The Holy Gale, as this invitation-only event is known, is just one of several main attractions that populate the landsailing calendar, giving dirt boaters a chance to congregate on "the playa" and pursue their special brand of sailing. At these events, there's the usual smattering of one-design classesManta Singles and Manta Twinsand development classes that range from streamlined vehicles resembling jet aircraft to the more agricultural, home-built buggies. Once everyone has arrived and set up, the desert takes on an odd, bedouin-like appearance that is so familiar to the practitioners of this sport. Various sized sails spike into the sky around the landscape, while motorhomes and trailers sit aimlessly about, the distant mountain backdrop setting the stage for days of racing and raucous fun.
Don't get the wrong ideadirt boats are actually fairly efficient performers as sailing craft go. The rule of thumb is that most of these machines can travel in excess of two-and-a-half times the speed of the wind. In fact the all-out landsailing speed recordset in March of 1999 by Bob Schumacher and Bod Dill aboard the 39-foot Iron Duckstands at 116.7 mph. Like boats on the water, as the speeds on land increase, the apparent wind moves forward, allowing the boats to sail closer to the wind.
Among dirt boaters, speed, in any real sense, is a term reserved for the larger development classes. Most of these craft sport fairly sophisticated wing sails that, when seen from a distance as they rocket along the desert, appear like upright knife blades slicing through the shimmering atmosphere. These boats often exceed speeds in the 70 and 80-mph range as they scream around the racecourse, which makes mark roundingsparticularly the leeward onesan exciting affair. Imagine hurtling toward the flagstick at 60-plus mph, the leathery desert just a blur as you spin into a 140-degree turn with your wheels side-sliding, your heart pumping, and your knuckles turning white. Now add a couple of fellow competitors to the mix, and the inevitable dust, and you've got some true racing excitement. The good news is that you can slow these machines down pretty fast by sheeting out and heading into the wind.
Robertson, who spends his non-dirt-boat time sailing a Moore 24, was among the attendees at the Holy Gale this year, where he says the conditions were just right: "It was cool; never got over 85 degrees, and the surface was very smooth." After doing this for half a dozen years, he hopes he'll be back again next year, scooting across the playa aboard Teradactyl, his development boat, or the Manta one-design that he and his wife share. "It was fun; it always is. You just can't beat it."
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