BRIGANTINE — The late-morning beachgoer at the 37th Street beach might be confused by the twisting, looping tracks in the hard sand.
Was there a side-by-side bike race? Some sort of giant horseshoe crab pushing its way across the strand?
Turns out there was a much more reasonable explanation: A 67-year-old man was sailing down the beach in a tricked-out cart.
Fran Gramkowski, of Brigantine and Haddonfield, deftly maneuvered the sails with a pulley rope and the wheels with a handlebar, all while enduring the stares of sunbathers who didn’t expect to see a landsailer while taking in their rays.
Although they did get used to the idea, hardy Brigantiners that they were, the thought being, possibly, that at least this unusual beach visitor wasn’t biting them like some other, greener visitors. Just a guy sailing on land? Go nuts.
“The best thing is, once you buy it, there’s no gasoline, no docking fees ... and it folds right up,” said Gramkowski’s wife, Mary. “You can check it on a plane like a golf bag, you can put it in the car — and it has GPS, if you get lost in Brigantine.”
Gramkowski has been landsailing for just a few years — but he’s hooked enough that in his capacity as president of NABSA, the North American Blokart Sailing Association, he put together the Blokart World Championships in California and Nevada last year.
One late afternoon — though he prefers early mornings with a low tide, when the sand is hard and the beaches are clear — Mary gave the play-by-play as he began to set up the equipment necessary to launch himself.
“This is a Blokart,” said Mary, of the three-wheeled vehicle in front of her. “The fella that created it saw kids using a go-kart in New Zealand and wanted to put a sail in front of it — so he did.”
A bicycle handle-type steering wheel directs the wheels, while the rider uses lanyards to control the sails, which range from two to five meters’ worth of material — the latter if there’s a light wind but you really want to book it.
“The bigger the sail, the faster you go,” Mary said. “But I don’t go that fast. I don’t race. ... But I can beat him on this beach.”
One thing that a landsailer really has to get the hang of is what to do in case the cart tips, Mary said.
“You’re already this high,” she said, putting her hand down to a few feet from the ground, “so all you have to do is cross your hands and cover your chest. The main impulse is to put your hand out, which you shouldn’t do.”
Soon, Mary herself climbed in to take it out for a few laps as Gramkowski talked about the true landsailing season.
“When the wind’s from the south, you can sail up from the inlet in winter,” he said. “Now, there’s too many cars. And after the piping plovers leave, you can go up to the north end also.”
Gramkowski has been in talks with Atlantic City about opening up a whole new avenue for landsailing — Bader Field.
“We’re just a bunch of six guys,” he said. “We just want to go there when nobody’s there.”
Gramkowski saves his fastest runs for his trips west to the Ivanpah Dry Lake, where he’s hit 40 to 45 mph while racing on the hard lakebed. Last year’s World Championships at Ivanpah drew more than 120 competitors in four weight classes, competing in heats of 40.
“We had three people in wheelchairs who competed,” said Gramkowski of his sport, which runs on upper body strength.
“We were really excited to see this one guy,” Mary recalled. “He’s at the point where he can’t speak anymore — but he can race.”
So now you know — if you see sails heading up and down the beaches one misty morning, you’re not seeing things.
“We’ve never had a problem here,” Gramkowski said of the wide expanse of beach. “Most people cheer when we go by.”
Some of the people in our area are devoted -- some say too devoted -- with their sport, their hobby, their craft. Why do they go out at all hours perfecting a piece of art, training for their next event, or searching for something for their unique collection? What drives them?
In our occasional series "Different Drummers", we take a look at the truly devoted among us. Maybe they're more like us than we realize.
Do you know of anyone in our region whose devotion to their craft, hobby or pastime is truly awe-inspiring? Let us know at 609-272-7275 or at SLemongello@pressofac.com
Follow Steven Lemongello on Twitter @SteveLemongello