It’s different in the dirt
Published on March 30th, 2023
He called at exactly the right time. It appeared the Fat Lady was about to sing. (Oops, lack of wokeness. Much work to be done on my sensitivity. What I meant to say was, “that the perfectly round person, who is currently identifying as a female singer, was about to share a vocal performance”).
The ice sailing season was all but over. I’d had a good run but was intrigued with the idea that the solid surface action could be extended. Or maybe I’m just an addict. There are worse things.
“Just fly into Vegas,” the laid back, but highly convincing man said. “I’ll have the boat on the playa ready to go.”
A couple hours later, I’d purchased a ticket, rented a campervan, and confirmed that my buddy was still bringing Drifter v.1. Check—Mini Skeeter designer, John Eisenlohr is bringing me his fully sorted boat that no one else can beat. (I can fix that). Check—C-Skeeter Bubble Boat designer, Pat Heppert is driving west and bringing all the food. Check—All I have to do is show up with a helmet. I’ll never be closer to rock stardom.
It’s different in the dirt. You’re not a Skipper or Helm, you’re a Pilot. Most pilots use a pusher off the start line, but the pusher can’t cross the line. A boat not using a pusher can push for as long as they desire. Races last a specified period; usually 15 minutes. Scoring is a combination of laps completed and finishing position.
Start line is closed after the flag drops. Boats must pass through a “scoring line” adjacent to the start line on each lap, for that lap to be scored. The boat on the right always has right of way. Protests are rare. And get this—they sometimes round to starboard. Now that’s a mind bender!
Many ice sailing skills seem to transfer. But I was also reminded that old habits are, indeed, hard to break. Eighteen Mini Skeeters and I was feeling pretty good about myself finishing in the second position in my very first race. Back in the pits, however, race winner Dave Gluek, another long-time ice sailor, realized that the top three finishers had all rounded the bottom mark on each lap in the wrong direction.
We’d spent the entire training day rounding all marks to port. But on race day when it counted, everything was backwards for the ice sailors. We successfully rounded the top mark to starboard and opened a big lead on the rest of the fleet. Approaching the bottom mark, we were so focused on each other, we forgot it was a starboard hike we should be managing. Top three to DSQ. Ugh!
Since misery loves company, many others made us feel less stupid, repeating the same error. Our PRO remarked that he’d never seen so many DSQs across all the fleets in a single race. An anonymous, highly experienced dirt pilot, having committed the same rounding error, further magnified by failing to cross the scoring line on the first lap, succinctly summed up his performance: “fast boat, slow mind.”
“Push like your pants are on fire,” read the starting tip in the Mini Manual. Taking that to heart in another race, I gave it my best Usain Bolt. From either the tremendous thrust I generated, or the fact that my steering dampener had loosened a bit (not sure which), my steering flopped to leeward just as I was jumping into the cockpit.
I found myself on a fast-closing collision course with the pilot below, unable to grab the steering bar in time. So, after laying some rubber on him, apologizing profusely, and confirming no damage, I pushed off sheepishly hoping to chase down some of the fleet. DFL at the first mark…lots of work to do. Fortunately for me, the breeze was up and down, and shifty. I was able to keep MS1 in the pressure, recovering to a sixth place finish. Not bad considering my embarrassing start.
Same as ice sailing, the dirt people were really cool. Super friendly, glad to see a new face, happy to help and great competitors. Serious racing, for sure, but nobody seems to forget we’re just doing this for fun. The camaraderie on the playa is built-in. Most everybody stays right there on the dirt in various camping rigs with hard sides. We saw gusts to 49 mph, so you can imagine the soft sides of a tent might not be the best choice.
Dave Gluek was clearly the fastest in the Mini Fleet. He would have run away with the title if it were not for his gracious personality. Up to the last race, he was all bullets except for his Race 1 DSQ for rounding the wrong way. In the last race, he racked another bullet, but then inadvertently sailed over the start line when he turned to waive a thank you acknowledgement to the Committee.
Unfortunately, this gave him a second DSQ and prevented him from getting his name on the trophy this year. But the rest of us knew he was the pilot to beat, and his classy display of sportsmanship will be remembered for many years to come. Also had the pleasure of meeting his wife, Vicki. Nice lady. Will look forward to seeing Dave, Vicki, and all my newfound dirt friends on the playa in the future.
Big thanks to John Eisenlohr for inviting me to come and providing a boat. (The performance of the Mini Skeeter on the dirt greatly exceeded my expectations)! And to Team Eisenlohr for all the help, guidance and tips to a dirt virgin. And to my good friend, Pat Heppert, for doing all the hard work and putting up with my excessive enthusiasm.
Team MMS (Midwest Mini Skeeters) has officially launched. It appears we may be building at least five boats, possibly to live on a shared trailer. If there are any other Midwest ice sailors who may be interested in extending their hard surface seasons, please reach out to me: dhearnUS5352@gmail.com.