Seattle Tinkerer Puts Kite-power to Work on a Kayak

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.

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