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Kiteboat sailors aim for Hawaii

Dec 17, 2013
Kiteboat Project team members practice in San Francisco Bay.

Kiteboat Project team members practice in San Francisco Bay.

Courtesy Kiteboat Project

The catamaran-hydrofoil flies over the waves. The boat has a telescopic mast in the center, but no sails. It is pulled by a huge kite dancing in the wind 65 to 180 feet above the boat.

Driving the boat is Don Montague from the Kiteboat Project. Montague is one of the pioneers of California’s kite surfer-community. His background as a professional windsurfer on the World Cup Tour and as a professional kite surfer has kept him on the cutting edge of sail and kite development. In the last 10 years his focus has been developing the technology behind the kite boats and finding new ways for wind power.

In 2006 Montague and two colleagues founded Makani Power, a company which is developing airborne wind turbines for generating electricity. Google has just acquired the company which is expecting to have a commercial product ready in five to seven years.

In addition to his job as interim CEO at Makani Power, Montague spends a lot of time aboard his kite hydrofoil boat to obtain knowledge about how kites work most effectively in the wind.

 “My personal goal is to cross the Pacific from San Francisco to Hawaii in record time,” said Montague.

The current record for “wind-powered” boat is from 1997 and is five days and nine hours. To beat the record, Montague has to make the trip at an average speed of 25 knots for a distance of approximately 2,397 miles from San Francisco to Honolulu.

Montague is most concerned about the distance, to try out sailing with kite over several thousand miles with a kiteboat.

“The purpose of the Kiteboat Project is to test our systems so that we achieve more efficiency and safety. You can compare it with the preparations for the America’s Cup, we measure wind speed, wind direction and our performance. We have five to seven cameras running and we analyze the results on the computer when we have come ashore, he explains.

Like the America’s Cup boats, the Kiteboat Project uses hydrofoils to lift the hull out of the water.

The current record holder for sailboat speed is Vestas Sailrocket. Montague explains that when Vestas sails faster than 35 to 40 knots, it is partly because the boat has a stiffer wing and it gives more momentum than a synthetic woven kite that is rolling around in the wind. Montague also confirms that they are actually in the process of developing semi-rigid kites made of hybrid materials for the boat. Makani Power already uses rigid wings made of carbon fiber for their flying wind turbines.

Montague cautions that it can be extremely risky to mount a kite on a sailboat if you don’t have prior knowledge in the field. “When we sail 35 knots in the bay, there is a pull of 661 pounds on the rope to the kite and even with a boat of 1,102 pounds and four men on board, we can accelerate to 35 knots in a few seconds. It is quite different from a sailboat.”

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