Inventors unveil purpose-built kitesailing powerhouse

French inventors Dominique and Bruno Legaignoux have introduced a radical and powerful new kite specifically for the kitesailing market. This inflated armature, curved surface kite (it's actually a "slice" of a sphere) is very light, strong and purportedly easy to control in all winds. The Legaignoux brothers build it in sizes from 7m2 to 17m2 (75-185 sq. ft.) and claim it can be launched and controlled by one man, in deep water, without assistance.

The Legaignoux's bring impressive credentials to kitesailing. Past French junior sailing champions, charter boat skippers and, for the past four years, full time kite inventors and developers, the 28- and 29-year-old brothers clearly do nothing halfway.

Dominique and Bruno set out with specific goals. From the start they wanted one man water launchability to maximize "time on the water" for the sailor. They wanted a stable static type kite, rather than the quick quasi-unstable dynamic types to minimize pilot error, maximize safety and thus give more time on the water. They wanted a simple, strong, aerodynamically "clean" kite to give maximum performance and minimum breakdowns. After four years of work, it seems they have succeeded admirably (KI is dying to do a product evaluation on this wing!-ed). The kite has no rigid spars and packs into a small bag. The static type flying configuration allows short 50-60 ft. flying lines, minimizing line drag and making the kite easier to launch and control. It is admirably strong-sharing with kites like Flexifoil a structure almost entirely in tension-with no complex high drag bridling system, simple two line control and lots of horsepower! The kite is patented worldwide; US patent number: 4,708,078.

In 1985, after just three months of waterskiing experience, the Legaignoux's were radar timed kiteskiing at 17 kts. in 3 ft. chop at Speed Week in Brest, France. In 1986 at Brest and again at Port St. Louis, France, in light winds, they beat most windsurfers, even those with big 8 & 9 m2 rigs, finally managing 15 kts in 10 kts of wind.

Parenthetically, the Legaignoux's skis differ fundamentally from those used by Cory Roeseler and Dave Culp in the US. Rather than using the ski's edging ability to provide leeway resistance, the Legaignoux's sail their skis flat, as a windsurfer does, and gain all side force from the large fin or skeg under the board. This is more efficient than edging skis at low and intermediate speeds. Dominique and Bruno have already undertaken an impressive waterski R&D project, having built 15 pairs of skis, all specifically for kitesailing. They have also attached their kite to sailboards, small catamarans, snow skis and sand yachts.

Future projects include a search for a sports manufacturer to purchase rights to and build the kite commercially; using the kite for paragliding (flying non-rigid hangliders-usually done with high efficiency parafoil wings); and developing its use over ice, snow and sand.

The Legaignoux's encourage correspondence. Write to them at: 26 Chemin de Kernoter, 29000 Quimper, France.


There appear to be four quite different systems in actual use.

1) Flexifoil system of Theodor Schmidt. I started many years ago using six 2m (6' Stacker) Flexifoils, which worked well but needed quite a bit of wind and were difficult to launch single-handed. I then built a spring-loaded double reel, which helped a bit, making it easy to wind the lines back after use, simply by walking towards the kites on the ground.

Experiments with small parafoils, sled kites, and Stewkie inflated kites showed the importance of having a system where pull can be decreased immediately, especially as the wind tends to be strongest just where you want to stop; on mountain tops. The forward drive of the Flexifoils is, of course, quickly decreased by putting them in the overhead position or landing them. Many other kites tend to continue pulling on the land, making retrieval difficult or dangerous. One or two 3m Flexifoils (Super 10s) worked much better, but still needed quite a bit of wind. I tried a 5m Flexi (Hyper 16) which could be used in very little wind, but was difficult and even dangerous to handle in strong winds and difficult to control without a very long control bar.

I asked Ray Merry to make me an intermediate size, 4m, which we called the Special 13. (This kite has recently become a standard Flexifoil size-replacing the Hyper 16 kite-ed) This was the answer: the kite behaved beautifully in both light and strong winds and was well steerable with my control bar the length of two ski poles. The system now consists of two 35mm diameter alloy tubes used as ski poles and to store the kite spars when skiing downhill and a double reel which fits in the middle and contains some bracing wires which go to a simple waist belt with a quick release. The twin kite lines go through fishing type guides and through two pulleys at the ends of the control bar. The kite is launched right off the control bar, continually steering while the lines run out and while braking the reel with gloves sporting Kevlar patches. Although the kite could be wound down after skiing, it is much easier to land it and wind it in on the ground.

Provided there is wind from the right direction, it is quite easy to ski on the level and uphill. Uphill requires a really strong wind right from behind. Going to windward is possible on the flat, but only on hard snow. The rig is quite light and I generally take it with me wherever I go skiing but don't often get a chance to use it, as there is seldom the right sort of wind. On flat, hard snow it is possible to drag along up to several people on lines behinds, the length of the chain only limited by the strain you can take through your harness.

This same system allows self launching of up to three kites on the water.

2) Round parachute connected to special harness. Many readers will have seen the thing on TV, people skiing up murderous slopes in gale force winds, airborne half the time. It looks wildly exciting and highly dangerous, although I suppose they have a way of tripping the parachute. (It's not and they do; see feature article on "Upski," 12/88 KI--ed)

3) Rectangular parafoil system of Dieter Strasilla. Strasilla of Weil, W. Germany, perfected a system consisting of a huge 40m2 (450 ft2) parafoil and a special harness with a swivelling ball joint, allowing one to ski before the wind and behind the kite, yet on an appropriate slope to take off at a moment's notice and paraglide through the air, swivelling round 180° to face the direction of flight. This is suitable for light to medium winds and requires some training to do safely. It has not caught on yet because of the expense of the very lightweight parafoil, but the sport of paragliding is growing rapidly and more and more suitable parawings are coming onto the market. (Several excellent parawings are manufactured in the US, but are not sold there, due to problems with liability insurance-ed)

4) Parafoil system used by a German expedition to cross Greenland from east to west. They used medium-sized parafoils (probably about 10m2) without long lines, the kites being attached directly to a short vertical handheld control bar connected to a waist harness and to the supply sleds everyone was dragging. The bar is used for pitch control, as three sets of shrouds are attached to it. Roll control and therefore steering is by rotating the bar and hence the kite rather like a steering wheel. The expedition reported sailing about one third the total distance, which is surely a record. Earlier expeditions used much less effective spinnaker-like sails on their sleds.


One hazy morning two summers ago, veteran kayaker Ed Gillet of San Diego, California quietly set out from Monterey Bay, on the central coast of California, for a little paddling. Sixty four days later, food and water long gone, hands numb and bloody from months of hard paddling, and hope all but gone, Ed just as quietly paddled into the beach at Kahului Harbor, Maui, Hawaii!

Ed had just completed the longest solo paddling/kitesailing ocean journey in history. Determined to make the attempt in a true kayak, rather than a specialized sailboat masquerading as a kayak, Ed paddled/kitesailed a stock Tofino double kayak with no mast, no centerboard, no keel. In Ed's words, "I turned my kayak into one of the most seaworthy little boats in the world. I did not need to carry a life raft--I paddled a life raft."

Lest readers think Ed's got a screw loose (or perhaps several!), we hasten to mention his thirty thousand miles of open ocean sailing experience and ten thousand miles of ocean kayaking, often along the world's most formidable coastlines. Months of planning went into his attempt, preparing and provisioning the kayak and choosing a route and time for the attempt which would maximize his chances for success.

However, though Ed felt confident of his chances of making it, he confesses that, as he left his wife and friends a mile off Lover's Point, "tears rolled down my face and I could hear Katie crying. I looked back from fifty yards away and I knew that we were thinking the same thought, that we might never see each other again."

From the start, Ed knew that such a crossing could never be completed by muscle power alone. He chose a downwind route and time of year to maximize his chances of using kite power to augment his own. For some 60% of the 2200 mile trip, Ed's Jalbert J-15 (a 15 sq. ft. single line parafoil) pulled away, adding 2-3 kts. to his speed and, in his words, "making an impossible crossing a reality."

Plagued by more calms and high winds than he had either predicted or wanted, Ed ran out of food, water, and fish on his sixtieth day. After eating his toothpaste, he was reduced to fantasizing about the gourmet meals being served 30,000 ft above him in first class aboard the Hawaii-bound jets he saw each day. On the 63rd. day, while taking his usual navigational sight, he was annoyed by "that damn mountain" that was obscuring his horizon and ruining the sextant sight. Finally he realized that it was land, and that he was across; he would make it!

Thus Ed Gillet's name enters the record books; as pilot of the longest kayak trip ever, and also surely as the longest kite powered voyage ever conceived or completed. Congratulations, Ed! Some information for this article was taken from Necky Kayak's Summer, 1988 newsletter. Ed Gillet can be reached at: 1310 Rosecrans St., San Diego, California, 92106.


Lee Sedgwick, kiteflier extraordinaire, from Erie, Pennsylvania, USA, has become somewhat of a standard of the industry. New products in the kiteflying field strive to add "endorsed by Lee Sedgwick" to their advertising. When Lee opines a "new direction" to the kiteflying world, it often becomes the new direction in that field. These are strong words, but they describe a strong force in the field. Lee usually takes first or second place in professional stunt flying competitions nationwide, both in individual and team flying. He is credited with being the first to "solo fly" stunt kites; flying from downwind, lines leading through a ground stake and back to the kites flying directly over the flier's head.

Also, not coincidently, Lee is a driving force in powerkiting, his term for the entire genre of kiteflying for brute power. Lee has kiteskied, on ice and snow, over distances as long as 30 miles. While never officially clocked on ice, Lee says, "Judging by the rate that I pass cars driving at the speed limit on the shorefront road, I'm sure I've skied above 50 mph, in 35--40 mph winds."

Lee feels that being able to kiteski upwind back to one's point of origin is paramount to having fun at the sport, and makes that ability a requisite of his equipment. For fun, Lee has perfected the kiteski "jump turn." While skiing on ice at perhaps 20-25 mph, Lee swoops the kites right overhead, leaps (kite assisted) 8-10 feet vertically, reverses his direction and lands heading down his backtrack, at full speed. Lee says that the ice fishermen don't quite know what to make of him.

Lee often flies with Flexifoil kites, but he also likes rigid spar deltas like Hawaiians and Spectrum Darts. Lee's latest love is quad line controls. With this he not only has complete control of the kite's position and speed, he has full pitch control and can turn the kite stack's power on and off at will. This lets him use large powerful stacks of kites with pinpoint control and safety. Lee feels that this is the direction powerkiting will take in the near future. Kitesailing International will soon be evaluating quad line flying, as it pertains specifically to traction kiting.

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