The first serious trial on the WindSled takes place in the beginning of August year 2000, on a journey of 600 km (372.82 mi) in Greenland, leaving Narsarssuaq and ending up in Kangerlussuaq.
The expedition, sponsored by “At the Edge of the Impossible” TV Program, will last ten days and incorporates two additional teams in other vehicles, at that given moment denominated “polar catamarans”.
The four members of the expedition (Ramón Larramendi, Juan Manuel Naranjo, Juanito Oyarzábal and Juan Vallejo) and all equipment are transferred by helicopter to the Inlandsis glacier at 2800 m (9186.35 ft) in altitude. Each “catamaran” weighs about 450 kg (992 lb) and measures about 450 cm (177.17 in) long by 2 m (6.56 ft) wide. On the first day, the expeditionary managed to navigate up to 30 km (18.64 mi) / h, but then kites breakage problems arose and the ropes used to handle them became real tangles. Two catamarans are separated taking hours to find as they were in the midst of a blizzard that placed them on standby for three days. Thus, they decide to progress all in one catamaran to prevent further separations.
Although continuously having to stop to sew kites or untangle the ropes, a strong south-north wind allows them to complete distances of 60, 70 and up to 90 km (55.92 mi) a day on very flat land with no major cracks or obstacles. The last day they cover 160 km (99.41 mi) within a ten hour navigation period, a real flight showing its capabilities, but also making the expeditionary aware of the dangers concerning speed.
The journey reveals some problems that had not been detected in Canada nor the Pyrenees. That is, to improve the quality of kites to avoid rips, to maintain a pilot position that avoids back injury given the force of the wind, to use the same tent that goes on the sled to sleep and that both the catamaran and its controls should be larger, among other minor issues. Therefore, it was decided to cancel the journey for that same fall, to Antarctica which hovered in the heads of Larramendi and the team from “At the Edge of the Impossible” TV program. It was imperative to develop a better technique.
Finally, the four explorers, ten days after departure, are picked up by a helicopter in Kangerlussuaq on the west coast of Greenland.
In short, the expedition has traveled 600 km (372.82 mi) in thirty two hours of effective travel, an average of 20 km (12.42 mi) / hour which represented a revolution in polar travel throughout the world: a distance covered of 92 km (57.16 mi) in three hours. It has also shown that while one of the crew handles kites, the other can relax in the tent placed at the back of the catamaran or WindSled. This facilitates taking turns piloting the vehicle when having to progress long stages because the wind is blowing in the right direction.
The first WindSled tests were performed at Lake Bouillouses in the French – Catalonian Pyrenees near Puigcerdá. This peninsular enclave is the only flat, frozen place in winter and windy enough to slide on a vehicle like this. It was chosen by Ramón Larramendi, during the winter of the year 1999, as the framework of an idea that had long been in his head: a sled with a kite that can be moved without fuel, powered only by wind energy.
In January 1999, the first two prototypes were already prepared according to the design of the explorer Javier Puerta, and ready to perform the first trials. It is at this lake where the polar explorer learns to handle the sled so that the wind force is transmitted to the vehicle and not to the driver. From the beginning of the tests, the WindSled manages to cover miles within minutes.
TRIP TO CANADA
After several trips in northern Spain to improve the handling, and given the small size of Lake Bouillouses, Larramendi decides to take another step in the project and schedules a test in a first expedition to Canada, the “Great Slave Lake”, as a preliminary step to what he envisaged to achieve that same year in Greenland. Accompanied by Juan Manuel Naranjo and Juan Manuel Sotillos, the team arrives with two prototypes: one with a “hull” made out of fiber and another one with a design based on a traditional Inuit sled.
For several days, the team found that with a traditional Inuit sled based prototype chances of success are much greater. It is more flexible and adapts easily to the irregularities that exist in the ice. With the line of kites placed on one side, rather than in front, the expeditionary verifies that it is possible to navigate at 90º to the wind, which expands the possibilities of progressing even if the wind is not always favorable as occurs with sail boats and vessels.
This trip was crucial for The WindSled Project to further continue its development.