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Messing About With Headsails

June 7th, 2011 by

Messing About With Jibs

Recently, Patti and I have been developing and refining an accessory headsail for the Kayaksailor.

For those new to sailing terminology, a headsail on a boat is commonly referred to as a jib or a genoa (named for the city in Italy).  The main difference between a jib and a genoa or “jenny”,  is the overall sail size and it’s position in relation to the main sail.   A genoa is larger than a jib and overlaps the mast with it’s leech when close hauled.  Genoas are typically used to maximize overall sail area and are commonly seen in use on sailboats in light winds.   They often make boats faster and more powerful not only because of the increased overall sail area but because of the synergistic  relationship between the two sails.  When pointing close to the wind a properly designed and trimmed head sail allows the main sail to work at a higher angle to the wind without stalling, making reaches to windward more effective.   Another nice feature of head sails, especially genoas, is  their low aspect ratio shape.   The center of effort is low making them powerful with minimal heeling making it easy to control from the cockpit.

Our headsail project is something that has been in the works for a while now.  With the Columbia Gorge springtime winds kicking in, research and development is in full swing.
The Columbia River Gorge is North America’s natural wind tunnel and dishes out some truly amazing winds.  We get everything from two to thirty plus knots (and often higher!) on a regular basis, daily depending on the location, making this an ideal location for extreme sailing and putting prototypes through their paces.

This little headsail has us pretty excited!  We’ve made several prototypes to determine an effective size and shape and are currently working on refining the foil profiles for maximum efficiency.

The original plan was for a small self-tacking jib that could be controlled by the main sheet but we soon found that a larger genoa was simpler and way more fun to sail with, even with the main reefed.  Our current prototype has three millimeter genoa sheets that lead through micro blocks on the cross tube and run back to a pair of small jam cleats located within easy reach of the sailor.  The rig still folds and unfolds normally but the wind moves the little jenny around a bit on the foredeck when the rig is folded.  I would really like to build a micro or nano furller that would allow the sail to roll around itself.  I have some basic drawings for a system but it is going to take some time to develop.  A furller would be a nice addition, but for all practical purposes, my sails are up most of the time.  Generally the only time we fold the rig is for capsize recovery, launching and landing and when the wind dies completely.   I think I can live with a somewhat loose headsail on the foredeck at these times, at least  until I start playing with a roller. 🙂

If you haven’t done so already, please consider subscribing to this blog,  I am happy to post new developments.

15 thoughts on “Messing About With Headsails

  1. How is the genoa coming along? I’m looking forward to adding it to my Kayaksailor. In September of 2012 I plan to kayak sail to Catalina Island. I’ve made 14 crossing by paddle power to The Channel Islands. I’m looking forward to documenting my first crossing by Kayaksailor. I hope you two make it back down to Mission Bay for the 2012 SWKS in March (and have a head sail for me?).
    Have a great new year, Steve

  2. Hi Steve! The genoa design is complete and we should have them available at the end of January. We are pretty excited to be able to get them out there.
    The idea of doing the crossing to Catalina has always appealed to me. Ever since I saw a cool picture of a paddler taken along side a blue whale during his crossing, I have thought, hey! that could be really fun, in the right conditions of course. We had such a great time with you guys at the SWKS. I hope we can get down there too!

  3. Hi,
    Good news about the genoa design being ready for sale shortly. Have you a price in mind? Will it be any cheaper buying the genoa with a kayak sailor rig as opposed to buying the rig first and later adding the genoa?

  4. Hi Ian,

    The genoa is an accessory and will be the same price whether purchased alone or included with a new Kayaksailor.
    As soon as the sails are ready to ship, we will notify everyone with a new blog post and activate the shopping cart for purchasing.


  5. I’m just loving your site and will be putting in my order for a sail sometime soon.

  6. Just found your site. I have tried sailing canoes for years and initially my canoeing buddies laughed. since I just purchased a 16 foot kevlar canoe, I am looking for a suitable , stable rig to mount to it.
    Do you have info on using your rig on canoes?

  7. Hi Bob,
    Yes, we have some experience using the rig on canoes. Solo canoes work best due to the low freeboard that allows the leeboards to have more grab. E-mail me with a pic of your boat and I will be happy to comment.


  8. I have a new 17′ Delta Expedition kayak and am thinking about purchasing the Kayaksailor Rig for it. Question, would I be better off placing it on a sit-upon, self bailing kayak, untill I learn how to manage the sails properly? I seem to picture myself spending practice time re-entering and bailing a cockpit style boat. I do not have much experiance sailing and none in a boat with a 22″ bream.

    Thanks, Leroy

  9. Hi David,

    My Wooduck12 is all painted (yellow hull, clear deck) and been in the water. I was also wondering about wind strength and degree of heeling , or hiking out to keep from capsizing.

    Looking forward to hearing from you.

    Robert White,
    Rochester Ny

  10. Hi Robert,
    It is probably best to communicate via e-mail. I’ll shoot one out to you today.
    Cheers! David

  11. I am planning on purchasing a sail and genoa. I live near the Chesapeake so I’m thinking I should get the 1.6 sail. I have a 17′ Necky with a steering rudder and a Sea Eagle inflatable kayak. I have done some sailing, but am concerned about capsizing till I get the hang of it. Any suggestions?
    Sail on!!

  12. Hi Denny,
    The proper size will depend on the model of your Necky.
    I’ll send you an e-mail with a few questions. The answers will assist us in helping you choose the best sail size for your application.

    Here is a link to our frequently asked questions;


  13. I noticed another Rochester, NY poster here. Maybe we can get connected somehow?

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