I recently had the opportunity to test the JNR sail rig by John & Naomi Royals II. For those of you not familiar with the JNR sail rig, it is an inverted triangle kayak sail, designed in much the same way as the well-known Pacific Action sail. To keep costs down for users, the JNR sail rig is partly a do-it-yourself project. You buy the sail and, if you want, certain hardware and lines from Tom Holtey's online shop, and then build your own masts using inexpensive, but durable PVC tubing.
Although I did not have occasion to assemble the JNR sail rig myself because I was provided with an assembled rig for testing purposes, the assembly process strikes me as straightforward and manageable even by those not mechanically inclined (and I'm certainly among those). Detailed instructions can be found in this article here at Topkayaker.net: Do It Yourself Kayak Sail.
My first impression of the JNR sail rig was that it is well-made. The rip-stop nylon sail is quite a bit heavier duty than that of the Pacific Action sail. The trade-off is that the JNR sail rig does not furl as easily and tightly as the Pacific Action sail. But the difference is not major from a functional point of view. In fact, the see-through material used for the window makes a bigger difference to how the sail is furled. Unlike the window of the Pacific Action sail, the window of the JNR sail is stiffer and does not roll up as willingly. It also has a tendency to crease, though this does not impair visibility.
When I laid the JNR sail rig and Pacific Action sail side-by-side, I noticed that the geometry is slightly different. The JNR sail is basically a few inches wider, but shorter than the Pacific Action sail. Arguably, this is a plus because it lowers the sail's center of effort, thus reducing the heeling moment of the sail. If so, it was not apparent to me when I tried the sail. But neither did I feel that the different geometry was a downside in terms of performance on the water. More on that below.
Rigging the JNR sail is simple and similar to the Pacific Action sail. In fact, the process is slightly faster because the JNR sail uses side release snap buckles to attach the mast base to the bow of the kayak, rather than the ladder lock buckles found on the Pacific Action sail. The only possible downside of this design is that the female ends of the snap buckles are permanently installed on the kayak. If that bothers you, you could always change the design and install ladder lock buckles. Either way works well.
I should note that I rigged the JNR sail using my own simplified double-sheet system as described in my article: Pacific Action Sails Revisited, rather than running the sheets as a single loop around the cockpit, as is recommended both by Pacific Action and JNR. The reason is that my Scupper Pro is already set up that way and I have developed a strong preference for my own sheeting system over the years. Had I used the standard loop system for testing the JNR sail rig, I would probably have felt that I was comparing apples and oranges.
The day I tested the JNR sail started out with a light 5 mph breeze from the Southeast. This allowed me to paddle-sail straight out from Cabrillo Beach towards the West End of Catalina Island for a few miles. On a beam reach (with the wind at a 90° angle), the JNR sail rig was noticeably reducing my paddling effort, though not quite as much as the Pacific Action sail would have in light air. The reason seems to be that the JNR sail, when raked back angle for beam reaching, has less than perfect shape. I attribute that to the fact that the rig - due to the more flexible mast base (more on that below) - gets pushed down and to the side by the wind allowing the wind to backfill the sail just a bit. For the same reason, I was also not able to sail quite as close to the wind as with my Pacific Action sail. The closest was just a bit above 90°, whereas the Pacific Action sail can manage 85° or better.
As the wind turned more to the south and picked up in speed, I pointed the kayak westward and worked my way up the coast for the afternoon downwind run. At all times, the sail seemed stable and I had no problems whatsoever controlling the sail. Everything felt much like my Pacific Action sail, except for the noted inefficiency on a beam reach.
But now to the best part: Towards the end of my 4-hour test sail, I paddle-sailed on a downwind course in 12+ mph winds for a good 45 minutes. On this point of sail, as well as on a broach reach, the JNR sail performed excellently. Power was great, as was stability and handling. I surfed down the swells with glee effortlessly, and must have hit 6-7 mph, maybe more, at times. Several times, I had my Scupper Pro planing for what seemed like a long time, but probably was no more than 15 to 20 seconds.
I can honestly say that the rig is at least on par with the PA sail on a downwind run and broad reach. At least there was no difference I could detect. If anything, I felt that the JNR sail rig was delivering just a bit better power on these points of sail than the PA sail. The wind was not blowing all that hard, yet I was going faster than I recall doing in the recent past. Then again, other factors, such as swell size and direction, may have come into play. It's hard to say. The bottom line is that the JNR sail rig put a big smile on my face and that's what matters at the end.
Finally, a few thoughts on potential areas of improvement:
Right before exiting through some mild surf, I raised the JNR rig from the horizontal position to the 45° position to allow me to quickly swing my legs out of the cockpit, run forward and grab the bow handle once I hit the beach. This is standard procedure for me, as I otherwise risk being capsized by a wave before I can exit the boat. At that point, I noticed that the JNR rig sways from side to side quite a bit and has a definite tendency to fall into the water on either side of the kayak. Needless to say, this is not a good thing in the surf.
The problem, I think, has to do with the mast base and also the attachment points for the bungee cord that pulls the sail upright. The JNR mast base has a lot more inherent flexibility than the PA mast base, i.e., there is more play within the mast base, even when the straps are pulled quite tight and the bungee is taut. When you take a closer look at the PA mast base, you'll see that it's a rather complex structure, one that is not easily copied with just PVC and garden hose.
To the extent that you perceive this as a problem worth addressing (and many or even most of you may not), I would therefore encourage you (and of course JNR) to try to come up with a solution. I am pretty sure that with a little bit of imagination and ingenuity, the inherent rigidity of the mast foot and thus lateral stability overall could be substantially improved. One idea would be to use wider PVC T-sections to provide the mast foot with a wider footprint. Another would be to wrap duct tape around the PVC T-sections to reduce slippage. To prevent the two mast feet from separating, I would also recommend wrapping duct tape around the ends of the garden hose piece. Finally, I would use the beefiest 1-inch webbing strap I could find.
Another factor affecting stability appears to be the attachment points of the bungee on the mast. The bungee attachment points of the JNR sail are about 8-10 inches higher up on the masts than those of the Pacific Action sail. Though I am not sure, my sense is that the higher attachment points decrease stability when the bungee is under a lot of stretch, as it is when sailing on a beam reach or when carrying the sail at a 45° angle. Essentially, the bungee does not appear to have sufficient leverage at that point.
At any rate, it may be worth trying to attach the bungee lower on the masts to see whether this improves lateral stability. This would however require modification of the sail's mast sleeve, i.e., the cutout in the mast sleeve would have to be moved down 8 to 10 inches. I realize that this is probably not something the average user will want to try, especially since it may make no difference to stability in the end. But maybe JNR will take this as a cue to experiment a bit along those lines and, if warranted by further testing, move the cutout of the mast sleeve down for lower bungee attachment points. This would also allow current Pacific Action sail owners to swap their sails for JNR sails, if and when their original sails wear out.
In closing, I can wholeheartedly recommend the JNR sail rig as an affordable, solid alternative to the Pacific Action sail rig. Except for the limitations noted, the JNR sail rig performs just as well as the Pacific Action sail rig. Unless you plan to use the JNR sail rig extensively to sail on a beam reach and/or have to launch and exit through surf, chances are you will be completely happy with the sail and save about $200 in the process.
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