We recently tried an inflatable boat/ attached mast framework for sailing. This sounds like a bit of a “Rube Goldberg” device. It isn’t and it handled nicely in winds ranging from a weak gust (we could have blown harder) to 10-15 mph winds. The framework attaches to a wide variety of hulls, including canoes. This is a neat example of good engineering. The system straps to various attachment points on the hull and rides as a semi-rigid platform on top of the flexible hull. It breaks down into a set of parts with a maximum weight of about 40 lbs – which means we can carry it to anywhere. (it might be a bit hard to backpack it to a really remote lake). My 14 year old could sail this, although a bit more strength is required in the highest winds.
One of the neat differences between this and conventional small boat like a sunfish is the steering oar. In addition to helping us paddle out of a long narrow cove with uncertain winds, it gives you a feel for the forces on the boat. A sailboat should be trimmed so that it points into the wind when you release the rudder. This is how it tacks or turns upwind. When beating upwind – the forces on the boat are the wind which is pushing you back and sideways and the water on the keel or leeboards which is deflecting the wind force into a sideways and forward motion. (we’ll ignore current). The rudder servers to help point the bow in an upwind and sideways direction. When I’ve sailed a sunfish clone the rudder points more or less straight back and you don’t pay too much attention to the exact angle. With the steering oar I actually have to counteract the force of the wind trying to turn the boat into it and end up steering as if I was turning towards a broadside run. This is counter-intuitive, but perfectly logical when you plot the force vectors.
Enough with the physics – its a blast!.
Now for a shameless plug of the vendor – we ordered from sailboats to go who were a pleasure to deal with.