Friday 23 April 2021
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It takes space, wind & patience to Land Sail

Once enjoyed simply as recreational fun in the sun, land yachting has evolved into a racing sport. The idea of these dynamic little three-wheeled vehicles, wind and speed gives you a delightfully gentlemanly sport.

Since hundreds of years, people have been using sails attached to land vehicles to transport goods or in the case of China: Royalties.  Also known as land yachting or sand yachting, land sailing is traced back to ancient Egypt and other cultures that used wheeled vehicle powered by wind through the use of sail. Such vehicles travelling over land are up to four times more effective than a sailboat in the water. Land sailing was initially used as a mode of transportation and recreation. Later in 1950 it became a racing sport.

Namibia also has a history of wind-powered vehicles from windsurfers and kite surfers. One of the sailors such as Paul Larsen has set the outright world sailboat speed record in Walvisbay with his Vestas Sail rocket 2. After 11 years of preparation and waiting for the right conditions in 2012 he made 121km/h a record that is believed to stand forever.

German born Hendrik Ehlers was the first one to bring such vehicles to Namibia. Initially it was only Blokart mini yachts, rather small three-wheeled vehicles from New Zealand with wind surf board-like sails ranging from 2 to 5.5 square meters. Later he brought over a Queen initially called the “Kalahari Ferrari” which is a Class 2 land yacht with an 11.3 square meter sail.

Hendrik who has been a professional hang glider for seven years says that sailing is a family thing. “My father was a sailor who built his own boat and a gliding instructor. I spent my childhood either in a glider or in a biplane high up in the air and flying aerobatics,” he says.

Hendrik says that he has always been living with the skies, the wind and the thermals and has developed a fan for seeing what is going on in the air between the clouds and the ground. However, when his kids were born Hendrik decided to leave sea sailing and switched over to land sailing. “Sailing on the sea is a rather slow process because if you have a wind speed of 10km/h then you can probably only go 8km/h because of the drag. However with the land yacht you can go four times faster than the wind. I decided to go one step bigger and imported a ship.” he says.

While being an adamant sailor on racing catamarans on the water, he never found a suitable beach in Namibia, wide enough for the large land yacht then he was baptized by his wife Lize Ehlers as ‘Triple F’. So it went into a barn and dusted away for better days. “The entire meaning of the three F’s remains unknown; we only know that the last two stand for ‘Fast Falcon’. Triple F does not have brakes. “No brakes, no fear” is the motto,” said the couple.

Nevertheless, Hendrik went on with his mini yachts and around 2003 he set the unofficial Namibian land speed record for wind-powered vehicles in Lüderitz at 92 km/h. There is nothing official about it but a photograph of his GPS display.

Hendrik also set another unofficial Namibian distance record for wind-powered cars in 2004 by sailing 301 km from Solitaire to Helmeringhausen. Those days he says that he did not have brakes on his Blokart and cattle gates, which made the entire concoction lift up into the air were a real danger. His two remaining Blokarts have front-wheel brakes now. Hendrik estimates that there could be three more mini yacht Blokarts in Namibia, but has never seen them in action. “If you want to see them in action, you have to go to Muizenberg in Cape Town because they have a full race circuit for Blokarts near the surfers’ beach,” he says.

Hendrik says that some of the challenges of practicing land sailing in Namibia is the unavailability of a wide piece of sand to run the ship and the availability of wind which makes it ideal to only sail in September. He says that his endeavor is absolutely perfect with a 3.5 km length and a 1.5 km width. It gives me special angles to the wind which allows me to get the maximum speed and this is big enough. It’s the first one in Namibia and nobody has ever done it.

A little while ago we went on a tour with a Land Rover club and found the Koës pan in the Keetmanshoop area which I didn’t even know existed. It has a length of 3.5 km and a super smooth surface, an ideal venue for Triple F. As most people in Namibia, I have also never heard of the annual Koës Rally, which features crazy stuff like airplanes doing drag races against cars and attracts many hundreds of participants and visitors from Namibia and South Africa,” he narrates.

Hendrik says that ever since visiting the Koës pan he has been reading the wind forecast and has established that the best day to sail in the pan will be Friday morning at six o’clock when the forecast for the Koës pan is 21km/h. He says that this wind speed is not enough to break his own record however if the wind picks up and the circumstances of the pan become favourable he wants to break his own record of 92km/hour. “I would stay on the pan until my team at least breaks my old record because no matter what I am the last man standing.”

After eight years the land yacht was awakened and is currently prepped up for a record trial on 25/26 August on the Koës pan. His main pilot in the task is the experienced sailor Jürgen Gladis of Blue Chip Bodyworks and they are ready to be blown away.

Hendrik’s wife Lize says that although flying through the wind 92km/h without brakes is not so safe, it is better with the aid of helmets, safety jackets, gloves and the protective gear. “I just want him to be safe but luckily my husband is a master of safety, he’s very concerned about safety and that has saved him through a lot of situations because he looks for whatever is safe,” she says.

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