Sailing Your Kayak With A Parafoil Kite

Sea kayaks are easy to paddle, but it's even more fun to sail them on a windy day. A parafoil kite will pull your kayak along much faster than you could ever paddle.

Sailing your kayak with a parafoil kite

Most people that try the sport of sea kayaking do so because they want to paddle, either for the exercise of for the simplicity of a human-powered watercraft. Sea kayaks are designed to move easily through the water and paddling them is a pleasure. You can go either with or against the wind in a sea kayak, and don't have to bother tacking to windward as you do on a sailboat.

Despite the ease with which kayaks are driven by paddle power, it is only natural that people interested in boats are always experimenting and thinking of innovative ways to move across the water. Since kayaks are so easy to propel, those paddlers with an interest in or knowledge of sailing began trying different sail rigs on kayaks from the earliest days of recreational kayaking. Sea kayaks are too narrow to sail well to windward, as they can easily capsize with a powerful sail and there is no place to conveniently mount a centerboard or other means of lateral resistance in such a narrow hull. Therefore, most kayak sailors are primarily interested in downwind sailing. Downwind sailing can be a big help on a long trip or expedition, because if you are lucky, you may find the wind at your back for a whole day or even longer and you can effortlessly cover many miles if you have a way to harness it.

A unique and quite creative way to sail a kayak downwind is by flying a parafoil kite off your bow and allowing the wind to pull you along behind it. This type of sailing works well for kayaking, because it doesn't require any permanent mast or rigging to be mounted on the boat and the kite folds away for storage when not in use. Parafoil kites made for kayak sailing are sold by some sea kayak dealers. All you need is the kite and a hand reel of the type used for hand-line fishing and about 300 feet of line. The kite sizes vary from about 10 square feet to 35 or more square feet. Bigger kites are more difficult to launch, so you might want to try a small size first to get the hang of it.

Launching the kite is the most difficult part of kayak kite sailing. You won't have much luck unless the wind is strong and steady, at least 15 to 20 knots. Facing your boat away from the wind, you have to hold the kite open with both arms and let the breeze fill it. When it starts to fly you'll have to pay out line and keep your attention on keeping the kayak pointed in the right direction. You definitely need to have a paddle tether so you can lay the paddle across the cockpit in front of you without fear of losing it. Launching in less than adequate wind can be frustrating, because as the kite takes off, the kayak will begin moving and soon reach a faster speed than you could paddle on your best day. This boat speed will then cause the line to go slack and the kite can fall in the water at this time, resulting in a tangle of lines. It's best if the wind is strong enough to keep the kite high above the water. Pay out a lot of line, at least a couple hundred feet, so the kite will fly well above the water and far out in front of you.

Once you find the right conditions and learn to keep the kite in the air, kayak kite sailing can be exhilarating. Hang on to the line and sit back and enjoy the ride. It's easier to steer if you have a kayak with a foot-pedal controlled rudder system, as most sea kayaks are equipped, but you can use one end of the paddle for a rudder as well. On a good day you can easily sail at 6 or 7 knots, allowing you to cover some serious mileage in a hurry. One of my most memorable kayak sails with a kite was the day I cruised 30 miles downwind off the Exuma Islands in the Bahamas, averaging 6 knots and watching schools of flying fish skimming the surface of the water ahead of me.

You'll attract a lot of stares from other sailors as you cruise past their boats with your sail 200 feet in front of you and 100 feet above the water. Give it a try next time you go kayaking and get lucky enough to have the wind at your back.

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