NSW Sea Kayak Club – Old Sea Dog’s Sail and a Pittarak [62]

By Peter Osman

It was the Old Sea Dog’s sail. He had described it in the New South Wales Sea Kayaker magazine and later with more detail in Sea Kayaker. It was the kind of sail which could be rigged and stowed away with a minimum of fuss while coping with a choppy sea. A sail that placed no restrictions on paddling or rolling, whether stowed away or in use.

The pressure to fit such a sail had become intense. Sharks were being reported almost every week in Australia and careful investigation showed that over the decades they had bumped into a kayak, a rowing skiff, an Olympic canoeist, and even a lawyer’s boat insured with the NRMA; but none had ever interfered with a kayak carrying a sail — especially not a sky blue one 🙂

Andre is a most courteous man from Poland who makes kayak sails in his spare time. He is a fine and meticulous craftsmen and probably the most skilled kayak sail maker in NSW. He cut this one from three pieces, fitted a batten and reinforcing tape and described the intricacies of the mast design with details I would never have contemplated. Once we are engaged in discussing kayaks it is not possible to stop. Andre lives in Surrey Hills in a small house with just enough room in the lane at the back to set up the boat. It was the first time this design had been fitted to a Pittarak whose sloping deck and narrow bow imposed tricky constraints on the three stays and halyard. It took two evenings to fit. And much serious thought and discussion, with a committment and method that I will freely pass on to any Pittarak owner who asks.

On the second evening, as the sail rig took shape in the back alley, an emaciated, wiry, nut brown man cast a discerning eye over the work and engaged in a long history of his time on prawn boats in Northern Queensland. The poor fellow was a heroin addict and well known in the neighborhood. Andre warned me that the contents of my car were probably at risk and apologised for the man. But there was no need. The prawn fisherman told his history well. It was worth listening.

On to Johno who is a boat builder and we kayak together. He knows exactly how to reinforce the boat so that the mast can pull in any direction without cracking the deck. Johno once rescued me in the surf using a very strict protocol that guaranteed our boats would not be scratched. We lift the boat into his shed where he waits for a fine day then applies three layers of woven fibreglass mat in a cruciform pattern under the universal joint which holds the mast.

So comes the day. It has taken me all morning to fit lifting and steering lines on the boats rudder and I have carefully selected a time when none of my friends will be watching. So off to Clontarf with the sail neatly stowed and over I go. The roll back up is blissfully normal. So now to rig the sail and try it again. I take it from under the bunjee, pull on one loop to lift the mast and the boat is ready to fly — but first — over the boat is tipped again. Under water the rigging has collapsed and the sail has part folded towards the cockpit. I release the loop and roll. The only difference the sail makes is the need to place the paddle so it doesn’t catch in the halyard. Now the sail is in the water at the side of the boat and is folded up within a few seconds to be stowed under a bunjee on the deck.

At last the sail is rigged for real and I firmly resolve that despite the paltry two knot wind I will not lift a paddle until reaching Balmoral. We race along at half a knot. The navy divers are conducting an exercise and look quizzical. Various paddlers and a fairy penguin overtake me but there is definite progress — a micrometer would judge it well. Two hours later the keel gently grazes Balmoral beach and its time for a triumphant cup of tea.

Three weeks pass and it’s Easter Sunday. The sky is dull and clouds are scudding northward. A gentle. grey mist of rain covers the sea between Balmoral and Clontarf. I’ve spent almost an hour paddling two kilometers into the wind so now its sweep and turn and pull on the halyard. The mast lifts and straightaway the sail fills and pulls. At first the movement seems imperceptible then I look back and see that within a few minutes the boat has covered almost a quarter of the distance. As the fetch increases the boat picks up, marker buoys waft by and the boat is overtaking my paddling mates. We pass the point at Chinaman’s beach and there’s the strange sensation of keeping a boat stable in a confused following sea, without any paddling strokes and no need to work at all. As my dear partner, Beryl, would say, “I could get used to this”.