Last week, on one of those not-so-great paddling days with strong gusty winds, Rebecca and I were distracted from our chores at the campground by a pair of paddlers who’d found a good way to take advantage of the wind- with sails. We’ve spent many hours watching and re-watching Cheri Perry and Turner Wilson’s rolling DVDs, and the pair are internationally known as instructors of Greenland technique, but I’d never seen them sailing a kayak. It looked like a blast, and they offered to let us give it a try later in the week, when they returned from a multi-day trip out around the archipelago, their vacation before heading off to teach in Europe for the summer. They paddled Tiderace kayaks, equipped with Flat Earth sails that they’d discovered while teaching in Australia. They’ve since become for the company.
I went first (one of us had to watch the office and answer the phone). They gave me a few basic instructions and words of encouragement and I paddled straight into the wind, letting the sail remain in-line with the boat. I paddled, as I always do, just focused on the forward stroke, looking-out for boat traffic, enjoying the feel of a different boat, until it occurred to me that, oh yeah, I can use that thing to move me forward instead of the paddle. So I turned off the wind and let it take me.
What a different feeling! The wind takes the front of the boat and you move along, without even putting a paddle in the water. Turner had likened it to surfing, where you have forward momentum and need to figure out the best ways to turn it. With the bow weighted with wind, the logical part of the boat to move would seem to be the stern, so I tried a lot of stern ruddering… but then you also realize you’re getting blown sideways a bit, unless you’re heading directly downwind, in which case you just fly along. I took a few tacks back and forth along our waterfront while Rebecca got ready. I could see that you could really spend some enjoyable hours figuring-out how to best maneuver.
Rebecca got in and, thanks to sailing instincts she’d developed as a teenager, seemed to discover the most efficient points of sail pretty quickly. I had half-expected to capsize, but while there were a few jolts when a puff of wind caught me, or I came-about, it felt fairly easy to manage. There’s only two ropes leading back to the cockpit, one to raise or lower the sail, the other to trim it in or let it out. I think I could figure that part out. I didn’t need to learn any salty nautical terms to shout out before making a move.
It could be particularly fun and useful on a longer trip, where you might have some downwind parts of the day to give yourself a break from paddling. Most of all though, it just felt fun and different. As I’ve instructed paddlers over the past few years, plenty of beginners have asked about putting sails on their boats, and since I personally felt I had enough on my plate just learning how to paddle well, I was never encouraging. Cheri and Turner concurred that it is a skill most easily learned by someone who has some experience in a kayak. And with that experience, it feels like another fun way to mess around in a boat. I want one!
Hopefully we’ll get Turner and Cheri here this September for a weekend Greenland paddling and rolling workshop. I’ll post details as we work them-out.