Travels with Paddles

a sea kayaking journal

Axel Schoevers (Photo: A. de Krook) Name:
Axel Schoevers
Rijswijk, Zuid-Holland, Netherlands

Wednesday, February 02, 2011

From a Sea Down Under

It is almost a month ago that Ginni and I arrived in Australia. So much experiences to share from this (for me) other part of the world. Is it about the pro's and con's of rudders versus skegs; a frequently asked question? The 'cultural' differences in sea kayaking. The similarities, the differences, the 'local' variations and adaptations. The stories of the committing crossings of Bass Strait (east, west, middle), challenging West Coast Tassie, Big Ocean Swells, frequent 30-40 knot winds and 30 knot afternoon sea breezes.

This all in a climatically very unstable year for Australia and Tasmania, with massive floodings in Queensland and even Tasmania! The 'La Niña' cycle is taking it's cause. Australia is VERY BIG, the TV news is as close as it got to us, while Summer in Tasmania has yet to begin.

The first three weeks Ginni and I spent in Tasmania where Geoff lent me his Explorer and Alaw Bach to have familiar kayaks to paddle in. Ginni used a Valley Atlantic. So we found ourselves not only on an Island (Tassie) but also in a very isolated patch of British design kayaks. Short (too short) hops in the Mirage sea kayak and the classic self-built glass-fibre Tassie 'Greenlander' kayak, both designed to go long distances, fast and straight-tracking, often powered by wing paddles and another addition... Differences in sea kayaking environment and paddling preferences and habits lead to different kayak designs. During our stay Ginni and I were 'drawn into' help building a website for Lyn for the Cambodian Children's Trust Challenge.

It can be very windy out here and it is the wind that the kayakers have learned to use in their favor: kayak sailing... It got me right into a 'controversy', where Geoff's sail (on top of that on a skegged kayak!) is considered a 'Victoria Sail' and not a true 'Tassi Sail'... But WOW!! what an experience, even a (kayak) life changing experience...

Mick MacRobb of Flat Earth Kayak Sails from Australia makes a sailing rig that is mounted up-front the deck and that in no way limits (my) normal/performance forward paddling and stern rudders. The sail was reviewed by Douglas Wilcox in issue 22 of Ocean Paddler Magazine and that article didn't mention or even hint towards the, for me, most rewarding part of the sailing: tracking by edging!

Cruising effortless at four knots in a 15 knot quartering tailwind, catching and overtaking surfing waves and changing direction by just applying edge and trim (body position / skeg) ! And a wide range of wind directions to work with. My first experience ever with sailing, and it is a good one. My sailing vocabulary might need more work than the kayak sailing itself. This is fun! Within a minute after raising the sail up for the wind to catch it!

The USA distributor for Flat Earth Sails is Columbia River Kayaking. For the Netherlands it is Zeekajak.NL working through the European distributor Kari-Tek. You probably want to try it yourself first. When I am back in the Netherlands, my Explorer will be fitted with the sail. And more developments are on their way. For the US, keep an eye out for the symposium traveling schedule of Ginni Callahan to have a sailing opportunity near you.

And now I hope I will not be 'outcasted' by the Dutch sea kayaking scene from 'jumping ship' to the 'other side' (Sailing). Ginni words it as "Kayak Sails for Paddlers"; it adds a dimension to it and not take anything away.

Next stop is Melbourne, home of the Victory Sea Kayak Club, home of the 'Victoria Sail' and home of the Nadgee Sea Kayak.


Ad Moerman said...

leuk zo'n zeiltje voor erbij. misschien nog even wennen bij het rollen.

Axel said...

Elk voordeel heb zijn nadeel... In ieder geval heeft de wind er zo minder vat op :-)

Douglas Wilcox said...

Greetings Axel,

I am delighted to see you have discovered kayak sailing with a proper sail. I wrote the Ocean Paddler article and I specifically did not mention steering by edging for a very good reason.

Since 1959, I have sailed everything from 38foot ocean going yachts to performance dinghies (Lasers, Laser 5000s), cats (Dart 18s) and windsurfers. When sailing any craft you want to keep the airflow running from the front of the sail (luff) to the back (leach). As soon as you lean a kayak downwind (to leeward) the airflow is disrupted and starts to run up the sail as in your photo under the video. If you lean into the wind (to windward) the wind tries to run down the sail and escape from the bottom. It takes a while for the proper airflow to reestablish and in doing so the centre of effort in the sail is moving all over the place, further upsetting your trim and where you want to go!

Every time you edge (or lean) you will loose speed as you have stalled the airflow, (just as a plane stalls if it tries to climb too steeply or fly too slowly).

So in sailing, you want to keep the rig upright as possible and steady as possible to keep the wind flowing as freely as possible. You steer a course by a combination of sheeting angle and skeg. You start with the right sheeting angle, which generally means that you let the sail out as far as possible without allowing the wind to get round the leeward side of the luff. If you sheet out more than this, the centre of effort will move aft in the sail, if you sheet in more than this the centre of effort will move forward, altering the balance between skeg and sail trim.

If wanting to sail with the wind about 90 degrees to direction of travel, you trim the sail then adjust the direction of sailing by moving the skeg up, if the bow of the kayak wants to go down wind, or down if the nose of the kayak wants to go up wind.

With practice you can even sail the flat earth rig upwind at about 45 degrees off from where the wind is blowing from. You can only do this if you keep the kayak upright. As soon as you edge, it you will stall the sail and lose speed and you will need to paddle off the wind to get going again.

I know that short video is not representative of your whole day but in just over a minute you have done more stern rudders than I might do in a 10km force 4 crossing! When the sail is correctly set and trimmed it makes the kayak more directionally stable even in waves. It's all about balance and I think you are still thinking as a kayaker rather than as a kayak sailor!
Every stern rudder will slow you down, so its much better to get the sail/skeg trim right in the first place.

I have the sail fitted to a Nordkapp LV, which as you know responds very well to small amounts of edging. In rough water, down wind in waves, yes, I still will use edging and stern rudders, but there I am also using the power of the waves. However, I will use only a minimum of edge, to keep the sail steady with good airflow.

I also have an Alaw Bach (with a skeg) which I have fitted the sail to. The Alaw Bach edges superbly when kayaking but when sailing it needs much more edge angle than the Nordkapp LV for a given alteration in direction. This upsets the sail flow more and slows it down. For this reason, I prefer sailing the Nordkapp LV to the Alaw Bach.

Happy kayak sailing!

Douglas :o)

Ad Moerman said...

wat gaat zo'n zeiltje kosten, ik heb immers ook een nordkapp lv.

Axel said...

Hi Douglas,

My previous sailing experience is 'zero' and as noted in my post, my sailing vocabulary very limited ;-))

Thanks for clearing-up my edging experience. What I did find was that after a basic setting of the skeg I did all the 'micro adjustments' by edging, not touching the skeg slider at all. While not 'active' paddling, I was still very engaged in the activity and that was fun.

Especially when surfing down a wave, and while running multiple waves, I could correct the course (prevent broaching) by applying edge and forward lean. Just as I would do when surfing or paddling a following sea. In this case with the sail most of the time without stern rudders.

The wind on the video day was rather weak and not sustained, so I had to do a lot of forward paddling as well to enable Ginni to make some shots. And doing stern rudders without worries about hitting the mast. And maybe in these winds the edging did not affect it too negatively as otherwise.

The more speed the kayak goes (sailing) the natural weather cocking effect will turn the kayak upwind. Edging, in your explanation, will slow down the kayak and turn it downwind again, helped by the changing of the hull shape in the water. Thus edging is then not the most efficient way to 'micro adjust' the course (loosing speed).

I have to get more experience though, different wind directions, different wind strength. So lots of new things to learn. And as I wrote, seems that I do not have to 'unlearn' things. Or should I 'unlearn' edging ;-)) I will extensively try this all out when I have my sail fitted. And figure-out how to 'unrig-and-roll' with it. And maybe someday I might become a true sailor.

Thanks for your very comprehensive explanation.

gnarlydog said...

Axel, welcome to sea kayak sailing.
After designing a few of my own rigs for my kayaks I tried Flat Earth sails. There is difference between my sails and his. FEKS sail more efficiently than mine and propel the kayak faster than my (larger) sails.
I was not aware that edging would upset the air flow that much to slow down the kayak, but I don't have a vast sailing background like Douglas. However edging is an effective way to change direction without having to touch the paddle or skeg. Some of my kayaks edge better then others (the harder the chine the more efficient the edging).
While in the past a windy day would spoil a good paddling opportunity, these days I look forward to some wind, as long as I have my sail with me.
Have fun sailing and report back in a few months time.

Canoe Sailor said...

I'm very interested in the red sail in the picture. I have a Flat earth sail but have never seen one of those other sails. Can you tell me where I can learn more about it?

Axel said...

I am not sure where you saw the red sail. A few of the Tassie pictures in the slide show (red sails) are not Flat Earth Kayak Sails, but so called 'tension sails' that some paddlers in Tassie use. They need to be operated from close to the cockpit. The advantage of 'tension sails' is that they can be sailed higher into the wind. Disadvantage is the proximity to the cockpit that limits efficient forward paddling and stern rudders while the sail is up.