Land Sailing

By Dave Farmer - Tum Tum, Washington - USA

Another call. Ivanpah for Thanksgiving. A week away. An 18 hr drive one way for me. The Montana boys are going. Mostly my class, 5 square meters, sailing. I start checking Nevada weather twice a day, watching the forecast develop. Negotiate with Brooks in the San Juans about sharing a ride. A long way to go for 4 days of sailing!

Brooks begs off, but the wind predictions get better and better. I vacillate till the last minute, then commit! Leave at 5 am, and by 9 pm I'm in southern Utah, wasted! Motel. On the road at 6, and roll onto the playa at 10:30, and it's CRANKIN!

Now I was just introduced to this sport in March, and scored a few rides on a Manta single, a simple and sturdy craft, courtesy of my back country ski buddy, Glenn. Had enough fun to buy a more sophisticated boat, a Fed 5, and took it to the Alvord Desert this October for 5 days. Spectacular place, huge dry lake bed, 10,000 ft peaks to the northwest, fabulous camraderie. But it was warm and sunny, and precious little wind for that week. I got a few rides in, powered up a couple of times, but often pushed the boat back to camp when the breeze dissolved. A grand time in all, but not a lot of sailing.

So I rig furiously, and blast off in conditions way beyond my pay grade!

What a rush! When the puffs hit the boat LEAPS forward, and like a cat, you've got to instantly head up or bear away to depower, or you crash! Requires lighting reflexes that I've yet to develop, so my screaming reaches were regularly punctuated with violent spinouts or panic sheet dumps that brought my airborne windward wheel crashing back to earth. Which is far less forgiving than water, I assure you!

But the speed and acceleration is SO addicting! Me and the boat are taking a serious beating, but I can't stop. I get so that I can control the boat upwind with close attention to my steering, heading up to keep my wheels on the lakebed in the puffs. And the downwind speeds take my breath away. But there's the bear away at the windward mark, and rounding back up after the downwind blast that demand more skill than I've yet acquired. The boys are generous with counsel, but translating all the theory into correct action at the moment(s) of terror, is challenging! But it's the challenge that I love about catsailing, and there appears to be plenty of it here in the world of landsailing as well.

I miraculously survive the first day. We retire to our hotel room in the nearby gambling hamlet of Primm, and return to camp in the morn to face another day. Before rigging up, Blake notices that I've blown out half the reinforcing bolts in one of my rear wheels. No problem, switch to the spare rim and head out. More moderate winds today, and we get off a number of races. I do my best to shadow my buddy Dave around the course, and if I'm lucky, I can keep him in sight, which is good, as I'm no good at choosing the best route or rounding the marks the right direction. But if the leaders get into better air, I can rapidly fall behind, searching desperately for the correct heading to keep me rolling. It's so strange to not be able to use the clues I take for granted as a catsailor, watching the wind cross water. Odd to watch my competitors scream away at 30 to 40 mph as I grind to a halt in a lull improperly negotiated. But I jump out of the boat, give myself a push to get started again, and follow in pursuit, for it can happen to them too. A couple of times that happened, where I fell way behind, sailed off some other direction, only to find great wind, while the leaders found a hole. So it's never over till the winner crosses the line, it appears. The speeds are so great that one can recover huge amounts of ground in an unbelievably short time.

One race I was first to the windward mark, only to discover at the last minute that I was about to round it the wrong direction. A drastic correction put me in a spin that left me dead in the water(so to speak!). But if I was careful, and lucky, I could hang with the leaders, which was hugely rewarding. And if I made mistakes in my roundings I could quickly find the back of the pack!

In the last race of the day I began to notice my mast listing alarmingly to leeward. Headed into the wind to stop and investigate, and discovered that the boat's steel framework had cracked. Big! Limped back to camp, and began soliciting advice. Mike got on the phone to one of the big casinos, and determined the the ride maintenance guys (who keep the roller coaster running) would be in at 6 am, and they were known for helping out desperate sailors in the past. With generous assistance, I ripped the boat apart to be able to get at the break, as the sun dropped over the mountains to the west. Celebrated Thanksgiving on the playa with these great friends, old and new.

At dawn I was hanging round the maintenance door, pleading for mercy welding, and by eight I was headed back to the lakebed. Threw the boat back together, and was ready for action! Which never showed. Spent the day reading, a little guitar, a bit of tire kicking and bullshitting, enjoying the precious sunshine, and waiting.......

Saturday, our last day, brought more racing weather. But not till late in the afternoon, and in the form of squalls spinning off the dark thunderheads to the northeast and east. But we were desperate after a day of no wind, so out we went. Much excitement, as the winds were extremely gusty, and shifting direction often. Ran a few quick races, and my day finished with a spectacular leeward mark rounding when my starboard wheel spindle snapped and I spun to a lurching halt in a cloud of dust, and watched my wheel roll southward at a rapid clip, finally losing momentum about a quarter mile downwind. Broke the boat again! But I walked away with a huge grin, that traces of may still be visible!

As the sun again set over the playa, our fearless leader, Dennis, passed out the trophies, and we packed up the gear, and agreed to show up again in March for the America's Cup of Landsailing, the sport's biggest event in the US. You're all welcome! If you have any fondness for sailing, you can't help but love this iteration.

"Demolition Dave" Farmer



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