Saturday, June 26, 2010

Laragne Visit

Saturday looked flyable at St Andre, but only early; the afternoon overdevelopment cycle looks as though it will continue for several days. I checked Laragne and it looked a little better - further from the sea, with less humid air and lower mountains.

I left here too late to walk up the hill but too early to just drive to the top. In the end, I walked up and it was hard work. A big storm yesterday left the ground and the air just above it super humid; together with very little shade and wind, it was a sweaty hike. And, it's a big hill and not very steep; so you have to cover a lot of terrain. Eventually, of course, I got up there. The wind was very light from the N but everyone was launching from the S - much better thermals on the S side!

I had decided to fly a triangle that involved flying W along the main ridge at la Chabre; that would make retrieval much easier. Right off launch I had to work for a few minutes to get up. But my late start caused problems; there were big clouds along the ridge and I didn't fancy flying under them. So I did a sort of out and return along the ridge and then landed in Laragne when I felt the clouds were over-developing; a pretty satisfying flight, even if I didn't go far.

I had a beer before driving back to St Andre; the bar-man was busy protecting his parasols from the coming storm. Back in St Andre, thunder is rumbling and rain is falling; heading to Laragne seems like a good move!

Flight -> http://www.paraglidingforum.com/leonardo/flight/344056
Pics -> http://picasaweb.google.com/DMMullin/Laragne26June2010#

Friday, June 25, 2010

Afternoon Monsoon Cycle

All week, the morning has started blue and wonderful. But sometime between 8 and 10 o'clock the first cumulus clouds appear and by early afternoon the thunder has started. Sometimes the thunder groans all all afternoon with only a small amount of rain. Other times, the storm starts very quickly, with hail, gust-fronts, lightning and heavy rain. Often, by late afternoon, the sky is blue again. The critical thing in predicting how soon and how badly it overdevelops seems to be 'how early do the first cumulus clouds appear'.

This all affects more than flying. When the thunderstorms are at their strongest, there are frequent little power-cuts; this affects internet connectivity and my work. And... the TV reception (via satellite) doesn't work in thunderstorms, so no world cup!

Another result of all this afternoon rain is that the path up the hill is wet the following morning. When you walk up, you are in this layer of warm, humid air; not very pleasant.

I managed to sneak in one small but interesting flight one day this week, when the cumulus clouds developed a little later. I got some height off launch and used it to cruise around over the town and the lake.

Monday, June 21, 2010

St Andre Traffic Jam

The weather forecasts were split today; Meteoblue had a promising forecast for today while Aeroweb had only a 'not bad' one. The morning started promisingly; cold (I'm told there was frost on some cars) with a completely blue sky - less chance of overdevelopment than the last week or so. Things were obviously in the ball park and I was keen to give it a go.

With the cool weather, the hike up the hill was very pleasant. I arrived on the S launch around noon to see around 20 pilots getting slowly ready to launch; strange, I expected to use the W launch. I continued round there and found 30 pilots. Apart from a weekend competition, this is the first time this year I've seen a lot of pilots at St Andre.

Things were still a little wimpy, but pilots started launching and struggled. As I ate my lunch conditions were strengthening, so I got ready fairly quickly; St Andre can blow out in the early afternoon. Just as I launched, a bunch of pilots that had been on the S launch came round with balled up wings. 

I spent over 30 minutes at or just above launch height with a lot of pilots. There was lift, but it was badly organized. Everyone was struggling, the sky was busy, there were a few worrying pilots; not fun stuff.

Eventually I got higher and could relax a little. Lift improved but conditions were still pretty rowdy and it seemed to take a long time to get anywhere. The traditional XC route to the N didn't seem very promising; some of the high peaks were still in the clouds. Conditions were slowly overdeveloping, so I flew a triangle before landing at La Mure. I stopped in to say hello to Ray and have a beer or two; then Ray drove me back to St Andre just as the rain started.

Sunday, June 20, 2010

Le Grand Coyer

This weekend I should have been flying in a competition at La Colmiane, in the high mountains on the Italian border. But it was canceled; after the rain last week, the ground and air are very humid. With the strong summer sun, the sky was 'going nuclear' by mid morning.

Back in Saint Andre, Saturday didn't look like a good flying day; wind a little too strong, too much cloud, so I went for a hike. Le Grand Coyer isn't that high a mountain - 2700m - but it is a long way from any roads, so it's a pretty long day. At the start of the hike the mountain was in the clouds, but it looked as though slightly clearer skies would move in from the NW so I continued anyway.

As I got nearer the mountain, it emerged from the clouds. Snow was a little bit of a problem on the hike - I had to cross a few steep snowfields - but not too serious. From the summit I could see lots of big clouds over near La Colmiane.

I'm writing this on Sunday morning; there are already towering cumulus clouds in the sky and it looks certain to overdevelop. The forecast for Monday looks really good for flying, so I will probably go a bike ride this morning, work the rest of the day and fly tomorrow.

Some pictures http://picasaweb.google.com/DMMullin/LeGrandCoyer19June2010#

Wednesday, June 16, 2010

Crazy Weather Continues

I flew last Sunday, but I knew the flight would be short; over-development was forecast for the afternoon. I had a nice flight but I spent most of my time monitoring the sky. I landed, got back home, had a cup of tea and then the storms started. Pretty much since then it has been raining. And this isn't Oregon or British style rain (gray drizzle) - this is the real stuff. When it wasn't raining, it was hailing.
There have been terrible floods in this part of France, with at least 19 deaths. Entire houses have been carried away by floods, never mind cars. I went down to the river Verdon this morning, and a bunch of locals had gathered to watch things. The river was more like a pyroclastic flow; full of sediment, with bushes and small trees tumbling down stream. Islands were completely submerged.

Further downstream, in the Lac de Castellane, an island has formed where all these of small trees and bushes have come to rest. Tomorrow looks like the last day of this unsettled time (he says hopefully).


Sunday, June 13, 2010

Two Air Masses Meet

Saturday's forecast had strong S winds aloft, but they seemed well above the top of lift (around 2200m). I hoped to have a flight around St Andre - it didn't seem likely I could go very far. But as I headed up the hill, I met a local instructor driving down. He told me the wind was too strong - his intended tandem passenger was sitting beside him in the car.

So plan B was a long (9 hour) circular hike, involving climbing Cheval Blanc then continuing N and then E along a high, sharp ridge. The hike was long and scenic, but it was most interesting from a weather perspective. There was moist air to the NW but the wind was strong from the SE and these two systems met exactly on the ridge. For almost all of the hike, I had sunny conditions and a blue sky to my right and clouds below and above me to my left. The wind was too strong to be flying a paraglider, but the clouds would definitely have been 'ridge-soarable' in a hang-glider or sail-plane.

At the very end of the day the SE wind weakened and this allowed the moist air to spill over the crest.

Pics at http://picasaweb.google.com/DMMullin/ChevalBlanc12June2010Sel#

Times Past

This is the 70th anniversary of the French capitulation at the start of World War Two. There are a lot of programs on the TV about it, and quite a few have talked about the situation the British were in. Terrible times for both countries, especially at Mers-el-Kebir.

But you don't need to spend much time in France or do a lot of studying to understand how badly the country has been affected by wars over the last century or so. You can arrive in the smallest village in the countryside, where there may be less than 50 people living nowadays, and find a Monuments aux Morts with the names of more than 10 soldiers killed in the First World War. Even allowing for more people living in the countryside back then it's hard to comprehend what a huge slice of the young, adult, male population was lost.

The names of the dead almost always adds more poignancy to the horror. On this memorial (in La Mure), you have 2 Aime, 2 Pacal and 3 Auguste - almost certainly all brothers in 3 separate families.

Yesterday morning I was surprised to see new flowers on the memorials to two resistants killed by the Germans; it was the 66th anniversary of their execution. Right after D-Day there were many acts of resistance across France, and they almost all received draconian punishments by the Germans.

Friday, June 11, 2010

Cycle Ride to Peyresq

One of the things I hope to be able to do in France is pursue a range of outdoor activities in addition to paragliding. Many years and quite a few pounds ago, I used to ride my bike a lot. I'm starting to ride it again but somehow it would appear that gravity has got stronger in the last few years.

A lot of the climbs here are long and steep, and I'm trying to get myself used to dealing with them. I had my first reasonably long climb for many years here today; around 2,000 feet, but not too steep. It went reasonably well, ending in a tiny village called Peyresq.

The village has been rebuilt by a belgian community and all the buildings are named after famous belgians (Brel, de Broglie - can't remember any other ones...). You can read more about it here http://www.pik-potsdam.de/infodesk/education/alter-net/2009/05.09.2009/peyresq/index_html

Long descents (when you aren't used to them) get a little scary - you want to avoid using the brakes too much incase the wheel overheats. I found myself wondering if I could fit a lightweight reserve for them.

On the way back I stopped and said hello to Ray - he had been on a similar bike ride an hour or so ahead of me.
 

Thursday, June 10, 2010

Fighting the Machine

France is considered one of the most bureaucratic countries in the world. It hasn't gained this reputation by accident. When I did an internet search, the French results were more specific than the English ones. You can get an idea if you look at http://www.parisvoice.com/index.php?option=com_content&task=view&id=467&Itemid=28. Somewhere around 30% of the work force are civil servants. If this had produced an efficient, competent administration, that would be one thing, but nothing could be further from the truth. 

Life is full of catch-22 situations like to get an electricity supply, you need a bank account; but to get a bank account, you need proof of residence, which is normally an electricity bill. Telephone bills for addresses in well-off districts in Paris can allow your child to go to "une bonne ├ęcole" and can be bought and sold; all you need is a bill that matches your family name.  

Anyway, today I managed to persuade a company to take my money and give me a little car in return. It took a lot of sending letters and explaining where I lived; and then proving I live where I say I live; and then resending letters that got lost explaining this. If France were full of nasty people wanting to buy up all its cars for evil purposes, you could understand this. But, of course, French car companies are desperate for people to buy their cars... 

But, eventually, I have a car. Not quite the Porsche I used to drive, but more practical for my current circumstances. With it I have 'provisional' documentation and my next challenge is to convert this into 'real' documentation. It know it won't be easy....


Tuesday, June 8, 2010

Evening Flight

There's something pretty satisfying in doing a decent days work and then having an evening flight. I finished work at 6 pm and headed to the LZ. There were several pilots there and we listened to the announcements from the wind-talker - 14 Km/h gusting to 33 Km/h, so pretty gusty.

The base wind and the glass-off effect made things stronger than this on launch and we waited until things calmed ever so slightly. Then a nice, relaxing flight; I went along to the antennae with some of the pilots before flying around in the valley. Lots of clouds, spectacular lights - very scenic. Everyone else had landed and I reluctantly made my way to the LZ in the twilight.

Saturday, June 5, 2010

Relaxing Saturday

Today I was due to fly in a weekend competition at Digne. I have entered a few of these competitions - not only do they seem fun, but they also seem a good way of learning new sites.

But I've been very tired since my trip to the States and I have done so little flying in strong conditions this year that I had my reservations. Flying with 80 wings in your first ratty thermal of the year over terrain you don't know didn't sound like fun to me. Comp flying is stressful enough, it doesn't make sense to do it unless you really want to and feel up to it. So I had decided to give the comp a miss.

I woke up at 9.30 this morning (plenty proof I'm tired). Ok, too late to hike up without rushing, so get some breakfast, then get the shuttle up the hill. Only by the time I headed over to the LZ everyone wanting the shuttle was on top. So I drove up, getting to the top just after 12.30.

By this time, normally the W launch is the one to use. I drove over to check it, but still very cross from the S. I headed back to the S launch where three pilots were slowly getting ready. As I was about to launch, the balise announced west winds at 7 Km/h. The anabatic wind was overcoming that, so I felt comfortable launching on the S side; it was just a matter of staying away from the terrain and getting over to the west side.

There were 4 or 5 wings in the air but they were all around launch height; I didn't have much trouble getting well above launch and onto the west side and I tried to head north. There was plenty of lift, but it was all under a huge cloud. Worse, all the landing options were below the cloud, so it wasn't easy to skip round it. In the end I headed East, along the Verdon river, and was able to check out lift in that direction, before landing at la Mure.

I headed back to watch the woman's final of the French Open (a pretty good match), started cooking my evening meal (ratatouille) before hiking up the hill to retrieve my car. The hike was a lot more pleasant without an aircraft on my back! It took 1hr 6 minutes instead of 1 hr 30 minutes; with the drive back down it was still under 1hr 30. And my evening meal was waiting for me! This may well be a better strategy as it gets hotter.

Anyway, even if the flying was pretty unspectacular, just what the doctor ordered! A good day's flying in strong conditions, a relaxing afternoon, some evening exercise.

Pics at http://picasaweb.google.com/DMMullin/StAndre05June2010Sel#
Tracklog at http://www.paraglidingforum.com/leonardo/flight/335739

Friday, June 4, 2010

Straightforward Evening Flight

After a day's work, I checked the wind 'balise' on the summit (15-20 km from the west) and headed up the hill around 5 pm. By the time I arrived on the summit (around 1.5 hrs later), the wind had changed - it was stronger and from the SE. Fortunately St Andre works more or less from E to NW, so it was really just a matter of using the correct launch. And there I found a couple of pilots from Nice that were a bit intimidated by the wind strength. I told them it seemed fine and it would probably get less strong (as the anabatic effect weakened).

I launched; just as I expected as soon as you got away from launch the wind was much less strong. While it was easy to stay up, the highest I got was only 300 ft over launch. I radioed to the pilots on launch that conditions seemed reasonable and they joined me in the air. Later on, as the wind weakened, the local school arrived with a bunch of students. Most managed to launch ok, quite a few were able to soar but a few were left struggling on launch.

Since I've really not being flying that much, I stayed up until it was starting to get dark. As I flew out to the LZ, a group of shepherds were moving their sheep from the LZ to a little holding pen. The sheep are about half-way through a 8-10 day journey from near the coast to the high pastures near Allos. The shepherds were sitting down to their evening meal when I passed them. Life for the shepherds has become harder since the re-introduction of wolves in the area.

More pics at http://picasaweb.google.com/DMMullin/StAndreFlight03June2010#

Wednesday, June 2, 2010

Windy Bike Ride

Today's forecast was right on the limit for some epic XC; sunny, relatively dry air and unstable - but the Mistral hadn't completely blown out. A couple of forecasts were optimistic but most weren't. I might have gone up the hill if I had a few more big flights under my belt this year. But even if it turned out to be flyable it was going to be rough, so I took the prudent coarse and went for a bike ride.

Valley winds are just as problematic on a bike as on a paraglider (even if the stakes are a bit lower). Uphill and into the wind, followed by downhill and with the wind behind me. I went over the Col du Defends and found an Andy Goldsworthy sculpture in the middle of nowhere (more details -> http://www.resgeol04.org/andy.html)

As I looped back to St Andre I couldn't help checking to see if there were wings in the air, but I didn't expect to see any and wasn't surprised. I got a shock when passing the LZ, it looked as though a paraglider pilot had just landed. But no, it was a German pilot getting ready to kite; I suggested the wind was a little strong and left quickly.