Nevada woman ‘finds her calm’ boating on dry lake at 70mph

LAS VEGAS (AP) — Renee Fields finds peace while cruising at 70 mph (12.6 km/h) in a sand yacht on a dry lake bed under the hot desert sun.

The 58-year-old Reno woman, who speaks five languages ​​and works as a forensic engineer, discovered land sailing after being misdiagnosed with shoulder cancer in 2012. When she discovered that It wasn’t cancer, she attacked her. bucket list a priority.

This included trying out extreme sports like motorcycle racing and water sailing, which led her to start land yachting in 2014 and competing in races in Germany and Ireland.

“For fun, what I would say is that we sail on boats that don’t float, on lakes without water – the fastest in the world,” said the self-proclaimed adrenaline junkie.

Land sailors from around the world gathered last month at Ivanpah Dry Lake, a dry lake bed about 44 miles (71 kilometers) south of Las Vegas, near Primm and the Nevada-California state line, for the America’s Land Sailing Cup, the national sports championship. .

Sixty-eight sailors, also called pilots; 90 boats and around 120 people showed up for the week-long regatta-style competition in March – a larger group than usual due to the cancellation by COVID-19 of the 2020 and 2021 events.

Fields was one of only three women competing.

Nevada’s dry lake beds have flat, sprawling playas that are ideal for non-motorized and wind-powered vehicles to glide over at speeds of over 100 mph with winds of 10-50 mph.

Ivanpah Dry Lake is considered the best of the best for land sailing in the country and in the world, according to the U.S. Bureau of Land Management’s California field office.

“We’re the fastest and we have these beautiful dry lakes that make for amazing courses to sail upwind and downwind on the beaches,” Fields said. “Here we can set a lured course upwind and really have to swim upwind and downwind to the marks.”

Sailors compete unless there is no wind or the wind is above 35 mph (56.3 km/h), depending on the class.

They take their place on the start line after making sure their land yachts are ready with the correct tire pressure and correct sail deflection.

Their yachts, or boats, are steered with their feet, altering the sail by the tension of a rope controlled by their hands.

Experience and consistency are key, said North American Land Sailing Association race director Dennis Bassano, who has been sailing since he was 12.

“You can’t prove you’re fast until you’ve won a regatta. Because you can go out and outrun someone for five minutes, sure, but can you do it over a week and over seven or 10 races? said Bassano.

While many land sailors find success over years of racing, Fields began winning meets shortly after his 2014 debut, taking third place at the world championships.

Her first major victory came at the America’s Land Sailing Cup in 2016, where she took first place in the Manta Twin class.

Fields said she learned quickly by studying wind patterns, sailing techniques and experienced pilots, as well as getting as much seat time as possible. Seat time means Fields runs a lot – in all four classes, a difficult feat as she has to rush to change boats and get to the start line between races.

She is the only woman in the United States to pilot a “big boat”, or class 3 sand yacht. These boats are 16 feet (4.9 meters) long and 12 feet (3.7 meters) wide, with a 20 foot (6.1 meter) mast.

“While I was going up and learning, you know, I was doing this weird race and they were like, ‘Oh, you’ve got a lucky race, good job,’ you know, instead of ‘Good job.’ And that tends to happen. to a lot of women in all sports,” she said. “So if you want to do well, you do well in the fleet, period. … I’ve always been driven to do well, and when the guys say, oh, you know, kind of a pat on the head, say it’s okay. I’m fighting for equality even more.

Fields competed in this year’s regatta and won. She won first place in the Manta Twin class and second place in the Manta singles and Standart classes. Of the three women who have raced this year, all have won trophies at home.

Sheila Eberly, 71, who has been a land yachter for 50 years, won her typical first place in the Manta singles.

Both Eberly and Fields are trying to recruit more women to the sport, which many believe is declining due to aging sailors and barriers to entry such as cost, time commitment and lack of of mentoring.

“The challenge is that it’s a bit of a dying sport,” Fields said. “Twenty or 30 years ago there were 100 yachts almost every weekend here or on the dry lakes of El Mirage” in California.

Eberly, Fields and German pilot Anke Meunch, known as “The Golden Girls” to their sailing family, encourage women to take up the sport. “I think we really need to recruit young people,” Eberly said.

Once the wind has died down in the evening or the speeds are too high to continue sailing safely, bonfires, beer and shared food appear.

“There are great stories and a lot of camaraderie around the campfire and we share food and break bread and, you know, it’s like family. It really is like a family,” Fields said. “And, you know, we’ll put all the boats away and we’ll keep in touch and look forward to the next opportunity to get together.”

Some pilots will not be sailing until next year’s regatta. But Fields will get her seat time whenever she gets the chance, whether it’s at her home in northern Nevada or at her next international competition.

“It helps me calm down, I regain my composure at 70, 80 miles an hour with my hair on fire in the breeze and controlling the wind on the edge. It was in my mind. This is where I find a serene place.

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