A 100-Ton Kitesurfer

Not a typical sailboat, Race for Water’s wind power is generated by an avant-guarde, automated traction kite, developed by Skysails Yacht of Hamburg, Germany, a leader in Kite and wind technologies. A 30m2 (323 sq ft) Kite can fully power our 100-ton boat in 20 knots winds. Consequently, while the Kite is pulling, the solar panels can recharge batteries or create hydrogen energy through electrolysis.

A similar technology can be used on land to generate electricity without the need for large permanent wind turbines. This Kite system is an essential part of the Race for Water energy mix: Solar and Wind to complementarily generate energy, Batteries and Hydrogen to complementarily store that energy. We have named those four technologies the four Musketeers of the clean energy transition.


The Race for Water in the Atlantic on his way to Bermuda

Tracing an “8” makes a 323 sq ft Kite able to pull a 100 ton ship

 Kite “smarts” 

— Wind at 100+ meters altitude is strong and steady compared to wind at sea level, making this high-altitude wind an ideal resource. A kite flying at 100 m altitude easily captures this energy.

— Once deployed, the kite maneuvers intelligently in a constant “Figure 8”, creating a dynamic movement which generates its own power (up to 25 times more power per square meter than conventional sails).  This Figure 8 movement is the key to the wind-powering of our 100-ton “surfer”.

— The “brain” of the Kite is in the Pod.  This automated controller performs the tasks of steering and adjusting the kite’s path to optimize energy and guarantee safety.  It also launches and retracts the kite. All information is transmitted by radio to the ship’s bridge, and displayed on a monitor for the crew.


Easy to operate, powerful to use

The sail shape is similar to the shape of a paraglide sail.  There are four sails of various sizes to choose from, based on wind speed and weather. Meteorological conditions are assessed daily by the crew, and when wind and other parameters are met the captain decides to use the kite.

Launching the kite takes about 10-20 minutes:  A telescope mast is first mounted by the crew on the foredeck. The kite and line are then attached to the mast at the launch and recovery capsule (figure). The captain directs the start of the unwinding process: the automated system is engaged, the towing rope and sail are let out and the sail is unfurled like and accordion at the pre-determined altitude. The recovery process is the same in reverse.


The Pod directs the kite and continuously maneuvers the kite to repeat each Figure 8 and remain at altitude, with the downward part of each cycle creating energy. This would be prohibitively difficult to do manually. The Pod also keeps the kite operating within the continually changing proper position “window”, which is essential for optimal power. For example, the greater the wind, the higher the kite is positioned; the lesser the wind, the lower the kite is. If the wind direction changes slightly, the Pod adjusts the kite position accordingly.

The control system further performs within very conservative safety parameters, and if the wind reaches a certain high speed, the Pod changes the kite’s Figure 8 movement into a standard towing position (the Figure 8 movement is optimal up to a certain wind speed). If the wind diminishes too much the kite is then maneuvered until reeled in.

The “smart” Pod operates the Kite automatically

Once the kite is pulls the boat, the motor is disengaged and the boat sails entirely from wind.  This is extremely exciting for a large, heavy catamaran which remains horizontal!  Further, the boat speed and kite’s dynamic movement create their own energy force which generate even more power.  During each cycle of the Figure 8, the kite sends a jolt of up to two tons of traction down the cord (the cord’s flexible nature enables it to absorb the shock).

The “smart” Pod

 While the kite is effectively pulling the boat, it is also generating incidental power.  When the solar photovoltaic cells are not needed to power the boat, they are used to either charge batteries, or to initiate and operate the hydrogen component of Race for Water’s integrated energy system.

This Kite powers on the clean energy transition on land too

In effect, what is monumental about Race for Water is its technology mix and its unique platform from which to demonstrate the reality of our clean energy transition.  By an innovative design in cooperative interaction between these four energy technologies, The Odyssey of Hope is a showcase for the feasibility of a coherent energy mix to power on a clean future.

Kite  energy can also be land-based and/or mobile, just as solar and hydrogen energies. In the near future, one can imagine self-sufficient energy just about anywhere, especially on island nations or remote locations for example, who might have lots of wind one day and lots of sun another day or both or none on some days, and perhaps sea water readily available. Maximizing these energies together is now a reality as shown by the Odyssey of Hope. This is our future, this is now.

See more on SkySails’ web site.

Alphabet Inc. (formely Google) is also looking into Kite based electricity generators, see Makani Inc.

Also SHELL Ventures invested in Kite Power System


Changing Planet


Meet the Author
The Race for Water Foundation is an organization dedicated to the preservation of water and the ocean in particular. This indispensable resource is under massive threat from pollution and must be protected. The Foundation aims to identify, promote and implement technological solutions to preserve the ocean. Race for Water remains committed and head back to sea with the Race for Water Odyssey : a 5-year expedition around the world dedicated to science and energy transition, using the ocean, the sun and the wind as its sole sources of energy