The Hiatus Kite

The Senior CenterWith classes over and graduation still a week away, Senior Center Suite 7C Kurt Meyer, John Schoen, Karl Wassmann and me were feeling idle and restless. Construction of the roof-top water balloon catapult had been a temporary distraction, but after breaking up a DEKE House soccer game, denting a VW Beetle, and showing poor judgement in bombarding the Afro-American Center, we were in need of a nobler pursuit.

I can’t remember whose idea it was to build a kite, but we banded together and quickly assembled a beauty. It stood nearly five feet tall, with a dowel frame, skin of paper, and tail of one of Karl’s old shirts. For visibility, we dressed it up with a blanket of aluminum foil, then attached a line and took it out on the lawn for a test flight.

Nearby Casco Bay sends some powerful spring breezes, but our first challenge was to raise the kite high enough above the buildings and trees to catch one. Several tries using the traditional run-with-the-string technique were immediate flops. Our kite was too clunky to lift off.

Then we hit on an idea. What if we attached a regular, store-bought kite to our homemade kite for some extra help in getting off the ground? A quick trip to Tepper’s and the leader kite was in place.

Amazingly, it worked. The little kite carried the five-footer up into the air current, where the shiny sail caught the wind and was yanked skyward. As the metallic diamond soared, it reflected and twinkled in the bright sunshine. Apparently it also blipped on the radar screens of Brunswick Naval Base, for very soon a helicopter came hovering overhead to investigate. Triumphantly we reeled the kites in and returned to the Senior Center.

With a few days of leisure left, we wondered if we could build an even bigger and better kite. I went to the library and found an early National Geographic with a feature on kite design. In it I read that the diamond-shaped kite becomes more and more inefficient as it gets larger, and is much inferior to the box and tetrahedral styles. Our experiments had already confirmed this fact, but Karl, John, Kurt and I decided to see if we could push the envelope.

We gathered a couple rolls of polyethylene sheeting, an 8-foot bamboo pole, a long piece of 1x1-inch oak, duct tape, glue, rags, and all of the 200-lb. test nylon line that L.L. Bean had in stock. With these materials, we crafted a giant of a diamond kite that stood a full 10 feet tall!

At the junkyard we found an old iron wheel  which we framed in wood from a plywood bar that Kurt had built during first semester, to fashion a winch. We carried it up to Ned Stanton’s room on the 14th floor of the towering Senior Center, and unwound enough line out the window to reach the ground. There we tied it first to the little store-bought kite, then to a length of string followed by the 5-foot aluminum foil kite, and finally to another length of string and the 10-foot behemoth.

The easterly breeze was steady as we took our positions. I grabbed the small kite, Karl picked up the aluminum foil kite, and John held the giant kite, while Kurt manned the winch up in 14D, surrounded by a crowd of onlookers. As we jogged, I released my kite, then Karl, then John. The little kite rose quickly and carried the middle kite along behind it. The 10-footer lumbered and labored and stalled, but finally angled into the wind and veered upwards, rising and racing past the pinetops.

Karl, John and I hurried up to the 14th floor where we found Kurt and several helpers struggling to keep the winch from flying out the window. They tethered it to a sofa, but the force of the big kite dragged it halfway across the room before several seniors leapt over to weigh it down. Then we looked out in awe as the kites flew higher and further until the giant was barely visible.

All at once there was a shift in the wind which brought the string of kites nearly overhead.  A cry of alarm went up as someone noticed that the line was now rubbing against a concrete overhang and becoming frayed. Kurt reached out to save it, but the taut nylon cut into his fingers.

Suddenly there was a loud snap, and six seniors tumbled back over the winch and onto the couch. The rest of the room watched, stunned, as the unleashed kites receded into the sky.

The four of us hopped into a car and sped in pursuit, but a couple miles into Topsham we caught our final glimpse of the escaping train of kites before it disappeared into the cloudy distance. With a mixture of sadness, pride and resignation we returned to get ready for graduation.

The big kite

The 10-foot Kite