San Francisco Bay, Still the Wilder West

Illustration © Kiteboat Project

By Kimball Livingston Posted April 1, but we’re not joking

Four hundred sixty square miles on the surface at high tide, two trillion gallons in volume, more or less, twice a day, on the exchange of tides, that is San Francisco Bay. And a why-not ethos. As in, why not use kites to power boats? At the Kiteboat Project, the answer is, why not, indeed?

Going far beyond theory from its skunkworks on Alameda Island, on the eastern reach of San Francisco Bay, the Kiteboat Project has dazzled everyone who caught a glimpse of the results. The thing looks fast just sitting still, but it doesn’t have a mast and . . .

Former pro windsurfer-kitesurfer/sail designer Don Montague has been at this for a few years now, but it’s a fellow named Joe Brock who usually gets to drive.

Here is the thesis, as developed at the Kiteboat Project web site:

“The advantages of a kiteboat over a traditional sailboat are manifold. As a kite pulls a boat, it does not also heel the boat over or pitch it forward as a sail does. This fact means that a kiteboat does not require large counterbalancing forces which, in opposing the heeling and pitching forces of a sail, create drag and present practical problems. The absence of this behavior means that the only limit on kite size is kite control, since increasing the power made by the kite does not require increasing ballast or beam, for example, which are limiting factors on a sailboat. Kites can fly higher than sails, too, which grants them access to stronger, steadier, higher-altitude winds, and kites can be maneuvered through the air to create more apparent wind. This maneuvering generates extra power, which is not possible with a fixed sail on a mast.

“Finally, a kite lifts the boat out of the water as it propels it forward, which effectively reduces the displacement and decreases drag. While any boat would benefit from this boost, a hydrofoil benefits especially, because the kite reduces the amount of lift required from (and drag created by) the foils, and the lack of heeling and pitching forces makes reliably maintaining trim and ride height much more practicable. It is not necessary for a kiteboat to be a hydrofoil boat, but for us, this configuration represents a perfect marriage of technology.”

This, btw, isn’t necessarily the wildest thing these folks are into, but the wraps are off of this baby.

Check the video at the Kiteboat Project

Myself, weather permitting, I’m hankering to take a ride on Friday on San Francisco Bay aboard a wing-powered boat whose developers have quietly gone their own way with their own unique purpose. Maybe I’ll even file a report.

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