Land sailing racers enjoy the runways at former Loring air base

3 weeks ago

LIMESTONE, Maine — More than two dozen go-carts and converted ice boats topped with tall sails raced on the runways of the former Loring Air Force Base on Friday during what has become a traditional event for diehard land sailing enthusiasts.

Twice a year, groups of friends and competitors from New England land sailing associations gather at Loring to test their speed on the base’s 2.5 miles of unused airport runway. Though the runs are timed, racers say they come as much for the fun and camaraderie as they do for breaking records.

Racers on Friday included folks like Kate Morrone of Concord, New Hampshire, who, like many land sailing participants, started because of her passion for ice boating. 

Morrone began racing at Loring in 2020 after Camden resident Bill Buchholz, president of the Chickawaukie Ice Boat Club, organized the first land boating events there.

“It’s wide open, with lots of room to go fast,” Morrone said, about Loring’s runways. 

Buchholz said Friday that the group had been able to get in 10 races at Loring since arriving Tuesday. Wind speeds varied throughout the week and are sometimes difficult to get just right for a race.

The racers at Loring came from as far as New York and New Jersey and throughout New England, including Maine.

On Friday, Dave Fortier of Biddeford estimated that some racers were able to achieve maximum speeds of 50 mph when the wind picked up long enough. 

Fortier also came to the sport because of ice boating. He has land sailed since 1989.

“[Loring] is one of the best places there is,” Fortier said. “We like going fast to get the adrenaline rush.”

Though land sailing, also known as land yachting or sand sailing, is popular around the world, Loring is one of relatively few racing venues in the U.S. 

Rhode Island resident Dave Lussier has been land sailing since 2017. In April, he snagged the world speed record — 77.7 miles per hour — while racing in the world land sailing championships in California’s Mojave Desert. Earlier this year, he raced in Wales and on the Caribbean island of Bonaire.

Like others, Lussier land sails for the thrill of racing the wind.

“[Racing] only lasts 10 minutes, but it’s an intense 10 minutes,” Lussier said.

The land sailing racers will return to Loring in September.