Sunday, July 22, 2012

Missouri Preparation: Sail


The fan was a fairly quick decision based on an immediate need. Whether to invest in a sail or not, and which one, is something I’ve been wrestling with for two years. We’ve spent our adult lives sailing, and as I’ve always said, and believe, the only thing better than sailing is breathing. I have no delusions that a canoe/kayak sail will replace what we lost in giving up real sailing, but the addition of a sail to a paddle boat still makes a lot of sense.

Sails are expensive, even for our little 25-ft Dufour, “Thistle,” but the payback with a real sailboat is that they can be used any time there’s a zephyr, no matter what direction it’s from. The negative aspect of getting a return on such an investment as a downwind sail on a canoe is you only get to use it when the wind is astern. When I paddled 250 miles on the Gulf Coast with the wind always on the nose, the sail would have been useless, and the investment in the sail and the hassle of carrying another piece of gear would have been just as depressing as the constant fight upwind. In the Florida Keys Challenge, however, with the wind mostly on the quarter and astern, the sail would have been a blast. There were indeed a couple members of that group who experimented with sails. The advantages are that a sail can add speed, allows time for muscles to rest and thus may extend the possible miles made good in a day, allows you to keep moving while eating lunch or checking the map, serves as auxiliary propulsion to boost paddling efficiency, and if the sailing gets exciting enough, it adds a whole new way to enjoy the outing.

I also wrestled with which sail would suit me best. I looked at the Pacific Action Sail, a couple different versions of Balogh Sails, the Flat Earth Sail, and the WindPaddle Sail. I tried to tap into the experiences of those who have used the different sails with strangely no feedback, so have had to rely on my forty-some years of sailing experience and reviews on sites like and With all things in boating, there is never an absolute win. Everything is a compromise. For everything you gain, there is something that must be sacrificed. The question is what gains benefit you most and are best suited to your style of paddling while feeling the least hurt by what you have to give up.

For example, if sailing efficiency is what you seek, there are those who will go to any length to sail their kayak upwind. David Valverde, of Balogh Sail Designs, and the members of WaterTribe are probably the most experienced in getting speed and windward performance out of paddle boats that can skip across the wave tops in open water at high speed. To accomplish this efficiency, you have to add an aluminum mast, aluminum crossbeam for the outriggers, two inflatable floats, a centerboard, hull mounts that are bolted to the boat to hold the outriggers and centerboard, and a full-battened sail. That’s a lot of gear to jam in a kayak or canoe. Plus, it makes the boat useless if you like to explore narrow, twisting streams with overhanging trees, and some deadfall or sweepers you need to navigate. So, it’s a matter of fitting the gear to the style of boating you wish to do.

I was looking to go the other way. I wanted a sail that requires the least amount of supporting gear, the least impact on the boat, in other words no drilling of holes for screws and bolts, reasonably priced, is light, and takes up the least amount of room. For the sake of safety, I sought low center of effect (the least likely to upset the boat) and the ability to quickly douse and stow the sail in a sudden, strong gust or squall. Besides safety, I also wanted to be able to quickly shift from sailing for miles to gunkholing (exploring small, shallow streams and coves) if I spot something interesting or some wildlife to photograph. To get these advantages, I was willing to resort to a sail that came into its own only when running or broad reaching. This all brought me to the WindPaddle

The WindPaddle comes in three sizes: Scout, Adventure, and Cruiser. The Scout is an entry-level sail or one for small playboats. The Adventure is the most popular, and is a mid-sized sail. The Cruiser is an expedition sail for larger, heavier boats that are carrying more weight in gear and supplies. They are rated to fly in up to 40 mph winds, not that I plan to try that any time soon, are set right on the deck for lowest possible center of effect, are self-deploying, can immediately be released to spill the wind, and can be furled and stowed in just a few seconds. The reviews I read on the sails consistently gave it a 9 on a ten scale, and it has been used by paddlers from around the world, from the Sea of Japan, England, the Sea of Cortez, Holland, the Canary Islands, an ocean expedition off of Norway, and more. So, I decided on the 54-inch Cruiser, in yellow to match Ibi, and now it’s a race to see if it gets here before I leave for the Missouri River.

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