For extreme sports fans, summer on Narragansett Bay is a rush.
You aren’t seeing things: in recent years it seems the bay has been teeming with unusual wind-powered craft, traveling at uncommon speeds. One local fleet of A-class catamarans (A-cats, for short), recognizable by their tall, gray sails that resemble the dorsal fins of enormous orcas as they slice through Bristol harbor, has more than doubled in just a couple of summers.
Kiteboarders (also known as kitesurfers) congregate en masse when the wind is right, in places like Middletown’s Sachuest Point and Fogland Beach in Tiverton.
And if you are lucky, you may even catch a glimpse of a “Moth,” as the international Moth hydrofoil is known.
Technically, the Moth is not a new boat, its origins dating to the late 1920’s. Over the years, modifications have changed the Moth, but its popularity has surged in recent years with the addition of hydrofoils on both the rudder and daggerboard that lift the entire hull above the waterline. It’s made the Moth look like something Luke Skywalker might sail to a dockside Star Wars Cantina.
It’s hard to not take notice of a Moth when you see one: notably, it will probably be the fastest sailboat in sight. The hydrofoils eliminate most of the drag you experience with a surface-bound hull, and top speeds are recorded in the neighborhood of 30 knots.
Despite appearances, proponents assert the Moth is not difficult to sail (particularly given the advent of stabilizing air bags in the craft’s “wings”); also citing the ease of righting the moth after capsizing, as well as the boat’s light weight.
One thing that is not all that light is the Moth’s price tag: upwards of $20,000 new and in the neighborhood of $15,000 used, comparable to the price of the A-cat. But for top sailors (and you know who you are) those figures are likely all in a day’s sail.
A little more accessible from both an expense and expertise perspective is kiteboarding. Despite the drama of boarders ripping across the water, seemingly at the mercy of massive kites, “It’s very accessible, to anyone,” claims Ashlon Durham, a kite salesman and boarding aficionado with Real Watersports in Cape Hatteras, North Carolina. “We’ve taught people from ages 8 to 80.”
Real Watersports’ program for beginners, called “Zero to Hero,” is a three-day immersion into the world of kiteboarding, which starts with students getting used to handling the kites on land, then transitions to the water. The instructor follows along closely, on a jet ski.
“It’s actually easier than windsurfing for people who don’t have great upper-body strength,” says Ashlon. “Two lines attach your kite to your harness. It’s a low-impact sport; very knowledge-dependent.”
Locally, Hooley Resales in Newport is the center of the kiteboarding community, with both gear and lessons available. Proprietors Christian and Erin Schlebach run the private lessons which, due to the inconsistent nature of our winds, are held on a waitlist system. Put your name on the list, and when the weather is right, you’ll get a call. The first lesson runs about 3 hours and is exclusively land-based. If you want to continue, you need to gear up — something that can cost $1000 for used gear up to $2500 for a top-of-the-line kite (harness and board extra). Hooley used to rent gear, but Christian quickly found he spent a lot of time — and money — repairing it.
The centers of kiteboarding are in places like Hatteras, where the wind is reliable; here in New England, it is a bit of an underground sport. “People have given up trying to teach it,” Christian says. “It’s a great sport, but the wind doesn’t wait for anyone.”
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