This blog is designed to highlight the paddling opportunities within South Dakota, mainly within a 50-mile radius of Sioux Falls. While Sioux Falls is far from the adventure of coastal regions, there is a certain satisfaction in utilizing the available waterways to observe weather, water conditions, and the landscape along the shoreline. In addition, there is a wealth of animal life on the waters of small South Dakota lakes, rivers, and creeks, including geese, ducks, pelicans, great blue heron, egrets, hawks, owls, perching birds, deer, raccoons, and beaver. Eagles, fox, and coyote are also sometimes spotted.

The sites described are places where I have kayaked over the past few years, mostly in South Dakota but sometimes including locations in Iowa and Minnesota. One of the best sources of information on the accessibility of small lakes is the South Dakota Atlas and Gazetteer, the large map book of South Dakota. Lakes with a public access are generally identified by a boat symbol marking the location of a launching site on public land.

You will notice the menu of paddling locations on the right side of the blog. Each of the postings is linked to one of the areas, and my intention is to provide a continuing review of the places where I paddle. Perhaps these narratives will help readers select waterways of interest to them. Please feel free to offer a comment regarding any of my postings; I would welcome the dialog.

I also maintain a companion blog that describes hiking opportunities within the Sioux Falls area. You can access that blog at:

Thursday, September 07, 2006

Umbrella Sailing

I always wanted to sail; in fact, at various times in my life I have actually owned a small sailboat that I used on area lakes – mainly Lake Alvin, near Sioux Falls. A sailboat generally means keeping a trailer, worrying about where to store it, and finding that the romance of a sailboat is generally more powerful than the reality. I did not use my sailboats much. There are sailing rigs made for canoes and kayaks, but these are pretty expensive – often $1,000 or much more. Also, adding a sailing kit to a craft that is essentially designed to paddle presents compromises and complications.


Somewhere along the line, I heard about sailing a kayak using a golf umbrella. Golf umbrellas are just larger versions of the common rain umbrella, and they are readily available for purchase. I gave umbrella sailing a try some years ago on Lake Alvin and found it enjoyable to cruise past fishing boats while hanging onto an umbrella, laughing in the wind.

My 13 foot Dagger kayak has a rudder, and that is really necessary. After all, both hands are needed to hang onto the umbrella, and the foot operated rudder makes steerage possible. The umbrella can be easily positioned to adjust on either a horizontal or vertical plane. I have found that you can sail a kayak to about 45 degrees off the wind, so the umbrella effectively functions as a down wind sail. The rudder functions as a weak centerboard as well, so side slippage is reduced.

Sailing with an umbrella is an inherently unstable act. It is necessary to hang on to the umbrella with both hands and to slip it through the wind so that the force is sufficient to propel the kayak but not so strong as to roll it over. I have found that it is easy to slip the umbrella into a more forgiving angle to the wind when it begins to gust or if the kayak begins to feel unstable. At all times, though, the kayaker needs to be willing to just let go of the umbrella if instability develops or if the speed becomes uncomfortable. It is easy to go back and pick up the umbrella if it needs to be cast aside. Remember, the paddle is usually just laying across the cockpit of the kayak, and the kayaker has to be aware of that dynamic as well.


Today, September 7, I went to Lake Alvin with my son Derek to cruise around the lake with him. I took my golf umbrella to see how it would work with this kayak, and my son took the following photos to illustrate the cruise. We put in at the public access point on the western part of the lake, and I sailed nearly to the eastern end of the lake with the umbrella. The speed varied markedly because of the varied landform along the banks. My son was using my Folbot, and he is quite strong. He moves the kayak through the water at about its maximum speed. With the umbrella sail, I was unable to keep up with him over the long haul; he had to wait for me. Still, when the wind was blowing at a reasonable rate, my kayak cruised along raising a bow wave and leaving a wake.


I guess that I would caution anyone using an umbrella sail that maintaining stability is the critical issue. The umbrella adds an additional element to the cruise, but it also increases the chance of an upset. While I have not overturned a kayak yet, I know that using the umbrella adds some risk. I am prepared to let go of the umbrella whenever I feel any hint of instability. I also always wear a life jacket in a kayak, and I think that it would be foolhardy to go umbrella sailing without being prepared for the possibility of an upset.

It really is quite a sight to see a kayak cruising down the lake with a big umbrella held aloft. I keep the golf umbrella with my kayaking gear, and I will probably give this another shot this fall. It is a pretty inexpensive sailing rig!