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The Ivanpah Experience

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On March 25th, 2011, Blokart sailors will come to Primm, Nevada from all over the world to sail in the North American Blokart Sailing Championship.

A Blokart is a 65 pound, three-wheeled, sail powered kart invented and designed by Paul Beckett from New Zealand.  You can sail with 2, 3, 4, or 5.5 meter sails at speeds of up to 50 + MPH.  Its ingenious design lends itself to being broken down and placed in a bag that can be put in the trunk of a small car.  With simple assembly requiring no hand tools, you can be sailing within minutes of arriving at your destination.  I have carried my Blokart on commercial airline flights with a minimum heavy bag allowance.  Because I live in Michigan, I have an ice blade kit for my kart, which allows me to sail on ice.  I have a sailboat, but I am limited to summer sailing in Michigan.  With my Blokart, I can sail year-round.  

 

Land sailing has been around for a long time, but the massive land yachts of yesteryear can only be sailed on a desert, large beach, or very large venue.  The Blokart’s unique design easily lends itself to sailing in small parking lots, soccer fields or other small locations.  It is easy to learn to sail a Blokart and most people are sailing within minutes with a little assistance from a friend. 

The very best place in the world to sail a Blokart is on a dry lakebed where you can literally sail for miles on one tack.  One of the greatest places on earth is located on the California/Nevada border off I-15 at a place called Primm, Nevada.  It is called Ivanpah Dry Lake and it actually is located in both Nevada and California.

Ivanpah is a dry lake about 8 miles long and 5 miles wide located about 40 miles west of Las Vegas.  This year will be my 6th trip to Ivanpah to sail with some of the nicest people you could ever meet. 

I see new people each year, but I also see all of the great people who return for a full week of fun, fellowship, and camaraderie.  It is a family event for many attendees.  It is not uncommon to see the family pets tag along.  They come from Washington to New Jersey as well as Europe, New Zealand, and Australia.  You meet people from all walks of lives, businesses, and professions.  You will see all ages participating from very young to some of us in the “senior citizen” category.  It is also a great sport for physically challenged sailors. 

Some people bring their campers and camp out on the playa and others stay in the casino hotels.  We all get together for formal and informal gatherings in the evenings at local eateries.  Fran and Mary Gramkowski’s room has been the site of many enjoyable wine and cheese parties.

On the days when sailing is not possible due to lack of wind, we have several sailing clinics.  Steve Irby and Bob Casey give tire-balancing seminars. There are clinics on Blokart maintenance.  Sean Fidler has given several sailing clinics on sail shape, rig tuning, and sailing tactics.  Everyone shares their little secrets on tuning their rigs and tweaking their bearings.  Although I am sure we all keep a few little secrets to ourselves, for the most part we share everything from tools to tactics.  It is actually fun to be able to show a newbie how to clean and prepare his bearings for a race and then see his delight when he goes faster.  

We are all competitors when the race starts, but afterwards everyone shares and helps their fellow competitors.  People share their tools, their knowledge, and their sailing experience. 

Bob Casey has been there every year lending a hand with tools, repairs, and the replacement of broken parts.  Amy Casey has helped in many ways. Joe Kent has been there every year helping to organize and supply parts.  Fran Gramkowski has shared his room at the hotel to host wine and cheese parties.  Mike Moody has helped by volunteering as the race official as well as Dave Trude and his family.  Mike Moody’s son has volunteered as a flagman and all around helper.  There are actually too many contributors to mention in a small article.  These guys and gals sacrifice some of their own fun to help others participate and to help the sport grow.  Without their selfless contribution, we would not be able to host these events. 

And now a little bit about the sailing conditions at Ivanpah.  I live in Michigan so I am pretty much limited to parking lots or the occasional abandoned airport.  Ivanpah is special for me.  I can sail my kart in a 35 MPH wind at a speed of 50 + MPH for miles at a time.  The feeling of sailing in a race at those speeds in very close proximity to 20 other competitors is thrilling.  I couldn’t help feeling like this must be what it’s like to race at Indy or Daytona.  We don’t have the roar of engines, but you can actually hear your tires and bearings whine as your speed spools up.  With a 30 MPH wind and a speed of 40 MPH, you sail with a 70 MPH apparent wind.  The surface is usually very smooth and most years as smooth as pavement. 

Some years have produced more wind than others but I am never disappointed.  During a four-day stay at Ivanpah, you will get to sail a great deal of the time in very windy conditions. 

It is not all about racing.  Sometimes you can just take a leisurely sail across the desert and appreciate the view of the mountains in the distance and the way that the sun makes the lake look like you are sailing in blue water.  After a hard day of sailing, you can sit under a tent and sip a beer with your friends.  I can honestly say that I feel just like a kid again except that now my favorite toy is my kart. 

As for the participants, I can honestly say I have never met a person that I didn’t like at Ivanpah.  Each year as I leave, I feel a sadness and I find myself looking forward to the next year even before I arrive home again in Michigan.  I now have many friends from distant places like Spain, France, Britain, New Zealand, and Australia to name a few.

As long as I am able, I will continue to make the annual pilgrimage to Ivanpah to sail my Blokart at one of the finest locations in the world and to renew my acquaintance with some of the finest people on earth.  This IS the Ivanpah experience. 

 

 

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