Playa-sailing puts breeze behind Austin’s tourism
Summer tourism accounts large part of the annual revenue for many small businesses in the town Austin, out along Highway 50 about two hours east of Fallon, and 2014 could prove to be one of the busiest ever for the small town.
The North American Land Sailing Association will hold the Land Sailing World Championships at Smith Creek playa 25 miles east of Austin. So far, more than 60 racers from the U.S., Belgium, Denmark, Australia, Chile, England, Argentina, France, Germany, New Zealand, Ireland and Austria have registered for the race that runs July 12-20 next year. As many as 150 to 200 competitors are expected to attend the event along with crew and family members.
Austin has made strides in recent years to help promote land sailing as one of Lander County’s many recreational offerings, said Dee Helming, secretary for Greater Austin Chamber of Commerce. This year the chamber sponsored a trophy for races held Memorial Day weekend that will be handed off by winners from year to year.
Although next year’s world championship is the biggest event to be held on Smith Creek playa, land sailors have been making annual pilgrimages to the area for more than a dozen years, Helming said. The Smith Creek playa has grown in popularity over the years due to its remote location, long, smooth runs and strong winds. Adding another tourism offering to Lander County can help the handful of small businesses in town keep their coffers full.
“We are kind of a seasonal tourist area,” Helming said. “The season runs from April through October, and the business here have to make their money in the summer. Having these guys come in just adds to the pot.
“We would like to get more (racers) to come into town, and by doing the trophy and going out and meeting with them I think we have made great steps toward that. We hope to have people come out and watch some land sailing.”
Shipping land-sailing yachts from a handful of foreign countries also provides a financial boost to northern Nevada businesses.
Les Robertson, chief executive officer of Complete Millworks Solutions on Goni Road in Carson City and a longtime land-sailing racer, helps racers from foreign countries haul their yachts to the remote playa near the heart of the state. Most yachts arrive to the Port of Oakland in shipping containers and are transported directly to the site by NevCal Trucking of Sparks.
Robertson receives, stores and delivers the yachts to the Smith Creek playa and prepares them for return shipping once the event ends. Robertson said between four and five containers are expected to arrive from Europe, and one from Chile and another from New Zealand. Cost for round-trip shipping is roughly $10,000 to $11,000 per container.
The North American Land Sailing Association will pay for one container to be shipped from Europe out of event funds — entry fees for the event are around $300 — and other shipping costs will be borne by FISLY, the International Land and Sandyachting Federation. Competitors are responsible for insurance and customs fees.
Many racers stay on site in rented RVs, but others are expected to book rooms in Austin. Helming says the town has 47 rooms, including two bed-and-breakfast inns. Helming and her husband, Kip, run the Union Street Lodging Bed and Breakfast. Another B&B is nearby in Kingston.
Most sailors will rent cars in Las Vegas or San Francisco, drive to Reno and then rent RVs to drive to the playa says Robertson, a one-time world champion in the sport.
“We have done this once before in Las Vegas, and wasn’t too difficult,” he said. “The most important thing for us is to get funding, and it is such an esoteric sport. We will need large tents, a caterer, water trucks — there will be a lot of stuff going on out there in the middle of nowhere.”