Sunday, June 28, 2009

Bingen Flights

Portland is a tough place to fly. Predictably enough, the winters are gray and wet and good flights are rare. However the summer is also disappointing; a NW weather pattern sets up with strong winds in the gorge and the local sites don't work in such conditions. The net result is that, if you want to fly, you have to do a lot of driving. Woodrat, Pine and Baldy are all 4 or more hours drive away. Last Saturday I went to Baldy and the wind was too strong to fly - an 8 hour round trip to get skunked!

The forecast for Saturday was more encouraging and it looked as though we might get a decent flight in the gorge. The forecasts were all for light winds, and it wasn't clear if we would end up launching Cliffside (which faces east) or Bingen (which faces west). In these circumstances, you have to just head through and choose your site based on what the wind does.

Dan, Hannes and I drove through and we were joined by Mike and latter on Todd. The wind was weak, but clearly from the west, so Bingen - a very difficult site to get away from - was our target. Although the sun was out and it was hot, there were no birds soaring and no convincing cycles on launch - it was much more stable than the forecast. I found no usable light in my first flight - and no-one else did any better. Back in the LZ, the wind was slowly strengthening; we took a second flight and it was easy to stay up. But it was just ridge lift, there was no chance of getting high and the wind was getting stronger. I didn't see the point of boating around for an hour and then having to land in really strong conditions and went out to land and everyone else came to the same conclusion. As often happens in the gorge, the wind picked up in the bottom hundred feet and landing was 'interesting'.

I'll be heading to a little fly-in at Lakeview (in the desert, near the Californian and Nevada borders) in a few days and hopefully we will get some decent flying there. In the meantime the local forecasts don't look encouraging!

Monday, June 15, 2009

Baldy Better

After staying in Ellensburg overnight, we headed back to Baldy early in the morning. Conditions looked very similar to the day before, but at least we were there early. The S launch was the one to use and Dan and I took off before most of the locals. There was lift available almost immediately and it wasn't difficult to get up.

Dan seemed to head S before he had got much over launch, but I just kept working a thermal and got 3,300 over launch. The wind was basically SW but very weak; the real issue was avoiding overdevelopment. I decided to head with the wind towards junction 11 (basically NE); that route was free off the clouds - at least, up to junction 11. There was plenty of lift but there were also plenty of threatening clouds just beyond the junction. I ended up being chased from the sky by the overdevelopment and landing at the junction.

From the ground I could see rain falling in three different directions and was pretty comfortable with my decision making. Dan had landed down at the little air-field S of Baldy; he arrived with Mary-Beth and we headed to Yakima for some ice-cream.

Leonardo ->

Pics ->

Sunday, June 14, 2009

Baldy Badly

Dan, Mary-Beth and I set off early, but not early enough. By the time we arrived at Baldy Butte, thanks to a couple of minor delays, the locals were launching. When we were ready to launch, thunder was rumbling from a big black cloud over our heads. We retreated to the car and read during thunder, lightning, hail and plain old rain.

The sky slowly cleared and four hour later the sun hit launch. Immediately, the wind switched from S to N - typical desert conditions, where the sun can act like a switch. I said to Dan we had to wait to make sure conditions had stabilized before launching. We waited while conditions weakened - a steady breeze from the N became super light. After 30 minutes we decided things were good and we would take a sled ride to the LZ just as the locals arrived back up.

We laid out and after some delays Dan launched in light conditions and started to sink out - no surprise there. I started to get ready and noticed that Dan was finding some lift and coming back up to launch; I could see conditions were strengthening. As I was ready to launch, I noticed Dan was directly above launch and pretty much parked. Despite this, I launched in strong conditions and went up but not forward; no big deal, time for some speedbar.

As I went to release my speedbar I noticed I had drifted near the huge radio antennae so I turned sharply away and that set me behind the ridge line. At this point, I decided I was unlikely to penetrate out in front of the ridge. I decided to turn and run S, with the wind. At this point I was around 150ft over launch, in around 22-25 mph winds, obviously heading into some turbulence.

I expected to fly quickly through the turbulence (with a ground speed of 45mph+) and build some ground clearance, but instead my ground speed was slow - I was in the backwash of the rotor. According to my GPS, my ground speed never exceeded 20 mph. I managed the wing as best as I could; I had 2 or 3 collapses, one of which left a big (but pretty simple) cravate. I kept the wing flying straight and cleared the cravate. I never really built a lot of ground clearance but after a minute or so, I found myself in some sinky air and side-hilled in around 400 ft below launch.

From here I could watch Dan as he turned and ran. He had a lot more ground clearance than me and he was able to land down in a wide part of the canyon without any problem.

I'm really struggling to understand my own thought processes. I'm normally very conscious that the decision to launch is super-important. But here I had seen Dan struggling and never even thought about not launching. Then I compounded the problem by not releasing my speedbar in advance (I only do this very rarely, when I know I'm launching into strong conditions, to avoid accidentally using it during launch). I was basing my decisions on old information - the weak conditions of a few minutes earlier.

I'm absolutely appalled by my poor decision making. In fact, it's worse than that - I never even tried to make a decision. I never really put myself out of 'launching mode' into 'decision making mode'. I really can't explain that - I guess I was just complacent. Conditions did change very quickly but that's a pretty pathetic excuse.

The second problem was not having my speed system ready for immediate use off launch. Given I screwed up this time, I need to adopt a different approach where it is always available. Then (if my decision making screws up again) I will at least have some speed immediately available.
I was very lucky with the turbulence and my wing; although things were gnarly, they felt managable. But when you're flying through turbulence like that there's no way to predict how things will work out. In particular, although the cravate was big it didn't give a lot of drag and it came out fairly easily. I need to build on that luck and improve my launching decisions.
Dave Norwood (aka Preacher) videoed the most exciting part of my flight and you can see that here -> - a real video nasty.

Sunday, June 7, 2009

WCPC Day 7

This morning I packed up my tent and headed into Jacksonville to book a hotel room. The forecast for Sunday looks good, so I'll stay down and fly after the comp. But I want to watch Roger Federer in the French Open, hence the hotel room (or that's my excuse after a week of camping in the rain).

The weather forecasts were more promising for today, with lighter winds and no thunderstorms. Everyone headed up the hill full of optimism. Because it was the weekend, we had a reasonable number of wind techs (Mark was there as well); they launched and it was obviously easy to stay up. The task involved some 'fishbowl' flying then a run to Donato. I launched around the middle of the gaggle and generally had no problems getting high. Cloudbase was still relatively low (around 5,500 ft) but the lift was better and the wind less strong than previous days.

I followed one glider on the crossing to Rabies and arrived with plenty of altitude; Meredyth got a nice thermal on the other side of the ridge and I was able to get in below her. Sam and Rich Hass joined me in the thermal and we got some altitude before heading towards Rabies Peak. Sam headed out before me, I got up to cloudbase (where the flying was a little rough) before following him.

I was generally a bit more conservative with my altitude than the other pilots; Sam headed out ahead of me, I was flying behind Wade and Tim for much of the time, with Dave following a little behind me. After a few turnpoints, I had to cross from Woodrat back to Rabies again. I had a string of clouds in front of me and winds were very light so I decided to try the crossing from only 5,200 ft. Two thirds of the way across I decided to turn back and work up at Mid - I saw Brett was there and expected we could work together to get high. But no; I got a lot of sink heading to Brett and a lot more once I arrived; within 2 or 3 minutes we were in the LZ. I found out later that a number of other pilots had worked up from low on Rabies on the second crossing, so I probably made the wrong choice when I turned back. But the real mistake was not getting higher before leaving Woodrat - I was trying to save a little time.

Only 15 pilots reached goal, which was lower than I expected - conditions were decent but not great. Eric Reed won the day to complete an 'eventful' comp that included a tree landing on day 2 and a reserve ride yesterday. Matt Beechinor got first place overall. Brett got second place for serial wings. Sam had the best DHV-2 result. The difficult, windy conditions made progress really hard on a lower performing wing. There were no 1/2 wings in the comp, no DHV-2 wing reached goal and only one 2/3 wing reached goal (Peter Warren, who won the Serial class).

Given the poor conditions - very unusual for Woodrat in June - the comp results were 'all over the place'. I've never seen as many hot comp pilots on hot comp wings sink out. Brad G. and Rob S. were 1st and 3rd at Dunlap and here they were 10th and 19th!

Flying at Woodrat normally involves good interaction with the locals, and this competition was no exception. The Haleys, Paul Murdoch and the local club have gone to a lot of effort to cultivate a positive image for paragliding and it has paid off. The Haleys deserve a big thanks for their efforts - organizing a comp in bad weather must be even harder than doing it in good weather.

Personally, I was just glad the comp finished on a positive note with a decent day and a decent flight. My next comp will probably be the British Open in France in August and I won't be camping there!

Saturday, June 6, 2009

WCPC - Days 5 and 6

Day 5 started with heavy rain; it seemed inevitable there would be no task and I had decided to get a hotel room for the last few nights. But the forecasts showed a possible improvement in the afternoon and at HQ the decision was to meet again at 1.00pm. The weather did improve, we went up the hill but it was still unsettled and we stayed chatting on the bus before braving the great outdoors.

A short 40+ km task was called and a few gliders launched as clouds swirled above our heads. The wind was strong, initially from the S and even comp wings were struggling to penetrate. Launch was closed, the task was cancelled and we waited a little longer and conditions slowly mellowed. Almost everyone flew down in the early evening, with a few gliders getting nice convergence in the valley above Longswords.

Day 6 looked a little better, and another shortish task was called due to concerns about the wind picking up and overdevelopment. Initial conditions looked good, but the wind was already getting stronger. I launched towards the end and struggled to get up to the gaggle. At the race start I needed to get higher and flew around for maybe 30 minutes trying to get high enough to make the initial crossing. Eventually I ran out of lift and joined a whole bunch of pilots in the LZ, landing in 20 mph winds. Everyone found the conditions difficult; there was a reserve deployment, some pilots got 'worked' and lots of people sunk out early on. It turned out that only one pilot - Hayden - reached goal at an average speed of 15 km/hr (about half normal speed). Because so many pilots sunk out so early the day was marked down a lot - Hayden only got 175 pts (instead of the 'ideal' 1000).

6 Days into the comp and we have only had 3 very short tasks where most of the field sunk out early. Only 8 flights in the whole comp have ended in goal. Tomorrow is the last day of the comp and everyone is hoping for better conditions - many pilots, myself included, are hoping to get at least one decent flight from the week.

Thursday, June 4, 2009

WCPC Day 4

The day didn't start well. First, I wiped up the rain that leaked into my tent overnight. Then I braved the new showers at the campground; they are new, but suffer from a pretty basic design flaw. The drainage is all screwed up and the entire floor is under about half an inch of muddy water - you need to concentrate to keep your clothes clean. And then I discover that some joker had left a monster turd in the urinal for someone else to clean up.

It looked like we might sneak in a task in before it overdeveloped - there were no monster clouds early on. Launch was opened and pilots were in the air but big clouds and rain were approaching from the East. In the end, the task was cancelled before the race started. We flew down and landed in the LZ as quickly as possible, wanting to beat any gust fronts. Only a few drops of rain fell, things cleared up but the afternoon stayed unstable.

Hoping for better weather...

Wednesday, June 3, 2009

WCPC Days 2 & 3

I don't think I've ever seen rain at Woodrat, but this week has produced not just rain but thunder, lightning, fires, gust fronts and hail. Needless to say, this has influenced the flying. In general the mornings have been good, the afternoons have overdeveloped with rain in the evening or overnight.

Yesterday was day 2 and, while there were big clouds to the East, the day started pretty gently. Early flights showed there was lift - although no-one was getting high, it was boaty. At the start, a whole bunch flew across to Rabies and struggled; I was in decent lift right then and got as high as I could - only just over 5,000 ft - before following them. I followed a couple of gliders that were gliding well, they got in above ridge height and I just failed to do so. I looked for some lift but didn't get anything usable and joined a bunch of frustrated pilots in the LZ. Many of the pilots that got in over the ridge still sunk out or had to scratch for a long time before getting up. Sam and Brett were a bit smarter and stayed over launch until the lift improved and had nice flights, getting far along the course. Only one pilot reached goal - Matt Beechinor, the winner of day 1 - before the task was stopped due to overdevelopment.

As in day 1, nearly half the field failed to make minimum distance. When conditions are tough at Woodrat getting established above the first ridge can be the hardest part of the flight. It's frustrating when that happens (at least, if you are one of the pilots failing to make minimum distance).

Day 3 started looking better but very quickly the clouds to the East were going thermo-nuclear. An early task to the West was called, trying to beat the overdevelopment. I launched towards the end of the gaggle as the clouds were building; it seemed OK to fly for now, but it was unlikely to stay that way long enough to complete the task. As we got higher and the clouds built behind launch I found myself unwilling to follow the gaggle and stayed out front, in a bit of a blue hole. These conditions produce big lift and big sink, and if you're reluctant to fly near threatening clouds just staying up can be difficult. By the time the task was cancelled all the CPC pilots were safely on the ground.

We're all hoping for some improvement in the next few days, but the forecasts don't really show much change at all.

Monday, June 1, 2009

WCPC Day 1

Lightning started a fire on Woodrat yesterday evening, leaving the valley full of smoke. I could see some flames on the North side of the peak driving back to the campground and Oleg's attempt to camp at mid-launch was defeated by a whole bunch of fire trucks. Fortunately, everything was extinguished in the morning, so we headed up to launch, with a thin layer of high cloud around Woodrat and some monster clouds over to the East.

A short task was called - some flying around launch, a run West towards Grants Pass before a short leg to a winery. Wind techs launched and most were flushed pretty quickly. I got off fairly early and just staying up was hard work, never mind getting high. The whole gaggle was struggling. When the task started, I was below launch and had to get back to launch just to get into the start cylinder. I just managed this, then the next goal was to cross to Rabies.

I got high enough to contemplate the transition with Sam and two other pilots. One pilot set off at around 5,000ft - low for the transition, but we were already part of the way across - so I followed him. We made decent progress and Sam decided to join us. Sam and I flew side by side, it looked as though we would arrive 500 ft above the ridge, we could see Brett there - things were looking good.

But then we were just nailed by sink on the last 200 meters or so. On full bar I had a glide of 1:1 and altitude disappears pretty quickly when that happens. Instead of looking down at the ridge, we were suddenly looking up at it. Sam and I turned round and landed with a whole bunch of other pilots in the LZ.

Brett (second in the serial wings) and Dave made decent progress along the course, Oleg joined us in the LZ - only 6 pilots made goal. Amazing how much harder flying was today than yesterday.

This evening we had rumblings of thunder and a pretty sensational hail storm at the Hailey's. The forecast looks similar for tomorrow, let's hope for better flying....