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Am sure you know there is sailing on water in a boat, though there is also land sailing.

Land sailing, also known as ‘sand yachting’ or ‘land yachting’, is the act of moving across land in a wheeled vehicle powered by wind using a sail. Vehicles used in sailing are known as sail wagons, sand yachts, or land yachts.

The earliest text describing the Chinese use of mounting masts and sails on large vehicles is the Book of the Golden Hall Master written by the Daoist scholar and crown prince Xiao Yi. European travelers from the 16th century onwards mentioned sailing carriages with surprise. In 1585 (during the Chinese Ming Dynasty), Gonzales de Mendoza wrote that the Chinese had many coaches and wagons mounted with sails, and even depicted them in artwork of silk hanfu robes and on earthenware vessels. In the 19th century, “wind wagons” were occasionally used for transport across the American great plains. Rail-running sail cars were also used in South America. One such sail car existed on the Dona Teresa Cristina Railroad in Santa Catarina, Brazil in the 1870’s. In 2012, NASA scientist Geoffrey A. Landis proposed that a sail could be used for propulsion of a rover on Venus or other planets.

Sailing on water and sailing on land have some things in common, but they also have a lot of differences. In fact, a land sailboat is more comparable to a glider on wheels than a sailboat. Though more and more sailboats are almost becoming this also with foils.

Land sailboats usually have three wheels and one sail. They go too fast to use jibs or spinnakers. (Jibs and spinnakers are the two main types of headsails, or sails used in front of the mainsail, on sailboats.) Made by several manufacturers, land sailboats range in size from a sailboard (sort of like a surfboard with a sail) on wheels to a huge land yacht.

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The physics at work is the same as in water sailing, but the results are different because the conditions are different. Forces make things move, and forces can slow or stop moving objects. In sailing, the forces causing motion are the push of the wind on the sail and the pull of the air passing over the curve of the sail, creating lift much like on an airplane wing (but imagine it turned sideways). The forces holding back a water sailboat are the friction of the water on the hull and some friction of air on the boat and sails.

Land sailboats can go faster because their wheels face much less friction on dry surfaces. Because the whole boat is exposed to the air, land sailors meet more air friction, but that doesn’t slow a boat nearly as much as water friction.

  • Land yacht competitors are spread over all continents: from the vast beaches of Western Europe, Ireland and the UK, New Zealand and Brazil, dry-lake surfaces in the USA, Argentina, Australia and Africa to frozen lakes in Canada and Scandinavia (using skates instead of wheels).
  • National landyacht associations are united in the international landyacht federation called FISLY. This organization sets up the racing rules. Every few years, world championships are organized. Besides that, there are lots of local races and competitions every week and annual European and Pacific Rim championships.
  • Racing yachts are divided in four classes by FISLY: Class 5 and Class Standard have a tubular steel or aluminum frame and mast with a glass fiber seats. The bigger Class 3 and Class 2 yachts have a lightweight glass fiber hull and wing-shaped mast and (mostly) a wooden rear axle.
  • Racing yachts speed up to 120 km/h (the world speed record is 202.9 km/h (126.1 mph), set by Richard Jenkins in 2009… breaking the previous record of 188 km/h (116.7 mph) set in 2001 by Bob Schumacher, USA). Even at very low winds, racing yachts ride at up to three times the wind speed, reaching easily 70 km/h. Due to the lightweight and aerodynamic build, racing yachts boost to top speed in about 5 seconds. Turning markers are usually taken at full speed.

In the US, annual competitions are held by local clubs and by NALSA, the North American Land Sailing Association. The largest regatta is regularly held the last week of March on the playa at the California-Nevada border near Primm, Nevada. The classes sailed in the US include several one-design classes, international class 5 (5 m² class in the US), and open classes solely based on the sail/wing area. The European yachts sail with the appropriate US open class according to their sail area.


What is it like to land sail?

The most popular places for land sailing in the United States are on dry lakes in the high deserts in California, Nevada and other Western states. Wide open flat spaces in other words.

It is said that about half of land sailors started out as sailors on water. The rest of them are often people who ride motorcycles or all-terrain vehicles or people who try other sports on America’s high deserts and happen to see land sailors while in the area. People see how fast land sailboats can go and want to try it. There’s also a lot of crossover with ice boaters, who in the summer switch out their runners for wheels and take up land sailing. The thrill of speed powered by wind, it what sounds good to them.

People who don’t live near dry lakes sometimes sail on beaches at low tide, although most American beaches are too regulated or populated. Some people with smaller boats sail on athletic fields, in parking lots or on airstrips, when they can get permission. It takes more skill to sail in these smaller areas, where the boat is more likely to run into an obstruction.

Best not to go after rain or where there has been frequent rain as this causes ground to be muddy which makes land sailing difficult. Therefore, you really see a lot of it in the desert.

If sounds interesting, it doesn’t mean you have to go buy one to do it. Rentals and charter trips are available, especially in the Western United Sates, for those who want to try before they buy. Such trips can be a fun vacation as well to decide if you’re serious about the sport.

Attend local land sailing events to see what’s involved. Many events are held spring through fall. The North American Land Sailing Association’s Web site is a good place to learn about events and clubs in various locations. You can find their site here http://www.nalsa.org/

Land sailboats often go four to five times the speed of the wind. With a minimal wind of 10 miles per hour (16 kilometers per hour), you can be racing along at 40 to 50 miles per hour (64 to 80 kilometers per hour). When the wind speed is higher, boats may go two to three times the wind speed. Speeds of 80 miles per hour (128.7 kilometers per hour) are not unusual.

If you’re flying along that fast in a boat with no real brakes, you could run into trouble. But land sailing is usually one of the safest of the extreme sports, if sailors use common sense. The first bit of common sense is using protective gear. Land-sailing tours and rentals insist on its use, and most land sailors use it as a matter of choice.

The larger the area for sailing, the safer. On a huge dry lake, there’s little to run into. If you have trouble figuring out how to slow or stop the boat, you have room to figure it out. So, how do you stop the boat? Essentially, you stop it by steering it directly into the wind. Coming to a complete halt may take quite a distance. Sailors in smaller boats may drag their feet to help when the boat has almost stopped.

What about safety gear?

  • Helmets: a top priority.
  • Seat belt: Those who go land sailing on beaches usually don’t wear seat belts for fear of turning over into the water and becoming trapped. But in the United States, where they are sailing on dry lakes or other hard surface, most people do buckle up.
  • Goggles or another eye wear
  • Gloves
  • Pads: Knee and elbow pads are usually good. The need for other pads may be determined by the type of boat and the position of the sailor — what body part is likely to take a beating. Some people use shin pads; some use back protectors.

Sound exciting to you? Give it a try!






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