Tuesday, August 31, 2010

British Open - the view from the rear

After yesterday's Mistral, today looked reasonably good for flying; at 5000m the wind would still be strong, but lower down it looked perfectly manageable. The task was basically an out-and-return to Allos - around 35K to the N. To add a little interest, the start was a 5K exit cylinder around a low, uninteresting peak 10K to the W. There are 150 pilots in the comp and the idea (presumably) was to spread field out, but it certainly made the start tricky.

The window opened early at 12.05 for a 13.05 start; conditions were still pretty weak and pilots struggled. A tricky decision; you needed to do some flying just to make the start, so you couldn't wait too long. I launched at 12.20, and (for the first time here) spent quite some time below launch before working up and heading W with a group of gliders.

All the 150 wings seemed to be concentrated just inside this 5K cylinder. There was some weak lift, but it didn't seem to have an obvious center, so pilots just seemed to circle around fairly aimlessly. I saw a few close calls and then a pilot cut sharply behind me; I couldn't see exactly how close he got, but it felt very close. We exchanged a few choice curses.

The task started and I was happy to see most wings fly off. I followed towards the back of the group, not particularly keen to be in traffic. Most pilots flew in a pretty straight line towards Allos but I stopped to top up on one of the ridges. Then a group of pilots turned back and joined me and I felt vindicated.

We got high and pushed onto the Costa Longue; after the start, this looked like the hardest transition of the task. I'm afraid I didn't pay enough attention and didn't use enough bar on this transition; the result was I arrived last and lowest, and I couldn't quite get established on Costa Longue.

I got back to goal just in time to see the leaders arrive (a first for me). 85 pilots made goal (which is pretty impressive). The percentage of Ozone R10s was also impressive, especially for the first 20 pilots or so.

The rest of the week looks pretty good, hopefully we are all going to have some good flying! 

Monday, August 30, 2010

Les Lacs de Lignin

Today was a Mistral day, so no flying in the British Open. I'm sure that's a big disappointment for most of the pilots, but not for me.  Mistral days are beautiful for hiking - deep blue sky, bright sun and cool air.

I headed to the Lacs de Lignin. An isolated valley culminates in a handful of lakes. There are a couple of shepherd's cabins and, of course, plenty of sheep. Unlike most valley walks, this is a tour; the return is on a shelf a thousand feet above the valley bottom, with, at the very bottom, a shady canyon full of lovely swimming pools.

La Rentrée

St Andre is a little bit quieter this morning. It's "la rentrée", when the french return from vacation and restart work and, in particular, school. Instead of the summer hours, when everything is open 7 days a week, almost all the shops are again closed on a Monday. Instead of having three bakers to choose from, only one was open this morning.

I knew it was going to happen, but it still caught me by surprise. 

Sunday, August 29, 2010

The British Open, Day One

The British Open is being held this week at St Andre, and, since it is now 'my local site', I felt obliged to enter it. 150 pilots have entered; the majority British, but also a lot of French and other nationalities.

Sunday was the first day and it promised to be windy; near the top-end of what I fly here, and an early launch looked the best bet. But competitions are fairly inflexible beasts in terms of timing; it just takes a long time to get everyone up the hill, a task decided, GPSs programmed etc. A short (62Km), technical task was called; the hardest part would be the first half, as it was either up-wind or cross-wind and was over relatively low terrain to the west.

Launch opened at 12.20, with the task starting at 1.20. The combination of meteo wind and strong cycles didn't make launching easy, but everyone seemed to get away safely. I got off fairly early and didn't have any trouble getting high; up to 2850m on the main ridge, near the Antennae. It wasn't particularly obvious to me how best to start the task; the first turnpoint was 12K from launch, but the start was an entry cylinder at 8K around it. I thought the best approach was to push west, into the wind, and get onto a shallow ridge SSE of the turnpoint; then you could wait for the start and fly mostly cross-wind to tag it.

The main gaggle was higher but further away. I headed W with a group of wings; after a sinky glide, we got established on this ridge and could thermal back up. But the climbs were slower and you drifted too much if you tried to get high. The highest I took any thermal was to 2000m. The task started and I made my way slowly to the first turn-point; as usual, I seemed to find myself flying alone. Got the turn point, back to the shallow ridge and headed S to the next turn-point.

There were good thermals, but the wind was getting stronger all the time and the drift made them hard to use. If you haven't tried it, flying cross-wind in a paraglider is a lot harder than it sounds! The second turnpoint was the summit of shallow hill where three valleys meet. If you could get the turn-point high enough, you could probably glide downwind back to the main ridge at St Andre and onto easier flying. If you arrived low, you could expect it to be windy and difficult.

Unfortunately, I arrived low - bad-planning on my part; I should have been pushing W instead of drifting E in thermals. I found lift near the turn-point, but the combination of the wind and nasty terrain downwind made it hard to use. 500m short of tagging the turn-point, I decided to push out front and see if I could get higher, but again no luck. It was easy to stay up and I could still have tagged the turn-point, but it didn't look likely I could get away again. At this point, I decided it was just too windy and to go out and land. On full bar I had about 15K penetration; after 12 minutes off this I joined a couple of pilots in a nice field.

As I landed, the task was stopped because of the high winds. 35 pilots had made goal and the task was scored.


Saturday, August 21, 2010

The Speed To Fly

I hadn't flown for nearly two weeks (busy with work, doing other things, so-so conditions) so I was pleased to see a decent forecast for Saturday. I headed around to the LZ and found lots of excited pilots there. "Have you brought your passport? Do you have some Swiss Francs?" one guy asked. The forecast didn't seem that good to me!

With all the pilots, it took some time before all the shuttle logistics worked themselves out and I was up on launch. I counted 77 paragliders and 10 hang-gliders - easily the busiest I've seen launch at St Andre

Conditions, though, were very weak and stayed that way for some time. Philippe and Francois fly tandems for the local school (Aerogliss) and almost always get above launch but couldn't today (of course, they couldn't keep their clients waiting all afternoon for conditions to strengthen). A couple of vultures flew past at launch height and they were using occasional flaps to maintain. The sky was blue except for some cumulus forming to the South.

All the wings that launched sunk out until a R10 managed to get above launch. More people launched then, the skies got 'busy' but most pilots were below launch in 'survival mode'. I launched when around half the pilots were at or above launch level, knowing that I couldn't afford to pass up even weak lift. 

I've been trying to fly a little faster at St Andre. If you take every thermal you can stay well above ridge height, but it takes you forever to get anywhere - things are so sinky on glide. If you only turn in the strongest thermals, and fly more at ridge level, you get a better glide with a little bit of ridge lift - and it generally isn't too difficult to get back up if you sink a few hundred feet below ridge height. But today didn't seem a good day to try that approach. Staying up, at least until conditions strengthened, was the priority. 

Progress was horribly slow; but as more and more gliders were landing below you couldn't afford to be impatient. Typical high pressure conditions, with very disorganized thermals. I had to turn back and look for better lift several times. It took me 1hr 20 minutes to cover the first 8K; fractionally faster than walking speed (in more typical conditions I do this in 30 - 40 minutes). As I transitioned onto Charvet, I came in well above 10 gliders that were struggling; I wasn't surprised to sink down to their level and join in the struggle. 

Clouds were building and I knew if I could get onto the higher mountains to the North things could improve. The transition from Charvet to Cheval Blanc is a critical one and I was patient for a long time, hoping to get really high. Instead I bounced around with everyone else, generally just over over ridge height. 

But then I saw a glider hit a rocket thermal. He was about 0.5 Km away so I used fullbar and saw he was drifting E quickly. I hit the lift and committed to it. The first turn was good, the second turn was ok, the next one was slow… I had arrived too late!

At this point I should have gone straight back to the ridge but I tried to look for a thermal that was no longer there and had drifted too far to safely get back to the ridge. 2 hours of patient flying were wasted right there.

While most people didn't do very well, the patient and skillful were rewarded with good flights. A little more patience...

Saturday, August 14, 2010

A Gray Sky

For the first time in a long time (40 days?, 50 days?) the sky was gray this morning. The forecast even included rain later in the day. So I had intended to do a quick hike & fly with my speedwing first thing in the morning, to get some exercise and a little bit of air time.

But when I got up the sky looked pretty threatening. It looked as though the rain would come too soon to fly, so instead I did a short hike. As it turned out, I could easily have sneaked in a flight. I extended my hike to 4 hours and got back home just before the bad weather arrived.

There was plenty of rain this afternoon, but it stopped early this evening and it's very pleasant outside now. The sun should be back out tomorrow, but the wind will be a little strong for the next few days. I will probably go to St Vincent or the Dormilliouse - relatively sheltered sites - for a flight tomorrow.

Sunday, August 8, 2010

Caduc Hike

I've been doing quite a bit of flying and cycling lately, but not so much hiking. So I wasn't at all disappointed when today's forecast was too windy for flying. I decided to climb Caduc; like many mountains here it isn't very high (2650m, a little less than 9,000 ft) but there is a long walk-in.

At this time of year an early start helps to avoid the worst of the heat. But I wasn't as disciplined as I should have been, and started the hike just after 10 am. It was a long, tiring day but with wonderful views from the summit. The wind at the summit was very strong (30 mph? gusts of 40 mph?); I was glad I had some extra clothes to wear while I ate my lunch.

I had flown over here 8 days earlier, and the terrain (a jumble of steep ridges and tight valleys) seems just as confusing from the ground as it is from the air.


Mornings in St Andre

I'm sure I will change my mind in December, but right now mornings in St Andre are pretty special. The sky is always blue (sometimes light blue, sometimes deep blue). Being in the mountains, it is always cool in the morning and evening, so just going outside and walking around the village to buy bread is a pleasure.

Today, there was a small pottery market in the main square. It wasn't cheap, but there was some very nice stuff on offer. And there was a little stand where the kids could try their hands at throwing pottery.

 Some pics

Saturday, August 7, 2010

Saturday Triangle

Saturday's early morning sky was a darker, clearer shade of blue than usual; a sure sign of the Mistral. St Andre is some way E of the Rhone valley and if the Mistral isn't too strong you can still fly here, but it certainly complicates things. Conditions looked better earlier, with the N wind getting strong at altitude after 2 pm.

The shuttle logistics didn't work out in my favor (at this time of year it is too hot to walk up the hill), and I got to launch around 12.45. Conditions were already spicy on launch, and it was obviously bumpy in the air, but it appeared workable (some wings were moving around a lot less than others). I launched quickly; almost immediately afterwards there was an ominous radio transmission asking pilots not to launch and to keep the air clear around Moriez.

In a completely blue sky I headed north to clear the area; there was plenty of lift, though it was a bit bumpy. Arriving at Lambruisse, I headed east, hoping to fly a triangle back to St Andre. I got a nice climb at le Grand Cordeil and then headed SSE and everything went very smoothly. At one point I was considering heading to Annot (that would give less flying into the wind), but I got a good climb and saw I could make an upwind transition onto the Crete des Serres.

Once I made the transition, it meant I could keep heading S (instead of landing in St Andre). I had a nice ridge run to le Pic de Chamatte, then turned round and followed the ridge back to St. Andre (more into the wind in this direction). Although the flight didn't take me very far, and lasted less that 2.5 hours, it was very satisfying and, of course, eliminated the retrieve problem!