TopKayaker.Net: Guide To Kayak Sailing

Masters Windbag
Kayak Sailing Regatta 2013
by Tom Holtey (Images by Athena Holtey)

Windbag 2013

The Hui Wa’a Kaukahi Masters Windbag Kayak Sailing Regatta is a 13 mile down wind course on the North Shore of Oahu Hawaii. This course passes the famous large wave surfing beaches, Sunset, Pipe Line and Wiamea.

The waves on Oahu’s north shore are seasonal. The water is calm in the summer months, luring tourists to snorkel the crystal clear water of Sharks Cove, and children body board in the sandy shore break. The winter months, however, bring dangerously large waves, often 20 feet plus, that are the exclusive realm of pro surfers.

Masters Windbag Kayak Sailing Regatta is a race offered only to very experienced kayak sailors, who are members of Hawaii’s kayak club, Hui Wa’a Kaukahi. It is held in September, when the waves are expected to be reasonable. I was able to attend in 2013. A much shorter Windbag Regatta is held on the south shore (Hawaii Kai to Kahala) that welcomes a larger and less experienced field of contestants.

Athena and I lived on Oahu in the 1990s. I worked at Go Bananas Kayaks, Athena published the Hui Wa’a newsletter, and we are still members of Hui Wa’a Kaukahi.

The serious kayak sailors of Hui Wa’a are typically using one or two V-Sails, often custom made with a custom mast step. The boat of choice is the Scupper Pro by Ocean Kayak. Go Bananas in Honolulu Hawaii is the only place where you can buy a new Scupper Pro, made in New Zealand, call owner John Enomoto at 808-737-9514.

My preferred sail rig is the Kayak Sailor 1.6 on a Scupper Pro. I arranged to borrow a friend’s Pro and mount my Kayak Sailor to it when I got to Hawaii.  I checked the Kayak Sailor on the plane as luggage along with my Genoa Jib sail, a soft rack, some of my personal paddling essentials, mask fins and snorkel (of course!), and off we flew from NH to HI.

I brought a rivet tool, strap eyes, rivets and silicone. I only needed to add two new strap eyes to Joe’s Pro, and that is the beauty of the Kayak Sailor. It is so simple to mount onto almost any kayak with no more than 4 strap eyes, but existing rigging points can be used, as I did with Joe’s kayak. I knew in advance where the rig needed to be mounted as I have the same kayak at home. (Kayak Sailor review)

My shake down cruise was at Chinaman’s hat, launching off Kualoa Beach Park. (see video right).

I modified the jib rigging, rather than use the traveler that comes with the Genoa.

I converted the glove hooks used from the lee board controls into "fair leads" mounted to the lee board levers. This gave the Genoa Jib a wider reach that would be needed for the down wind tack.

I tied the jib cleat plate to the strap eyes that Joe had mounted in the center consol in the foot wells. (FYI: The Head Sail that Kuvia makes for the Kayak Sailor is officially called a Genoa, or Jenny for short, however most will want to call it a Jib sail. It is certainly not a Spinnaker.)

On the day of the race the winds were predicted to be 11-13 knots East but in actuality were probably 14 knots North East. I do not know what the swell was, but I would call it as 1-2 feet, no more that 2-3, as a "surf report".

From the shore at the launch Pahipahialua Beach the waves seemed well behaved and winds seemed light, giving us some concern about the quality of the sailing experience soon to come. There were five participants, myself included: Kevin Ching, Steve Harris, Paul Tibbits (Hui Wa’a members) and Stan McCrea (from Windward Boats in Kailua).

The Hui Wa’a sailors fully raise their V sails just prior to launch. The Kayak Sailor needs to be raised while the kayak is pointed into the wind on open water. At the start of the race all contestants paddled off the beach and made their way to outside the reef, past a small islet.

I waited until I was in clear open water to raise my sail, putting me at a slight disadvantage. Kevin had one V sail on his pro and vigorously paddled most of the way. Steve has a double V Sail on his Scupper Pro, Paul a single V Sail. Stan was paddling a Hobie Adventure Island, and was sort of acting as our safety boater.

Once outside the reef and off shore the winds were considerably stronger than on the beach. There was also a swell running. The tack was only a few points off down wind and a following sea a few degrees off the other side. With the wind coming from the behind on the left and the swell from behind on the right, it made for some engaging sailing.

The Kayak Sailor was catching wind well and driving the Pro a good clip. I had let out the sheet all the way and the sail was presenting the full cloth to the wind, while the jib was trying to do it’s fair share. It could not make up its mind on what side it wanted to be and I could see that much of the time the jib was not straining on it’s sheets as I had hoped. The Jenny really is for a close-hauled tack and not for running.

I had good speed going and was surfing down the wave faces rolling in from behind. I spent a lot of effort bracing. This completely prevented me from doing things like taking photos, viewing the map, reading the compass and fussing with the Jib sheet modification that failed at one point and then reset itself with a swipe of the paddle.

While I was not fearful of a capsize, I was on constant vigil holding a "sailing brace" with my paddle. This is accomplished by holding the shaft in such a manner as to let the paddle blade "surf" along side the kayak, acting like an outrigger and often braced against a leg when in a sit-on-top kayak or across the cockpit coaming in a sit-inside.

I could see Kevin pulling away from the pack, his paddle flashing with in a steady cadence. Steve’s double sail kayak was pulling away too. Steve reported at the finish that he had tipped over more than once.

Paul reported that he had hoped to supplement his rig by flying a kite, sort of like a highflying spinnaker. A kite needs to be launched in open water facing down wind, usually with the use of a sea anchor temporally deployed until the kite is flying high. His kite failed to fly, a not un-common problem when kite sailing. A wet kite will be hard to launch. This activity slowed him down at the start, much like my upwind start for the Kayak Sailor. I was bracing heavily much of the time and did not paddle as much as the others, another factor that slowed me down. (Article: Go Sail A Kite!)

FYI: In the start of a normal sail boat regatta the boats are already fully rigged and moving, not at all like sprinters in the blocks at the starting line. The trick then is to approach the starting line at just the right time, not too soon, or too late for the starting shot or horn.

Halfway through the race, near Haleiwa, the winds slacked a bit. I fussed with the sails and the lee boards and could not get a more powerful configuration. I decided not to change the tack as a straight line down wind seemed to be the best course. I also felt the wind was pushing me out to sea a tiny bit. I had only a rough idea of where the landing would be and did not want to confuse things with a zig zag tack. I took this lull to use my paddle more, adding some more speed. I worked on my dead reckoning navigation and decided not to complicate things with my compass and alterative headings.

The wind picked up again and the kayak was back to the mad dash, surfing waves, and I was back on bracing detail. At this point it was very difficult to keep an eye on my fellow sailors. As I approached the far end of the north shore I began to pick out some landmarks I knew to look for, but the exact finish was not at all clear to me.

I knew I was getting close, very close, but could not yet see a clearly defined ending spot, marked by other Hui Wa’a members, their kayaks, banners, sails or the land marks we had discussed. (Photo: Stan McCrea)

I was approaching the surf zone and was soon among a pack of kite boarders ripping along, back and forth through the bumpy waters. I felt very close to the finish but I needed to come in closer to shore for a better look. I feel that the Kayak Sailor should not be deployed while crossing the surf zone, nor is it particularly wise to have the rig mounted on deck when crossing a significant surf zone.

I had fantasized that I would sail right up onto the beach with the kayak sailor fully deployed (a stupid notion in hind site) but being there in the surf zone I knew I had to drop sail.

After some communications with the members on the beach via VHF radio I closed in and shortly found the landing: the beach at the west end of the Dillingham Airfield runway off Farrington Hwy, accross from YMCA Camp Erdman. (Photo: taken off Kukaimanini Island )

Kevin was far ahead and declaired the winner, but had over shot the finish line, landing before the rest some distance down shore. Steve came in second. I was 3rd, followed by Paul.

Stan came in only after having caught two mahi-mahi along the racecourse, fishing and sailing at the same time. Here is a man with his priorities in order! We had a grand picnic with old friends on the shore and a good day was had by all.

I will sum up the things I learned. I might have used a 1.4 rig in those stronger winds on that "bumpier" water. Reefing the sail did not seem to be a competitive option at the time. The Genoa is certainly best for close haul tack, and not very effective while running with the wind.

The Kayak Sailor carry case is suitable for air transportation, if you remove the cross tube (wrap it thickly) from the main body and add padding, such as beach towels and foam rubber, to protect the rig. Be sure to tie a secure knot in the draw cord and any small items should be in stuff sacks. (Video left: Kevin Ching ~ 1st Place)

If I had really wanted to be on top of the navigation, a GPS with route tracking would have come in handy. However I am very loath to utilize electronics, screens, or otherwise be "plugged in" when I am on the water. I very much like to focus on the natural world around me while I am kayaking, using elemental gear and skills. Bear in mind that in this instance at no time was my lack of precision navigation a safety issue. Fog is rare in Hawaii and that part of the coast is rather simplistic in geography.

I was very glad to have a hands free hydration system on my PFD. Finally, extra care needs to be taken concerning sun protection. While I did a good job slathering on sunscreen on face, neck, arms, my legs were damp at the time I applied the sunscreen and it did not "take". I got a hell of sunburn on my legs, including the Dive Flag Tan that sit-on-top paddlers often get: The knee straps leave a white diagonal stripe across your red-sunburned legs, making it look like you have dive flags on your legs. (Video right: Steve Harris ~ second place)

It was very good to be back on Hawaiian waters with old friends. Sailing in Hawaii was a real treat. The trade winds are so dependable! I was even able to catch some waves on a Cobra Strike at Waikiki with my old boss and founder of Go Bananas, Gary Budlong.

About Hui Wa'a Kaukahi's Windbag Regatta by Kevin Ching

The "Masters Windbag Regatta" is actually an off-shoot of the "Windbag Regatta". The Windbag Regatta is the race that takes place from Hawaii Kai to Waialae Beach and is in its 16th year! It is a fun race that all club members can enter, but it is probably the one that most of the kayak sailors in the club want to win, because of its history and the heavy "bragger's rights" that accompany the title.

Norm & BobbyIt started as a simple competition between George Shoemaker, Norm and Bobbie Offstein, and myself as we sailed back from Coconut Island to He'eia, George used a kite and the Offstein's used their famous umbrella sail, while I used a small hip pack paddle sail. The Offstein's were in a tandem, Norm is a strong paddler was paddling full blast, while Bobbie controlled the umbrella sail and soundly beat both George and myself.

When I arrived Norm was shaping his hands like a trumpet and sounding off about the victory that he and Bobbie had achieved over George and myself, thus the birth of the Windbag Regatta. Since then, the venue changed and the race became an official part of the club, and the rigs have become more sophisticated.

Sails now dominate the WBR and Hui member Chuck Ehrhorn wanted to make a second race, one that kites would have a fighting chance. He believed that if the race were longer in more challenging conditions, the kite would have the advantage. He decided to start the "Master's Windbag Regatta" in order to level the playing field 3 years ago. Only problem is that master sailor Steve Harris won the first one with a sail, and I have won the last two with a scaled down sail rig to handle the swells and open ocean conditions of the North Shore of Oahu. The Master's is considered an elite race among club members and by invitation only since it is in serious conditions and we don't have escort vessels.

That's how the two races have evolved and continues to this day.

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