The following is all boring stuff about kite sailing, I suggest you stop reading now.
I’m enjoying my new freedom, not having any direct responsibilities any more – since all the hard stuff devolved to Jenny and Craig from when they officially took over Peter Lynn kites Ltd on Feb. 1st.
Ha ha!, who am I kidding?- I never did any of that stuff anyway.
But still, there has been a change of structure and focus.
A first fruit of this is that I’ve come to a new direction from which to think about the future of kitesailing- and by kite sailing I don’t mean kitesurfing, I’m referring to the use of kites instead of conventional sails for boats- including LARGE boats.
I came late to kite sailing, in 1987. - Dave Culp had already been at it for years and Ian Day had set a class speed record with a stack of Flexifoils and a modified Tornado catamaran back in 1978- and of course kites have been used for pulling boats around for hundreds of years at least. George Pocock wrote the first treatise on sailing upwind using kites in the 1820’s- and did it.
In October 1987, John Waters, then from Lincoln City (funny that, you’d think it was in Texas, because anywhere else they’d call it a town- but no, it’s in Oregon) suggested kite sailing to me as a goal worth pursuing- and I have been, from then on.
But kite sailing still hasn’t made it to the big board yet, it’s still barely on the fringes even within the kite fraternity.
Sure, PL Kites Ltd now have a good start at the small end with the KiteCat.
And ‘KiteShip’ (Dave Culp and Dean Jordan) have a solid and growing market for their ‘Outleader’ spinnaker replacement kites on ocean going yachts.
And Don Montague (Naish Sails) successfully rigs big LEI style kites to Outrigger canoes and larger catamarans.
And ‘Skysail’ from Hamburg have just announced their receipt of an 8million Euro grant to further plans for using kites to propel commercial shipping.
And there are many other exciting projects bubbling away getting ready to burst forth that I’m not a liberty to talk about.
And everyone working in the field is experiencing an exponential growth in the number of enquiries from hopeful but naïve yacht owners wanting to convert to kites.
But in 1987 I thought kite sailing would be an established and substantial niche within the wider world of yachting by the mid ‘90s at the latest. Ten years past this and it’s not making much of a showing yet. I’m too embarrassed to re-print here some things I predicted back then, especially the time scale bits.
I’m not losing faith at all though, I can feel it getting closer and closer to lift off.
But what if it’s another false start- what if the culmination of all the current hypes and hopes falls over by not being economically viable (commercial uses) or not fast and exciting enough (recreational sailing), or just not reliable enough (both)– wind being notorious in this respect, and kites being much more susceptible to rubbish wind than sails are. At least sails don’t fall off their masts into the water when there’s a momentary lull!.
And what if failure this time leaves enough bad memories with investors, potential customers and even, perish the thought, us diehards, to set the field back for another few generations?
And shshsh, keep this quiet please, but I think it likely, or at least possible that we will fail this time; because flying kites is too difficult.
We’re all coming at this from the wrong direction. We’re highly skilled fliers, we believe in kites- and because of this we put up with all the shit they throw at us. Other people will buy our dreams for a while- but then they won’t- especially commercial users won’t, and recreational sailors won’t either, once the novelty has worn off- unless kites become really easy and reliable to use or confer some spectacular performance advantage.
But there may be an answer;
Put simply it’s that if the default mode for traction kites was auto stability - that is, they behaved like good single line kites unless the flier was inputting control movements- and further if they could also be persuaded to switch to their minimum pull state when called on to look after themselves – then kites will take over the world at last.
This is not a new idea of course, but I may be having some glimmerings of success in actually finding a way to do it.
Excluding lighter than air kites as probably impractical, I can think of three ways that traction kites can be made with an auto stable default mode.
The first is to design traction kites so that they are docile and inherently stable (like single line kites) – that is, they de-power and seek their apex- except when under personal control.
The second is to develop automatic pilots that cause them to do the same.
And the third is to use a small auto stable ‘top’ kite (with either inherent stability or an auto pilot) that then controls the position of a larger ‘power’ kite that is below it.
The third is a given- if either auto pilots or inherent single line type stability prove feasible, then this stacked kite approach will not only work, but for large boats will become the standard solution I’m sure.
I’m almost terminally skeptical about the feasibility of kite autopilots- having made more than a few attempts at developing them over many years (usually for the purpose of extending our range of single line kites to forms that lack inherent stability). Most people working in traction kite and kite sailing development are more optimistic about auto pilots than I am however.
But I am rather hopeful of traction kites that default as high performance single line kites- because I have one sort of working already, fruits from my first month of freedom!
Ashburton 27 Feb ‘06
PS: What’s New: The Latest KiteSled –see photo…. “it’s off to Greenland”