Who said sailing was boring?
Published on April 22nd, 2018
During what turned out to be the final race (attempted) during the 2018 Blokart North American Championships, planned for April 9-12, memories were made on the Ivanpah dry lake bed in the Mojave Desert of California.
Scott Young, Arizona local speed racer and previous holder of the 65mph Blokart speed record, and newcomer (to Ivanpah) Dave Lussier from Rhode Island, set a new Blokart speed record during the final race which was eventually stopped due to high winds.
This was April 11, and it was during the second lap of the race when they were locked in unison after rounding the weather mark and heading to the leeward mark when a freak wind storm (aka Haboob) exceeding 40 knots came through the racing fleet and propelled them like never before.
Scott’s GPS unit recorded a peak speed of 77.7 mph. Dave also had a recording on a phone tracker which confirmed the peak speed. To get an idea what it feels like to go fast on a Blokart, a video clip of Scott setting the 65 mph record a couple of years ago.
At the North Americans, the boats are all one design and split into two fleets: Performance and Production. The Performance fleet allows all the Blokart go fast speed options while the Production fleet greatly limits the options on the kart (ie no aerodynamic Pod).
Within each Fleet there are classes divided by pilot weight including Lightweight, Middleweight, Heavyweight, and Super Heavyweight.
Here’s a synopses of the event from the sailors:
Dave Lussier (trimaran sailor from Newport, 3rd in SHWT Class):
This was my first North Americans or any Blokart regatta for that matter, and I was hopeful to try and end up on the podium in the 8 boat SWHT weight group within the 22 boat Performance Class.
While I have competitively sailed fast trimarans on the water for the past 20+ years back in New England, I was cautiously optimistic my experience there could translate nicely to the much faster world of land sailing. Once I sailed on a Blokart, I was instantly hooked with the fun feeling of sailing your own little boat, but at high performance yacht speeds.
During this regatta, it turned out the windier it got, the better I could compete with the other Blokarts. Much of the soft water apparent wind lessons of the past were very applicable here. However, dueling with the infamous Blokart champion Scott Young was unexpected, but that’s how the last race ended so I was very excited!
Just being out at the Ivanpah dry lake bed is a blast in itself. This is likely the best land sailing spot in the USA.
We used all four different sized sails over a week of sailing, cruising at sunset at just 15-20 knots with the big 5.5m and trying to set speed records with the tiny 2.0m at 50+ knots of boat speed when it was honking over 30 knots. Having that kind of open space (miles across) to just go sailing alone, with friends, or mixing it up with other racing boats on the playa is an absolute thrill!
This speed record event occurred in what turned out to be the final race attempt after the last of 13 races total over three days. I started out the first three races with the group of 22 Performance boats in 5th, 11th, 7th, and then switched from a 4.0m to a 5.5m sail as the wind was light. Most boats did not switch so I paid the price for a few races with a 12th, 12th, and 14th (throw out).
The next day I did much better staying with a proper 4.0 sail for the conditions and got a 5th, 6th, and 4th. I was in the SHWT weight class and all Performance boats raced together. Then on the final day, we had four races and I sailed better as the wind came up and was in the top 5 boats for all of those races.
The point of this note is that while it’s my first regatta on a Blokart, I was typically finishing behind Scott Young, Jim Nordhaus, and Hobie Alter who were dominating the podium for the fleet, so I felt good to be hanging with these guys who have great Blokart racing records. I had several battles with all three of them on the courses.
As another point of reference, the Saturday before the event had 30+ knot winds and several of us were out to set our own best speed records. My previous best was 44 mph on 2nd Beach in Newport, RI, and this last Saturday I did 55.6 mph as you can see in the attached screenshot from my Garmin GPS (I did not have my GPS on the final race attempt described below).
Then came the last race, or at least attempted race. As with the others, it was a 2 minute dial-up, CCW, and 8 minute race which would likely have been 3 laps with the course distance as it was. The distance between the windward/leeward marks was likely around three-quarters of a mile. The wind was up strong in the 25-35 knot range at the start and I had a 3.0 and Scott had a 4.0.
My starts were progressively getting better and I nailed this start in first place with good speed with Scott just behind me at the start on my starboard hip. We sailed fast out to the left side of the course and the wind was building. We both tacked together and he crept ahead just a boat length or two. At the weather mark, I was right on his stern within a boat length and we already put good distance between us and the bulk of the fleet quite rapidly.
As we blasted off downwind, we matched speed and angle pretty much and I was within 2-4 boat lengths the entire leg and Scott saw me there with him. The leeward mark rounding was fast and furious and we both handled it pretty well. As we went upwind, I gained on him from the leeward rounding and passed him after we went thru the start/finish line.
As we sailed upwind to the weather mark once again, the visibility became extremely poor (could not see weather mark) and the wind piped up more. We were basically even and I was gaining on Scott with his overpowered 4.0 rig. It was on this upwind leg that the conditions got crazy with perhaps 30 knots with gusts approaching 40’s.
Our gap to the bulk of the fleet had widened more than in previous races. At the weather mark, the wind was now howling and there was a Haboob of wind that overtook the course. I felt as though we sailed thru it upwind, then back into it as we went back downwind for the 2nd downwind leg.
At the weather mark, I had crossed in front of Scott on port, and after I tacked back to the mark, he got inside overlap on me so we rounded together with me on the outside, just a couple of feet apart. We both turned downwind simultaneously and blasted off side by side. He looked at me and I looked at him and I nodded. He nodded back and we were then off in warp speed together.
Scott said he has never felt this wind when sailing a Blokart before.
We then sailed into the Haboob with visibility between two kart lengths to perhaps 50-feet at best. It was dangerous sailing but we knew there should not be boats below us as they hopefully tacked back to the right side of the course. My fear at this point is we were heading towards the camp with cars/trucks and could not see them or the leeward mark and was afraid we’d go too far and hit parked vehicles.
I never lost sight of Scott. We saw the S/F line go by us to port like a blur. We were sailing very deep and very fast. Scott’s rear tires were making scars on the playa likely just parting the blowing sand at ground level. Scott’s rear end began to wobble, but not violently, back and forth, and then so did mine. We both sheeted out a bit to calm things down but it just seemed to go faster. This was FAR MORE speed than my prior Saturday speed record attempt of 56 mph.
We both gybed at the same time to find the leeward mark based on instinct and not visibility, and fortunately we were right on it with no risk of going into the cars. The leeward mark rounding was quite a challenge now as we both slid far and wide but neither of us wiped out (miraculously). I was just a few boat lengths behind him at this mark so we both sailed the same downwind speed.
As we headed upwind, we both stayed to the right in fear of other karts coming downwind in the middle of the course. We could not see the S/F line at all so I then decided this was too risky and just feathered off to the right and exited the Haboob eventually. I then meandered back to the S/F line and saw the black flag cancelling the race and headed in. That was a challenge too!
After getting back to camp and gathering my nerves, I pulled out my phone which was running the RaceQs sail racing app. I stopped the recording and then noticed the max speed at 66.1 knots and knew it was from this last race since I had started/stopped a new recording for each race all day. I then knew I had to go tell Scott about this.
I walked over to his camp area and when he first saw me, he came over to greet me with enthusiasm knowing we had both just done something special as we were boat-boat the entire 2 laps of crazy speeds. He first told me that he felt he had never sailed faster than that and thought we might have hit 70. I told him I had a recording on and we did 66.1 knots.
Scott was delighted we set a new record beyond his prior 65 mph, and after collecting his GPS that he wears during racing, it confirmed the max speed as 77.7 mph, which more or less matches my phone tracker program app at 67.1 knots (76.0 mph). Scott’s GPS is deemed more accurate than the phone app since the phone app is designed for generally slower speed sailing activities.
While we were not trying to set a record and just racing in what turned out to be a survival mode, the crazy wind conditions presented themselves on this fast downwind leg and we both dove in head first and shot to the leeward mark together.
I can’t tell you how thrilled I have been the past few days to improve my skills by learning from some of the best guys out here. I have watched so many of Scott’s YouTube videos (many times) as a means of learning and just getting psyched to come to Ivanpah. Plus we like the same music :> It was an unbelievable thrill to hang with Scott in that race and I am so honored to share this record with him.
Scott Young (North American Blokart Champion and Blokart Speed Record Holder):
When we rounded the weather mark together, the wind must of been blowing a steady 50 mph (at least) with higher gusts. By habit, I always look at my sail when I round the weather mark and this rounding was no different.
When I looked at my sail the one thing that really jumped out at me was just how far my mast and sail was bending forward. Flying a 4m sail downwind in winds strong enough to remove roofs off of houses meant that one of two things were bound to happen on my downwind journey. Either my carbon fiber mast was going to snap like a #2 pencil or I was about to be launched forward like a Top Fuel Dragster making a sub 4 sec run! My mast didn’t snap!
The ~3/4 mile trip to the leeward mark was a blurrrrrrr. Within a few seconds after rounding the top mark, the barely visible start finish line flashed by me on my left. Ok good, I had missed the three girl starters and the car parked at the start finish line so all I have to do now is find the bottom mark traveling at speeds I’ve never gone before in a Blokart in a blinding sandstorm.
I quickly computed in my head that I just traveled about a 1/2 mile in the blink of an eye and I best shut down the power and look for motorhomes that are lined up about 150 yards beyond the bottom mark. Still traveling at extremely high speeds in almost zero visibility, I must of been guided by the Lord himself, because out of the blinding dust there stood the bottom mark in the perfect position to round.
Knowing I was leading the race at this point, I needed to get around the orange barrel and back up to the finish line with my kart in one piece. When I rounded the bottom mark my kart started to shake violently, as if it were going to break into pieces. The tremendous wind I had a second ago at my back was now slamming into the front of my kart with the force of a locomotive!
Remarkably, I was able to make it to the finish line. With visibility less than 15-feet at times, I saw the black flag being furiously waved on my right which meant the race was being stopped and would not count. Thank God Loretta and Deb put a halt to this race before someone got seriously hurt or killed!
I’ve attempted many speed record runs in my Blokart in the past and they all go the same way. Wait for the wind, foot off and dive deeper if you get a stronger puff. There is usually only one reason why most of the smaller land yachts seem to hit a wall at around 55 mph: they run out of wind.
The only way a Blokart or most of the smaller land yachts can travel over 55 mph is you must sail them very deep off the wind and that requires copious amounts of wind. Sailing closer to the wind does give you more power but, you can’t hold it down so all of that power is lost.
If you foot off when you lift in winds under 30 mph, you will quickly catch up to the wind and run out of power and your speed stalls, head up and you lift. Without steady winds of at least 35+ mph, speeds of 60 mph are just impossible!
Getting back to the last race on Wednesday (Apr 11), when Dave and I rounded the weather mark, we had EVERYTHING needed to reach speeds in the seventies. Wind speed (over 50 mph) and the right wind direction. What made this run different than all of my previous speed runs? All of my other speed runs I had to “drop in” and balance between lifting and sailing deeper and try to time a wind gust. This run all I had to do was pull the main sheet a little and Pray I stayed on the ground!
Who said sailing was boring?