Sea kayaking and kites

(To read about kiting in the winter, go to Kite skiing and kite skating.)

I have heard about people using large, 4-string kites to propel kayaks, but that sounded a bit ambitious to start with, so I've been playing with a very small (1 square metre) one-string traction kite (A parafoil 7.5 bought for $30 from Into The Wind. Similar kites are available in Sweden at Biltema), and it works surprisingly well. In a 4 m/s (15 km/hr or 10 mph) wind, I was propelled up to 4 knots (8 kph), at about 45 degrees to the wind direction. Launching alone is a bit tricky, especially if you get it wrong the first time and fill it with water. I cut drain holes in the ends of the cells to help recover from that. I also tried reinforcing the structure with graphite spars to make one-handed launching easier, but assembly on the deck was harder, and probably not worth it.

I launch in the normal way holding the spool in my hand and letting out line slowly enough that the kite doesn't stall. Using a drogue tail would make the kite more stable before it gets up into less turbulent air, but means more lines to get tangled on the deck. Once the kite is up and stable (it doesn't need to be very high), I attach another line to the kite line using a cheap carabiner, and this line has been previously fed to the front of the kayak and back, so that I can pull the kite line down so that it pulls from the front of the kayak instead of from the cockpit, making tracking more stable. I then steer by dragging the paddle as though I were surfing the boat. If the boat starts going too fast, the effective wind on the kite drops and it will stall, so then back-paddling helps bring it back up. It's hard to imagine such a small kite developing a dangerous amount of pull, but maybe keeping a knife handy for emergencies would be wise.

I have only used it on a couple of test runs so far, but I can see it being useful on long, tedious crossings. And yes, it is possible to do an eskimo roll whilst being towed by the kite. Don't ask me how I know that.

1 square meter is perhaps a bit small, so now I need to find out where the trade-off of power, controllability, and one-handed launchability is. Perhaps somewhere around 2 square metres ?

Photo : Åsa Eriksson

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© Mark Harris July 2002