Recognizing Bob Dill and the Iron Duck
Published on December 31st, 2020
by Craig Leweck, Scuttlebutt Sailing News
Bob Dill is the kind of guy the National Sailing of Fame needs more than Dill needs to be inducted (but he does need to be inducted), and while he sits in the vast pool of nominees, Ben Dolenc produced a film I wish all the great adventures in our sport could claim.
Bob Dill is that kind of adventurer, and this professionally produced narrative shares a tremendous story of how he and sidekick Bob Schumacher went on to build and sail the fastest wind-powered vehicle in the world.
From ideas born in the late 1980s, their tinkering in Vermont would lead to a 30-year odyssey that crisscrossed the United States for a test of initiative and ideas on the desert playas of the west. Once there, they’d wait for weeks, idling in their motor home for the ideal conditions on the noted desert track of Ivanpah in San Bernardino County, California.
They ultimately were rewarded, setting a new World Land Sailing Speed Record that lasted ten years, with Schumacher piloting the Iron Duck to a speed of 116.7 mph on March 19, 1999. Dill’s fastest speed was 2 mph slower.
When Richard Jenkins improved the record to 126.4 mph, the tarps were pulled off the Iron Duck to see what more could be achieved with this enduring machine. Now that GPS was a valid way to calculate speed rather than having to sail towards a speed gun, Dill felt the record was within reach.
On his 70th birthday in 2019, Dill went alone across the country one last time, but his pursuit of adequate conditions failed to find them, first in Ivanpah and then at Alvord Desert in southeastern Oregon.
On his way home, Dill sold the Iron Duck to a junkyard for $31.15, longing for others to take on the adventure of high speed land sailing. This 34-minute film captures the passion of their pursuit, and I hope it sparks a flame for that to occur.