Thursday, March 29, 2012

A Flying Day Off

A large percentage of my flights are 'playing hookey' flights, where I sneak away and fly for a couple of hours at lunch time before getting back to work. It's an efficient use of time but when conditions are good, it can be a little frustrating.

So I've decided to save 10 days of vacation for flying on days with really good forecasts; that way, I can concentrate on the flying and forget about logistics. Today's forecasts were good but not stellar and didn't quite fit my 'flying day off' profile. But I've been away for a bit, I will be traveling in April, the forecast for the weekend is so-so and I couldn't resist it.

Things looked good in the air, and I headed north to Cheval Blanc, a big rounded mountain that tends to just get in the way rather than give decent lift. There's a good spot to gain altitude a few km before the summit, but then there is a decision to make. Head N to the rounded summit and continue N to Carton, or head E away from the Bleone valley system. I had tempting clouds leading E but choose the route over Cheval Blanc - go figure. 

The next few kms were very sinky and I arrived at the summit of Cheval Blanc too low to warrant continuing. Back S, build altitude, but no nice clouds to the E now - so do I try N again, or settle for some local flying? I settled for flying locally and visited some of the rounder, seldom flown peaks out to the W.

Late in the day I headed to the Crete des Serres; I thought I had plenty of altitude but encountered tons of sink at the start of the transition. No big deal, I climbed easily back to ridge height. I could have flown a bit longer, but I'd been in the air for nearly four hours and decided that was enough for today.Time to land!

Easier said than done. The valley winds in the Verdon go S to N during the day; the valley winds in the Asse tend to spill over from the W. The resulting convergence gives lift (good!) and turbulence (not so good!). The result is that the 'standard' LZ at St Andre is best avoided on many days, but today the whole of the valley from St Andre to La Mure was best avoided! It was very lifty and very turbulent.

I considered flying to Moriez or Thorame (both in different valleys) to land and that would have been the sensible choice. But I was a bit lazy. I'd find a little island of sink or weak lift, spiral, my sink alarm would sound and I'd be happy. But a few seconds later, still with lots of Gs, my vario would tell me I was going up again! But eventually I landed at La Mure, happy with my 'flying day off'.

Friday, March 16, 2012

Slow Boat to Allos

I've been very busy all week and missed out on some decent flying days. Today conditions were predicted to be good and I decided I deserved a reward for all the hard work. But, true to form I got stuck with work, and it was just after 11 when I set off to hike up the hill. So, when a couple of pilots offered me a lift at the bottom, I gratefully accepted.

On the drive up, the pilots asked me my plans and I said it looked like a good day to fly to Allos; winds pretty consistently out of the SW quarter at all levels. We arrived at launch well before noon to find 10 pilots getting ready. I was pleased to be there so early (we haven't change time yet in France, so it really was early) and was a little slow and complacent. 

Suddenly the cycles were strong and everyone had launched. I put my rosetted wing onto launch, pulled out the tips and it was seized by a cycle before I could even walk down the hill and get some tension in the lines. Damn, had I screwed up and let it overdevelop? I carefully sorted it all out in the lee and didn't bother pulling the tips out the second time. I launched without problem, relieved I hadn't lost the day, but everyone else had moved on and I was flying alone.

Heading N, I got stuck at L'Allier (or the antennae). I could have taken a chance and headed away low, but I didn't want to risk sinking out in an inconvenient place. Staying up near terrain was easy, but building height for transitions was hard; typical high-pressure, blue thermal days. I knew if I was patient, things would gradually improve. I was stuck for an hour there before I got through the inversion and could move on. 

A little bit later I arrived just at ridge height on Chamatte. Again, staying up was easy, but building enough height to warrant moving on was tricky. I tried to sneak away a little low, but a bunch of sink made me scuttle back. After a full hour, I had the altitude and could move on. From then on, it was a piece of cake. Allos is the last easy landing place in a valley, I'd been flying for 3.5 hours (it normally takes 2 hours to fly there) and it was time to get back to work. 

As I was setting up to land the bus to St Andre went past. No problem, it turned out; my thumb and three generous drivers took me home. Not a bad start to the weekend! Tracklog and pics.

Sunday, March 11, 2012

Day Trip to Gréolières

I'm spoiled for flying and have become embarrassingly lazy about it. If I cut out hike and flies, all my flights last year except one were from St Andre. I've pretty much stopped driving to go and fly; instead I just hike up the hill and fly. If conditions aren't good locally, I do something else rather than drive to a different site. 

I've become a one site pilot, and that's a pity because there are a lot of really good sites nearby. Today, the meteo wind was NE; maybe the anabatic and valley winds would have overcome it at St Andre but I wasn't sure. Instead I joined a whole bunch of Nice pilots at Greolieres - a whole hour away in the car. 

Greolieres is an interesting and (in a different way to St Andre) somewhat intimidating place to fly. It's on the S side of a big W-E ridge, in a steep sided valley (more like a rocky gorge) leading to Nice and the Med. The general meteo wind is N, and launch is a long way below ridge top, so you're often flying in the lee, using a mixture of thermals and the anabatic 'breeze' to stay up. The LZ is at the school in Greolieres, which is little village perched roughly half-way up the slope. The normal launch is only 200m above the LZ, so margins are tight and you can't afford to screw around at the start of your flight. 

In light conditions you have to soar near the slope and wait for a thermal to get some terrain clearance. Things were relatively straightforward today; once you got a 100 meters above launch, thermals were pretty much sufficient to stay up and you could preserve decent terrain clearance. I played it safe and flew for just over an hour in some very spring like thermals - bumpy and small. I stayed below the top of the ridge and - apart for the first few minutes - generally left lots of terrain clearance. I don't think any of the local pilots went anywhere; a few flew above the top of the ridge and a few landed right after launching.  

The LZ was very relaxed, with pilots and their families picnicking in the sun. The local pilots agreed conditions were pretty spicy. After enjoying the atmosphere, the weather and my lunch, I packed up and went on a short tour of the village - very scenic.

Tracklog and some pics. Really, I need to get out more! 

Saturday, March 10, 2012


When I flew last Wednesday I knew I had a cold coming on, but I felt fine during the hike up the hill and the flight. It turned out to be the flu and the next 48 hours weren't very pleasant. By Friday evening I was feeling reasonable again, but knew I wasn't in any condition to fly on Saturday (I actually tested my motor-coordination skills on my GT5 racing game, and they were shot to hell - quite an eye opener).

So come Saturday I headed to Manosque,  a lovely little town with a fortified center I've been wanting to visit. St Andre is more on the alpine side of the departement (les Alpes de Haute Provence) while Manosque is more provencal. Spring weather, gorgeous buildings, very busy (especially for the start of March) and a lovely market. I spent some gift vouchers in a bookstore and had a huge lunch before heading home.

Wednesday, March 7, 2012

An Inconvenient Forecast

I've got a cold, my cleaner will be kicking me out my house at 10 am, I've got tons of work and I have solid afternoon meetings from 3.00pm. And then there's a great forecast for flying… Couldn't this happen some other day?

I couldn't ignore it and worked out I should be able to fly for an hour and make my meetings. Conditions were very, very good; as always, when it's good at this time of year, it was also bloody cold. Given my time constraints, I couldn't go anywhere and reluctantly headed to La Mure to land at the appointed hour. Low down, I got some nice lift; it was so gentle and pleasant, I couldn't resist turning in it and climbing back up 200m or so, wasting another 10 minutes or so.

Back in "the real world" I've done my meetings, my cold seems much worse thanks to my day out but I'm glad I didn't ignore the great forecast. I just hope I can ditch the cold for the weekend. The tracklog.

Sunday, March 4, 2012

Ability Half Life

One of the nice things about a flying a paraglider is that you don't lose a lot of form in a lay-off. That's not the case in a skill sport like tennis or a fitness one like cycling, or one that's a combination of the two like rock-climbing. If you stop any of these sports for 6 weeks, it's a big effort to get back to previous performance levels. Fortunately with paragliding the loss of ability is smaller and it really only takes one decent flight to recover previous levels.

Although I've kept flying through the winter, I think I've had only one thermic flight this year. A lot of hike and flies but only one 'proper' flight. That's getting to the point when I'm aware of the danger of being 'rusty'. 

So I was very glad to fly for nearly a couple of hours today. Typical spicy early spring conditions. There weren't many pilots in the air - maybe 10 - and one pilot - Frode - had a nice flight while a few sunk out early. I was happy to be somewhere between these extremes. I had a couple of lowish moments, but managed to scrape back up. I landed back at St Andre as showers were falling just to the north and my glove batteries gave out. Great practice, just what the doctor ordered!