An Introduction to Land Sailing
The term “land sailing” refers to an extreme sport in which sails drag a boat-like vehicle across land, normally dried out lakes, beaches or fields in flat areas. The land sailing community is rather related with the one doing ice sailing rather than sailors like myself, who prefer their vessel on simple water.
The vessels used by land sailors are normally called land sailer, land yacht, sand boat or – clearly the coolest – dirt boat. It is essentially a small boat with wheels and uses sails that are very similar to the ones in “classic sailing” or windsurfing.
Today, the sport is very popular in the coastal areas of the US, in the Midwest and deserts of the Southwest. It works best in dry lakebeds or very flat areas, although some of the more hardcore land-sailors prefer challenging landscapes such as sand dunes. Urban land sailing is also done on empty parking lots, although this normally requires small, flexible dirt boats.
In Europe, centers of the scene are in northern Germany, the United Kingdom and France. Poland has a growing community of land sailors, too. Australia with its vast deserts and extensive beaches has always been a core-country of the sport.
Fancy a sailing vacation off the coast?
The historic origin of the sport is often considered to be with ancient cultures that have used sails for transportation over land. This is a bit misleading, since there is not immediate connection between these historic roots and the trendy sport of these days. It really started to develop in the modern sense of a sport in the 1960ies and 70ies.
It is therefore coinciding with the development of modern dinghies due to the availability of new materials such as epoxy resins and glass fiber (see also "A History of Sailing"), which also boosted the popularity and accessibility of ice sailing. A good time for getting your hands on a boat, it seems.
The first land yachts were built by individuals to use them almost exclusively on dry lakebeds in the US. Today’s dirt boats have gone professional and there are a couple of companies in the States that have specialized in manufacturing a range of different models.
There are several clubs and associations of land sailors and the popularity of the sport is still on the rise. Land sailing even left some marks on the cultural side of life: it featured in “Sahara”, a novel by Clive Cussler.