24 March 2009

SHOP: DIY sea kayak sail

clear water sailing (c)
SEA KAYAK SAILby Damiano Visocnik © 2008

My first sea kayak (used) came with a sail.
I loved the thing. My background is windsurfing therefore using the wind was obvious.
The sea kayak had a step mast sail rig that I soon found out had several limitations over a windsurfer.
I realized that I will not be able to use as much wind as I used to on the windsurfer: the kayak lacks a dagger board and unfortunately drifts sideways a fair bit.
The rudder would prevent some drift and would give me some directional steering.
My step mast set up was however preventing me from paddling while I would sail: the boom was too low and close to me.
Never satisfied with a commercially available product (that's my motto), I set to design and fabricate my own sailing rigs.
After 8 sails and a few modifications I am getting closer to what I can be happy with.

A sail must be:
a) light
b) easy to deploy and store
c) sturdy enough to take a stiff breeze (desirably around a max of 35 knots)
d) allow me to paddle when under sail.

The original design inspiration came from Sea Mongrel’s sail on his Polar Bear kayak.
In my opinion that sail could be improved in a few areas and therefore I set out to redesign it.

I started off with a mast and boom made from 16mm Ø aluminium tubing.
The tubing can be purchased from most hardware stores.

(MAY2008: After extensive research I discovered that generic aluminium from the hardware store is not good enough. A 6000 series alloy possibly anodised would be the preferred material.)I reinforced the tubing with a core of timber dowel. Unfortunately the mast would still bend under winds of above of 25 knots.
The second generation mast was made from thin walled stainless steel. I am not sure if this mast was any stronger but it still bent at 35 knots wind.
I am now using a custom made carbon fibre mast that has a thick wall.
Ready made fibreglass tubes are available from CG Composites.

The mast has an anchor point for the stays (rope/cables that hold the mast in position) at about 2/3 of the way. The anchor point is a stainless steel welded ring that is attached to the mast with a small shaped strap of stainless steel (alternatively a strong nylon strap will do). Drill the mast and pop rivet the strap into place.

The base of the mast is anchored to the front of the kayak very close to the bow. I found that this position neutralises weathercocking and the kayak could be sailed in any wind direction even with just a skegged kayak (a step mast rig requires ample use of the rudder).

The deck of the kayak must be most times reinforced.
Most kayaks have a relatively flexible deck and are not designed to be loaded with the force of a sail.
If the deck is peaked (not flat) then sometimes is possible to forego the reinforcement.
I prefer to have a very sturdy set up that won’t give me grief down the road… err, sea (?)
If the deck is very light I prefer to reinforce mine with a couple of layers of woven fibreglass (or carbon) and epoxy.
I usually create a ridge (with PVC tube cut in half, foam core material or half moon dowel, slotted) contoured to the shape of the under deck.
I use a heat gun to make the PVC soft and place it hard against the kayak to give it the desired shape. For the foam core or dowel I just slot them and shape to suit the undeck.
I place the woven fibreglass cloth with the resin already infused and drape it over the ridge.
The kayak is hanging belly up (hull side up) and I work through the tight confinement of the front hatch opening. Be prepared to get your hands dirty.

The mast is typically attached to the kayak with a tiller extension device.The device allows easy attachment and removal of the sail kit.

A ) Ronstan makes a stainless steel model that is sturdy enough for the loads that the wind generates on the mast base.

The base must allow the mast to be lowered and stored on the deck of the kayak while remaining attached to the kayak.
The base must also rotate on its axis to allow the mast to swing left to right according to boom position when trimming a sail (if boom is fixed on mast).
What the Ronstan stainless steel tiller extension unit does not allow though, is vertical side to side movement. Potentially this could cause some problems.
(PS MAY08: in high winds there is the chance to crack the deck when lowering the mast sideways)
B ) Alternatively a tiller extension that uses a polymer (rubber) knuckle can be used. Although promising, I am still testing the effects of side loads on the unit. (PS SEP08: after several months of testing this version is now the preferred one)

Base in epoxy resin and carbon fibre to spread the vertical load that is exerted onto the deck

C ) A third version of the mast foot can be made from the Ronstan tiller extension above (RF1127), a saddle and a D-shackle as base on deck.

I like this last version since it allows vertical and lateral movements of the mast.
Deploying and taking down the sail while at sea can create at times side loads that the standard tiller extension base (RF1127) transfers to the deck of the kayak.

(MAY 2008: THIS VERSION IS CURRENTLY UNDER REVIEW; some odd side loading issues with hardware)
The boom is attached to the mast with a Ronstan tiller extension. The base of the tiller extension (rotating knuckle) should be welded and attached to the mast with 4mm bolts.
The mast should be reinforced here since most of the wind load will be exerted to this spot.
A sleeve or internal reinforcement (dowel) is recommended.

The alternative is a canopy fitting but this will not allow the use a tubular boom.
A boom made from a fibreglass batten (canopy fitting) is in my opinion too weak. I have seen several fail.
In version B) and C) the mast does not rotate on its axis and the boom must be attached to the mast via a collar that will freely spin around the mast.
I have been unable to find such fitting (for a tubular boom) and I had to fabricate my own one out of a stainless steel strip.
At the top and bottom of the collar you can install a sleeve that keeps the boom in the correct position and prevents it from sliding up or down the mast.

collar for boom on mast

The mast and the boom must be controlled from the cockpit of the kayak.
You have to be able to deploy the sail while paddling and be able to trim the sail for various wind direction.

The mast is hoisted with a sheet (rope) that is attached from half way up the mast (forestay) to the front of the kayak, through a little pulley, and then back towards the cockpit.

The sheet is then held to the deck with a cleat or a cam cleat.

All cleats should be fastened to the deck close to the cockpit and be easily operated but should not interfere with paddling.
Make sure that your knuckles will not bump into the cleats!
All fittings should have a decent size washer under the deck, especially if the layup of your kayak is light.
Every kayak deck is different and the perfect position of the cleats will be determined by the user.
Use only 3-4 mm size cord since it is more then sufficient for the loads of the sail. Use a sheeted polyester cord that will offer a decent grip on the cleats or slippage will occur especially on the forestay cleat.

The rope that trims the boom (main sheet) will pass through a small pulley attached to the deck of the kayak with a little saddle. To secure the sheet into position, a cam cleat (RF5001) is better then an ordinary cleat since the boom might be adjusted frequently while sailing.

I have used stainless steel for my stays in the past but I found that the cable is too rough on the sail.
I prefer to use now 3mm Dyneema (Spectra) cord. The sheet is unbelievably strong (rated at 650 Kg) and very easy to work with.
The anchor points for the stays are two stainless steel saddles bolted to the reinforced deck of the kayak. Large washers are used under the deck and nylock nuts to prevent unwanted loosening of the fittings.
On some kayaks you can use the fitting that attaches the perimeter line as stay anchors (image below)
A D-shackle (with a wing (flared) pin end will allow install and removal without tools) connects the stay to the saddle.

7 ) SAIL
The sail design itself is obviously the most important element.
The sail should not be too large or it might be overwhelming in high winds.
The whole rig, when folded on the deck, should not intrude over the cockpit area.
The top of the mast should be somewhere in the vicinity of the front of the coaming.
When specifying the length of the mast, boom and battens it is best if all 3 end up being the same length when folded on deck.
The mast will need to be slightly longer while the boom and batten should be of the same length.
The sail has a sleeve where the mast slips into.
A small cut off is needed where the stays are attached to (halfway up the mast).
A clear PVC window is desirable to allow you to view ahead of you when sailing.
The sail should have a slanted boom to create enough clearance for paddling or you will be hitting the boom when paddling.

sail for a mast of 1400 mm

sail for a mast of 1350 mm

The sail is not of my manufacture since it is a science and an art to create an efficient sail.
The sail must be shaped correctly to have enough draft and “catch” the wind.
Since I have very little knowledge in sail making, I have not bothered sourcing the materials and sew the sail myself.
Mick MacRobb from Flat Earth Kayak Sails (http://www.flatearthkayaksails.com/) is my current sail maker.
He can sew just the sail or he makes complete sails with all the necessary hardware.
Admittedly not everybody wants to spend the time (and has the knowldge) to make the hardware for the sail.
Mick's complete sails are ready to install often requiring little more than a cordless drill.

JUL 2012: Updates on the sail set up here
- I have used all Ronstan fittings references because they are available locally. I am sure that other fittings of similar description are quite suitable for the job.
- Pacific Composites from Coopers Plains in Queensland, Australia have fabricated the carbon fibre tubes of the desired specifications.
- Despite my best efforts to engineer the sail rig and specifying my findings in this document I assume no responsibility if anyone replicates my design. It is the sole responsibility of the user to make sure he/she is totally satisfied with the design before they set out to the seven seas.

sailing to Peel (c)
Flat Earth Kayak Sail on left, my design on right
Van sailing Fraser (c)
For more images of sails used in the field (or should that be sea :-) check http://www.flickr.com/photos/gnarlydog/sets/72157600524255302/

Damiano Visocnik

10 March 2009

Customer service and loyalty

I often wonder why people are loyal to a brand or product.
What is it that makes them support a brand large or small?
Why would anybody praise a product?

I do understand a sponsored individual that has been paid to endorse or use a particular brand but why would an individual that has parted his/her hard earned cash to actually purchase a product than go about advertising for the company for free?
I am probably just as guilty as a lot of folk out there.
I label my products, I let people know what I use and often defend the brand if somebody seems to be rubbishing it publicly.

So why am I driven to do so?
Maybe because I am insecure and I want to convince myself that my choice was the right one and I want others to know that I have not done a mistake?
Maybe because I want to boast that I can afford those items and make myself feel superior in owning them?
Or is it something more profound that is deep in our complex human behavior?...

I took stock of the brands that I believe in and that I have been endorsing.
There are several but certainly not all.
I have a lot of gear. Really, a lot.
Accumulated throughout the years of backpacking, mountain biking and now sea kayaking I have used a lot of products.
I have also tested products and consulted to outdoor gear manufacturers in the past but those are not the companies that necessarily I am loyal to.
So why am I fond of some products and not others?
I guess it does come down to the actual use and the satisfaction of when a product performs well.
Sure, we all like to let our peers know that we have found something that is good.

But it is not always that, it is not always the products that work for us.
It's often for products that did not work out the way we expected.
What? are you nuts?
Let me explain.
After decades of using products it is just a matter of time to come across products that don't work or just fail.
Sometimes is a single unit that had a manufacturing glitch, sometimes is a design flaw for a product that was not tested well enough and released onto the market prematurely.

The fundamental thing is: what was the experience of the after sale customer service?
Yes, that's it.

I am usually a loyal endorser of a brand when the company producing the faulty item has come good when things went wrong.
Things go wrong, stuff brakes and things jam and fail.
Often is user error, sometimes is accident but occasionally there really is a fault in the product.

Brian Towell
User error: smashed by huge wave. Werner replaced paddle at cost.

And while some would just say: "this is rubbish, I will never buy it again..." , I believe in warranties.
I usually buy high end products and with it's high price tag I expect a solid warranty.
So when my bike gear, backpack or kayak related item fails (not by accident) I contact the retailer that I purchased it from.
The results are mixed: some retailers are very reasonable and when presented with a genuine warranty claim they will honor it.
Some other retailers are not so good and try to shoe you off to the manufacturer or importer directly.
They just don't want the hassle; after all there is nothing in for them.
But that's where they are wrong.

I personally resent doing business with retailers that will not help you in case of a faulty product that they have sold you.
Admittedly dealing directly with the manufacturer could be faster and better, but that's for me to decide.
So, when I had a positive experience with customer service (and it has not always been about stuff that broke, often is just advice/clarifications) I will undoubtedly praise their products.
Somehow if feels like that a personal relationship has been established with the manufacturer and knowing that they were there for you when I needed them has earned them my trust.

There are currently several retailers and manufacturers that I deal with that understand this subtle psychological factor.
Build a trust with your customer.
And while some operators are fly-by-night affairs others are in for the long run.
A word of advice to the outdoor industry:
look after your customer when he has a problem and you will build a long lasting commercial relationship that most certainly will go beyond that initial sale you have generated.
After all most of us have mates and we tend to tell each other our bad or good experiences.
More so in the outdoors: it's a small world...

04 March 2009

SHOP: sea kayak paddle park

After reading about some arguments that spare paddles on a sea kayak should be accessible to the paddler while seated in the cockpit I reconsidered my current location of having my paddles strapped to the deck towards the stern of my kayaks.
The paddles were rather secure and have never come off even in the surf but they are not as easily accessible as being in front of me.
The standard configuration of the bungee cords on my kayaks would allow the paddles to be secured on the foredeck however assistance would be needed to reposition them in the event they would be removed while under way, paddling.
The bungee cords don't allow a shaft of a split paddle to be reinserted from the cockpit position.

I have come across some images of custom "paddle parks" of kayaks in the UK but I have never seen such accessories for sale.
Having a closer look at the images I realized that really does not take a rocket scientist to fabricate one of those "exhaust pipes".

A few simple supplies from the local hardware store and an hour later I had my paddle parks ready to install on the deck of my kayak.
I used: 40 mm Ø PVC plumbing tube with 90° elbows glued and cut to lenght.
A can of spray flat black paint to make them look good.
Some holes drilled at the base of the tubes are needed for attaching the tubes to the deck bungees. The exact location will depend on the kayak's bungee configuration.

spare split paddle on the foredeck of a SeaBird Designs NorthSea

While looking at images of spare paddle locations I also came across a design where the paddles were kept secure via "tubes" made of fabric.
That idea appealed to me even more than the hard PVC tubes and after a brief design session I came up with this.

The fabric was sourced from a sail making shop (but any heavy duty nylon would probably be OK). The entrance to the tubes is oversized so it's easy to insert the shaft of the paddle while seated in the cockpit. The tubes taper so eventually pinch the paddle shaft and keep the paddle secure.
The soft paddle park has webbing tabs on the edges for securing it to the perimeter lines of the kayak.
I even used some retroreflective fabric for enhanced visibility at night.
Only a long term test on the water will show the pros and cons of the two systems.
Since every kayak deck has different bungees configuration and a different width an exact drawing with dimension is not useful.

Version 3.0 (APR09) allows adjustment for different deck types.
A similar commercially available product appears to be much larger and possibly not as streamlined. Obviously a commercial product has to accommodate for so many different kayak deck styles and some compromise had to be reached.

PS 21JUN: On Douglas Wilcox's blog, Seakayakphoto, I came across a simpler solution than the "exhaust pipes". Doug has used tubes that are attached directly to the perimeter lines

photo: Douglas Wilcox_used with permission
(full rez image here)
He assured me that the paddle shafts don't catch in the waves and that they stay put on deck.

alternative tubes: fishing rod holders (from NSWSKC member)