Dan Tracy is standing on his 24-foot Corsair trimaran, just off Maliko Gulch on Aug. 29. He and fellow crewmember Ian Fisher move deftly about the deck as they prepare to launch one of the world’s only kite-propelled boats. A gentle breeze sways palm trees overhead. “We really picked the perfect day to go out,” Tracy says.
The two-member crew works in a harmony born of more than 100 launches, some more successful than others. “At first it was a lot of trial and error, but now we can launch successfully every time,” Fisher says.
Gone from their boat is the mast—a requirement of all sailboats dating back centuries. In its place stands an apparatus looking like a gigantic fishing reel. It’s a winch designed to steer a hefty kite, like those used for kite boarding. The system takes about five minutes to set up, while a mast can require an hour and a half.
The kite’s height above the boat allows it to catch wind that’s often stronger and steadier than that nearer to the water’s surface. Once overhead, the kite lifts the boat slightly out of the water, providing a much smoother ride than traditional sailboats. The boat can gain speeds of up to 16 knots.
But Tracy and Fisher want more than just a comfortable ride. “A typical trip uses only one-eighth to one-sixteenth a gallon of gas,” Tracy says. They burn fuel only to move in and out of the harbor.
Tracy’s been sailing since he was a kid. The idea for the kite-boat came to him in 2004, when he bought an 18-foot Hobie Cat catamaran.
“After I bought the Hobie Cat I realized I didn’t want to use the mast,” he says. “It was a big hassle to set up, and on the water it wasn’t very comfortable. It could have flipped really easily.”
Tracy, an avid kiteboarder, started asking around to see if there were any kite systems available for boats. “Once I found out there weren’t any, I decided to develop my own,” he says. “I wanted to be able to go out and catch fish.”
Now they do just that. Not more than 20 minutes into the trip, Fisher spots the telltale dip of one of the fishing poles. Seconds later a small Mahi comes writhing onto the deck. “This one needs to go back,” Fisher says as he carefully removes the hook.
The late morning sun shines off the water and onto Fisher’s face as he recasts the line into the water. Last month, when he and Tracy wrestled a 20-pound Ono aboard their vessel, they became the first in the world to catch their dinner while trolling on kite power. The event claimed them a spot on a local news broadcast.
Eventually, Tracy and Fisher envision cargo ships propelled by kites and solar power, drastically reducing global greenhouse gas emissions. They hope to be traveling inter-island routes by the end of this year, and plan to circumnavigate the globe within the next five.
In Hamburg, Germany, the company SkySails is moving in the same direction. Since 2001, they’ve been retrofitting barges, superyachts and fishing trawlers with kites as a supplement to gas powered engines. According to their website the system can reduce a ship’s fuel consumption by up to 50 percent.
Back on Maui, Tracy and Fisher are gaining friends in high places. The two recently received a letter from U.S. Senator Daniel Akaka (D, Hawai‘i), congratulating them on their work developing a new sustainable technology. Naish, Fiberglass Hawaii and others have signed on as sponsors.
Now, as the trimaran pulls back into Kahului Harbor, curious fishermen and onlookers dot the shoreline.
“This is the only boat like this in the world,” Tracy says from the winch platform. It’s looking like that will change very soon.
For more info visit www.kiteforsail.com. MTW