Kite-Sailing Across The Atlantic

By Rich Armstrong

The fully self-sufficient Race for Water catamaran embarks on a five-year journey to raise awareness of plastics pollution in our oceans.

Kite sailing on Race for WaterPhoto: Race for Water/Peter Charaf

Sailors live to catch and harness the wind, whether they're aboard a little Optimist or a modern luxury sailing yacht. What the crew of the unique one-off multihull Race for Water has accomplished would make any sailor proud.

The 114-foot, 100-ton catamaran with 51-foot beam crossed the Atlantic Ocean from Lorient, France, to Bermuda, over 30 days powered by a 786-panel solar generator massive traction kite at an average of 5 knots over more than 3,000 miles to Bermuda.

The state-of-the-art vessel powered by a mixture of renewable energy sources: solar, hydrogen and a traction kite, was originally named Tûranor PlanetSolar when launched in 2010, and became the first solar electric vehicle ever to circumnavigate the globe in 2012.

Now with a new crew and new name, the vessel has the same mission of raising environmental awareness. Race for Water departed France on April 9 on a five-year odyssey with mission to promote solutions to preserve the ocean. Bermuda was the first stopover.

The catamaran is 100-percent energy self-sufficient, thanks to its ability to harness both solar and hydrogen energy — a technological achievement developed and produced by the foundation's partner company Swiss Hydrogen. Acting as an ambassador boat for the program, Race for Water will travel the globe to serve as an educational platform, traveling laboratory, and a working demonstration of clean-tech innovations.

According to Martin Gavériaux (engineer) and Pascal Morizot (captain), the Race for Water consumes per hour on average 15 kW for its propulsion and 4 kW for the equipment on board for an average daily energy consumption of 456 kWh for a speed of between 4 and 5 knots. Thanks to 5,263 square feet of solar paneling, up to 600 kWh of power can be produced on a clear, sunny day. Power from the solar panels is stored in lithium-Ion batteries, and these connect through controllers to electric motors in each hull. Surplus energy from the solar panels is used to run other onboard systems, most noticeably desalination units that produce drinking water, negating the requirement to carry large, heavy amounts of water in tanks that would slow down the vessel. The desalination also produces hydrogen as a byproduct. Instead of this going to waste, it is compressed then stored in tanks aboard to power fuel cells and thus produce more electricity when the weather is cloudy or the solar panels can't produce enough to satisfy onboard demands.

Additionally, the boat is fitted with a short A-frame mast from which various kites may be flown. The crew has tried five different kites with surface areas ranging from 215 square feet to 430 square feet. When the wind is between 10 and 25 knots, at an angle between 100 and 180 degrees in relation to the vessel's trajectory, the kite makes it possible to completely relieve the electric motors most of the time. Controlled by an automatic pilot system, the kite traces a "figure-eight" trajectory, familiar to those favored by kitesurfers, producing traction loads of 1,763 pounds to 4,400 pounds — a significant performance level for a vessel weighing 100 tons.

Check out this video of the traction kite in action from the perspective of both the boat — and the kite! 


— Published: June 2017

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