Setting aside vague testimony going back to ancient China and pharaonic Egypt, the birth of the landyacht traces back to the vessel of Simon Stevin of Bruges. His landyacht with two masts took two hours to cover the distance (65 kms) between Scheveningen and Petten together with other 28 people. A witness narrated that it was impossible for him to identify those who were on board because of its high speed. Apart from other tries, such as the “Eolienne” of Acquet in 1834, we have to wait more than two centuries for the official birth of the modern landyacht thanks to brothers Dumont’s tests in 1898 at De Panne, situated in Belgium near the French border. The connection between aeronautics and landyacht comes out powerfully and the names of many pioneers of aviation figure on the list of the pioneers of landyacht as well: the Belgian air-ace during the First World War Willy Coppens, with his 36 victories; Louis Bleriot with his “Aeroplages” and Henri Demoury, the first to approach scientifically the planning of the landyacht. The landyachts become lighter, easy to hand, steady and they run faster and faster thanks to the car wheels which have superseded the previous rudimentary ones.

The current development of the landyacht has begun in the 2nd half of the Fifties. In France prestigious clubs spring up, such as the Bleriot Club or the Fort Mahon Club, people that devote themselves to this sport with great care. The international body which runs and rules this sport is the “Federation Internationale de Sand et Land Yachting” (FISLY). Many countries are actually represented by the Fisly (that is to say they take an active part in landyachting): Argentina, Australia, Belgium, Brazil, Denmark, Djibouti, United Arab Emirates, France, Germany, Ireland, Jersey, New Zealand, the Low Countries, Qatar, the United Kingdom, the United states of America. The French Armed Forces have even included landyachting among their favourite sports. Landyachting is widespread in almost every European country which gives on the Atlantic Ocean and has wide beaches whose sand is made hard by the tide. In the U.S.A. the landyachters avail themselves primarily of windswept plateaus and huge deserts. The African deserts offer boundless areas which drive to eventful enterprises, even too eventful: the violent sand storms, which were the cause of the death of a French kitebugger in 1999, brought about the change of the route of “Transat des sables”, the hard crossing of Mauritania. Landyachting on ice (iceboating) is a completely different matter: this sport is practised in North America and in the north of Europe. In Italy there was a pale attempt at iceboating on Lake Resia, near Bolzano.

Today the generally accepted structure is formed by two fixed rear wheels, a steering front wheel and a main sail, with a few exceptions: for example, Pierre Demoury’s famous rhomboidal landyacht, “the banana”, with its steering front and rear wheels and two side wheels to give steadiness. With regard to the sails, as an excellent video on a desert crossing released by the National Geographic evidences, landyachters have sometimes combined main sail with jib. Still today, especially in the U.S.A., it is possible to meet eccentric and bizarre vehicles, such as Michael Schwartz’s US421, a Class 4 landyacht with two front wheels and a double wing sail. Some iceboats have two sails and require two crewmen.
The used material tends to achieve the utmost lightness. The landyachts belonging to the major classes usually consist of shells made of carbon fiber, kevlar or fiberglass. The crafts belonging to the minor classes are formed either by a simple frame of aluminium pipes (Manta) or by a rigid structure composed of three thick metal pipes. These latter ones are either holted or welded together (Class 5 and Standart). At the end of the long front pipe there is a fork while approximately in the middle of it there’s the mast step. From behind of the mast step the pipes which hold up the rear wheels begin. A shell of synthetic material, usually fiberglass, is fastened on this frame. With regard to the rear axle, the shock absorbing effect is obtained thanks to the flexion of the bar which holds up the wheels. This is the field in which there is the greatest difference between major and minor classes and between the crafts belonging to the same class. So you can see some hulls following every dip and every hollow and tilting flattening on the lee. It’s not only the rear axle which bends and the front fork can be made shock absorbing in different ways. It is rare to find gas shock absorbers, whereas the most followed method makes use of strong elastic bands which jam a moving plate whose fulcrum is on the extreme point of the bow: the fork is welded on the plate. On the contrary, other yachts are unbelievably rigid such as Standart and Class 5.
There is a bar to steer which is driven by the feet and connected to the front fork either by means of synthetic and steel cables or by a rigid rod. In the monocoques, where in case of need it is impossible to help oneself with hands and feet, for example when you have to brake or to start again, there is either a handwheel or a lever connected to the steering gear. It allows you to steer the yacht while you are pushing it, before leaping into it. In the past, some yachts belonging to Class 2 put all the controls together on a double axial steering wheel: the one with the larger diameter controlled the front wheel; the other one, whose hub functioned as a winch, controlled the sheet.

The tyres are expressly made for this kind of vehicles. They are slick tyres of different sizes. The light crafts, which stop within few meters either going against the wind or making use of the feet (such as the Manta), don’t have any braking system, which is an important and compulsory safety component in the major classes. The most common system is made up of a hand lever which is a friction-brake, but other systems act directly on the tyres: on the front one either through a mechanical brake block or through an internal drum brake or else on one of the rear tyres through the same above-mentioned hand lever. The last-named system is widely used in Great Britain because many regattas take place on airstrips where there is no need to leave long and deep ruts.
With regard to the masts, there is a remarkable difference between major and minor classes. In the major classes the profile of the mast is extremely elaborate and its area is included in the sail surface. It is not unusual for a landyacht equipped with just the mast to tip over because of a gust of wind. On several occasions, those landyachts have reached a speed of nearly 100 kms per hour. In the minor classes (Manta, Standart, Class 5, Five, Fed 5) you can find standard aluminium pipes which are sometimes made up of two parts. With regard to the Standart, in the luff there is a zippered pocket which contains five cambers used to give the mast a wing profile.
As to the foot of the sail, there are no given rules: it may be bent in the boom or not. The gear of Class 2, 3, and 4 is usually stayed up. The sail is hand-operated by means of a sheet passing through some blocks. In the major classes, where the physical effort is considerable, especially in case of strong wind, a valuable help comes from a winch round which the sheet is wounded. The reverse of the medal is that with the sheet wounded round the winch, you lose sensitivity compared to the sheet always in your hand and when the landyacht threatens to tip over, you instinctively ease out more than it is required. The most widespread sails are made of fabric because they are inexpensive and it is easy to assemble them, to carry them and to set them up. Sometimes this sail is replaced with a wing sail. Just because of its stiffness, the wing sail has one or more flaps on the trailing edge: the landyachter controls them in order to give the right shape to the sail, modifying the concavity of its profile and consequently its efficiency, to adapt it to the different points of sailing.

To come to a good knowledge of the different classes which take part in national and international competitions it is necessary for me to talk about the two main associations which rule the world of the landyacht. In Europe the landmark is represented by Fisly, whereas in the U.S.A. this sport is regulated by Nalsa.
The classes within the Fisly are:
Class 2 (11.3 sq.m)
Class 3 (7.35 sq.m)
Class 3R (7.35 sq.m.)
Class 5 (5.50 sq.m.)
Standart (5.80 sq.m. - sail only)
Class 7
Class 8
The Nalsa Association, which is a member of Fisly, embodies the most authentic anglo-saxon spirit and proves to be more flexible. Theoretically, every yacht could be admitted to the competitions and this is positive with regard to the number of the competitors. The existence itself of a class formed by vintage landyachts is indicative either of the American tradition and of its trend. In practice, the one who wants to take part in a regatta recognized by Fisly must have at least either a Class 5 or a Standart (the price is about 4000 E.), while in a Nalsa competition it is enough to have a Manta Twin (about 1000 E.). In the competitions it organizes the American association gathers a more heterogeneous group of yachts, with a large number of one-design boats. Among these, the elegant DN is particularly important: its activity usually takes place on ice and there is a specific association which manages and organizes numerous competitions, among which a world championship including the U.S.A. and the Baltic countries.
The classes within the Nalsa are:
Class II (11.3 sq.m. – 121.6 sq.ft.)
Class III (7.35 sq.m. – 79.1 sq.ft.)
Class IV (5.48 sq.m. – 59.0 sq.ft.)
Class V (4.55 sq.m. – 49.0 sq.ft.)
Five Square Meter (5.5 sq.m.)
Fed 5 (5.59 sq.m. – 60.2 sq.ft.)
Manta Single
Manta Twin
Classic (6.0 sq.m. – 64.6 sq.ft.)
The only difference between Fisly and Nalsa’s classes is that the Fisly Class 5 corresponds to the Five Square Meter yacht rather than to the Class V.
To give you a complete picture of the situation, I am going to include the classes recognized by FFCV, one of the more dynamic European associations, whose calendar of the races counts lots of competitions.
The classes within the FFCV are:
Class 2 (11.2 sq.m.)
Class 3 (7.35 sq.m.)
Class 3R/F.A (7.35 sq.m.)
Class 5 (5.50 sq.m.)
Standart (5.80 sq.m. – sail only)
Class 5 Promo (5.50 sq.m.)
Class Mini 4 (4.65 sq.m.)
Class Mono 5 (5.50 sq.m.)
Class 7
Class 8
The main feature which characterizes Class 3R, recognized by Fisly as well, and F.A and which distinguishes them from Class 3 is the height of the mast: it should not be higher than 5 meters, while in Class 3 it can reach 6.10 meters. To keep on staying in France, Class Mini 4 is a promotional class addressed to boys and girls aged 11 to 16, while Class 5 Promo and Class Mono 5 are heavier and simplified models of Class 5 and take part in some national races.
The splendid DN, as already mentioned, deserves our admiration: its plan dates back to 1919 and we are struck by its wooden hull and its harmonious style and flexibility. Moreover it is widespread, it is one of the most employed yachts, chiefly in Eastern Europe where you can use it on ice. But whether equipped with blades or with wheels, whether stationary or in motion, the DN is always a amazing spectacle.
At the present time, I do not consider Class 7 and Class 8. Known as speedsail as well, Class 7 has a windsurf gear set on a 4-wheel board. Anyway, it is capable of unbelievable speed and extraordinary exploits, such as the crossing of the Gobi Desert carried out in 1991 by Eric Milet: 1183 kms covered in 136 hours and a half. With regard to Class 8, refer to the kitebuggies.
Next to these classes, recognized and admitted to the international competitions, you can find those classes, such as Miniyacht (Ludic, Paddy), which are included in the national championships and in the untitled competitions.

There are two main agonistic competitions in the international circle of the landyacht: the World Championships and the Pacrim. You can add to these races the “Transat des sables” as well: it is a peculiar competition because it is not a regatta which takes place in a closed race-course, it is a raid extolling the sailing competence, the powers of endurances and the sense of direction. Both the World Championships and the Pacrim take place every two years: the latter is unfailingly played on Ivanpah Dry Lake (or else on nearby lakes, when Ivanpah Dry Lake is unplayable because of rain). On vast areas the regattas take place in a triangular race-course, while on extended beaches the race-course is windward/leeward.

The search for the greatest possible speed achievable through the mere strenght of the wind is a challenge which has been going on for years. The countries with the most significant tradition are endlessly in search for new shapes, materials, technologies, sponsors and their financial support and new places where it is possible to drive their experimental crafts at full speed. In the last few years this challenge has been moved by France, U.S.A. and Great Britain. France, a leading country which holds the record set in 1991 by Bertrand Lambert who went at a speed of 151,55 kms per hour, developed an extremely advanced plan which could never show its potential: Alain Floch and Jean Philippe Krischer worked on the planning of the yacht known as “Vent de l’Ouest”. Other experts and associations involved in the plan were Phil Rothrock, an expert on wing sail, the “Ecole Centrale” of Nantes, for aerodynamics, the “Ecole des Beaux Arts” of Nantes, for design, the “Aerospatiale” and the “Ecole supérieure du bois”.
Paradoxically, it was quite a relatively simple vehicle to set the record. The Ironduck is formed by an intricate frame and some components even come from a Volvo, such as the rear hubs. The English threat to the speed of 187 kms per hour obtained by Bob Schumacher through the Ironduck on the 20th of March 1999 results from another assumption: there are conspicuous investments and the cooperation with important partners such as the Royal Air Force, which places the Waddington Airport at disposal, and the Lola, a well-known make of racing single and two-seaters which turned out to be precious in the making and in the setting of the suspension.

English version by Barbara Bandini