Landsailing Worlds: Dirt, heat, and community

Published on July 14th, 2014

by Eric Sorensen
The Land Sailing World Championship is in Nevada this week (July 13-19), a rare occurrence for USA, and one that won’t be repeated again, due to event protocol, for another 24 years. So I took the drive from upper Washington to witness dirt boating.

With over 170 pilots on site, the world is well represented. Belgium, Brazil, Canada, Chile, Denmark, France, Germany, Great Britain, Ireland, Italy, Netherland, New Zealand, and the USA are all here. With closure now to the FIFA World Cup, early book likes the Germans.

In order to offer a World Championship, each landsailing class must have at least 16 pilots from 5 countries, representing at least 2 continents. The team racing is a bit more convoluted with teams of 10 pilots designated prior to racing as country representing pilots. The top three places in each team of ten count toward the trophy. A bit much for this newbie observer.

The 8 classes are (listed from fastest to slower, as none are slow):
International FISLY Class 2, 18 entrants, 90 mph top end
International FISLY Class 3, 23 entrants, 87 mph
International FISLY Class 5, 10 entrants, 70 mph
Standart Class, 22 entrants, 65 mph
Promo Class , 22 entrants, 65ish mph
International 5.6 Mini Class, 40 entrants, 65ish mph
Manta Twin Class, 50+ entrants, 60 mph
Manta Single Class, 20+ entrants , 47 mph

The course and race/camp compound is located on the Smith Creek Playa, approximately a 4 mile by 6 mile dry lake bed which is very smooth and flat. Most of the foreign racers have never been on a course so wide, typically hosting their regattas on the beach when the tide goes out.

Alan Wirtanen is the top USA speed demon, piloting a Class 2, with those classes starting racing on Tuesday, July 15. He has been a favorite in many USA competitions, including this one if the winds are steady. He is using a soft sail behind a shaped rotating mast and is competing against many solid wings that may be the latest innovation.

Carlos, from Brazil, is a very entertaining character, representing his country on his own. He has attended each World’s since 1998 and is one of the senior pilots at 68 years old. The Belgium, French and German teams have brought in containers of boats and gear and are very serious about this. Everyone is friendly, sharing ideas, shade, and libations. However, I am told the racing is as brutal as the desert venue is harsh.

In terms of design, as the boats go faster, less sail area is desired as it adds drag. You need some sail area for the start, but not so much after that. Many classes are one design and some are full on innovation. Sail selection is just like wet boats; important to get it right before the start. The apparent wind is way forward after the boat hit 14 knots. Spinouts at the turning marks, especially the leeward mark, are the danger spots, but the pilots are belted in so there is not much danger of injury if they tip over. Just got to figure out how to undo the seat belt and get to the ground.

Land yachts are capable of speeds 5 times the wind speed in light, steady winds. High performance water catamarans are capable of twice the wind speed. As the true wind increases, the ratio of boat speed to wind speed goes down. In 30 mph winds, the fastest land yachts are typically sailing off the wind at 2.5-3 times the wind speed. It takes real skill to pilot the top classes and not crash.

In the Manta Twin (~$3000 for a new one) class, the largest class by far, a reasonable top speed would be a bit over 50 mph although they are not sailed much over 40 and have reached 65 mph in a record setting run. Other racing classes in a lot of wind will go 70 or 80 mph. The fastest race boats can go a little over 100 mph in a 30 mph wind. For purpose built speed boats, the Greenbird currently holds the record at 126.2 mph. This was done in a wind of approximately 30 mph.

I can only imagine what the venue looks like from space. Vast miles of barren hardscape oddly populated by a circus tent with 100+ RVs and land yachts filling a small bit of the playa.

There are no pretenders out here. No one is here to sip gin and tonics. There are no tony yachting clubs. This is about dirt and heat. This is about community. This is about landsailing.

Event website:
Entry list:

Photos by John Papajani.


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