Monday, September 26, 2011

Is it worth tacking upwind with a Flat Earth Kayak Sail?

 There was a 12 knot headwind blowing directly from our destination the Heads of Ayr.
I decided to try and tack upwind to see if it would be quicker than just putting my head down and paddling straight for the Heads of Ayr.
At first I tacked upwind while both paddling and sailing. I covered 1600m over the ground but only 600m upwind in 15.28mins. The over ground speed was 6.3km/hr but the upwind speed was only 2.4km.
Next I dropped the sail and paddled directly upwind. I covered the next 600m in 6.72mins which meant the upwind speed was 5.4km/hr.
It was good to take a rest at Bracken Bay and work all this out. My conclusion is that it is not worth tacking up wind when kayak sailing but if you can lay your destination sailing closehauled it is worth kayak sailing. In this example the close hauled speed was 6.3km/hr and the paddling only upwind speed was 5.4km/hr.
Of course the downwind blast home was much more fun... maximum speed regularly went over 14km/hr with a max of 14.6

Yee Haa!


  1. Dear douglas,
    please tell me if your kayak was fitted with a keel, ruther or some sort of leeboard during your up wind sailing test. I'm considering buying a flat earth sail as well. I'm very curious about its performance. I may use my greenland peddle in a fixing point along side my kayak as a lee board. Maybe sailing upwind will go better this way. What are yo u r thoughts about this?
    Berend Schilder, the Netherlands

    1. Dear Berend it is good to hear from you. With regard to upwind performance, if you continue to paddle normally with the sail up, a long sea kayak such as the Cetus MV or Nordkapp LV will point to about 45 degrees to the wind which is pretty much what a dinghy will do. There is no need for a leeboard. Shorter kayaks liker the P&H Aries will point to about 55 degrees off the wind which is still pretty good but in 2014 P&H will be suppyling a forward skeg as an option on the Aries for paddle sailing. This will also allow the Aries to point about 45 degrees off the wind. Kari-Tek in Scotland sell kits to retrofit forward skegs but they take a fair bit of expertise with GRP as a DIY job.

      I think you will find you need neither lee board nor forward skeg to enjoy upwind paddle sailing in your kayak.
      Best wishes,
      Douglas :o)

  2. Thank you Douglas for responding so quickly. I'm excited to learn that 45 degrees is possible. I will order a flat earth to start with and see this summer what happens. Thank you again.

  3. You will need a leeboard to sail 45 of the wind . other wise you will be slipping sideways, my own experience confirms this , the leeboards will need to be at least 4% to5% of sail area

  4. Hello anon thank you for posting. If you do not paddle and rely on sail alone yes you either need a lee board or a forward fin like I have on my short aries sea kayak. 5% of 0.8sqm is 0.04sqm which is tiny compared with the paddle blade area. When you are paddle sailing (ie paddling and sailing) a full length kayak you can point to 45 degrees to the wind without leeboard or forward fin. It is a bit like motor sailing in a yacht as of course while you are paddling upwind you are generating apparent wind. :)

  5. Dear mr. Wilcox,
    I have been paddle sailing with a Flat Earth sail from Karitek (0.80) for a year now and would very much like your advice on a small problem. I noticed that sailing upwind at about 80 degrees or beyond, all power seems to disappear. The sail remains in good shape with very little back wind, but it just doesn't have any push. Even in wind gusts (force 4-5) it doesn't pull on the boat. As if I have no sail at all. On other courses the sail works just fine.
    I figure there are two options. One is that I have been using a traveler from the beginning. I noticed some improvement going upwind when the little pulley got stuck behind one end of the rubber sleeve around the traveler rope. This caused the sail to be pulled a little across the centerline of my Dawn Treader. More into the wind than usual. I kind of liked the feeling, imagening I did have just a little more power. So now I'm considering to do away with the traveler and run the sheet through the back stay ring in the middle of the deck. Are you not using a traveler for the same reason?

    The other possible cause of upwind slowing down may be due to the twist in the sail. I thought that for upwind sailing one would need to set the sail fairly straight. The spiral concept of the sail makes this almost impossible, maybe spilling wind over the roach even more while close hauling. Setting the sheet midway may help pulling the sail inward and more tight downward. What are your thoughts on this?

    The problem is not my boat. The Dawn Treader is a great sailing kayak with almost no drift thanks to the pronouced v-bottom. On a beam wind I can set course for a far away buy in a straight line, not do any steering or skegging and skim it on the up wind side by a few inches.
    Hope to hear from you,


    1. Hi Mike it is very good to hear that you are enjoying paddle sailing the Dawn Treader. You should be able to paddle sail it to at least 50 degrees off the wind. The key here is paddle sailing. You need to be continuously paddling to paddle sail upwind. Paddling effectively provides the same lift for the sail to drive against as a centreboard on a dinghy.

      I do use a traveller to go upwind better but I am talking about maybe going 45 degrees off the wind compared with 50 degrees. So I do not think that is the explanation of your problem. Yes the sail twists a lot but that is a great help going upwind in gusty conditions and even with the first generation FE sail which twists more than later versions I have found it goes upwind on a variety of kayaks at about 50 degrees to the wind when PADDLE sailing up wind. I hope that helps. Douglas :o)

  6. Thank you Douglas for you comment on the up wind question. Indeed I noticed going upwind works a lot better when paddling. I was just hoping to sit back and let the sail do the work while at a 45 degree course. It's not going to happen, that I must accept. I will use the traveler again and paddle away.