Yesterday I got a text from Mark Featherstone (who I had first met in Devon a couple of weeks ago, but had previously nearly met in mid-Pacific – see my blog for Oct 9) to say he was in San Francisco to check up on Cheyenne, Steve Fossett’s record-breaking catamaran, and would I like to see the boat?
I certainly would, so I turned up at the dock in Alameda and Mark showed me around. TheCheyenne is an amazing craft – although her overall dimensions are huge, her twin hulls are like knife blades, designed to scythe through the water, so the living space below decks is minimal – no more than a few feet wide and extremely spartan. My rowboat, the Brocade, is almost on a par comfort-wise, but cost several million dollars less and goes an awful lot slower.
The tour over, we went down to a local beach to watch a former Cheyenne crew member and a group of colleagues test out a conceptual ‘kite’ boat. This is an extension of the relatively new sport of kitesurfing, which in turn evolved from windsurfing. Check out the kiteboat website to find out more. The idea (as far as I could gather) is that when the winds at sea level are too slight, by using a kite instead of a sail you can take advantage of stronger winds a few hundred feet up.
After a mobile phone call to the crew, I was offered the opportunity to join them. I wasn’t exactly dressed for the occasion, but took off my boots and jeans and waded out into the shallow water in my underwear to clamber on board. It’s not often I introduce myself to a group of total strangers (all male) wearing my undies (that’s me wearing the undies, not the strangers), but nobody seemed too bothered. They were too preoccupied with trying to keep the huge kite aloft to notice some random underclad female stowaway.
The boat is still very much a prototype, but I’ve since seen impressive video footage of the same crew using a kite in conjunction with an outrigger canoe, skimming at high speed across the waves in Hawaii. We went at a relatively sedate pace in the light Alameda winds yesterday, but the concept definitely has mileage.
Not for me, though – I’ll stick to my oars.
[photo: launching the kite from the beach. These guys had wetsuits. I didn’t.]