Kayak Sailing [53]

Getting it up with Mike Snoad

Imagine sailing your kayak with about 30 knots of wind dead astern. Surfing wave after steep wave some of them over 2 metres high and breaking. The kayak is up on the plane a lot of the time and out of control with sheets of water peeling off the bow making it difficult to see. You are going so fast that the rudder has a noisy harmonic vibration and is threatening to self destruct.

Without warning a big breaking wave engulfs you. Your desperate brace is ineffective in the highly aerated foam. You make a forlorn attempt to roll up before wet exiting just in time to see your paddling companion surfing down the face of a wave directly towards you at great speed. There is fear in his eyes and his mouth is open, as he seems to descend from a great height towards you. Somehow he misses so you scramble back into the cockpit in a hurry. You are acutely aware that this remote spot well offshore near the top of Cape York is home to some very big tiger sharks and crocodiles.

This scenario actually happened and was the motivation for my subsequent experimentation in an attempt to find an effective way to roll back after a capsize with my sail up. The place was near Macarthur Island in Shelburne Bay. At that moment my wide-eyed companion Arunas was less than an hour away from his close encounter with a hungry crocodile (see NSW Sea Kayaker Issue 50).

Rolling back up after a capsize with a Tasmanian style sailing rig is no real problem. That assumes a hungry Great White is not shadowing you. Apparently you just reach forward and pull the mast out of its socket then roll up. However this is not possible with the hinged mast many of us use. It is possible to roll back up with the relatively small ‘Norm-Sail’ by un-cleating the sheet line then using a slow Pawlata roll. Not so with the larger sails and much higher masts many of us are using. The solution to this problem is surprisingly simple (especially if you have gills). All you need to do is un-cleat the mast up-haul line (not the sheet line) then set up and do your preferred roll. For me it is a screw roll. As you start the upside down scull stroke the kayak moves forward and the mast and sail starts to swing back towards the cockpit. By the time you get to the final hip flick the sail and mast will be folded back alongside the kayak and as you complete your roll it will be close alongside in the water. This technique is only marginally more difficult than a normal roll with no sail!

The only tricky bit is getting set up with your paddle ready to sweep without catching the sail and sheet line with your paddle. Practice with a diving mask helps. It also helps if you have a quick way of locating and un-cleating the mast up-haul line. The cleat end of my up-haul line is bright red and plaited to make it easy to locate. You could also use a small brightly coloured plastic knob.

Too easy!