Landsailing at the End of the World

Published on July 21st, 2014

by Duncan Harrison,
The weather here on Smith Creek Dry Lake, Nevada lived up to its reputation as dynamic. It changes from a cool 50 degrees every morning to burning hot 100+ in the early afternoon. Competitors from 13 countries spend time quietly in the shade, under awnings and shipping containers drinking gallons of water mixed 50% with their favorite sports drink and wrapping wet towels around heads and necks.

This was the 2014 World Championship of Landsailing, held on this epic playa near Austin in northern Nevada on July 12-19.

Around the margin of the playa there is the usual convection leading to thunderheads all around. Some with lightning and showers, some with strong downgusts that blow boats and gear around camp if not secured. A few RV awnings have been destroyed.

By mid to late afternoon, the wind fills in from the southwest and we race in surface breezes as strong as 20 mph, 30+ mph in the gusts. The wind may swing thru 60 degree shifts during races and has completely circled the compass once during an afternoon. The strongest gust measured was in the high 40s. Blowing dirt and dust coats everything. Dust has become a condiment in our meals. Sailing in these conditions may be what you would expect if you sailed in hell.

There have been accidents (crashes) on the playa, beginning with lots of spinouts at the marks. Most spins result in no damage and some embarrassment for the pilot. Most crashes result from huge tire hikes near the marks as the pilots turn downwind in gusts. The most memorable crash occurred when Kiwi Pilot Phil Augustin’s leeward wheel cover may have caught the surface of the playa during a huge tire hike and ripped the rear axle off his yacht. The axleless yacht slammed to the dirt and rolled the mast and sail around Phil and itself like some sort of weird desert burrito. Phil was shook up but okay.

Competitors took turns waiting near their yachts in the starting area for the wind to come from the right direction. Race committee sets, then re-sets the start line and marks as they chase the shifting wind. Again, we drink large amounts of water in the sun. Then things give a little as thunderheads take over – taming the desert heat with their cooling downbursts. A strong downburst may last long enough (20 minutes) to run a race. We melt, then we sail, then we wait for the next round to begin.

In the cool evenings we have daily first place awards, pot luck parties, Cowboy Bands and new friends to hang out with. Our race organizers have made this a positive event to remember.

Several international pilots told me they have sailed their fastest personal best speeds on Smith Creek Dry Lake, with GPS readouts posting speeds in excess of 100 kph. They are very happy to be here – no matter that this place is quite remote – literally, at the end of the road. Which has led French Pilot Philippe Vigneron
to comment:

“This is not just the World Championship of Landsailing, rather the Landsailing Championship at the end of the world.”

Event reports:
Event website:

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