Among all the kites made for traction over the past few years, have any been specifically designed for use over water?
Bruno and Dominique Legaignoux, two young French sailors and inventors, have come up with a safe and reliable sailing kite, very easy to relaunch without assistance even after it has fallen in the water.
Since their first prototypes, which were actually developed for waterskiing and reached the size of 20 square meters (about 215 square feet), nine years of quiet research and development elapsed. It was only last summer that the Legaignoux brothers began production. They are now looking for partner companies to help in distribution on a larger scale.
The WIPICAT System applies not only to catamarans (as seen on cover) but to sea kayaks, opposite. Applications on sand, ice and snow are also being explored. This page, right, paired hulls shoot high at take-off. The inflated frame and shape of the wing permit relaunching from water.
Although it can suit other boats and already has been adopted by dozens of kayakers, this innovative kite is normally meant to be used with a 3.2-meter-long (10½-foot-long) inflatable catamaran purposely designed by the two brothers.
This kite-propelled catamaran known as “WIPI-CAT” (WInd Propelled Inflatable CATamaran) has all the features to make it a popular new beach sport.
It is easy to handle and it is extremely safe for the user as well as for nearby swimmers because neither the boat nor the kite can sink or hurt thanks to their inflatable structures.
Furthermore, the boat, the kite and all their accessories can fit into a small bag, 60 x 32 x 32 cm, (about 2 ft x 13 in. x 13 in.) for transport, the total weighing no more than 10kg (about 22 lbs). The kite itself is interesting in design because of its unique (and patented) features. Surprisingly, the Legaignoux brothers have had very few contacts with the kite community. They come from a sailing back-ground – both of them were French junior champions in the 70’s. This may explain why their kite is so innovative, and escapes the influence of other already marketed designs.
The six-square-meter (about 65-square-foot) single-layer sail is made from light laminated polyester ripstop cloth and its shape maintained by six custom-made inflatable ribs: a long one of arch form along the leading edge, and five others which give shape to the profile. They are made of a special (secret) light and elastic material and slid inside cloth sleeves. You just blow them up, put the valves back in place and the kite is ready. It will not sink nor fill up with water like other wind-inflated wings. In case of a puncture, which is very unlikely to happen on water, the kite can still fly with one or even two ribs deflated. The ribs are easy to repair or replace.
Seen from the front, the kite has a half circle shape. One immediately notices the absence of any complex bridling; only two fairly short (six-meter (about 20-foot) polypropylene lines, which float on water, come from each end of the arch and are attached with a safe quick-release system to the harness of the pilot, who doesn’t have to bear the pull through his arms.
Inflation and transport of the WIPICAT system is streamlined: Right, the wing waits in the green bag while the catamaran under-goes inflation. Inset, ail the equipment in the bag weighs only 10 kilos (22 Ibs).
Directional control of the kite is achieved by pulling on the small knobs attached at the ends of two smaller lines, running through the main ones, coming out just one foot (about 30cm ) before the kite and attached a little higher to its leading edge. Pulling the right knob will lean the kite to the left, and vice versa. (The controls are the “opposite” of what they are on regular stunt kites.) In light winds, pulling both knobs will give an extra kick to the kite. Of course, the WIPICAT System is not meant for acrobaties in the sky. The kite is designed in such a way that it can be steered with only one hand.
These features along with the ability to move the towing point relative to the boat provide full directional control: turns on the spot, quick stops, reverse drives, and windward courses up to 60°. When it falls on the water, the kite tumbles, pushed by the wind, and soon gets into the proper position for a relaunch. Windspeeds over Force 2 to 3 (4 to 12 mph) are required to make this maneuver possible. Through the many tests they did, the Legaignoux brothers have reached speeds of 15 knots (17mph) with their catamaran. Many other uses of this kite are soon to be explored, particularly in the field of failing safety. Perhaps this unsinkable kite would become a regular feature on every lifeboat.