of my feet in the cockpit of my Tarpon. I did this to make it easy to reach the UDM to re-snap or unsnap the masts. Both positions worked excellently. I would have to say that there is plenty of room for custom installation for personal needs and fit. In fact, it seems that it matters little where the masts are attached. A photo on the box shows the rig mounted to a canoe on the very bow, and indeed that would seem the likely place to mount the rig on a tandem kayak as well.

Vee Sailing I did some "dry run" practice, kind of like a dress rehearsal on land. At first I tried assembling the rig from scratch, mounting UDM, unfolding the masts and sail, while seated in the cockpit. This I found to be possible, but much better to do most of the assembly while on shore. I determined that one would want to mount the UDM to the deck and unfold the masts and sail before launch and clip it into the UDM. Also velcro the Boom Paddle Clips to your shaft, inside your grip range, not clipped to the control lines.

In my practice I raised and lowered the sail and stowed the sail for quick re-deployment, including completely un-packing, re-packing and stowing it away, all from the cockpit. A bit of practice on dry ground will help to make things go smoothly when you get out on the water. Indeed, even with the practice you can expect some flopping and flapping at first. I know did!

Vee Sailing
Vee Sailing
Vee Sailing

There are a few ways to go to stow the sail for quick deployment. Rob likes to prop his sail angled up, to the stern, just overhead. He supports it with a small dry bag full of supplies.

You will want to bring the masts together and use the control lines wrap the sailcloth around the masts. (One or two turns)Rob also likes to slip the top of the masts under his backrest straps, along his hip, out of the way. This allows for more secure storage, tucked away nearby, just in case the day offers an opportunity for sailing.

Both of robs storage methods do not require unclipping of the UDM. I did not have a dry bag, handy for my test run so I used a different method.

While on shore, lay the control lines down the center of the sail and bring the two masts together. Wrap the sailcloth around the masts with the control lines inside. Now the sail can open up easy and the control lines will not snag or tangle.

Then I slipped the mast tops under my deck net on the very bow of my kayak. (Note: Not all kayaks are equipped with a deck net but they can be installed.) Then I snapped the mast base into the UDM holding it firmly in place across the fore deck and forward hatch.

Stowed as such on my Tarpon the mast did not pass the tip of the bow. With the sail stored this way on shorter kayaks it will pass the tip of the bow. I see little problem if this is the case with your kayak.

Now you are ready for the water. Chances are you will not be in a position to "sail" right off the beach, but you will need to paddle out into open water, maybe even around a headland to get on the right "tack." This is why you need to have a system for stowing and easy deployment your sail in addition to the need to store the sail if you desire to stop, or make a course change that will not benefit from the sail's use.

When ready to raise the sail make sure you are pointed down wind. This is a good time to check your compass & chart to ensure the wind will take you where you want to go. You need to deploy your sail quickly because a kayak will turn its side to the wind if left to drift long enough.

A paddle holder, deck net, deck rigging, hatch straps, or any kind a paddle park, a paddle leash at least, will be really handy for when you need your hands free. You will need both hands to raise, lower, rig or de-rig the sail. If the wind is strong enough to sail on, then it will also be strong enough to allow your kayak to drift down wind quickly, leaving a dropped paddle far behind. (Even with out the sail up!)

If you go with the overhead stowage method you will find that less winding of the control lines around the mast will be better. In fact, the overhead way is the quickest way to raise the sail, everything is easy to reach. Raise the sail to be vertical and leaning a bit to the bow while grabbing the control lines and securing them to your paddle.

Primex Vee Sail on Scupper ProIf you go with the foredeck stowage method you will unclip the masts at the UDM, pull the sail rig back from under the deck net and re-clip the base back into the UDM. Then it is a simple matter of separating the mast, and as the sail opens the control lines will be easy to reach. Photo Left: by Kevin Ching of a Kayak Sailing in Hawaii

Next, clip the control lines into the Boom Paddle Clips. According to instructions the lines run through the clips, along the shaft and held fast by the grip of your hands against the shaft. One might assume that the lines should be fastened in a static way to the clips, but the method as described in the instructions allows for the lines to be free of the paddle with a loosening of the grip. This makes sense, especially for the sit-in-side paddler, who needs their paddle to free and unencumbered if they capsize and then attempt an Eskimo roll. A sit-on-top paddler has other options.

Being curious and experimental I tried something different; I tied a loop at the end of each control line and clipped it. If I did capsize the lines would act like a paddle leash. A fallen paddler would then re-mount his sit-on-top using the standard deep-water re-entry (Note: I would not be inclined to use a paddle leash while sailing, to prevent tangles.) I felt like I had good control and could perform any bracing strokes that may be required. Both methods seemed workable for SOT paddlers. (Note: I found that Rob likes to tie a loop at the end of the control lines too and clip them to the Boom Paddle Clips. He removes the control lines from the paddle shaft by un-doing the velcro strap on the Boom Paddle Clips.)

Now you have the sail raised and catching wind. You will feel the pull against your paddle shaft. Some adjusting of the sail using the shaft is necessary to get full power from the wind and to spill the wind if too strong. Hold the paddle primarily horizontal; this will give you options to brace or stroke as necessary. Keeping the sail fully erect will provide the most sail power.

If you are trying to catch a crosswind turn the paddle so the sail is angled to do so. Be careful to let the sail spill some wind in this position or it may tip you. If the wind is very strong lower the sail so it angles downward to the bow slightly. This will cut some power and reduce fatigue, and the chances of capsize. To stop, simply lower the rig with the paddle shaft. It is OK to let the sail lay in the water. To lift the sail out of the water raise one end first to let the water drain off to one side.

Tom on Squam: Tarpon & Vee SailWhile sailing, it is possible to adjust the feather angle of your paddle to zero, or otherwise un-feathered. The advantage being that the blade will not catch the water and jerk on the control line. I was inclined to hold the shaft low and resting on my thighs. This positioned the blades very close to the water's surface. If you are prepared to brace with an un-feathered paddle you may want to try this. The blades are pre-positioned to plane along the water, almost providing a sort of outrigger.

When you are ready to stop sailing and stow your rig simply lower the sail to where you can reach it. Undo the control lines from the boom paddle clips. Stow your paddle in your deck rigging or deck net so you can use both hands.

To stow overhead; Roll the sailcloth around the masts, wrap a few loops of the control lines around the rolled sail, prop sail up and overhead on a dry bag. Or tuck into the backrest strap at your side..

To Stow on the deck; Lower the sail. Un-clip mast base from UDM, let control lines lay in center of sail, bring masts together and wrap sail cloth around masts, lift deck net with tip of paddle blade and slip top of masts under the deck net, re-clip mast base to UDM.

At Tom's TopKayaker Shop:

We carry the Pacific Action Sail and a variety of Sails & industry standard hardware for kayak modifications.
Looking for an economic alternative?
We carry JNR Sails with industry standard hardware for do-it-yourself kayak modifications.
Go to: JNR hardware sail rig pack
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The instruction sheet that comes with the sail has an alternative process for a complete "De-Rigging" of the kit. If you are in a situation where the weather and waves are getting rough, or if you need to negotiate a bad surf zone then this method is preferable, as it folds the sail down to a small compact size that can be secured to the deck, or stashed in a hatch.

Allow the sail rig to fully air dry before long-term storage. Don't worry about putting away the sail wet for storage in the field, just make sure to air it out at the end of your trip. This will keep it free of mildew.

The best conditions to use the sail are steady winds of 10 to 20 MPH. (See Beaufort Wind Scale). A predictable and constant wind direction will make it easy and fun to use. Light and variable winds will pose a problem. Light winds will not make your kayak move any faster than you can paddle, in fact it may be more work to hold up the sail than it would be to paddle. Variable winds will keep you guessing, readjusting and ultimately you will end up with the sail flopping into your lap.

The Primex/Deluge Kayak Sail is ideal for wilderness touring trips, both single day or multi day. I can't tell you how many times I have had a long down-wind slog ahead of me and wished I had the wind at my disposal. I plan to bring this along on all our trips. It packs to a handy size; 30" long by 4" in diameter, easy to stow in almost any hatch.

Your strategy should be to listen to weather broadcasts for winds of 15 - 30 knots (NOAA on your VHF or FRS/GMRS w/ weather radio.) and study your chart or topo map. Look for open stretches of water on your map and compare with the predicted wind direction. Note: Wind directions are broadcast using True North compass points. Plot a course for the day if the wind direction is favorable.

Before you launch set up your sail rig to have it at the ready. I would not bother with the rig at all if the wind direction is not favorable or the speed is not adequate; just leave it stowed below deck. Leaving the UDM on deck all the time should not pose a problem unless it interferes with hatch access.

Important: Plan day trips carefully before you go on a long run, particularly if you need to turn around and comeback to the put-in. Sailing is fun, but paddling 10 miles against the wind, 1 hour before dark is not! If possible paddle up wind to a point where you can sail back home. Or plan a trip with an upwind put-in and a downwind take-out.

Vee SailingI can also see the sail as a make shift shelter for wind and rain. Certainly not a primary shelter, unless you are one of those "minimalist" paddling in a mild climate. I would not hesitate to use it as a shelter if I were ashore for a lunch break and the weather kicked up.

Rob uses his sail for rainwater collection to augment his fresh water supply on ocean trips. The V shape helps to facilitate the flow of water, like a funnel. Like Audrey Southerland says about wilderness gear: "If you can't use it for more than one thing, leave it at home."

The directions that come with the sail kit are useful, but a bit out-dated. They are not the easiest to follow, but well worth a read, it won't take long. Other contemporary versions of the "V" sail for kayaks can be found in our TopKayaker Shop.

Primex Sail Rig Specs:
Weight: 2.5 lbs.
28" X 7" X 3"
Mast height: 6 feet
Sail Area: 19.4 square feet.
Sail Cloth: 70 denier, urethane backed, rip-stop nylon

The Primex/Deluge Kayak Sail may still be available from Rob Lyon of Lyon Expeditions. Click here to learn more: http://www.lyonexpeditions.com

Related articles:

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Our Kayak Sailing Section - Index to all Kayak Sailing Articles on our site.

SAIL THE FORUMS to get answers to your kayak sailing questions.

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