The Old Sea Dog’s Gear Locker [36]

Sail? On a kayak? A kayak is a paddle craft. The OSD sold a Hobie Cat and a stable of windsurfers because he wanted to paddle. Anyway, he has never found it particularly difficult to paddle downwind, the only direction kayaks are able to go without a dagger board. Then too, he thought sails required rudders, and he is unashamedly biased against such contraptions.Then he went on a trip to the Nadgee Wilderness Area and watched in amazement as Doug Fraser set sail and surfed away, steering with his paddle! (even though he had a rudder.)

OK. The lack of a rudder was obviously not a problem. The OSD studied Doug’s rig. Typically, the mast was stepped unstayed in a hole in the deck just in front of the cockpit close enough to be reachable. This meant that the boom hit him in the face during a gibe and there was no room to swing a paddle for an eskimo roll. Obviously, the mast needed to be further forward.

Sail rig dimensions

The OSD’s eventual solution was to pivot the mast on the foredeck on a universal joint (a standard sailing dinghy tiller extension fitting). Two Spectra stays lead aft to fittings on the deck. A forestay running through a small pulley at the bow forms a triangle with the stays to hold up the mast. The lines are tied to a saddle pop-riveted to the mast a foot above the base. The rig jumps up into position by pulling on the forestay line which leads back to a clam cleat on the deck near the cockpit.

The sail itself required some more thinking. The OSD rejected spinnakers immediately. They are cantankerous at best — at worst, downright dangerous. He wanted more control and settled on an ancient design called a “Sprit Rig” in which the quadrilateral sail is supported by the mast and a sprit (in this case, a windsurfer sail batten) which extends from the mast to the peak. Another batten forms the boom. The sheet is fastened halfway along the boom and leads to another clam cleat near the cockpit.

Deck fittings

The OSD sewed a sleeve into the leading edge (luff) of the rip-stop nylon sail to fit over the mast and other sleeves for the sprit and boom. He made the length of the sprit and boom identical and the same as the dimension from the point of attachment of the stays to the top of the mast. When he drops the sail and furls it, all the hard bits are the same length which makes a neat package.

An unexpected advantage of the sprit rig is the ease of reefing if the wind comes up. The OSD sewed a webbing loop at the top of the sprit so that he can slip it over the masthead, to quickly cut the area by half. The sail is fairly small anyway, about one square metre. However, even this can be a handful in strong winds and a chop. In an excess of foolhardiness, Mark Fishkiller Pearson and the OSD once swept by the Gabo lighthouse in a wind which the keeper later reported as 39 knots. It was an exhilarating, if scary, ride.

The sail rig, as fitted to an “Inuit Classic”

In light winds, little steering is necessary. The forward position of the rig seems to balance the normal tendency for a boat to head into the wind (weather helm). As the wind picks up, a bit of stern rudder with the paddle is useful to counteract the occasional broach on a wave. Stern rudder combines with bracing as conditions become more severe. If things really get out of hand and the OSD finds himself upside down, he simply eases the sheet and uses a slow Pawlata roll to allow time for the sail to flow with the movement. There is plenty of room for the paddle to swing inside the sail rig. Once right side up again, The OSD pulls in on the sheet and continues on his way with a minimum of drama. Incidentally, the OSD finds that the rig won’t go to windward, but he expected that — the best he can manage is a reach.

Although the OSD hates to admit it, he enjoys sailing his kayak. The most idyllic kayaking experience he’s ever had was a downwind trip through the Barrier Reef off Far North Queensland. So much for prejudice. (But the OSD still doesn’t like rudders, or offset paddles, for that matter.)

The Old Sea Dog