DIY Downwind Sails

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I took this to a new thread, so it doesn’t wander lost at the bottom of a trip report. Mark, you’ve done stepped in it now, getting me talking about downwind sails and outfitting.

Great video, it makes me want one of these even more. There's a good shot of the mounting plate and V thingy at 0:51. So the V thingy is locked at that angle and to change the angle you would have to pull it up and out? Is it locked in place in any way from underneath or does it just sit there in the hole?

The video Mark mentioned:

https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=jU2mE83Gi0M

First, note that there is but light wind in that video, and Joel is cruising along at a decent “paddling” speed. Actually, with the water that shallow, better speed than he could make using just the last couple inches of the paddle blade.

EDIT: At about the 4:30 mark in that video, where Joel is struggling to turn sharp left under sail, my bad. I did not give him sufficient operating instructions, and he didn’t know how to pivot the sail for broad reach breezes. He made it through, but had he turned the sail 30 degrees it would have been a lot easier.


With a better tailwind the boat will move along smartly; if it is waveychoppy the hull actually becomes more stable, moving at (or slightly beyond) following wave speed and settling in. A 10, maybe 12 MPH tailwind with the mid-sized Spirit Sail will start to throw a little bow wake, but settle down rock steady in the waves.

P4070917 by Mike McCrea, on Flickr

To answer Mark’s questions, the Y piece plugs into the Scotty rod base mount, and has some ridges around the bottom that match ridges inside the Scotty Base mount. The Y piece slips into the base mount at 90 degrees and, once the Y is pivoted to 0 degree (straight downwind) or 30 degree/60 degree (broad reach from either side) sailing angles, it is locked in place and can’t be fully removed without turning the Y back to the 90 degree position.

Hard to explain, hope that made sense. The various Scotty rod mounts that plug into that base mount work the same; plugged and “locked” in place with 0/30/60 degree adjustment angles. At those 0, 30 and even 60 degree downwind angles there isn’t much need for a leeboard and the canoe isn’t skating sideways enough to be beyond route calculation ken.

About the “downwind only” sailing aspect; I am a wussy canoe sailer. I have no desire to sail upwind on a trip, zig-zagging my way across open water, risking my gear load further and further from shore hiked out into the wind, travelling 20 miles to make 10. And I really don’t want the complication of designing, making, outfitting and carrying a mast, mast step, lee board, sheets & cleats.

And, mostly, putting ashore to install all that jizzwhack only to spend 3 minutes sailing before the wind dies. When that happens with the Spirit Sail it takes only a couple of seconds to dismount the sail and put it away, and paddle on while still in the canoe.

I’d rather just paddle into the damn wind, find some wind shadow and strategize a protected route behind islands and peninsulas. But dammit, when I do have a tailwind I want some simple, effective sail I can put up and take down in seconds. In light and variable winds I may put that sail up - breeze is freshening - and take it down – breeze died - multiple times.

Here's a universal mount I found on the Scotty web site. I think I could make something to hold the battens out of wood, maybe slathered with fiberglass and epoxy that would hold up, but I wonder if the rest of this is up to the task. Do you think the plastic is strong enough? I see they also have a flush mount that might be able to take the torque a bit better. I guess the weak point would be the "pin" that sits in the mount.


I found this setup on the website, it comes with both pieces. The mount looks a bit more stout since it is recessed into the base. I'm thinking small block of hardwood shaped in a V. Question is whether the insert is strong enough? It looks pretty solid and I assume will withstand the torque from a fishing rod with more leverage. Only $20. It's in my shopping cart.

Great minds think alike:

https://myccr.com/phpbbforum/viewtop...+mount#p411879

The toothy plastic piece on either of those Scotty bases for a DIY Y is almost certainly strong enough. The Spirit Sail Y, and all of the Scotty rod holder variations, use an identical shape and the same plastic (nylon, ? material). The weak point might be the arms of the DIY’ed Y piece, and how sturdily they are affixed to that adapted piece that plugs into the base mount.

Here’s a photo kinda down inside the re-badged Scotty base mount. The bottom of the Y piece has corresponding ridges & grooves that hold it at the chosen angle.

PC260036 by Mike McCrea, on Flickr

The Scotty base mount has those same grooves and ridges on the side (for side mounted rod holders), so the Y plugs securely in place horizontally when not in use.

You can see the exposed bottom of the Y piece here (and how well old Timberline poles fit on the Y arms).

P1130027 by Mike McCrea, on Flickr

BTW, the Spirit Sail Y’s do not float. Guess how I know. Guess why I have minicel floatation now glued to all but one of the Y’s, keeping that one an unsullied virgin as a scanable model in case I ever try the 3-D printing route. A 3-D printed version, if the 3-D material is sturdy enough, might be the best/easiest solution, even if cost-per only made sense having a half dozen Y pieces “printed”. The rest of the sail parts, base, batten poles and fabric, are readily available.

P7140005 by Mike McCrea, on Flickr

I like those downwind vee sails so much – we have a families worth, plus a couple DIY loaners with original equipment Y’s - that we have a permanently installed utility thwarts with that base mount on almost every boat. Those are easy enough to DIY as clamp-on utility thwarts before doing anything permanent, even made as adjustable-width “universal” utility thwarts, a la an adjustable width clamp-on yoke.

PC071386 by Mike McCrea, on Flickr

We used those clamp-on versions in a few boats before deciding that a multi-functional “utility thwart” was something that I always wanted present. Sail mount, compass mount, some bungee, maybe some pad eyes for a map case, etc.

The utility thwart in the Fishfider incorporates a wedge of minicel to hold hooks and lures, and a stamp numbered scale in 2” increments for measuring fish.

P1200025 by Mike McCrea, on Flickr

(If I ever catch a fish larger than 30” I’ll let you know. Or catch any fish)

I have lots of tent poles and piles of fabric, but none of the see through stuff.

There is benefit to using carbon fiber tubes for the battens on a vee sail; the carbon fiber flexes and spills excess air in sudden gusts, which make for a smoother, less uh-oh ride, especially with the sail turned 30 or 60 degrees on a broad reach.

I have made several DIY’ed Spirit Sail copies, variously using carbon fiber tubes, aluminum Eureka tent poles and even rigid stainless steel pipe tubing. Sailing with the family on Tangier Sound; two of these three sails are DIY’s. Eh, those two DIY’s did not have see-through windows. Bad Mike. Bad, illegal Mike (didn’t know, didn’t get stopped or cited).

IMG011 by Mike McCrea, on Flickr

The “see through” window is my one complaint with those vee sails. I’m in some wonderfully scenic place, moving along effortlessly with time to appreciate the view. But the view ahead is a drippy mess seen through smeary vinyl.

That see-blurrily-through window, on a sail otherwise blocking your vision, is a (understandably) legal requirement in most places. With a mast and raised boom there is, or should be, a view ahead below the sail. With a full fabric \/ blocking your sightline, not so much. I’d kinda like to clearly see what is up ahead, and that smeary vinyl view, well, it kinda sucks; I find myself pivoting off course briefly, just for a clear, un-smeary view ahead.

On the last DIY’ed vee sail I just eliminated the see-through window altogether, ending the bottom of the sail above my sightline, and made the sail a little larger. I figure that the small area of “window” at the bottom is mostly blocked by my body when downwind sailing, so it isn’t catching much wind.

P1130033 by Mike McCrea, on Flickr


Once again I have exceeded my allotted bandwidth blathering about canoe outfitting and sails. It’s all Mark’s fault.
 
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Glenn MacGrady

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After reading about and viewing Mike McDIY's sailing porn for years, I purchased a used Windpaddle sail several years ago. You need a Ph.D. to figure out how to fold the tricky thing. (Watch YouTube.) I took it out eight times.

The first seven times the wind completely died when I arrived at the put-in, causing me to mull an new variation on the many Murphy's Laws of Canoeing: If you want to kill the wind, bring a sail. If you don't bring a sail, the wind will go nuts and always blow in the wrong direction.

The eighth time I took the sail, there was a real stiff wind. Blowing down the entire length of a lake with whitecaps on the 26" waterline of a narrow solo canoe was . . . uh . . . stimulating. In fact, the wind was so strong I couldn't paddle back to my car. For the first time in decades I had to beg some beer-swilling campers for a ride.

I still have that sail, but it's great to know that I can build another if I ever lose it.

I would like to be guided around Assateague for some sailing, but Mike is frustratingly fastidious as to the time of year he will go. Not too hot. Not too cold. Not too many hunters. Not too tic-infested. The tide has to be neap-spring-ebb, or something. The diner has to be open. Picky, picky.
 
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After reading about and viewing Mike McDIY's sailing porn for years, I purchased a used Windpaddle sail several years ago. You need a Ph.D. to figure out how to fold the tricky thing. (Watch YouTube.) I took it out eight times.

We used Windpaddles on our Hudson Bay trip a few years ago, getting up to 20 miles of sailing in a day. Yes, the folding takes a bit of practice. For tandem use, it was great. For solo use, I can't see it being that effective--the bowman was always adjusting it to catch wind more efficiently.

Alas, they're not made any more. Amazon has a lot of knockoffs, but for $15 I'm not willing to trust them. Glenn, if you want to sell yours, lemme know. We have another big trip coming up, and we need another sail.
 
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In a tandem a sturdy golf umbrella works well.

EK_0011 by Mike McCrea, on Flickr

That is my wife and then young son (in a Pathfinder of all things). Note the wake off the blunt RX bow, flying down Chesuncook.

One of the best tandem sailing trips was in some sleek 18’ composite canoe. My bowman was a practiced small boat sailor, and with him using a golf umbrella in the bow I did hardly a lick of work.

Plus you have a golf umbrella for use around camp.
 

Glenn MacGrady

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We used Windpaddles on our Hudson Bay trip a few years ago, getting up to 20 miles of sailing in a day. Yes, the folding takes a bit of practice. For tandem use, it was great. For solo use, I can't see it being that effective--the bowman was always adjusting it to catch wind more efficiently.

Alas, they're not made any more. Amazon has a lot of knockoffs, but for $15 I'm not willing to trust them. Glenn, if you want to sell yours, lemme know. We have another big trip coming up, and we need another sail.

Mason, I'd sell it. It's the Adventure model, which I bought used-but-essentially-new in 2012. PM me with your email address and we can discuss. Here is Murat's review for anyone interested:

https://paddlemaking.blogspot.com/2011/10/windpaddle-sail-review.html
 
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Great Mike. I wondered about the foam. I ordered the thing I posted in the other thread. I think I can get the angle of the V from the pictures, but a couple questions: What is the length of the battens? I like the space a the bottom instead of the window. Does the sail have slack between the battens? From the picture it looks like there's no slack when the sail is at rest. I'll post back here when I get this going.

Good snag Mason. I saw the ranger on Shoshone Lake sail east from one end to the other in less than an hour with one of those. He didn't paddle a stroke.

Mark
 
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Good snag Mason. I saw the ranger on Shoshone Lake sail east from one end to the other in less than an hour with one of those. He didn't paddle a stroke.
Mark
They're nice--we used them a lot on the Hudson Bay trip. We got 15 and 20 miles of sailing in on days, and less on others. We were fortunate with the winds. They can be a handful, though, with high and variable winds.
 
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Is the Spirit sail or your copy anything but a flat cut section of a triangle with pockets for the spars (battens?) and just matching the triangle formed by the spars? Or is there a curve or different angle or something to add shape?
 
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I ordered the thing I posted in the other thread. I think I can get the angle of the V from the pictures, but a couple questions: What is the length of the battens? I like the space a the bottom instead of the window.

Mark, Spirit Sails came in two sized, “large” and “mid-sized”. We have both, but rarely use the large one. I occasionally bring both on trips, in case of light (sub-5mph) winds insufficient for the smaller sail and a heavily gear loaded canoe. And, of course, have wished I had the large one along when I didn’t. I’m (still) trying to remember to bring both on any lake/open bay trips. To wit:

I had sworn to always bring the larger Spirit Sail. Sworn repeatedly, including some swear words when I again neglected to bring it. Folded up it is as compact as the mid-sized sail, but has twice the square footage, and is far more effective in light winds. I could have comfortably booked down lake in the 5 or 6 mph tailwind using that sail, leaving Conk and Doug’s small Spirit sails aloft in my wake. Once again, I swear I will always bring the both sails. Just need to remember next time. Er, every time.

I’ll start with the large sail first. In this photo that is a large size Spirit Sail and a DIY “windowless” DIY copy, both done with carbon fiber battens. The connected batten length on both large sails is 75” long.

P1130033 by Mike McCrea, on Flickr

Solo the larger vee sail is good in light winds, but even then it is always a handful, in several ways.

In higher winds (over 10 mph) the sail area is large enough that I’ve had a difficult time dismounting it/taking it down, although I leaned tricks to make that easier*. My favorite “Oh shit, too much sail” photo, courtesy of Charlie Wilson:

Mike M Sailing 01 by Mike McCrea, on Flickr

There was no way I was getting that sail dismounted, or turning it, or anything else. I was too busy trying not to piss my pants, and simply ran the speeding boat ashore in the shallows. I had to drink a beer to calm my nerves before getting out of the boat.

And, yeah, I’m a slow learner. I did that with the large sail and too much wind a second time, a mile+ out on wide open Chincoteague bay. Screaming downwind along several miles of muttering “Oh shit” along the open water.

There was a single mid-bay island on a (seemingly) manageable angle, flying speedily downwind. I just barely caught the tip of that island, achieving a full-speed, wake washed landing on a sandy beach. It was a close run thing, and if I had missed that last chance spit of island I’d have ended up somewhere across State lines in Delaware. I did manage to weak kneed get out of the canoe that time, but it took two beers and several “Jesus F%&#$! Christs” to steady my nerves.

Long, anecdotal way to say “Be judicious about how much vee sail you are flying in how much wind

The bigger issue, beyond being foolishly unpracticed and over-sheeted, is that each of the two battens on the large sail are 3-piece connections, with two ferrules to connect/disconnect on each side.

If you look closely at the red/yellow Spirit Sail you’ll notice openings at the edge of the sail to access the batten ferrule connections; one set beside the smeary window, and another a third of the way up on each side. I “cheated” on the large blue DIY version; the top two pieces of carbon tube have no ferrule-folding access, and stay connected within the sleeve. And the bottom ferrules on either side are just below the non-window cut out.

That made the DIY large size sail much easier to work with, two ferrules instead of four, but instead of tri-folding up to a compact 27 inches long the un-connectable battens remain 50-ish inches long. Eh, no matter, I’m not stuffing them in a kayak hatch, in an open boat it’s all good.

The large size sail is handiest in a big tandem, where the bowman can deal with it. Works well in the bow of a 20’ freighter

P7070001 by Mike McCrea, on Flickr

For a solo canoe the smaller vee sail is everything I need 90% of the time. The battens, when connected, are 51” long, with one ferrule on each side. I can not begin to describe how much easier fewer battens, and a shorter height, are to work with when folding/unfolding the sail for storage.

Side note to that. When I’m doing the variable winds thing, putting the sail up, taking it down, back up multiple times over the course of a day, I don’t fold it up and put in the little storage sleeve. I just furl it around the still-connected poles and shove it under some bungee. I can grab it, open it and mount it in (I’ve timed it) 5 seconds, whereas the big tri-fold might take 30 seconds of frustration. 60 second if one floppy un-ferrule-connected end of the sail drops in the lake.

That four ferruled large sail is a PITA best left for a bowman in a tandem, who can wrestle with the ferrules while the stern paddler keeps things under control.

You could certainly make a DIY sail a bit taller, but still just use one ferrule per batten. I have considered making a two-batten-per-side “large” version, and attaching some Velcro or ? attachment, so the top third of a larger sail could be un-ferruled and held against the backside of the sail, or be used fully erected, with the second set of ferrules connected, in lighter winds. I could bring one sail that worked as either small or large, depending on the available wind.

Does the sail have slack between the battens? From the picture it looks like there's no slack when the sail is at rest

There is a little slack, or perhaps better described mild concave shape to the Spirit Sails. I have left more ( curved sail slack all the way to the top in some DIY’s, and it doesn’t seem to hurt much; although it probably spills a bit more air out the top than the concave catch.

The white/yellow sail here below in the middle has a significant amount of slack. (The dark blue one on the right is a Eureka Timberline tent pole version, courtesy of DougD’s DIYing)

IMG011 by Mike McCrea, on Flickr

That yellow/white one is not actually a DIY, it is a long discontinued “Quiver Sail”. A vee sail, with sliding adjustable battens, but no mount; it was meant for the bowman to hold aloft with both hands. Somewhat useful, provided your bow paddler has forearms like Popeye. But yay, the Quiver Sail battens fit perfectly on a Spirit Sail Y.

The batten angle? Ehhhhh, using a framing square it looks like 63 degrees, but I wouldn’t trust me on angles (I know I don’t), and with DIY’ed arms that exact angle +/- is less important.

FWIW the OEM carbon fiber battens are ½” OD and 3/8” ID, and have an inch long stiffening sleeve around the bottom of the poles. Again, DIY’ed, it doesn’t much matter except in terms of batten stiffness and dumping sudden gusts. The old Timberline poles work acceptably, but I’d rather have the better gust spilling flexibility and less permanent if overly bent of carbon fiber tube battens.

*Tricks to make dismounting the sail easier. The proper “instructions” were to take the sail down by grabbing both battens near the bottom, lifting the Y piece slightly so that it could pivot in the base mount, turning the sail/Y to the 90 degree position and lifting out the Y, still attached to the sail battens.

That is actually a lot easier than it sounds, unless you proceed to drop the Y part overboard. (Not me; tandem friends whom I had lent a sail and clamp-on sail mount thwart. Bowman pulled the sail and Y out of the mount, and the Y made a disheartening glunk sound when sunk to the bottom. Never again, I tested the amount of DIY’ed minicel foam needed to float the Y pieces. White minicel might be more bobbing-along visible than grey).

The easier way(s) to dismount the sail, especially if it is wind filled and under stress:
Turn the canoe a little sideways to dump some air. Best accomplished right quickly if you are in following waves. Or just tuck in behind an island or peninsula and take care of business. Or, eh, just keep going, which I have been forced to do twice with the large sail up in too much wind.

The other solution, which I have read about but not yet tried, is to cut one arm of the Y a half inch short, so you can pull out that batten more easily, then pull the other. Or, you know, just don’t fly too much sail in too much wind dummy.

Oh, yeah, this may be important in that regard; the arms on the Spirit Sail Y are 3 ¼” long.

I’m just psyched to have someone trying to DIY that (out of business, discontinued) proprietary Y piece. Everything else, Scotty rod base, battens and sail material is cake, and if I have a tailwind, dammit I want some simple, easy, hands-free sail.

I’m still looking for someone with 3-D printed knowledge; I’ll mail you the virgin Y piece and, depending on the cost, I’m in for at least 3 or 4.

Well, it’s happened again, you’ve wasted another perfectly good hour reading my blather.
 
G

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the wind completely died when I arrived at the put-in, causing me to mull an new variation on the many Murphy's Laws of Canoeing: If you want to kill the wind, bring a sail.

Glenn, you have discovered two of the immutable laws of small boat sailing.

The wind, blowing freshly the entire drive to the put in, will die the minute you get in the boat. Or, more maddeningly still, wait ‘til the minute you put up the sail. Everyone I know who sails small boats shares that lament.

Or, if you neglect to bring a sail, the wind will blow delightfully at your back.

I think there is a tactile, thermoreception and proprioception explanation to that oft contrary windage “observation”. Like hot air ballooning, when paddling or sailing with the wind there isn’t much sense of breeze against your body. Paddling against the wind only increases that feel, wind speed + paddling speed, leading to over-estimations of “I battled against the wind” speed estimations.

Sailing calm and steady in lighter breezes, especially when away from the shoreline, it sometimes feels like I’m not moving. I’m not working very hard, if at all, maybe holding a paddle braced off the gunwale as rudder correction, and I have to note the distant shoreline at 90 degrees away to get a sense of “Yup, still cruising along” movement.

The eighth time I took the sail, there was a real stiff wind. Blowing down the entire length of a lake with whitecaps on the 26" waterline of a narrow solo canoe was . . . uh . . . stimulating. In fact, the wind was so strong I couldn't paddle back to my car.

Glenn, apparently now giving up on even downwind assistance, will never know that effortless sailing joy, and likely explain that he finds too much pleasure in the sheer elegance of paddling, and has aged so sturdily that he needs no assistance from a sail.

I’m old and weak, and have always been lazy; I’ll take all the help I can get. And would roll out of a 26” waterline canoe in three paddle strokes, without using a sail.

When putzing around sailing on a breezy day trip always – always – paddle into the wind first. That is of course a near guarantee that, once you paddle some miles upwind and turn to sail back, the breeze will die completely, or worse, turn 180 and be back in your face.

Or at least seem so.
 
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