Championship land yacht fuselage goes fast forward or backward

Published on March 17th, 2014

Alan Wirtanen’s long, sleek yellow land yacht has won its share of U.S. landsailing regattas during the last ten years in North American Land Sailing Association (NALSA) Classes 2, 3 and 4, with maximum sail areas of 120, 79 and 59 square feet of sail, respectively. He has competed in the smaller classes simply by changing sail sizes.

This championship machine, however, has a unique distinction unlike any previous land yacht: it became the inspiration for a winning gravity car.

In the late 1990s/early 2000s there was a high-profile charity event in Northern California’s Silicon Valley called the Sand Hill Challenge. Prominent venture capital firms and high technology companies competed vigorously in a gravity-car competition down a long, steep stretch of famous Sand Hill Road. The vehicles were highly advanced and push-started by extremely fit Olympic bobsledders and other strong, fast athletes. The competition was intense.

The winning Wirtanen/Bassano gravity car being readied for a run at the 2001 Sand Hill Challenge. Photo credit: Dennis Bassano.

The winning Wirtanen/Bassano gravity car being readied for a run at the 2001 Sand Hill Challenge.
Photo credit: Dennis Bassano.

In 2000, as Wirtanen was fine-tuning his land yacht on dry lakes, he and current NALSA President Dennis Bassano were contacted by Compaq Computer and asked to build the ultimate vehicle for the Sand Hill event. They agreed and decided that the land yacht fuselage could be the basis for a very streamlined, long, tear drop-shaped, low-drag vehicle.

Using Wirtanen’s mold, they made a dedicated fuselage for the gravity car. For this vehicle, however, the fuselage was reversed from its original land yacht orientation and also turned upside down. Push-started by members of the San Jose State University rugby team and piloted by a driver Compaq provided, it swept to victory in the prestigious 2001 Sand Hill Challenge.

This summer Wirtanen, of Aptos, CA, a renowned fiberglass craftsman who built Olson sailboats with partner George Olson at Pacific Boats, will be sailing his land yacht in FISLY Class 2 against strong international competitors during the FISLY-NALSA 14th Landsailing World Championship, which will be held July 12-19 at Smith Creek Playa in Northern Nevada near the town of Austin.

Entrants from four continents and 15 countries are expected. NALSA, the U.S. affiliate of FISLY, the International Federation of Sand and Land Yachts, will host the regatta.

Dennis Bassano stated, “it appears the fuselage on Alan’s yacht is fast in any orientation: forward, backward, right side-up or upside-down; it doesn’t seem to matter.” On a more serious note, Bassano added, “I truly believe it may be the fastest course-racing (around-the-marks) land yacht in the world. We’ll find out in July.”

14th Landsailing World Championship:

Top photo: Alan Wirtanen, Aptos, CA (yellow) and Bill Dale, Pewaukee, WI (white), in similar land yachts designed and built by Wirtanen, at speed during the 2013 America’s Landsailing Cup Regatta. Photo credit: NALSA.

Report by Russ Foster

Landsailing Background Information

About landsailing: A landsailer or landyacht is a wheeled vehicle with a sail for propulsion and is powered solely by wind. Most landsailers use cloth sails to good effect, but wing sails similar to those on the latest America’s Cup catamarans have been used successfully on landsailers since the early 1980s. Most landsailers have a single mainsail and no headsail (jib).

History of Landsailing
: For centuries, wheeled sailing vehicles were employed for commerce. In the 19th century, Europeans began constructing landsailers for pleasure and competition. In the U.S., landsailing got its start in the 1960s, and the North American Landsailing Association (NALSA) was incorporated in 1972 by Don Rypinski.

Modern Landsailing: In Europe, landsailing is primarily practiced on beaches. In the United States, most landsailing occurs on dry lake beds in the deserts of the western U.S. and on beaches. There are thousands of landsailors throughout the world, with national and international competitions.

Landsailing Organizations: The International Federation of Sand and Land Yachting (FISLY) is the organization that oversees the sport worldwide, and it comprises some 20 member organizations which represent the individual countries and classes that compete in landsailing races. Founded in Europe in 1962, FISLY is the rule-making body for the sport, and it oversees and sanctions numerous competitions each year.

About NALSA: FISLY’s American affiliate, the North American Landsailing Association (NALSA) provides similar functions for events held in the U.S. NALSA is an all-volunteer non-profit umbrella organization for landsailing clubs throughout the U.S. Its President is Dennis Bassano of Santa Cruz, CA. It was incorporated in 1972 and each year organizes the America’s Landsailing Cup regatta held in the last week of March on Ivanpah dry lake near Primm, NV at the California/Nevada state line off Interstate 15. NALSA has hosted two previous World Championships at Ivanpah in 1990 and 2002.

Landsailing Competition: Many landsailing competitions are held throughout the world each year. Every two years, the World Championship (“the Worlds”) has been held in different host countries-Argentina in 2008, Belgium in 2010 and France in 2012. NALSA will host the 2014 championship July 12th through 19th at Smith Creek Playa near the town of Austin in Northern Nevada. The 2014 World Championship will be the final one before the regatta moves to an every-four-year cycle, so the Worlds probably will not return to the U.S. for at least 20 years. This likely will result in a strong turnout of both international and domestic competitors.

2012 World Championships Facts (France): Countries competing were Argentina, Australia, Belgium, Brazil, Chile, Czech Republic, Denmark, England, France, Germany, Ireland, Italy, Netherlands, Russia, Scotland, Spain, Switzerland, United States. Number of entrants: 350.

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