Ecokart landsailing

Being so close to the ground gives an extra sense of speed and the faster it goes, the bumpier the ride

See original article in Enjoy the Algarve – magazine November 2015

Keen on sailing and surfing but don’t want to get wet? Looking for a thrill ride but without the polluting exhaust fumes? And want a sport which looks active, but where you can actually chill in a buggy? Go ecokart landsailing. We waited for a windy day in the southwest Algarve (didn’t have to wait long) and gave it a try. It rocks!

Confession: I can’t sail. I don’t know my knots from my wind speed and when giving directions I’m unable to use words like ‘northeast’ correctly and instead say ‘at the yellow shop’. So yeah, I’m like the perfect test person for ecokart landsailing. Not. Oh well, at least on land I can’t get seasick.

 

Portuguese flags are waving in the wind on what looks like a dirt road karting track located between Vila do Bispo and Sagres. The place promises a big dose of adventure. Near the reception area there’s safety gear displayed in all sizes. Helmets, kneepads, gloves, elbow protectors and even blue suits. As I’m used to riding a bike in just a dress and snowboarding without a helmet, I’m starting to feel a tiny bit worried. If all this is necessary, it must be dangerous. Co-owner Julia Beckenbauer’s casually spoken words make it worse. “I’m just going to change the tracks, because the wind has changed. There are no brakes on these carts.”

Help. No brakes? On a kart that weighs 26kg? Great, with the sea only a few kilometres in the distance I’m surely going to end up driving off the cliffs. This sport looks like something that should be done by either professionals or stuntmen, not by someone who can’t even put her elbow protectors on the right way up. Scottish co-owner Ivor Kenneil, who has been sailing since he was a little boy, tries to reassure me. “Don’t worry, nobody has ever been seriously injured on our track. After 10 minutes of practice, 90% of the first timers will have grasped the concept. Just follow the safety instructions and you’ll be fine. Remember to start off easy so you won’t capsize.”

 

Two controls: the steer for changing direction and the rope which controls the angle and curve of the sail and thus the velocity

Capsize. Did he just say ‘capsize’? I’m having second thoughts about trying this activity. Just as I start to think of a plausible excuse to let photographer Kyle take my place, Ivor’s daughter walks up to us with her pink Barbie helmet. “Can I ride with you daddy, please?!” Right, if a 5-years-old thinks this is doable then I must stop being such a wimp. Bring it on.

But before I’m even allowed to get in the kart, it’s time for a safety briefing. Instructions start with the two controls; the steer for changing direction and the rope which controls the angle and curve of the sail and thus the velocity. More info is given about how to hold the rope (never wind it around your hand), the current wind speed which is 8 to 10 knots (not tornado-like, but enough to dry your laundry pretty quick) and the current upwind breaking zone (aka ‘the direction of that white hut in the distance’ for people like myself). I notice it looks a bit like windsurfing in a buggy. Ivor agrees, but states that a sailing boat would be an even better analogy: “The wheels are doing the job of the keel; they stop it from blowing sideways so it wants to move forward.”

 

Too fast? Let go of some rope. Too slow? Pull the rope a bit tighter

Enthusiastically he assumes I know something about windsurfing and carries on with instruction for experts, about the two types of turns (tack and jibe) and how the wind is being split when hitting the sail: if the air flow on the outer side of the sail is moving faster than on the inner side, it creates low pressure, thus giving you lift. By then Ivor must have seen me looking like I don’t have a clue (which indeed, I haven’t), as he reassures that I can forget all previous instructions, apart from these three things:

  1. Know how to stop: by turning against the wind and letting go of the rope.
  2. Know how to control your speed: too fast? Let go of some rope. Too slow? Pull the rope a bit tighter.
  3. Whatever you do, don’t use your hands or feet to slow the cart down.

 

I aim to avoid, but crash all over the tires that form the edge of the track

That’s all logical so I start off hesitantly, prepared to let go of the rope at the slightest sign of a possible capsizing. Following Ivor around the track is a great way to get the hang of it, as it shows you the speed you need to get around the corners. At the first corner, the sail flies right over my head, just as Ivor told me it would. At the last two turns I find myself going so slow I almost stall, and in the end I manage to come to a controlled stop exactly in front of the reception. Fears of ending up in the ocean overboard, it’s time to pull the rope a bit tighter on the second lap!

The kart turns out to be surprisingly responsive and easy to steer. Soon I find myself playing with the wind, pulling the rope a bit tighter at the tacking turns (that’s when you’re turning against the wind – you see, I’m integrating pretty well!). When driving, Julia, who’s standing beside the track, gives instructions like ‘turn’ and ‘pull the rope a bit tighter’ through sign language. After a few laps the wind has changed direction a bit. Ivor decides to cut out the last two corners and go off road in order to complete the round without slowing down too much. While he expertly steers his cart between the cones and tires that form the edge of the track, I aim to avoid, but crash all over them. “Sorry!” I call out, ashamed of my lack of steering abilities but secretly enjoying the rough ride. “No worries, that’s why we have rubber tyres here instead of wooden blocks,” he grins in reply.

 

WHAM, a wheel lifts off and bounces back on the ground immediately as I’ve panicked and let all the rope go slack

It’s surprising how soon you get the hang of it (yes, I’m in that 90% of people who get it after a few laps) and how quickly you dare to go faster. As I’m off for yet a couple of more exhilarating laps (warning: this activity is highly addictive), Ivor reminds me of what to do when a wheel comes off the ground: let go of the rope so you don’t capsize.

‘Yeah right, as if I’m going fast enough for that to happen’ I think and pull the rope a bit tighter to gain some more speed. WHAM, a wheel lifts off and bounces back on the ground immediately as I’ve panicked and let all the rope go slack. My screams can be heard all the way in Sagres, but luckily the same goes for my laughter afterwards. It’s scarily great fun. Soon I find myself trying to get one wheel off the ground on purpose, which feels a bit like flying. Well, uncontrolled lop-sided flying. Ivor joins in again and shows how it’s done. He can ride entire distances with one wheel up.

 

Being so close to the ground gives an extra sense of speed and the faster it goes, the bumpier the ride

Racing Ivor around the track (read: trying, and miserably failing, to keep up with him) I feel like a proper F1 rally driver. Being so close to the ground gives an extra sense of speed and the faster it goes, the bumpier the ride. Despite the comfortable buggy hammock you notice every stone and crack. Combine this with gusts of wind and red dust that flares up in the corners, and the experience feels like we’re participating in the pod race on Tattooine – here’s to beating Anakin Skywalker! (Star Wars fans will know what I’m talking about).

“It’s all about feeling and reaction,” Julia summarises accurately. After half an hour of landsailing (which may seem short, but feels way longer when you’re on the track), I decide to call it a day. Just before I get too confident (read: cocky) and capsize. Turns out ecokarting wasn’t too dangerous after all. The only ‘injury’ I have: cramp in my jaw from laughing so much. Oh, and nasty red chafing marks on the inside of my left elbow, caused solely by my inability to put the elbow protector on correctly and being too stubborn to ask for help. Proudly I walk back to Ivor, knowing that I must have broken some kind of national ecokarting speed record.

 

During racing in the Nevada Desert in America, speeds of over 100km/h have been reached

Not quite. He smiles apologetic and reckons I’ve been doing between 20 and 30 km/h. Hmmm. Well, did I at least come close? Not really. The maximum speed measured on this track was 69 km/h. “But that was in a race kart, which has a carbon mast, an aerodynamic pod, superslic bearings and a sail that’s trimmed to perfection,” Ivor kindly says. Yet when comparing it to the maximum speed measured on this track in a standard rental cart, 50km/h, I still suck. Ivor suggests that I’ll surely increase my speed if I’ve got a bit more straight space: while racing in the Nevada Desert in America, speeds of over 100km/h have been reached. Challenge accepted: here’s to saving up for a ticket to the USA.

Pictures by Kyle Rodriguez

 

When to go?

Usually ecokarts landsailing is possible all year round, but it depends on the weather. In order to do this activity, the track should be dry and there should be some wind.

Normally it’s busiest in August, which is also the month when the winds are most consistent. If you visit outside the high season, there’s a better chance that Ivor or Julia has time to go in front on your first lap, which makes it even easier to see when you have to speed up or slow down.

Want to go? Normally the centre is open every day, but to avoid disappointment you best contact Julia beforehand by calling her on 913372332. More contact details can be found on their Facebook site.

 

For whom?

Race monsters and action (wo)men of course. But seeing as you can control your speed, karting is also for people who enjoy an activity where you only need the power of the wind to blow you forward. Not sure if this is your cup of tea? If you don’t like it after the first few laps, you can just walk away and will get your money back.

Previous experience of sailing, surfing or karting isn’t necessary as full instruction is offered. No need to feel rushed; the safety briefing can take as long as you want and this won’t influence your time left on the track. All safety gear is provided. Karting is done in sturdy closed shoes, but no worries if you’ve left those at home: there are some shoes, and even socks and sun cream on site.

The recommended minimum age for this activity is 10 years, but it all depends on wind conditions and the weight of the child. Younger children can also join their parents or older children in a dual kart (pictured). This activity is suitable for people with a physical disability such as paraplegics.

 

See original article in Enjoy the Algarve – magazine November 2015

Posted in This month we try.

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