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jbarros 09-09-2009 04:20 PM

Building/modifying sailing kayak?

I used to have a small sloop I loved to death, but have since parted ways with. Since then I have been crewing on other peoples boats and kayaking. I'm just not ready to keep a "real" boat right now, from a financial or time perspective, but the idea of something I could cartop got me into kayaking, and now I just love it for it's own virtues, but I miss my channel islands, and I'm tired of hitching rides on crowded cattle boats to get over there. This winter my big project is going to be building a wooden ocean kayak from a kit by clc.

My end goal is to create a sailing kayak I can use to cross to the California Channel Islands and go play in the sea caves and rock gardens on the islands. This poses a number of interesting challenges. The crossing to Anacapa is only 12 miles, and I can use that as a jumping off point to some of the other islands, but realistically, I'm looking at 20+ miles of kayak sailing to get to where I'm going in most cases. Winds in the region move from < 5kts to > 20kts as the day progresses, almost daily, so the ability to reef or at least drop sail if need be is a must. The winds are coming straight from the islands I am aiming for, so pointing is a must.

The kayaks themselves are nigh unto bulletproof and handle themselves amazingly well. I know people who "simply" paddle out to the islands, but, while I do aspire to do that once or twice, it would be nice to be able to simply and elegantly make a swift passage under sail in a beautiful wooden boat. ;) This also means I can spend my weekend on the island paddling around a little, instead of just getting there, passing out, and then paddling back.

There are a number of existing options on the table. Most of them involve small sails which can not point. Some, such as's rig, appear neat, but certainly don't carry a lot of sail. the klepper rigs seem like a real sloop rig, and might be a good starting point as well (Klepper USA - Folding Kayaks )

The company that makes the kayak I will be building also makes a sailing "trimaran" kit ( Kayak & Canoe Sailing Rig: Ultra-Light, Easy to Assemble and Launch! ) with 55sq/ft of sail, and still in a form I can cartop with the kayak. This looks to me like a good start, but the unstayed mast and very forward leeboards don't speak well to it's pointing ability. Both of those should be easy enough to modify, but I would like to swap the rig out for something I could reef if need be. Making this move implies adding a boom, and hence, I'm thinking I might be able to get better sail shape, and increase my pointing ability drastically in the bargain.

Finally, while the kayak is balanced well enough that there is no need of a rudder while paddling, regardless of how well balanced I can make the rig, there will still be significant force exerted on the rudder, so I'll need to either make a much larger rudder than is standard for any kayak for good sailing, or, perhaps, mount twin rudders on the amas, and leave the kayak as unmolested as possible.

Ideally, the ama "catamaran" rig would be something I could anchor, and then detach my kayak from, just outside the breakers, to allow me to go play in the rock gardens and sea caves, and then come out and hook up to again. Right now the rig requires beaching to undo, which isn't that big of a delema, but if I could manage to get the lee boards onto the amas, and somehow mount either a pair of sails on the amas themselves, or the sail on the crossbar such that the kayak was free to enter and exit with minimal gymnastics, that would be incredible.

I've had great luck talking to kayak builders about such an endeavor, but I thought it would be a good idea to talk to some sailors as well and see what input you might have on such an endeavor, and what pitfalls I should look out for before I begin?

Thank you very much for your help, and I look forward to seeing you on the water =)

-- James

WanderingStar 09-11-2009 01:10 PM

I sailed an ultralight double-paddle canoe (an undecked kayak) for a while. There is a sailing canoe forum on Yahoo which has a lot of good ideas on it. There were several famous decked canoe (kayak) cruisers in the past. Read about Macgregor in his Rob Roy canoes and Fenger in Yakaboo.
I used a BSD rig in my canoe. The leeboard attached to the thwart with the partners on it. I thought it would be unbalanced but it wasn't. The rudder was a modest aluminum kickup controlled by lines. The mast was unstayed aluminum sections, also fine. Small rigs are proportionately stronger than big ones, and have less need for stays.
I cartopped mine from NY to FL and daysailed in different places every day while staying in a cheap motel. It was a great vacation. Sailed and paddled with egrets, herons, pelicans, loons, dolphin and alligators (!).

Jeff_H 09-11-2009 02:44 PM


Long time no see. I had wondered how you had been making out. There is a long history of cruising in sailing decked canoes. WanderingStar mentions two of the most famous, and a third would be Nathaniel Bishop who went from the St. Lawrence River to Cedar Key Florida in a paper decked canoe.

While historic voyaging canoes were pretty impressive, there are a whole range of modern decked canoes that are big improvememts on the originals.

If I were in your shoes I think that I would look at Chesapeake Light Craft who makes a whole range of high quality canoe designs. They also make a sailing conversion kit which includes outer hulls to make a deck canoe or kayak into a trimarran.
Kayak & Canoe Sailing Rig: Ultra-Light, Easy to Assemble and Launch!

The issue of balancing a sailing canoe under sail is not as big as you think. Most sailing canoes and kayaks use leeboards which mount on a moveable thwart. Basically, once you have the boat rigged you can experiment with the thwart position until you end up achieving reasonable balance. You can then fine tune with sail trim and leeboard rake.

My other thought that comes to mind if you plan to build a boat was a small trimarran that I designed that was intended to be constucted in a friends apartment. It was basically a simplified plywood version of the Newick Tremilino.
Tremolino trimaran sailboat for sale
The Classic Tremolino Trimaran is Reborn | Small Trimarans

My design was no where near as sophisticated as the Newick design. It used AC exterior grade plywood. The hulls rig and cross arms disassembled and could be stored in a 22 x 5 foot space. I borrowed Newick's idea of using a Hobie 18 rig and mainsail but added a bigger jib.

The main hull was essentially a very long, narrow dory with a bunch of flare. The outer hulls were loosely based on early plywood trimarran's which had triangular sections.

You might also look at Dudley Dix's Trifold 3-Fold 6 plywood trimaran


jbarros 09-11-2009 06:09 PM


Wandering Star,

Thanks for the tip. I know about MacGregor, but he's the only one I had known of. I'll dig up the rest. I'm also going to go sign up for the yahoo group shortly. Thank you :)


Thanks, your insights have been really helpful over the years, even if I never did set off across the great blue beyond. I've been happily crewing for a few people, and sailing a few times a year, just day sailing while I allowed job and life to carry on.

I was down in Newport Beach a short while ago at the CLC west coast demo and tried and fell in love with a few of their boats. Specifically, I love the Night Heron, even though it doesn't have the same high volume design that a Chesapeake would give me, which would be advantageous crossing the channel, but at the end of the day, I want to play in the kayak, and I just feel a lot more connected to the Night Heron due to it's design. I'll be building from a kit since it's my first build, and making a stitch and glue model, which should be achievable over the winter with no problem. It's supposed to be 50 hours if you know what you're doing, 120 if you don't, so I'm budgeting 240 hours, and I thing I'll be fine. :)

I've talked with a number of people on their forums, who are amazingly helpful, and it's generally agreed that the rig needs more rudder than most kayak systems provide. The Watertribe people in Florida have a rudder which approaches what is necessary. From there, I'd still want to modify the rig to allow for reefing, but that should be (relative to building a wooden boat from scratch ;) ) simple. The leeboard on the CLC rig mounts to the front amma arm, and as such, is a little forward of the ideal position, which becomes a greater issue with the undersized, unbalanced rudders.

I talked to a few people who have hooked up the Klepper sail system to the clc trimaran rig, and been pretty happy with the performance. Klepper USA - Folding Kayaks the joys of an easily driven hull ;) adding the jib seems to help pointing dramatically, but there's not an elegant way to get the sail area reduced in a blow.

I'm not sure if I'm ready for a real sailboat right now. I like the idea that I can store the boat in my garage, and just go out when I feel like it. I was also looking at a Westwight Potter if I decided to go with a sailboat because I can find them used for under $4,000 in good condition, and there's a very active local club, but as it is, I have fallen in love with kayaking, and playing in the surf, and it allows me something I can do on an evening after work in the way a trailer sailor never will, but without the expenses of docking.

Beyond that, I have friends who have built their own boats, and while I want to build a boat at least once, I think a kayak or dingy is probably right-sized for me, and when it's time to upgrade to a "real" boat, I'll most likely buy an existing boat that "just" needs some work, as it's a familiar death (I've been helping my friends work on their boats, and improving my glassing and other similar abilities)

Regarding trimarans, I did get to crew on a farrier designed boat a few times, and despite how much I like the idea of self-righting boats, MAN, what a rocketship. =) They (trimarans) seem like an absolute blast, point much better than I was expecting, and would probably be ideal for the around-the-islands sailing I've been able to do recently, but honestly, it would be a tease. One of the reasons I'm staying away from real boats is the temptation to just start sailing south would be too much for me.

The dream of getting an inexpensive boat like a Triton and just taking off still looms, but now I've got quite a bit in the bank, and the debts I have since accrued are all getting payed off. I've spent more time traveling over land and think I could probably do much better now than I had in the past, but I'm also slower to jump on things, and moving at a much more deliberate pace. In the next few years I'll see where I am.

Thank you both again. I'll see you on the water :)

-- James

JohnRPollard 09-11-2009 06:27 PM


Here's a vote for the CLC kit approach. I've seen their kayak sailrig in person (but haven't sailed it), and like the new version (simpler to build and rig up).

My kids and I built their Passagemaker dinghy a few years back, and it was a great experience. Just make sure you have plenty of clamps.;)

jbarros 09-11-2009 06:33 PM


Absolutely a beautiful boat. Well done. Thanks :)

... Wait a second. Do you have a roller furling rig on a dingy? What rig is that? How do you like it? is it worth it? If I decide to go with a klepper rig on the clc sail kit, that might be a way to power down from the cockpit.


I was thinking, right now the CLC sailrig has 55 square feet of sail. If I wanted something with a reefable main, and possibly better sail shape, would it be better for me to just steal a rig from some dingy somewhere? Suggestions?


-- James

CrazyRu 09-11-2009 11:48 PM

Have you looked at Hobie adventure island trimaran? Hobie Mirage Adventure Island

I'm quite familiar with Watertribe crowd, and it is everybody's consensus that paddling or pedaling kayak is faster upwind than sailing. Putting full blown sailboat rig on kayak/canoe hull is defeating a purpose of the boat and requires complete redesign and rethinking of entire assembly.

Hence a popularity of very simple and efficient Balogh Boss system
Balogh Sail Designs
or even simpler and very efficient on every point of sail, except beating, Pacific Action Sail
Pacific Action sail systems for kayaks and canoes

JohnRPollard 09-12-2009 06:52 AM


Originally Posted by jbarros (Post 521801)

Absolutely a beautiful boat. Well done. Thanks :)

... Wait a second. Do you have a roller furling rig on a dingy? What rig is that? How do you like it? is it worth it? If I decide to go with a klepper rig on the clc sail kit, that might be a way to power down from the cockpit.


I was thinking, right now the CLC sailrig has 55 square feet of sail. If I wanted something with a reefable main, and possibly better sail shape, would it be better for me to just steal a rig from some dingy somewhere? Suggestions?


-- James


Thanks for the compliment.

Yes, that's a roller furler (Harken Small Boat furler unit #454(?, I think)).

It is a fractional sloop rig, with the mainsail set on a sliding gunter yard. This keeps the overall height of the fixed rig very modest (good for those low bridges that the Watertribe navigates.)

The furler is worth every penny in my opinion. We use it primarily for convenience sake, but also as a means to "throw in a first reef". In other words, our first procedure for shortening sail is to douse the jib. The dinghy sails fine under main alone.

I'm sure Jeff will get back to your other question, but I will comment that the sail suggested for the CLC kayak sailrig is more than likely plenty adequate. First, it takes muck less sail area to push a kayak, even one fitted with amas and akas (essentially an ultralight trimaran). So it would be easy to get overpowered. Second, I have a lot of faith in the designer of that rig -- he's both an experienced sailor and kayaker and understands the concept thoroughly. I think borrowing a larger rig (like the one on our PMD) would be far too much.

jbarros 09-12-2009 11:12 AM


The Hobie looks pretty cool. I still think I want to try to build my own small wooden vessel, but that's definitely a neat setup, and something I can look to for ideas.

I think I may need to get over the idea that I can have a kayak that's also a racing dingy, and look at less powerful rigs like the Pacific Action, or WindPaddle. They don't go to windward, and apparently, while the PA will do 90 degrees to the wind, everyone seems to agree that by the time you're 90 degrees off with no leeboard in the water, you're already losing so much sideways, and slow enough, that, well, paddling works better.

Both of those look like neat ideas, but looking at a device which requires bungies and multiple lines on the deck, and a defacto spring loaded caning device ;) without the speed provided by a larger sail, nor the stability of amas kinda scares me, but this might just be my imagination. I'll head down to their local dealer (still 300 miles away, but I think that's worth it, given that I'm going to be spending a few hundred hours building my boat anyway ;) ) and see what I can dig up to most assuage my fears and see how it would fit the kayaks I'm looking at (I hear a very narrow deck might be problematic)

The main advantage of the BOSS system seems to be that it is theoretically stowable, and something which can be set or struck from on the water. (although the zipper reefing idea is pretty neat) I'm not sure if that bit is important to me, given the local waters, and my plans, but the reefing part certainly is. I'm a little curious about their decision to make a tall sail for a kayak, given the high center of force should theoretically make it a lot more "tippy", but no one in the videos seemed to be having much of a problem. It's a shame it looks so "utilitarian" but it seems to have quite the track record.

I had to deal with the design issue when testing kayaks. They make a kit which does sail very well apparently, with the clc sail rig, but as a kayak itself, it's not nearly as fast, maneuverable, or just plain fun, as the kayaks I fell in love with which were just designed to be plain old kayaks.


My biggest fear with the CLC is that it slips over the mast, so there is no means of reefing or dropping sail at sea. That just really isn't ok for the area I'm looking at crossing. All the other benefits; pointing, more sail, etc, were just things I thought I might be able to eak out while modifying the rig into something I could raise, lower, and reef while underway.

Thank you both again for your thoughts and information. I'll try to visit some places and get a chance to get my hands on some of this gear and try it out. =)

-- James

WanderingStar 09-13-2009 12:08 PM

In the end you might build your own rig, even design it. When the BSD rig started prying my canoe apart, (she never was built to sail) I built a lower, smaller rig. It was a lugsail, made of polytarp, with bamboo spars. It worked fine until the duct tape let go. If you can build a boat, you can build a sail. Or modify one. I just read about a guy making sails from ripstop nylon with commercial sail tape. You could also find a used optimist sail. Don't give up on sailing to windward.

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