Landsailing In Maine

There was an era on the timeless beach when land yachts were graceful and slow. You could wear your Sunday finest and not come home with sand in every seam.

Times change and fast is fun, but the beach isn’t as dry as it looks. Even a thin film of water mixes with sand and blasts every part of the yacht, including the pilot. The Germans have it figured out and wear coveralls.

Meanwhile, the guys in Maine haven’t a clue and took off sailing at Old Orchard Beach on a -.2′ late afternoon low tide.

The wind direction gave us a close beat one way and a long deep run the other. There were two miles of useable beach. Wind was about 10mph, and would occasionally dip to the point the boats would not move. If the boat sat in one spot for more than a minute the wheels would suck down into the sand so we didn’t need parking brakes! But the wind would come back and held until early evening and the sailing was fantastic. The boats would slide around the leeward mark, but it was a very gentle and smooth slide. It was almost like sailing on slush, but the tracking upwind was locked in.

It became clear from the very first that we were going to get water-sand blasted. Goggles needed constant clearing and sand crunched in the teeth. But once you accepted the fact that boat and pilot were going to get totally trashed is was all joy.

That’s supposed to be a grin but it’s all he could manage with the sand and salt crust in his face. A fleece is not the ideal garment. A tyvek suit might be just the thing.

The wetness (looks like ice!) is paper thin and gives a good indication of the sand conditions, but still spews spray. Reading the sand like we read the ice is critical as there are gullies and drain holes. There were also a scattering of people, “skaters” in iceboating parlance, but keeping clear was easy. Most of the reaction was thumbs up and cameras out.

We hit a number of these rough puddles, getting ever wetter. Thankfully the boats held together.

The next morning low tide was at six am and was due to be a whopping -1.4′ below mlw, so we stayed the night and set the alarm early. Wind forecast was great. Sadly, the cool misty dawn arrived with a beach twice as wide, but no wind. Sound familiar? We hung around waiting for a breeze, watching the water creep inevitably up the beach.

So after a day of washing boats, sails, sail BAGS, tools: everything, the idea of nice clean asphalt was becoming very appealing. A couple of weeks ago I’d taken a solo day trip to Loring Air Force base in Limestone. The Air Force left in 1997 and gave it to the state, who is managing it as a business park, renting out the buildings. But the base was a small city so even with some of the buildings occupied it has a feeling of abandonment. You could rent a 350,000 sq. ft. hangar, The Tower, or any number of office buildings.

But it’s all about the runways: two at 12,000′ and a third a tad shorter. Lots of side roads and aprons the size of mall parking lots. I found my way to the runways after getting a bit lost. The scene was all decay and post-industrial decrepitude. The wind was howling and there was a light drizzle. Nervously, I parked in the lee of a hangar and rigged the boat. I’d come this far, after all, but had no idea what to expect from either the surfaces or the authorities. The Tower loomed overhead: was anyone in there, watching? The rain stopped. I took a few short runs around the side roads and then peeked out onto a runway, ducking back in at the first off ramp. The turns are tight and you need to nail the line or you wind up in the grass. I actually did wind up once in what appeared to be a meadow of tall grass, trying to avoid some potholes but it was growing through smooth asphalt and so it felt like sailing in the marshes. Great fun!

With building courage I dared a number of runs up and down the full length of the runways. Like the beach, in the NW wind you could almost make it up in one tack, and then back down in a deep, fast reach. The leeward rounding was a large apron where the tires squeeled more than once. Very good leeward mark rounding practice. This would make for an excellent race track with upwind boats on one runway and downwind boats on the other.

Since no one came to get me, I went in search of the authorities and had a very nice correspondence with the director of the development authority. I asked if we could hold a two day land sailing regatta sometime between now and late fall and he thought that was a splendid idea. The dream scenario would be to have use of one of the big hangars. Drive in, set up the boats out of the wind and sun; there’s room for dozens. Below, those doors are five hundred feet wide.

So the ball’s in our court. Is there enough interest in New England to get a regatta organized? Even five or six land yachts would be a great first attempt. The travel distance is challenging and we need to await the post quarantine era; sometime in September perhaps?

Think Icephalt!

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3 Responses to Landsailing In Maine

  1. fiddlerpad says:

    I will come with my kite buggy. Let me know. Paul Delnero 603-770-3310

  2. Don Stearns says:

    Many years ago I flew to Loring AFB in a Huey .
    The comment from the tower was ” be aware of moose on the runways”. Sure enough, there was a moose on the approach end.
    If you are sailing there, think of them as four legged potholes.
    Best,
    Don Stearns

  3. Jason Huckaby says:

    I’ve got a blo-kart – OOB experience is very familiar, lol. Sand, everywhere! Cool you made it to Loring, always wondered… but is it not an active runway still?

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