|Excerpted by permission of the author from the May 12
1998 issue of the
AMERICAN LANDSAILING FEDERATION newsletter.
Landsailing in America
By Nord Embroden
I remember a non-successful attempt at landsailing in 1956 with a bed sheet for a square sail and a push car. A puff of wind came and my whole rig went over the front. 1958 I installed a dingy sail on a Soap Box Derby car. This car would sail with two kids at dangerous boardwalk speeds. I remember that the torque of the mast would lock up the steering bar during gusts adding more excitement. Nord and his friends were the terrors of the peninsula in Long Beach.
Two years later at age 10 I built a yacht called the Fly that was four
feet wide and six feet long. Originally a dingy sail powered this yacht but later I
increased the area to a ridiculous 79 square feet. This yacht had large enough tires to
sail up and down the beach at low tide or over the entire beach when it rained. By the
time I was 16 my dad would take the Fly and myself to El Mirage to sail. When I graduated
from High School I purchased my first car, a 1960 Rambler station wagon. I made sure the
Fly could be transported in the back. I remember one trip to El Mirage with the Fly around
1969. I decided to see how fast the Fly would really go. I started off on a broad reach
with sail reefed. My friends were chasing the yacht with my car to clock the speed.
Somewhere beyond 50 miles per hour the solid front wheelbarrow tire centrifuged off the
rim. The steering vibration was tremendous but I eventually brought her into the wind.
Looking back I am lucky I survived these early experiments.
My father taught rendering and structure classes at the Art Center
School in Pasadena. Don Rypinski was a student of my dads
When looking at the history of landsailing in the United States I have heard of stories of others who have experimented on their own like Don and myself with the concept of putting a sail on wheels. At the time we all thought we were creating something new. As I got more involved in the sport I found photos and yachts from years gone bye. Don received information from Europe of organized racing and fantastic yachts. From 1967 to the early 1970s many of us had been racing on the desert and at Mile Square Park in Fountain Valley in an informal atmosphere. In the late 60s in the desert Bob Ashlock was running the National Sand Sailing Association at El Mirage dry lake. Bobs club members were sailing a wide variety of home built yachts made from water pipes and wheelbarrow wheels. I remember the early 70s with Bob Ashlock as president. Bob ran a tight ship when it came to events. He alone would declare when we could race, what yachts would race and when racing was over. It actually worked well to coordinate the wild personalities drawn together for desert landsailing.
The early production designs were lead by NuSport Manufacturing with the Sand Sailer from the late 60s. This yacht was an assemblage of straight and curved pipes, a plastic seat and a mast standing almost vertically. John Schindler designed both the Sand Sailor and the Desert Dart. The Dart was slightly smaller and had a plastic nose cover. The Darts mast was raked back light a jet fighter wing. The Dart needed at least 15 mph of wind to even move. I remember days with howling winds of 50 mph or more huddled in our vans and peering out to see what we jokingly called Dart weather.
The next production yacht to influence the market was the Chubasco. A rugged steel frame and sail sporting a bright red stripe were trademarks of this yacht. It was about 8 wide and came in a single seat and later a two-seat version. Many Chubascos are still being sailed for recreational use today a testimony to their indestructibility.
Scorpion was a later and almost identical copy of the Chubasco. Scorpion tried to break into the market at a less expensive price but was already working with an outdated design.
The introduction of the Friendship in 1973 made a dramatic advancement in commercial yacht technology in the United States. The Friendship was capable of sailing five to six times the speed of the wind with its efficient wing mast and sail combination. Many other homebuilt yachts followed the Friendships lead over the next 10 years.
The Santana designed by Don Comer was a lightweight open frame tubular yacht. This yacht came in a single or two seat version and weighed considerably less than the smaller Chubasco.
Russ Foster gave us some unique features with a small yacht eventually dubbed a Soup. Each owner would name their yacht after their favorite variety of hot broth. Originally the Soups were a combination of round muffler tubing and aluminum sheeting. George Olson developed a molded fiberglass two-seat body for the later models. The rig was a standard aluminum extrusion mast and full batten sail. Many of these yachts were purchased as kits and completed by their owners with their own modifications.
Early Yacht from the Midwest set up to sail on the corn stubble
It is Don Rypinski who I believe is truly the father of modern landsailing in the United States. Don had a much bigger picture of what landsailing could become. Don was the first American to ever compete in Europe. From his experiences and visions he developed a blueprint for the North American Landsailing Association, an organization of landsailing clubs in America. Incorporated on May 22, 1972, NALSA joined together many individuals to work toward a common goal of promoting the sport of landsailing in America. Don affiliated NALSA with FISLY in Europe. His wisdom helped mold our racing classes and rules and coordinate them with FISLYs. The original sail area classes were Class I , II and III from Europe and a Class IV was added from the United States. Class IV was developed to include the 55 square foot sail of the Chubasco. Dons stories and design concepts spurred many of us on to new and better yachts. His wisdom and vision was the seed from which grew the sophisticated and organized sport of landsailing in America that continues today. Don envisioned our sport to be one of friendship, pageantry, elegance and sportsmanship. An activity coordinated with other landsailors throughout the world. In recent years family and work have drawn Don away from being able to participate regularly in the sport. But Dons influence can be seen throughout. It is his ideals that I have carried with me throughout the years. Dons dreams of what landsailing could be in America.
Don set up the current United States sail numbering system. I remember the early days when each manufacturer put a number 1 on their first yacht. Race scoring became immensely difficult with four or five number "1s" entering any given race.
1972 I followed in Dons footsteps and competed in the European Championships in Oostduinkerke Belgium in a borrowed yacht from Hans Dekkers of Holland. Hans had designed a very advanced yacht called the Fenix with an all fiberglass body and wing mast and rubber suspension. I was hooked by the experience. 1973 I christened the first all fiberglass yacht built in America the Friendship and later this year competed in Berck, France with the first Friendship Sunshine.
The early 70s were a time for growth for the sport of landsailing. Many were investing in larger yachts either factory or home built. Just out of college I started my own business in 1973 building landyachts. The Friendship was in demand with its sleek design and high performance rig. At the time an average weekend would draw over 100 landsailors to the events at El Mirage. 1974 Don organized the first Americas Landsailing Cup regatta. I remember the wild mix of yachts from all areas joined together at Roach Dry Lake in Nevada. Everyone came with their own ideas of what a landyacht should look like and the dream of taking home that first international cup from America. We had giant yachts made of steel welded like a bridge truss and pipe frames like Chubasco's, Desert Darts and Sand Sailers.
Also competing were lightweight frames with spoked sulky wheels like Dons Windbuggy Competition and fiberglass yachts like the Friendship and the Fenix. Several polished sheet metal yachts glistening in the desert sunshine. After a week of racing the results were tallied. This event focused landyacht design into a direction of wing masts and enclosed bodies.
The landsailing boom did not last long. By 1975 the fuel crisis and increased fuel costs had dampened the enthusiasm of yacht owners who commonly were driving motorhomes with a 5 mile per gallon thirst. The trend headed for smaller yachts and smaller vehicles for transport. During this period a new event was developed to explore new areas. The Christmas Caravan became an annual event where hardy landsailors headed out to explore new areas and sailing sites between Christmas and New Years day. Most events I remember were enjoyable but cold. This event was later dubbed the Popsicle Parade. A number of new areas were explored up the coast and across the desert. The event lent itself to camping and exploring but not a lot of sailing. Often the winds were not in our favor.
One of the most interesting pieces of the landsailing puzzle was discovered by Ralph San Giovanni in the mid 70s. Ralph was a bargain hunter extrodinaire and often frequented garage sales and flea markets. One day he discovered two old landyachts stored in a garage for many years. Ralph purchased and restored one of the yachts to sailing condition. The yachts were similar to an Arrow class iceboat. They were two place wood bodies with wood axles and masts. The yachts were built in the early 30s and sailed at El Mirage. The most interesting part was the race plaques placed on the deck of Ralph's yacht indicating organized racing from this period. Its amazing that the technology and organization of the 30s was lost, possibly a result of World War II, and the rebirth of landsailing didnt start until 35 years later. The sophisticated enclosed bodies, wood axles and rotating airfoil masts were forgotten in those early sailors garages and rafters. American landsailing started over with pipes for masts and frames and seats hung out in the breeze in the late 60s.
Racing throughout the years has driven yacht development. As a designer I find it interesting that rules, types of courses and sailing conditions have had such an effect on yacht design. The advantage of the American sail area rules, as proposed by NALSA from the early days, has encouraged yachts of very functional and sophisticated designs. Yacht designer did not have to compromise performance to match some arbitrary length, width, weight or body type. This freedom allowed for tremendous development in many directions over the years since they were first proposed by NALSA in 1972. Performance yachts have developed in several directions.
1973 the Friendship with a 25% rigid wing mast and soft sail combination lead off in a direction that has continued to date. George Olson designed and built the Pterodactyl a 30 long powerhouse Class II yacht. Its enclosed body and wing mast was manufactured for landyacht use and later as iceboats. George also developed a small version Pterodactyl II for class III and IV. The iceboaters have brought the flexible mast and sail to the landsailing world beginning in 1975 when Lowell Frank led the fleet with his two-place nite, designed by Dick Slates. Dick has added much to the sport with his elegant design called Var and his redo on the Fed Five a Five Square Meter design from England.
Russ Foster ventured out in a new direction in America. The complete rigid airfoil had been tried without great success over the years. Russ developed this concept into a highly potent design called Flatlander. For several years Flatlander led the fleet home in Class IV.
In recent years Phil Rothrock has been the flag bearer for rigid wings. Phil has continued to develop highly sophisticated and lightweight yachts of aluminum and steel. His masts are very uniquely constructed of foam and paper thin aluminum sheets. The latest yacht of Phils places the pilot ahead of the wing and breaks from the slingshot aft placement of the pilot's weight. Chauncey Griggs has developed a full wing Class II using a Pterodactyl body. Chaunceys rig sports a control system and balance that prevents oscillation. Oscillation has plagued the large wing masts since the beginning. Several yachts including Flatlander have been destroyed in wild and uncontrolled oscillation.
Fred and Dwight Cope added several improvements in their yacht designs. Influenced by Iceboating technology, Fred placed the pilots weight well behind the axle center. The added stability improved the performance without the necessity for added ballast. A rig designed by Charlie OLeary for Class IV has dominated the fleet for several years. Charlie combined an efficient sock over airfoil rig, ultra lightweight and unique over the body axle.
My production designs began with the Friendship which set the worlds landsailing speed record in 1976 of 88.4 mph. The Spirit was a fiberglass body and steel frame designed to meet the needs of the homebuilder. The simple sock and aluminum spar allowed for good performance. The Freedom was designed in 1985. The small aluminum frame and similar rig to the Spirit led the Class V fleet in that same year. Duster was developed as a small two-place recreation yacht and a similar design called Wind Puff was created specifically to introduce children to the sport. Silver Bullet an all kevlar and graphite racing yacht has had phenomenal success since her creation in 1987. Silver Bullet has won the Americas Cup 18 times in the combined Classes of II, III and IV and is the current U.S. Champion in all three classes.
The most successful yacht of all times was not a high performance racer but a recreational yacht. The Manta developed by Alan Dimen from hang glider technology and parts has endured the test of time. The original single provided an inexpensive entry into the sport of landsailing. Easy to assemble and sail the Manta became the favorite choice in the late 70s. The Manta Twin added more sail and the ability to carry a second person. Today there is higher participation at our races from Mantas than any other production yacht. The Manta has helped solidify the concept of one design racing in America.
Over the years several types of racing has been developed in America. The open sail area classes were first introduced in 1972 and have been the core of the racing for the Americas Cup over the years. One design class racing has been promoted at the Nationals beginning in 1976 and continuing today. In recent years one-design classes have been added to the Americas cup including Manta Singles and Twins, Friendships and the Fed Fives.
A unique type of racing was introduced in the 70s with Pacific Landyacht clubs four hour Enduro. Many pilots went home with blisters and dust after miles of looped course racing. Trophies were awarded for overall distance, team trophies and new record distances from year to year.
Most sailing is done on our West Coast dry lakebeds found in California, Nevada and Eastern Oregon. Some sailing is done on the beaches of central California, Oregon, Washington, South Carolina and Florida. One of the most unique sailing sites was Randy Harmons Iowa cornfields. After the crop was trimmed the corn stubble provided an adequate but bumpy surface.
Several airstrips and parking lots have been used over the years. Half Mile Square in Fountain Valley is probably the most notorious. Originally the three triangularly placed ½ mile long runways provided a unique sailing experience and was occupied every weekend. As time went on other activities limited the landsailing area to only one single strip. The crush of other users eventually forced the full size yachts from the area.
Veterans Stadium in Long Beach and Anaheim Stadium have both hosted landsailing events. Anaheim was the first and only city to ever offer landsailing classes. In the mid 70s I taught classes using the Windbuggy Junior designed by Don Rypinski.
CLUBS AND ORGANIZATIONS ~
Clubs have come and gone over the years but each has added its own traditions to the sport of landsailing.
National Sand Sailing Association ~
Anaheim Landyacht Club ~
Orange County Landyacht Club ~
Ontario Landyacht Club ~
Pacific Landyacht Club ~
North American Landsailing Association ~
Heart of America ~
American 5 Square Meter Association ~
Northwest Landyacht Club ~
Bay Area Landsailing Association ~
American Landsailing Federation ~
Sierra Area Landsailing Association, SALA ~
Lunar Landyacht Club ~
Sunny Acres Sipping, Sailing and Soaring Society, SASSASS ~
Wind Wizards ~
United States Manta Association ~