I knew that for very long kayak journeys I would want a sail on my kayak so I could be reasonably certain to cover the longest stretches (sometimes upwards of 50 miles) without being too exhausted, and because there is a limited amount of time I can devote to kayaking endeavors before I have to be back at work. Covering long distances when the wind allows was therefore essential. There are several kayak sails brands, each with different strengths and weaknesses. The ideal features of a kayak sail are that it be light weight, easy to setup, easy deployment and deck storage, robustness, and some upwind capability. The Falcon Sail does a good job at fulfilling most of these criteria.
The Falcon Sail mast and boom are both made of carbon fiber which makes them light and strong. The sail is resistant to tearing but also light weight and has batons for extra rigidity. All metal components, including screws and pad eyes and hooks are chrome plated, and I have not seen any rust develop, even though I have gone several days without washing off the saltwater.
The initial installation of the Falcon Sail on the kayak is difficult. It requires some 20 holes to be drilled in the kayak to fix in place the various eye pads, cleats and the mast plate. In a fiberglass kayak, that means getting it right the first time and having a strong stomach to stick a drill bit to your boat. The support strut that goes under the deck needs to be cut to size to fit a specific kayak. I found that sanding down the strut with some rough sand paper and progressively testing that the fit is tight to the kayak is the best way to avoid overcutting. The strut has a hinge, so it can be folded to allow gear into the bow, however, you cannot forget to fold it back into position, otherwise all the downward force will be born by the deck which can cause it to deform or even crack. Don't screw this up!
BASEPLATE - The base plate for the sail also requires some attention. Many kayaks have rounded or angled bow decks, which will require adaptor pieces both above and below the bow deck to be specifically made for the kayak model so that the downward forces on the mast do not develop angled pressure points that may crack the deck. Fortunately, Falcon Sails is very good about making 3D printed adaptor pieces if the kayak model is provided when purchasing a sail kit. An additional item that should also be noted is that the screws for the base plate mount should be fitted with rubber O-rings to ensure there is no leakage in the bow compartment. The O-rings did not come with my sail; however, I noted this issue to Falcon Sails, and they may begin providing them with new sail kits.
MAST STAYS - The initial set up of the mast stays requires some fine tuning. The stays need to be tightened properly to ensure that the mast is not over tensioned more to one side or another and is close to perpendicular with the deck when the sail is deployed. This is a trial and error exercise which will require some adjustments after you've used the sail a few times. I have found that the ideal angle for the mast is approximately 5 to 10 degrees from vertical with a slight lean towards the cockpit. The reason for this is that there will be some initial stretching of the lines and a strong wind gust may cause the sail to collapse forward which will make it very difficult to stow away without getting off the kayak. Making sure that the mast has a slight backward lean will compensate for that. The tensioning system uses bow knots which are difficult to be precise and requires a lot of initial rework to ensure it is adequately tensioned Once done correctly, they never need to be touched again, however, the thought of being in a situation where the stays need to be replaced during an expedition to be a source of mental stress. I would hate to be making adjustments to the stays before getting into windy conditions, and would have liked to have adjustable ratchets for the stays for quick and precise tensioning.
MAST LOCATION - How far to place the mast is an important decision. Falcon Sails recommended that I place the sail 84 inches in front of the back seat for the Taran 18 (this will be different for every boat model). This location seems to be ideal as sail will be far enough in front to not be an issue with the paddle strokes, while also not being too far to be to be stowed away with moderate ease. If the sail is too far forward, it may alter the balance of the boat in strong winds.
Many kayak sails are made to be strictly downwind sails. While the Falcon Sail works best downwind, it is possible to use it in a beam reach, and even sail slightly into the wind. This of course depends on the kayak, with the more V-shaped boats having the ability to sail the tightest reach. With the Taran, I have found that anything much tighter than a beam reach quickly becomes inefficient and will be easier to just paddle. The Falcon Sail has two versions; a 1 square meter, and a 1.4 square meter. I pondered which size to choose, and decided to buy the 1 square meter sail; my reasoning being that the smaller sail will be usable in a greater range of conditions. My experience has been that the small sail provides more than enough power, and if winds are more than 25 mph, I would probably not use the sail at all.
SURFING WITH THE SAIL- While catching green waves under sail is a lot of fun, I religiously avoid being under sail if there are large breaking waves, or any condition that may require me to brace into the wave to avoid being rolled. Getting packed into a barrel while under sail will very likely damage the sail and the kayak, and one’s self (I once dislocated a shoulder). I also stow away the sail whenever I go to land.
ROLLING WITH THE SAIL- Rolling with a deployed sail is not a good idea. When stowed, however, I have found that I need to adjust my technique and will make wide sweeping movements with the paddle to avoid having it caught under the sail. This is especially needed, if the paddle is leashed. I can roll on either side, but to avoid sail issues with rolling, it's better to have the stow location on your weak rolling side.
STOWING THE SAIL- When not in use, the sail is stowed on the deck on either side and is secured in place with bungee cords. My experience is that in order to properly secure the sail and ensure that it does not come loose, two to four bungees should be used, and they should be in a cross pattern with the hooks alternating between high and low. That way any lateral movement that may dislodge a set of bungees from their hooks will be countered by the opposing bungees. This is especially important when surfing breakers, or while out in very rough conditions. If the sail ever comes loose, it will inevitably be during the worst possible moment, because only rough conditions will dislodge the stowed sail.