Hitch a ride on the wind in a kite boat
Seattle tinkerer puts kite-power to work on a kayak.
Seattle Times staff reporter
If you go
Trying it’s a breeze
Dan Tracy offers kite-kayak rides, from 30 minutes to an hour ($30-$50), on Lake Washington on weekends and sometimes on weekdays, depending on wind conditions. For scheduling, email email@example.com.
More info: pacificskypower.com
At morning half-light, a mile south of Alki Beach, we launched the kite kayak off the rocky shoreline of Lowman Beach Park, with wind gusts brushing our faces.
Dan Tracy, wearing a wet suit and a mischievous grin, turned to me, “Oh yeah. You ready for this?”
I’ve never seen a happier guy under a charcoal sky with a 20-mph whistling wind, as a fierce storm was brewing on the horizon.
Before I could grasp it all, we were surfing the waves and going faster than I could with a paddle. We bounced around as if on a bucking horse until we capsized — me head first into the cold water and frantically dog-paddling until I could get my bearings to hang on to the vessel. I was shivering, saltwater spurting out of my nose and mouth, as I tried to keep my head above water.
So, no, I really wasn’t ready. But, damn, if that didn’t give me an adrenaline rush to remember.
Putting wind to work
We talked one afternoon, Tracy and I, about this gadget he had built, a kite that you can strap on to a small vessel. You wouldn’t need to paddle much. It would be like being on a motorboat, with the kite harnessing the wind for power.
I had a vision. With my hands free from paddling, I could down a six-pack while we cruised under the sun. I could pose with a tallboy and snap iPhone pictures and text to friends, “jealous?”
But what a tease, this Dan Tracy. He showed me videos of his kite-boating exploits in the windsurfing mecca of Hood River, Ore. A hang glider and windsurfer, Tracy told me that I could get a front-row seat to experience the thrill of an extreme sport with kite boating.
So I traded in the idea of shades and shorts, calm water and beer for a wet suit on the windiest of days.
Last year, Tracy, 35, of Seattle, built his kite contraption for fishing and other water recreation. Tracy, who makes wind turbines for a living, came up with the concept five years ago while searching for an alternative to fossil fuel to power barges across the ocean.
His kite, three square meters, is a trainer used for kitesurfing that he rejiggered with a handlebar with spool and then strapped on to the kayak. With a larger kite the kayak would fly, he said. He has tested it in 35 knots of wind.
He regularly offers kite-kayak rides on weekends on Lake Washington’s relatively calmer waters.
For me, he had something else in mind, a chance to be up close and personal with the Sound.
Hailing a south wind
We launched on the first day of fall, south of Alki Beach. We paddled a half mile out of the wind shadow and then hailed a south wind to drag us to Alki.
His kite needs 10 mph of wind to fly. No problem on this wet morning, when we got gusts of 15 to 25 mph.
He unfurled the nylon kite and released it in the air, the wind keeping it afloat. He then unwound the line from the spool. We were off, a calm ride at first, much like those families who kayak around Lake Union with their kids splashing the water.
Then we heard the wind whoosh. The ride would remain calm if the kite stayed low. But I didn’t drag myself out of bed early Sunday morning for that.
So he let it rip, unwinding the line to its full extension, 75 feet. We were bouncing over the water like those Chris-Craft boats across Lake Washington. “Yee haw,” he said.
He used the handlebar to steer the kite in a figure-eight pattern.
Over the loud gusts, I faintly heard him say, “We’re going about 10 miles per hour.”
We surfed the waves. I got a better core workout than an hour’s worth of Pilates. If the wind pulled a hard right, I leaned left to balance the kayak to prevent it from tipping over.
After an hour, my abs were burning, as if I had done 100 crunches.
I don’t know what those wide-eyed spectators from their fancy condos onshore thought. But it felt like being on a chariot, with some prehistoric bird pulling us across the water.
Then the waves got bigger, the wind stronger.
The waves bounced off the seawall and headed back out at us. Big waves came at us from both directions. Now it was like a spin cycle of a Kenmore.
I didn’t contort my upper body fast enough to counterbalance the tugging of the wind and waves, and that was when our kayak flipped.
As soon as I got my head above water, I started choking up saltwater.
Tracy steadied the kayak for me to climb into the cockpit.
“You all right?” he said.
“Yeah,” I said, still choking.
Perhaps worried that I was scared or mad, he broke the silence. “Well, we got our shower for the day,” he said.
We both laughed.
Tan Vinh: 206-515-5656 or firstname.lastname@example.org. On Twitter @tanvinhseattle