Back to Contents

Kitesailing Progress

William Roeseler & David Culp


Symbols used herein are per Marchaj (Ref. 4)


At the 1979 "Ancient Interface" (Ref 1) we suggested that kite power might lead to speedsailing above 40 kts and to sail cruising above 20 kts on the trade winds. Today we can report that 40 kts has been achieved, not just by windsurfer Eric Beale in "The Ditch" at Ste Maries de la Mer, but also by Cory Roeseler, as you will see in the video, kissing the wavetops at the Colombia River Gorge.

Fig 2 shows Roeseler enjoying a liesurely 20 kt run at Hood River, Oregon. Cruising above 20 kts is also being done today, not in the safety and comfort of the kite powered foiler we had envisioned in 1979, but in a new breed of multihulls built mostly by the French.

Kite propulsion offers great potential to the serious speed sailors of the world. We look forward to the prospect of cutting the sailing time to Hawaii in half while maintaining the safety, comfort, and cost of a modern cruising monohull. In 1979, we proposed placing the pilot aloft in the kite. For cruising to Hawaii from San Francisco in four days, it is probably better to ride a few feet above the water in a sleek, sturdy monohull, providing safe refuge from storms and comfortable survival should the rig be lost. By minimizing or totally eliminating the heeling moment from sailcraft, kite power can permit the necessary refinement of hull and controls design to provide a fast, safe, and efficient craft.

Kite power can do for sailing what the jet engine has done for aviation in terms of doubling speeds and improving safety while cutting costs, thus making the world smaller. Typical speeds of racing sailboats will likely increase from 20 to 40 kts., and typical average speeds of cruising sailboats will likely increase from 10 to 20 kts.

A year ago these bold claims may have fallen on deaf ears, but a kitesailing victory in the 10 M^2 class at Weymouth last October, an (unofficial) record time in the 20 mile "Gorge Cities Blow Out" in July 1989, and progress with efficient hulls and large arrays of kites lend credibility to the art and science of kitesailing. As better kites, hulls, and controls are developed in the next decade, kitesailing progress promises to be dramatic.


Kitesailing; the use of free flying kites as sole traction devices for sailcraft, is not new. Polynesian and Oriental fishing kites and canoes and modern kayakers' use of traction kites suggest that this low technology method of sailing dates back thousands of years. Marco Polo mentioned Samoan Islanders using kites to pull their canoes. Kites were certainly used as traction devices in 18th and 19th century Europe and America. William Pocock built a rather sophisticated kite propelled carriage in England in 1826. He used multi-line controllable kites and the craft was capable of tacking to windward. Ben Franklin used kites to pull himself to leeward while swimming, employing another of his inventions; swim fins, for the windward return. In 1903, Samuel Cody demonstrated the stability and controllability of his patented winged box kites by crossing the English Channel by kiteboat, a feat repeated by Englishman Keith Stewart in 1977, using modern stunt kites.

Present day kiteboats (post 1980) have crossed large bodies of water. Dan Eisaman has crossed each of the Great Lakes, except Superior (attempt slated for 8/89) in an inflatable dinghy pulled by a kite. Ed Gillet paddled/kitesailed across the Pacific Ocean; Monterey, California to Kauaii, Hawaii in Summer, 1987 in a stock Dolfino cruising kayak. A kite powered Tornado catamaran sailed by Ian Day held the world speed record for C-class sailcraft (sail area 225-300 sq ft) from 1982 until 1988 with a speed of 25.02 kts average over 500M. In 1988, an elegantly designed and executed kite powered hydrofoil trimaran by Gilles Durand (Ref 2) of France won the Amateur Yacht Research Society's international award for sailcraft innovation and development. Dave Culp has sailed his planing catamarans and proas at the Weymouth, England speed trials and elsewhere since 1978, at measured speeds of 15-22 kts. Cory Roeseler broke the course record at the Colombia River Blow Out in July, 1989. As this race is sailed dead to leeward, the racers' course is a series of broad reaches downwind. Thus Roeseler's actual distance covered was a bit over 30 statute miles, against a 2-3 kt current. His elapsed time was 50 minutes. Winds were 20 kts with gusts above 40.

Back to Contents