The number of sea kayakers paddle sailing in British waters,
particularly with Flat Earth Kayak Sails, has increased to the extent that
designer Mick MacRobb chose Scotland for the World launch of his latest design!
It is called the Trade Wind 80 sail and has a new cut and a new trilaminate Grand
Design and construction
The Trade Wind is available in 100, 80 and 70 sizes corresponding to 1.0, 0.8 and 0.7 sqm. the sails tested were 0.8sqm
in area. This is the most popular size as it has the widest wind range.
The new Trade Wind 80 (red) overlying the previous Code Zero 0.8 (blue), mast tip to mast tip. Note the shorter luff of the Trade Wind 80.
The previous Code Zero 0.8 overlying the new Trade Wind 80. Note the greater roach of the Trade Wind 80.
Trade Wind 80 on the left, Code Zero 0.8 on the right.
with the previous Code Zero sail, the Trade Wind 80 has a slightly shorter luff and has more
sail area in the head and roach (upper rear). The outline is similar to
the current P&H version of the Code Zero but the material is different.
The new Grand Prix sail cloth is a mylar/scrim/mylar trilaminate. The scrim is
made up of carbon and kevlar yarns so it is very resistant to stretching or
tearing. This type of trilaminate material is very tough and resistant to UV and
has been long used on windsurfer wave sails and they take a real thrashing. The
previous Code Zero cloth is great when new. It is a thinner, lighter mylar/dacron
bilaminate but it tends to soften with repeat folding and this may be why the
leaches of some older Code Zero sails "motor" or flutter in stronger
winds. I suspect this will not be an issue with the Grand Prix cloth. It is
partially see through.
There is no window option on the Trade Wind 80 sail but the shorter luff on the standard mast means you get a reasonable view to the horizon. The boom of the new sail sits higher on the standard mast than previous sails. This gives all round vision under the sail. You could cut the mast top down and lower the sail but I am not going to do that. I like the sail up higher as the wind gets slower and more turbulent the closer down it is to the surface of the sea.
Trade Wind 80 on the left P&H branded Code Zero 80 on the right.
Recent Code Zero 0.8 and
all P&H branded Code Zero sails have no windows. The window only gives a view of the sky anyway.
1st generation Flat Earth sail in the foreground showing a large degree of twist. (2nd generation FEKS in the background.)
The Trade Wind 80 is the fourth generation of the Flat Earth
sails that has been available in Europe. It has less twist than previous
generations of Flat Earth sails, particularly the first and second generation dacron
sails. The twist made the early sails forgiving in gusts but due to the head
twisting off , the boom needed to be kept sheeted in a bit when sailing
downwind to prevent the roach of the sail moving forward of the mast and
spilling wind. The new sail can be sheeted out more on the run making it more
With less twist, the new sail is indeed a bit more unforgiving and as
Mick MacRobb says "aggressive" than the original sails but will
retain more power before auto spilling the wind. When the Trade Wind 80 is
sheeted in a little further in a reach position I think the fullness low down looks
a little further back than in the previous Code Zero which will make it a
little more powerful for its size especially on a broad reach. When sheeted
right in on a beat the head of the sail is flatter than previous versions but
there is still plenty fullness low down. As a windsurfer, I have always liked
using sails with a deep belly, a flat head and a roach with controlled twist for
their wide wind range. As a sea kayaker, I like this style even more. I think
Mick has really nailed it with this particular cut!
The batten, boom and gooseneck fitting are unchanged from previous generations of the sail. Also unchanged is the neat and expert way the sail has been cut, assembled and sewn.
On the water
Phil Toman and I received preview Trade Wind 80 sails in April 2015. Ian Johnstone then bought one of the first production sails and from then until November 2015 we have covered over 900km between us using the Tradewind 80 sail. We have used them extensively with unloaded P&H Quest, Delpin, Aries (with
forward fin) Cetus MV and Valley Nordkapp LV kayaks. The Quest and Cetus MVs have also been tested with the sail when fully loaded on camping trips. We were
able to test the sails side by side with all three previous generations of FEKS
on identical P&H Aries and Cetus MV kayaks. Test conditions varied from
force 2 to force 4 on exposed (quite rough) water and force 5-6 on sheltered
(pretty flat) water with a fetch of 15km. The sails have been tested in the
tidal waters of the Sound of Jura and the Solway Firth, in exposed waters at
the mouth of the Firth of Clyde, in more sheltered water among the islands of
the Firth of Clyde and...
...along the exposed North Sea coast between Lunan Bay and Arbroath.
Hopefully these GPs tracks will give some idea of the thoroughness of testing. Each of these loops from summer 2015 is from an 11km circuit of the Isles of Fleet.
After the sail arrived I wasted no time in getting it out
onto the water on my P&H Delphin. The wind was very gusty offshore in a
sheltered bay from F2 to the bottom of F5. The sea was flat. On all points of
sail the sail set with a noticeable lack of wrinkles. When launching the sail,
it goes up with a satisfying wumph! One thing to note is that the top batten is
now longer than the mast. When launching in stronger winds I like to hold the
sail by the tip of the mast for a few seconds and allow the sail to blow free
before pulling the uphaul to fully hoist the sail. This checks that I have not
folded the sheet right round the sail when I previously furled it. Initially I
found myself holding the top batten rather than the mast but I have since
learned to go for the shorter mast. The sail has less twist and so is indeed a
little less forgiving when you launch it on a broad reach than the original all
dacron version. Code Zero FEKS sail users will probably not
notice much difference though. The very gusty winds were a good test for me (a
relatively experienced paddle sailor) to see how a newcomer might find the sail
in steadier, lighter conditions. Well it was no trouble at all. I liked
everything about it, launching, tacking upwind, on a reach, running, gybing and
furling. There were no scary moments even in the most sudden gusts. In the
strongest winds there was not a hint of the leech "motoring".
This sail proved very controllable and powerful downwind in stronger winds.
In winds at the top of F4 it gives the extra power to your paddling to overtake
the wave in front then climb over it and chase the next wave.
The GPS showed my
maximum speed hit 22.9km/hr when paddle sailing the Aries hard in a F4 with
following sea and I was frequently hitting over 20km/hr when planing on a wave.
The cut and heavier cloth give the Trade Wind 80 sail a very stable feel downwind.
When you drop off the plane you slow down and the apparent wind increases (you
should paddle hard at this point to maintain speed and reduce the load on the
rig). In the older dacron sails if you suddenly slowed, the leech would
suddenly twist off spilling wind but this moved the centre of effort and made
the sail feel a little unstable. This sail continues to pull hard when you
decelerate but in no way does it feel unstable. My one reservation for someone
upgrading from a dacron sail is that undoubtedly the stays will be transmitting
more force to the hull, especially if you are loaded with expedition gear.
may wish to reconsider your existing stay anchors. I now use two side stays and
two back stays, all anchors are bolted through the kayak seam.
Many kayakers will not bother to use their sails upwind but it is worth the
effort learning how to do so. The Grand Prix sail material is stiffer than the
original dacron material and it is a little more difficult to judge how high to
the wind you can paddle sail without luffing (back winding) the sail. The
softer dacron sails definitely showed the when the leading edge back winded at
an earlier stage. I was not bothered by this but if beginners are particularly
concerned about beating performance (rather than just blasting downwind having
fun) they could thread a wool tell tale through the luff of the sail about half
way up and in front of the batten. The tell tale should blow horizontal sailing
close as possible to the wind but if you point too high into the wind it will
start to move vertically. Swapping between two Aries kayaks, one with the Code
Zero and one with the Trade Wind 80, the experienced paddler found it easier to
out point the other paddler when using the Trade Wind 80 upwind in a F3-F4.
However, down wind there was little difference in speed between the two sails.
Interestingly the flat area behind and above the batten often appeared to be
back winding when close hauled but the full part of the sail below the batten
continued to pull strongly.
Close reaching round a headland in a F4 wind.
One thing I did notice about the new sail is I find
it easier to control upwind in stronger winds. It feels much more stable than
the previous dacron versions of the sail. Although they may be softer and more
forgiving, they lack the feeling of stability and power of this new sail. I
think the Trade Wind 80 sail's very solid feel is due to its centre of effort
being much more static. Basically I like the feel of Trade Wind 80 a very great
deal when going upwind. It also proved particularly effective upwind in
combination with the Aries using a forward fin.
Use when fully loaded
Paddling sailing fully loaded on expedition is very rewarding especially with a
favourable wind at the end of the day. However, the kayak will not accelerate
so quickly in the gusts and unless you are lucky with the waves it will be more difficult to get it planing. This means you will be travelling slower and when
you are paddling downwind the apparent wind will be greater with greater forces
acting on the rig. This is another situation where it is important to continue
to paddle hard to reduce the pressure on the rig. This is also why I think the
0.8 sqm sail is more suitable for all-round paddle sailing including expedition
use than the 1.0sqm sail.
We were recently paddling south down the West Kyle of
Bute when a "securite" strong north wind warning was broadcast on the
VHF. In the relative shelter, the water was flat but the squalls were coming
through the mountains at F5-F6 from various angles. All the yachts dropped
their sails and motored home under bare poles. We carried on paddle sailing on
a very broad reach. We were in identical Cetus MVs loaded with supplies for 5
nights camping. I had a Trade Wind 80 and Mike had a Code Zero 0.8. In these
extreme conditions there was a lot of load on the rigs and I think I had an
easier time controlling the Trade Wind 80 than Mike did with the Code Zero.
days later we enjoyed a more moderate F3 to F4 downwind blast of 30km across
open waters of the Sound of Bute and it was more difficult to differentiate
between the two sails' performance and handling.
FEKS 0.8 gen 2, Code Zero 0.8 gen 3 and Trade Wind 80 gen 4.
Wear and tear
At the end of this test there was no sign of wear, cracking or delamination
in the three sails on test.
I like what Mick MacRobb has called the "slightly more
aggressive" nature of the Trade Wind 80 sail. I felt more of the gust was
being transformed into forward drive rather than spilling out off the roach as
the sail twisted. The defining characteristic of the Trade Wind 80 is a very
stable centre of effort. This makes paddle sailing at the top of your ability and
conditions range a joy! This is steady evolution, it certainly won't make your
Code Zero or P&H FEKS sail redundant. However, if you have one of the
original all dacron (or dacron with mylar reinforcement on the leech) Flat
Earth sails, then changing to the Trade Wind 80 would make a significant and
noticeable upgrade. You could always sell your old dacron sail to a newcomer to
paddle sailing, who might not yet be ready to invest in a new sail and who
would appreciate the older sail's softer feel in lighter winds. If you are new
to paddle sailing do not be put off by the high tech appearance of the Trade Wind
80, it is actually very easy to handle, especially in the lighter winds you
should get to know it in. If you already have a Code Zero or P&H FEKS, the
incremental improvement is probably not worth an upgrade at this time, unless
you just MUST have all the latest kit! The biggest difference in performance is
in winds that will probably be at the top of most people's comfort zones anyway
but it also excels if you like going upwind in F4 winds. I cannot think of a
better day or expedition sail for paddle sailing in all weathers, summer and
In Europe, the FEKS
Trade Wind 80 is available from
. Price in the first batch is the same as the outgoing Code Zero i.e.
£198 (exc. mast and fittings) then subsequent deliveries will be £218. If you
are in the Southern Hemisphere keep an eye on the Expedition Kayaks
web site as
they are main distributor in the FEKS's native Australia.
Conflict of interest
Phil and I have been using free loan sails that remain the property of Flat
Earth Kayak Sails, the only cost to us was the postage from Australia. I have
however, bought three other FEKS sails at full price. Neither Phil nor I have
any financial interest in FEKS. Ian bought his sail for full price.