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:

Monday, September 22, 2008

First Use of Spirit Sail

First Sail

The sail for my kayak that I ordered from Spirit Sail arrived while I was in California visiting old Peace Corps pals. This past weekend was the first chance for me to try out the sail in light winds. A day or two before, the wind was blowing 25 miles per hour, and I thought that it would be best to make a first effort at sailing the kayak with a real sail under milder conditions. So, on Saturday, the winds were light, probably too light. In the morning, I looked out at the trees and saw leaves slightly moving. But, this was the day, and I just hoped that there would be some wind at Lake Alvin. The weather bureau reported winds at just over 5 mph, and for South Dakota that is almost a flat calm.

I headed out to Lake Alvin with Marsha and our dog; our Saturday routine always calls for a walk in one of the nearby nature areas around noon. Lake Alvin seemed okay for both needs – a walk for Marsha and Finnegan and a try-out of the sail for me.
Earlier, I had attached the sail mount to my kayak. I drilled out four holes on the fore deck of the kayak and, with some difficulty, managed to get the mount attached along with a backing plate on the bottom of the deck. The mount has a fitting to attach the sail, and it is possible to rig the sail while underway. I needed to practice attaching the sail and adjusting it, as well as sailing the kayak downwind.
The sail is called a “downwind rig” and is akin to sledding down a hill. As long as the boat is running within 30 degrees either way of the wind direction, the sail should draw. There are three settings for the mast, and the sail can be adjusted by grasping the mast mount, lifting it free of its seat, and adjusting it for straight downwind sailing or sliding it to either the left or right to the 30 degree mark for sailing slightly off the wind. It is by no means a sail that would permit tacking. My rudder acts somewhat like a centerboard.
The sail can be used for messing around on a lake as long as the kayak is placed in a position where the direction of travel is downwind. Like a sled, the kayaker might have to paddle upwind to a point and then sail back. If the direction of travel were to be lengthy, such as on a wide or long body of water, the sail might ease the burden of paddling and be used to effortlessly move along.
The sail can also be used just as a chance to experience the most rudimentary form of wind-born travel. Many of the features of sailing are there: the draw of the sail, the luff in a sail as the wind shifts across its surface, the snap of the sail as the wind grabs it, and the sound of water passing under the hull just from the pull of the sail.
This sail is called the “mid-size” and is billed as good for “older (geezer)” sailors. The sail area is only 8.5 feet, not really much more that my big golf umbrella. The advantage of the sail over my umbrella is that my hands are free to balance the paddle for a potential brace or draw. I steer the boat with my foot-operated rudder.
On this occasion, I found myself more concerned with operating the sail than in enjoying the time on the water. I paddled from the dock in the Lake Alvin Recreation Area down to the fishing dock and then sailed back. The sail back was slow with the wind conditions. I could have easily have raced myself with just a leisurely paddle. But then, I chose a day with limited wind. I want to try it again with the wind about 10 mph and see how the boat moves. For now, I have the sail in its bag and will carry it in the bottom of the kayak on future paddles. When the occasion presents itself, I will set up the sail and continue to learn how to use it effectively.
There is a certain irony in using a sail with the kayak. I got the boat, in large part, to provide another avenue for exercise – a form of exercise that is very appealing to me. The sail might reduce the exercise aspect of kayaking, and that would not be good. Also, it is not the effort of paddling that tends to bring on fatigue for me; it is, instead, the time spent sitting in the boat. I can only endure a couple hours before getting out and walking around. At my advanced age, four hours total is about my daily limit of paddling.
For now, however, I can imagine those first days of sail as early man set out in dugout canoes with a scrap of sail to ease the effort. My sail is very similar to those earliest devices.

By the way, the regional magazine Living Here did a feature story of me in their fall issue. The cover is one of my photos of kayaking Split Rock Creek among the rock palisades.

Sunday, September 07, 2008

Sailing the Kayak

Last week I went out to Lake Alvin for a little umbrella sailing. The wind was just right, and I was able to sail in a moderate breeze from the public access point on the northwestern side up nearly to the fishing dock on the southeastern shore. The umbrella can be shifted to capture the wind along an arc of perhaps 60 degrees, 30 degrees on either side of the wind direction. I was alone on the lake and just cruised along, laughing in the light winds. I had to paddle back down to the western end of the lake, but I was able to umbrella sail again across from the south to the north side.

As I have begun to run out of new waters in the Sioux Falls area, I have turned to the notion of sailing as a way to add a little spice to my paddling activities. The notion of adding a sail to one of my kayaks has held appeal to me for many years, but the cost of a sailing rig has deterred me. Using the umbrella has been sort of a novelty, and I have enjoyed the feeling of being pulled along faster than I can paddle while hanging on one- handed to a big golf umbrella.

In the last couple of weeks, I have begun an e-mail correspondence with another former University of South Dakota professor who has moved to Virginia. He contacted me in response one of my postings and invited me to check out his own blog describing kayaking experiences along the coast in the Virginia area. He really offers wonderful photography and narrative description of exploring the lakes, rivers, and coast of Virginia in his fleet of sea kayaks. I was immediately taken by remarks about sailing the kayak using a “Spirit Sail.” This is a very basic sailing rig that can easily be fitted to nearly any kayak. It is a “downwind” sail that can be adjusted on its mount 30 degrees either side of fore and aft.

After reading his narrative and looking at the photos, I located the company that sells these sails and called the owner. We had a nice chat about her experiences using the Spirit Sail, and she answered the several questions that I had.

The long and short of this is that I have ordered myself the “mid-size” Spirit Sail that comes with everything needed to install it: mounting plate, bolts, sail, mast, battens, and carrying bag. The cost was $225, which seems a modest investment for the fun I anticipate and the new experience of dealing with winds and sails. The sail has already been shipped, and I look forward to using it yet this fall before the winter chill sets in too deeply.

I highly recommend checking out the Virginia Paddler at You will find the Steve Hildreth is an excellent writer who offers very interesting observations and comments about his kayaking ventures. You can also read in some detail about how he has adapted the Spirit Sail to fit his kayaking needs. If you want to check out the sail rig itself, you can go to There is a range of accessories to the sail so that it can be adapted to most kayaks or canoes, and there are two size sails. I got the smaller of the two, the “geezer” sail for timid old-timers. I can hardly wait for the sail to arrive and a good day to head out to Lake Alvin to sail off in search of adventure in my sailing kayak!