The bright yellow vision sailing out of the mirage on these pages is one more example of how inventive Trans-Arabian Pipe Line employes at Turaif, a remote pump station in northern Saudi Arabia, can while away their desert weekends (Aramco World , January-February 1970). The Rhea Putnam family and a few friends assembled their Sand Sailer "Mark I" in 1967 from discarded aluminum tubing, bicycle wheels and a used World War II parachute and sailed modified trial-and-error versions across dry lake beds for three years. The total cost through the "Mark V" model was about $15.
The Sand Sailer was 12 feet long by 8 feet wide, 19 feet to the top of the mast with about two feet of ground clearance. Top speed was clocked at slightly over 30 miles per hour, but cruising speed was 25 m.p.h. A very light breeze would move the craft with pilot and one passenger; in a moderate breeze the flocks of bicycles usually along on outings quickly fell behind. As with an ice boat, speeds faster than the wind were achieved by moving at right angles to the direction of the wind.
Experience and a few spills eventually taught the Sand Sailer's builders that cable steering with the feet was too sensitive, that bicycle wheels were too high and likely to fold under or go flat, that parachute silk let too much air through, even when folded double. (A beach umbrella was tried out one day and served admirably—but only in one direction.)
By the time these lessons had been learned, the cost overrun was pointing toward a staggering $40 more for Mark VI. The new model would have had a frame lowered to within a few inches of the ground, tough thick wheels, a steering wheel, and a lateen sail of Dacron. With those changes, the Putnams believed, they could take a crack at shattering the30-mile-an-hour "speed barrier." Another dream—long put off for lack of a proper braking device—was to take the perfected Sailer on an actual desert highway cruise. Unfortunately the planned "Mark VI" was never built. Putnam was transferred this year to a new job with Aramco at Dhahran in Eastern Saudi Arabia.
There are plenty of imaginative types in Turaif who may yet perfect the art of navigating the dry lake beds near the Tapline but in the meantime Rhea Putnam's Sand Sailer has found a bizarre new life for a creature born of the desert. Its builder has modified the frame once again, this time to serve as two-wheel dolly to help move small sailboats—real saltwater ones—at Half Moon Bay on the Arabian Gulf where Dhahran's weekend sailors weigh anchor in something more substantial than a mirage.