Herding Cats

Herding Cats: A Failure of Representative Democracy.

NALSA CUP SERIES #1 

Blake Learmonth June 2017

Manta Twin Fleet Race 2 Delamar

Photo Blake

A  t least at first, it sounded like a great idea; Nord suggested to the NALSA Board, that we have a series of competitive NALSA events at a variety of locations around the western US landsailing world. The idea was to centralize weekend events to get more people together in one location instead of small groups spread all over the place… because everyone likes large social gatherings better than small ones and everyone is into competitive events using the NALSA scoring and class system…Right?

Actually, maybe not. Traditionally, there have been two or three events that bring in a fair number of folks, The ALC at Ivanpah, In Search of the Holy Gale and the November Cup. People drive a long way for these events. Interestingly only the ALC really uses the full NALSA class system for scoring and awarding trophies. Other events, rely on a sort of small, medium and large system, that gets off more races, so people get to sail more, or some sort of seat of the pants handicapping where everyone sails as many races as they want. Smaller holiday events crop up at several locations. Seems like there are always folks sailing at El Mirage (if it isn’t closed) Memorial Day and Labor Day events including the Nord Nationals, the Cow to Cow, The Pony Express and There are a number of US Mini events happen every year—some of these events have formalized racing, others don’t.

The NALSA board, which makes decisions about how NALSA is run and plans events, is theoretically a representative democracy. All of the board members represent one of the dues-paying clubs (some regional, some brand-based) that make up NALSA. As with many organizations that use this system, representatives to the central organization are theoretically elected, but experience suggests that job usually falls to the one person who is consistently willing to go to meetings. At least in theory, that person represents the members of a smaller club. Representative Democracy!

Now the failure part. For groups that meet regularly, new business comes up at a meeting and representatives take the proposed ideas back to their constituents for discussion and, at the next meeting representatives present how their group feels about an issue and then a solution is negotiated or a vote taken. The catch is that expediency often wins out and an idea gets voted on without consulting constituents. No one really wants to go to more meetings when they could be sailing! That is exactly what happened when the NALSA board voted to run the NALSA series of seven events without any of us going back to talk to our constituents. Even more surprising, the meeting adjourned with almost no discussion of details and no plan of how the details might be worked out. Just some agreement with the idea and the location of the events…cool idea let’s do it—meeting over lets go sail, or pack up our cars, or work on scoring… which led to…

Herding Cats: There really wasn’t a ton of time between ALC and Memorial Day. Nord agreed to host the first event at Delamar, northeast of Las Vegas and high enough to avoid the low altitude heat. It was billed as the Nord Nationals, an event frequently held on Memorial Day in the past. Renée cancelled the Cow to Cow based on apparent lack of interest and to encourage more people to show up at the first event of the NALSA series. Terry (for US Mini) agreed to share the lake with the Nationals…The only thing left was herding the cats and the huge wrong guess about how hard that was going to be. Cats don’t like to be herded! NALSA Board members wildly miscalculated what their constituents wanted and would be willing to do, and then the rumor mill started cranking (with a little bureaucratic wrangling thrown in just for interest).

With the background noise of the NALSA webmaster panicking as Memorial Day approached and the details of the event were still sketchy, rumors of: no wind, bad roads, perfect roads (both true, as it turned out) cold temperatures, hot temperatures, permits not acquired (then mostly worked out) snakes, tortoises, and questions like, “Will there even be an event?” and, “Why would anyone drive that far on a holiday weekend?” began to dominate the discussion.

Ludic skipping to the Lu in the early morning sun. photo: Blake

Ultimately, the cats stampeded in every direction. US Mini moved to Alkali, fearing that the sketchy interactions with the BLM and Fish and Wildlife would somehow impact their future, less official, gatherings at Delamar. The Smith Creek folks decided that the Cow to Cow was going to happen, despite everything; possibly, some Moose folks headed for Tule; and the SoCal folks decided the El Mirage was as far as they were willing to go and five of us showed up at Delamar because we said we would. The first event of the NALSA series didn’t really happen. We ran some races declared winners (despite the event organizer not showing up due to repeated vehicle failures) and had fun hanging out with friends and perhaps learned some things.

The two biggest things learned seem to be that for many people, hanging out with a few friends at a nearby lake is preferable to driving further for an official event. The second, and this seems to apply to this year’s Gale as well, is that permitting, insurance and other requirements… are much more difficult and time consuming for official “events,” with entry fees and races than for gatherings of friends.

 

From the author’s perspective, the first event of the NALSA series was a complete fail (other than hanging out with good people and getting away from home). It seems like the 2017 NALSA series is DOA. However, Dirtboating does not speak for NALSA so please keep up with the nalsa.org site and the NALSA forum on yahoo for the official word. Maybe, with real input from the sailing public there will be a way to pull this off in the future.

 

Dirtboating Magazine editor Duncan Harrison’s response…

My response to Herding Cats:

Herding Cats is an interesting account of the recent Nord Nationals and Memorial Day Landsailing in the US.

That Sinking Feeling (wait! can you sink on a dry lake?)

Lately, the trend has been for fewer (and fewer) landsailors (5?) to find their way to the Nord Memorial Day event, (due to the long drives, this year – 12 plus hours one way!) and predicted low turnout. All the time ignoring the 15 to 20 dirtboaters who regularly spend Memorial Day at El Mirage Dry Lake – a 2 hour drive from most everyone in our area!

 What’s wrong with this picture?

At recent Nord regattas there has been a problem with the race organizer arriving late to his events and this year (due to mechanical difficulty) arriving not at all. Listening to the comments leading up to this Memorial Day and following reports from the playa reminds me of watching the movie: TITANIC.

We all know the ending – the ship sinks every time! No thanks! I passed on this event, again, as did several others!

The NALSA CUP

If the NALSA board wants to promote landsailing and get more people interested – it might be a good idea to focus on just three or four “successful” events – held every year: ALC, Holy Gale and November Cup. Focus on events that are well attended, with racing across a broad group of landyachts/classes.

ALC Manta Twin Start Line

The ALC and November Cup are held just a few hours from major the population centers of Los Angeles and Las Vegas. A “fourth” event can be chosen from events held near Reno. Smith Creek Dry Lake is just a few hours drive away! Yes, I am aware that landailors from Santa Cruz are stuck with long drives no matter which way they go, yet they regularly show up at these events.

And please! Try and come up with a trophy and explanation/deed for giving it away? I’m happy with the idea of one trophy (The Nalsa Cup) to be given away to one landsailor/dirtboater who attends several events BUT doesn’t have to win everything. The CUP could be awarded to a sailor for any combination of reasons: winning; doing the hard work of getting permits together; regularly travels the most and farthest to be present; is the most helpful to others; contributes . . .

Gerry Lampert and Wind Wizards Landsailing Club recently hosted a “water sailor’s” introduction to landsailing at El Mirage Dry Lake. Present were some 15 sailors from Cabrillo Beach Yacht Club and an equal number of Wizards. I was present to help out as we gave our water brothers and sisters the rare chance to sail faster than they had ever sailed!

Gerry Lampert, El Mirage Dry Lake

When the wind picked up – they were blasting around the playa on Manta Twins. Later we all decompressed around a pot luck and enjoyed cocktails together. Events like Gerry’s will do much more for landsailing than asking a few “hard core” dirtboaters to drive insane miles to poorly attended events on the other side of remote . . . with off chance of winning another trophy.

Last: if after reading this, you still feel the need to drive insane miles to remote places to landsail with few close friends . . . Watch for the next LANDSAILING SAFARI to be held later in the year. Maybe Blake and I and a few intrepid dirtboaters will once again search out remote playas, ghost towns and hot springs!

Duncan Harrison

US 453

 

Landsailing on a Whole Different Scale

Bat1_ireland
Bat on the beach in Ireland Photo: Alan Watson

Tides; it’s all about tides. Wait, “tides?” I thought this was an article about radio controlled landsailers. It is, and I promise we’ll get there.

In an attempt to actually finish this article, the author went off to the America’s Landsailing Cup where rumor had it there would be competition in the various classes of radio control landsailers and an opportunity to report on those races. As it turned out, that never happened—all because of tides. Wait again! There are no tides in the desert. Precisely! No tides, and the wind blew more or less continuously for a week at levels that allowed full-sized landsailers to go. On several occasions I saw Bat landsailers zipping around people’s camps—many people had them—but despite Robert Weber’s valiant efforts, it was never possible to gather all the folks together for any kind of organized racing. There was a brief lunchtime attempt, which resulted in total chaos. It was like herding cats. Cones were placed, a course laid out and people immediately started sailing their Bats (and a few other models) around the course…in both directions, and diagonally across the course. Since they all look very much alike, it was fairly difficult to figure out who was driving which boat, although more experienced pilots seemed to know. It ended in semi-staged carnage with a pile of tangled Bats and a lot of hooting and hollering and taking pictures. (People were clearly having fun) ten minutes later, full-sized racing had started again and the Bats were stashed in people’s cars and motorhomes.

batcrashcrop
Tangled Bats ALC 2015 Photo: Blake

I can’t help but think that if we had tides it would all have been different. If we had tides the whole culture of landsailing, both radio-controlled and full-size, in the US would be completely different. This article is more about how things are, but it is worth thinking about the “why?”

Radio controlled landsailers have existed for at least 30 years. There is an international organizing body www.IRCSSA.org , International Radio Controlled Surface Sailing Association, that regulates the class structure and rules, and there are a number of, mostly small, producers of RC landsailers, iceboats and plans. The concept is really quite simple by radio controlled standards, only two channels required, one to steer and one to run the mainsheet, simple servos translate the radio signals into steering and sail control. What makes the Bat 1 different from the host of other RC craft is the boom in numbers created by the collaboration of the designer, Robert Weber, and Hong Kong hobby store HobbyKing, which has resulted in Bats appearing worldwide.

Although it is not clear who, if anyone, invented the RC landsailor, Robert Weber has been involved since the 1980s. Robert transferred his experience with full-scale landsailers—Robert is a 3-time America’s Landsailing Cup Class winner— to designing scale models, starting with a ¼ scale Stiletto based on his ALC yacht. His latest project is the Bat2 a larger, faster, model based on the Bat 1 fuselage.

RC landsailers have been appearing at US and international sailing venues, with organized and ad hock competition, for several years replacing horseshoes and bocce ball as low-wind activity of choice. Although napping and bench racing may still be the number one time filler, especially for those times when there is not even enough wind to move a Bat around.

As with full-size landsilers, there are long-established classes for the radio-controlled boats. The classes, if not one design, are based on size.

Specifications are box rules, which limit Height, Length, and Width. Everything else is, “Run what you brung,” to quote Robert Weber.

This leads to very little squabbling about rules.

ClassMax LengthMax HeightMax Beam
10.75M (29.53”)1.00M (39.37”)0.50M (19.69”)
21.00M (39.37”)1.50M (59.06”)0.75M (29.53”)
31.50M (59.06”) 2.00M (78.74”)1.00M (39.37”)
UnlimitedUnlimitedUnlimitedUnlimited

Bats rounding mark at El Mirage Photo: Blake
Bats rounding mark at El Mirage Photo: Blake

 

The Bats that are sold by Hobby King are Bat 1. The 1 indicates that they fit in the class 1 “box” similarly, the new Bat 2, although sharing many components with the Bat 1, fits in the class 2 box. I have not seen any push to force the Bat 1s into a strict one design. Bat 1s have mostly sold to people who are already landsailors. As a group, we tend to be tinkerers and even though the Bat is completely functional right out of the box (the packaging box, not the rule box) modifications started happening almost immediately, the most common being softer axels, softer masts and redesigned and resized sails.

 

From the sales data that Dirtboating has been able to gather it looks like over 1000 Bat 1 landsailers have been sold, the majority has gone to Europe with around 200 going the US and everywhere else. This article has photos of them in the US, Ireland and Germany although many have gone to France and Belgium as well.

 

As is often the case, this Dirtboating article depends on input from readers. Most of our information on Bats in Europe comes from Sven Kraja who was gracious enough to give us a fairly detailed description of his experience.

Sven sailed different RC Landyachts over the years; some he designed and made himself, another was designed by a friend but was “too expensive to produce,” a third was produced by a German model company, but was set up like an antique stern-steerer iceboat and was not very functional. The frogsail11Bat looked like a good combination of design and price so he decided to order one for himself. Thinking a little further, he decided it would more fun if his girlfriend also had one and then included two other friends in the first order.

Since Sven is a sail maker, his first project was to equip them all with computer-designed Frog Sails sails using a mast pocket instead of clips on the leading edge and very thin sailcloth for the main part of the sail (the sails look great and seem to work well and have been seen on Bats in the US and in Ireland (as well as Germany, of course).

German Bat sailors started playing with the Bats on a parking lot near the beach. Add a little beer drinking to the afternoon racing and a social component was added to the mix. Eventually, they attracted the attention of a couple of “kite guys,” who were immediately hooked and they started putting together a second order for 10 more. They promoted the after-work racing and beer drinking using a WhatsAp group, which I gather is like a MeetUp group in the US. Christmas gift giving added a lot of young bat sailors to the fleet. They now have as many as 60 active Bat sailors in Germany. It is likely that similar stories exist in other countries where landsailing is popular (and where they have tides). A bunch of Bats running around with Frog Sails should also be good advertising.

frogsail-bats
German Bats Photo: Sven Kraja

There was an attempt to organize competition at the 2015 European Championships, but as happens everywhere, people were too busy sailing big boats…Hey, what about when the tide was wrong, but it was still windy?…maybe there is a hole in my Tides theory.

Regular acing in Germany (weather permitting) has led to more development, with Frog Sails offering regular sails, storm sails and modified axels. See video links at the end of the article for more information.

Bat sailing in America seems mostly limited to casual gatherings at landsailing events and individuals sailing on their neighborhood parking lot.

I may have a skewed vision of this since I live so far from any other active landsailors. In general, we don’t live near each other, certainly not close enough to get a group of folks together after work to sail our Bats and have a couple of beers on a regular basis. Most of us drive hundreds of miles to sail our full-sized boats and most would not be willing to drive far for a Bat event. El Mirage seems to have the most potential as a bat venue, it is close to millions of people and groups of landsailors end up there fairly frequently. Evening Bat sailing seems to happen there fairly often with as many as 10 RC landsailers (mostly Bats) zipping around after the pilots are too tired to keep sailing their “big” boats. It is fun and people seem to be more than happy to hand off the controls to newbies. Of course, all it takes is one fluke with someone sailing where people can see how much fun it is, or buying a handful of them for their friends, and the German scene could be duplicated here. We could probably even sail these on the beach without getting arrested.

Development continues In the US as well. For example, Robert Weber, the designer of the original Bat is now offering A Bat 2, which is longer, taller and wider, with a front springer for suspension, a taller flexier rig and a redesigned boom system. The modification makes it faster, smoother and, interestingly, easier to sail.

Bat1IrelandLeprechauns2a
Bats dodging Leprechauns Photo Alan Watson

Where do we go from here? Hobby king is still selling Bats; they go out of stock and then come back to both the US and international warehouses, so they must be ordering/building/selling them. The important thing to ensure continued popularity for those of us without tides will be finding a time and place to race them that is not in direct competition with sailing full-sized landsailers.

Bat Related Video Links:

https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=pI__zVNF484 (frogsails on the beach)

https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=ht_iqFqb9I0 (build 1)

https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=BaSLGqOuGYA

Dirtboating Tries a New Tack

bugbannerNew for 2016, Dirtboating Magazine will publish/post articles as they come into existence. Periodically we may combine them into a PDF “issue” followed by the release of a new cover and more new articles. As always, we need authors willing to submit their dirtboating stories and good quality action photos.