On the island of Bonaire in the Netherlands Antilles, wind is the most important ingredient for spending a day on the world’s biggest landsailing track along the island’s northeast coast. The brightly colored sails of Blokarts poke at a blue sky as their tires spin madly over the hard. “Sailing” them is a blast. White dust whirs around the tubular cart with its skinny sail as you settle into a sling seat, strap on a crash helmet, and buckle up. Hauling in the sheet, you launch into the fast lane.
While landsailing is a novelty to many sailors, it’s hardly a new development. The first landsailors were ancient Egyptians. In the sixth century, the Chinese followed suit. A 16th-century land yacht was invented for a Dutch prince to impress his guests, and the Belgian DuMont brothers copied the Egyptian model in 1898. Although some landsailers were popular in the U.S. in the 1960s, the sport really took off in the 1970s, mostly in California and Nevada, on dry lakebeds and beaches. Today, landsailing is popular on West Coast, South Carolina, and Florida beaches. The fastest speed ever recorded for a landsailer was 88.4 mph back in 1976.
Trim the main, adjust the helm, and you’re hugging the track in Bonaire. Waves crash in the distance, to remind you of a different kind of sailing, but at the speed you’re traveling, you don’t have time to philosophize. Cacti and dunes blur by as you take an extra tug on the sheet. Soon you’re two-wheeling it, flying your windward wheel. As you round the leeward mark, the sail whips overhead and, now on a starboard reach, you build up more speed before reaching the windward mark. Tacking quickly you are off for another lap. Finally you finish and now you’ve got to stop without brakes. Coasting off the exit ramp, you find an old tire to thud into.
The ride may be over, but the sport of landsailing is here to stay. And if you’re like me, you can’t wait to try it again—once your brain recovers from the adrenaline overdose.