Choosing the Right Sails for your Kayak

Most have more than one paddle and I predict many sailors will have more than one sail. Consider what type of sailing you are going to do.  Are you going to fly in set up your rig on rented boats?  In that case an easy to install system is very important.  Are you going to take your sail on long distance expeditions far from civilization? If so you’ll want the most simple robust and easy to repair system.  Are the winds steady where you sail or variable so you’ll want a reefing sail?  A beginning sailor will most enjoy a simple system that is easy to use.  An experienced sailor will enjoy a system that allows him to adjust every aspect of the sail for maximum performance. 

Sail size plays a big role in enjoyment.  Most kayak sailors use a sail of one meter square or slightly less.  WaterTribe races put sails of one meter or less in the same category as all regular sea kayaks as they have decided a one meter rig is basic gear for expedition cruising when 50 miles a day is the required distance.  Beginning sailors with sea kayaks less than 24 inches wide should begin with a sail no larger than one meter square.  When the wind is gusting just up to a fresh breeze of 15 knots or so even balancing the small sail can be difficult.

If you are learning to sail in the summer when the water is warm and the winds are light a sail of 1.5 meters square might be great.  If you really have light winds in your area or you just want to go as fast as possible in a sea kayak 2 meters of sail can be a lot of fun.   If you are paddling a heavily loaded tandem, then a single 2 meter sail can make the miles go by while one of you rests, sleeps or does other boat chores.

The ACA standard canoe sailing rig is a 44 square foot (4 meter) lateen sail.  This has been the ideal summer rig for standard open canoes for over 100 years.  Canoe sailing was much more popular in the past.  Four meters is a lot of sail for a kayak.  Even a 28 inch wide rec boat is quite a bit less stable than a typical 36 inch wide canoe.  A canoe has room to shift all of your weight to one side of the centerline.  In a kayak the entire seat is 14 to 16 inches wide so there is no room to shift to the side to balance the rig.  

You would need to sit on the back deck and be ready to move quickly to balance a 4 meter sail. If you want to get wet this summer try out a big sail. For practical purposes that involve more than just sailing back and forth on the lake, I never use more than 3 meter of sail. And quite often I’m doing this kind of sailing in the worlds most comfortable small cruiser the 28 inch wide Wilderness Systems Tarpon.

One of the best ways to have more sail area is to have more sails.  If you are just starting out and you get the least expensive and smallest Flat Earth Kayak Sail to learn, you will be able to add a larger sail next summer when the winds are light and your skills are better.  This system will easily fit inside your boat and you’ll be able to increase your daily mileage on most trips in winds from 5 to 35.  In the lowest winds you can put the large sail in front and the small behind you. As the wind increases you’ll want to have it set up so you can drop the small sail and stow it on the deck without going ashore.  As the wind increases further, you might drop the large sail and raise the smaller sail.  

With most sail boats the second sail is a jib and it is easy enough to add one to most kayak sailing rigs.  If your kayak is a downwind boat without a lee board or centerboard, you might be best serve by adding a spinnaker.  Spinnakers can add a lot of sail area but they are not the most stable of sails.  If you spend time watching racing you’ll see that spinnaker handling offers the best chance for viewing sail crashes and dramatic changes in the race positions. So spinnakers are best for light winds, wide awake crews, and sailing for sailings sake.

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