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Don’t Divide Your Attention!

Posted by Tom Benedict on 14/12/2010

I had a mixed weekend for KAP.  Saturday I went up on Kohala to do some aerial photography of a property that’s set up to demonstrate sustainable agriculture and architecture.  I had an absolute BLAST!  The wind was perfect, which Kohala rarely is.  The light during the first half of the flight was fantastic.  And after the KAP work I got to use the new pole rig I’ve been building out to finish up the last of the required shots in the remaining light.  The owner of the property is a wonderful person, and we both had a great time.  It’s really tough to put a damper on that:  Great KAP, great kite flying, great light and landscape, and great company to boot.  I hope I have the opportunity to work with him in the future.

Sunday morning I spent re-working one of the images from the Saturday session so I could get it back out for distribution.  I charged batteries, cleaned out my memory cards, and got my gear ready to go again.  3:30pm rolled around and the whole family jumped in the car to go to the beach.  Hey, this is what I was getting my gear ready for!

The wind at the beach was minimal, but enough to fly a Dopero in.  I got my Dopero airborne and on a whim I pulled out my rokkaku as well.  Some weeks ago there was a great thread on the KAP Forum regarding kite tacking.  I did some experiments with the upper bridle Y on my rokkaku, and demonstrated that you could repeatably tack a rokkaku by upwards of +/- 20 degrees.

Offset Flying

This photo demonstrates a Flow Form 16 used as an unmodified “control” kite in conjunction with a 6′ rokkaku with a 2″ offset in the bridle, tested symmetrically on both sides to make sure the offset is real, repeatable, and symmetric.

The idea works.  But a fellow KAPer, Simon Harbord, cautioned against jumping into this whole-hog.  He reasoned that by adjusting the bridle to fly the kite out of the center of its wind zone, you are reducing its performance bye a measurable amount.  Until the kite flier has a considerable amount of experience flying under these conditions, they won’t really know what the flight characteristics of the kite are when used in an offset fashion like this.  He’s right, and the first real opportunity I had to make use of kite tacking, I opted to wait for more favorable conditions rather than risk the safety of the people around me with an unknown and untested setup.

So when I got my Dopero airborne, I put my rokkaku together and did a 1″ offset on the bridle before putting it into the air.  The rokkaku flew fine, though the wind was slowly declining throughout.  In the end the Dopero was coming down, so I opted to land both kites.  The rokkaku stayed offset to the left the entire time with no chance of collision, though I had to stop reeling it in from time to time to pump the Dopero back up into the air.

Just as I was about to land the rokkaku, my wife walked up and asked me to keep an eye on our kids while she was rinsing off.  Ack!  I did a quick eye-check on the kids, landed the rokkaku, and looked up just in time to see the Dopero settle into a kiawe tree and rotate 180 degrees into it, locking it into place.  There was to be no flying it back out of the tree.

Before going into the rescue operation, a quick aside about kiawe trees.  They’re local to the Hawaiian Islands, but they’re related to the mesquite trees of the southwest United States.  Think of the thorniest tree you can imagine, then add some more thorns for good measure.  Then make it thirty feet tall and put your kite at the top of it.  That’s where my kite was stuck.

Even before I started the rescue operation, I had made up my mind not to lose this kite.  It’s $250 worth of gear, and it’s my primary light wind kite.  I pulled out my 16′ carbon fiber pole from my kite bag and headed over to figure out how.

Another quick aside about climbing trees to get kites:  Mostly I advise that people don’t.  It’s easy to fall from a tree, and any fall from a height of more than six feet can cause permanent injury or death.  Take it seriously.  It’s a quick way to be maimed for life.  I did climb the tree high enough to get me into range of my kite, but not without considering the risks and realizing I could do it without putting myself in any real harm’s way.  I always had at least two fallback branches below me in case the one I was using snapped, and the trunk was strong enough to hold up my car.  (I weigh less than my car.)

I spent the next hour using a hook at the end of my CF pole to unwrap the kite’s bridle from the tree’s branches and thorns.  I then spent more time shoving it and jockeying it until the kite sail was clear of the tree and was within reach of the ground via the pole.  Then I climbed down and used the pole to pull the kite sail to the ground.  In the end I broke the tie points for both bow lines, I broke one sail line, and I ripped off several small branches that had become entangled in the kite bridle despite my best efforts to keep it clear.  The sail itself appeared to suffer no lasting harm, but there’s still a couple of hours of repair work on the kite before it will fly again, and then the whole thing needs to be re-tuned.

All because I divided my attention at a critical moment.  Lesson learned.  Next time this happens I know how to respond:  “Can you give me just a sec to land these kites before I watch the kids?”  It really would’ve been that simple.  As I carried the rolled up wreckage of my Dopero back to my kite bag, my arms and legs scratched from the kiawe thorns, I couldn’t help thinking, “You IDIOT!”  I have a hard time calling something an accident when such a small dose of common sense would’ve avoided it.

It’s not just kid watching that causes this.  Phone calls, conversations, turning your attention to a battery change or to dig something else out of a KAP bag.  Any one of these could’ve caused what happened.  When your kite is in the air, pay attention to the kite first and foremost.  Don’t divide your attention.

– Tom

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