Friday, April 25, 2008

Day 5

Another windy day, more windy than the day before. The pilots get restless and tired of the dust and wind start rallying the task and safety meeting to call the day for a rest day. Still we're already out there and dealing with the conditions but the loose dust makes it so easy to see every little gust. The rigids go out first and several pilots come back to a re-light. Eventually the rigids get out of here but low.

Everyone is still not enthusiastic about the day or the conditions and finally the task and safety committee call the day about 1:00pm.

Now the long schlog back walking the gliders to the hotel. With the dolly it's no problem but without a cart its miserable. I don't have a cart and by the time I get back I'm pretty winded.

After parking the glider, we all meet at the pool for a nice safe game of frisbee. At least this time it's with somebody that can throw (Chris Smith). The hotel had a BBQ buffet that has a lot of food and most everyone eats too much. I for one ate so much that no breakfast is required this morning.

Tomorrow is supposed to be better.

Day 4

Windy ... Probably the most since we've been here. At times the tow paddock looks more like a dust storm. I should have gotten in the air much sooner. I will fly the entire course on my own today, much like most of yesterday.

I get the tug with Rhett, his tug is a bit under powered but he tows very smoothly so I know it should be a good tow. Fiona from Canada is right in front of me and pops off the cart into a big wang and barely gets the glider under control to land. That kind of thing scares me a lot and I would normally take some time after witnessing something like what just happened. But here I am on the dolly and being wheeled into position with Rhett. On tow the dolly feels like its wheels are not rolling but skidding and with the power of Rhetts tug it feels like I will never get off this cart in one piece. The cart starts to skid off to the right towards the water truck. I'm fighting the skid but cannot correct it soon enough and left go of the cart. In my head I envision myelf pounding in and the glider takes a bit of a dip off the cart. I knew thnigs did not feel right especially when my knuckles hit the cart when I left it (that has never happened to me before). I let the bar out a bit and I'm now higher than Rhett but in a zone that feels manageable. Gradually we climb out and it's the kind of tow I come to expect with Rhett.

Rhett pulls me to a good climb and I pin off before he waves me off. It's a good one and I soon find myself climbing above 5k. But as I look for other gliders I find none. The 1400 start time is approaching so I decide to move to the edge of the start cylinder. On the way there I spot several dust devils and take the first one. The climb is doing well but I spot a better dust devil and run for it. I can tell right away that this ones going to take me high. Only problem is that the dift takes me past the start cylinder at 14:06. Being that I'm all alone I disregard the start time and take the thermal to 8k and go on glide.

As I glide towards the 1st TP I'm looking for obvious signs of lift (dust devils). The wind is generally from the SW and blowing about 15. Soon I find myself at 6k and hit a pretty good thermal parallel to the airport / drop zone at Eloy. This one turns on and has me holding on really tight as it takes me skyward. I decide to take this one to about 7k and spot a few other dusties further down the road and more on course line than I am so I leave it and the edge of the drop zone in a hurry. I'm still left of course line but staying high and taking thermals to top off so I dont drop below 5k. I've been averaging 4k glides and getting pretty good glides being that the course is slightly downwind. I take about 3 more thermals to get into the 1st TP. For the first time in a long time I see some glider in the air but they are low with one lone exception. Several other gliders are on the ground right after the turnpoint, a disappointment for sure, seeing how the day is getting stronger. Just as I tag the TP with 5.5k of altitude, I grab a good climb that will take me over 8.2k and on towards goal. Still left of course I saw tooth my way down course staying high as I can. 7 miles from the first TP I'm down to 3400' and looking for a climb that will boost me over the fields that are freshly mowed. It looks good and I can feel the air trying to pull me to the left away from the course line, so in need of altitude I go with it and find a thermal that will get me to just shy of 7k

Now back in the game with altitude and 14 miles from goal I'm thinking that I'm going to make it for sure. I'd been on course for just over 2 hrs so my time isn't blazing but I'm pretty respectable I think. With the gps / vario combination I have predidcting final glide isn't all that easy, But I'm thinking that at 10 miles out I can glide in from about 7k still I take it to 8k for extra insurance. But in retrospect that thinking is flawed because goal field is about 2400' giving me an effective altitude of only 5600'. From there I was going to need a 10:1 glide but I could tell that wasn't getting that (especially down at lower altitudes). Still I pressed on into some pretty unlandable terrain with positive thoughts. At some point it was just too apparent that I was coming up short about 4 miles short and now I needed an LZ that wasn't there. I finally see my very last opportunity and I'm going to have to make this one work. Bordered by powerlines on the south side and barbwire fences on all other sides with bushes and dead sticks that look like good sail poking material I take my glide into a parachuting type landing just past the barbwire into a clearing no bigger than a typical california front lawn. I'm very happy now that the wind velocity was 15 or so allowing me to land like that. Top it off I have a gate that is steps away and a good dirt road so I'm pretty sure I can be retieived with little effort.

Total time on task: 2.5hrs
Distance: 88.1k
Missed goal by: 6.3k

Tuesday, April 22, 2008

Day 2

Lots of carnage today. Between weak link failures, tugs hitting gliders, and pilots pounding into the launch paddock, there was plenty of excitement to be seen. The wind was very switchy and was likely instrumental in causing some of the carnage.

The task was in the shape of a rhombus and around 82 miles or 111km or so. The day was supposed to be much like the first, but better climb rates and slightly higher. That turned out to pretty wrong and led to the day being over called.

The craziness in the launch sequence was enough to make me wait a little bit. Nobody was really high and several pilots landed for a relight. So I waited again like yesterday. Finally in the launch line I heard someone pound in behind me. It was Konrad, unlucky enough to get a switchy wind during approach and landed downwind and turtled the glider and broke a downtube. I got the trike (great), but it was actually a really nice tow and I was soon joining several other gliders in a decent climb.

Greg Kendall was above me about 2km down the road so moved to his position and got to around 7k. We both took a line somewhat north of course towards gliders marking a light climb. I was plenty high so I could use the gliders below me to steer to the best part of the thermal. That kept me high during the whole start sequence. I think Chris Zimmerman and I were together on top of the stack turning the correct way (today was a left turn day), but the entire gaggle below us was turning right. I think we both knew we would eventually end up turning right as the gaggle climbed up to us. I was in a great position to take the approaching 1415 start clock, on top of the stack and the edge of the start cylinder. Zimmerman, Degtoff and I all left about the same time joined by Greg in a minute or two. The glide to the first TP was pretty good stopping to top off twice. Climbs at this point were generally below 7k and about 200 - 300 up. At some point I left the gaggle below me and tagged the 1st TP. The next one was to the SE about 28km away. We had been down this way yesterday so I felt OK about finding lift and bypassed several pilots that were in slower climbs. I saw a gaggle marking lift E of the prison and positioned myself just to the N of the gaggle and was rewarded with a decent climb. I think I had caught the pilots that took the 1400 start time so it looked like I was making pretty good time. Not following and making my own decisions of when to leave and how far to glide before looking for lift.

The gaggle above had definitely slowed down and Greg and I (Greg joined the thermal low) climbed to the gaggle above pretty quick where we stayed wingtip to wingtip for some time. Taking that climb to the south towards the 10 interstate, we could see a really big dust devil right on the other side of the 10. As Greg and I approached we really got drilled and had to stop for lift right on the N side of the 10. Greg blew right past me and I decided to take my altitude and run for the decaying dust devil. On the windward side of the dust devil the lift was strong and ratty but not so much that I was white knuckling it. Greg, Larry Brunner (the guy who had his glider destroyed the the tug) and I climbed steadily going to 7k. Greg had peeled off before 5k and took a different line than Larry and I. When I got to 7k I left for the TP 9km away. With a good line I climbed on glide to 7.5k and stopped to tank up 3km from the second TP. I was with some of the pilots that had left much earlier when we were just getting the climb in the dust devil after the 10 interstate. The drift from the W seemed considerable so I pressed on and was rewarded with a steady climb 1km from the 2nd TP. I stayed with it until reaching 6k and drove into the TP turning after I saw the GPS count below 400m. Turning towards the next TP is was very apparent that the wind from the W had picked up considerably. I pressed on towards the 3 TP while watching a glider in front plummet into dinosaur country. To the left of course line and about 2km away I saw a group of 4 pilots climbing steadily, but questioned the line they had so I decided to stay on course as much as possible hoping to drive into a good thermal. The wind was getting to be too much (or so I thought and questioned my ability to make it over the power lines into the field directly in front of me. I had already seen a glider down in a field by a ranchers house off to my left with a good paved road next to it. I threw the towel in around 5:00pm and took the left towards the field and put it down safely next to Sunny (one of the owners of Highland Airsports in Maryland.

After hiking the glider to the fence I got David Glover on the phone and told him where we were and coordinated retrieval for Greg and I since I saw him making the glide into the field that I didn't think I could make it into. Sure enough that was where he was when we found him. Phill tried to go back through the pass we had come through but ran into a strong headwind as well. All in all, a decent showing for the Kagelites / Sylmartarians. Nobody would make goal today from the flex class. Later I learned that I had missed the 2nd TP by .08km so I was only scored distance to the 2nd TP (bummer). Currently in 21st

Monday, April 21, 2008

Day 1

We wake up to breezy (although somewhat less) conditions from the SW. Phill and I eat breakfast at the hotel buffet that will serve to be my main meal for the day until dinner. I found that to work well in Texas and decided to continue the same here. I think the only other health related thing on the agenda was to eat some aleve (pain re levers) right after the flight. After breakfast the wind hasn't shown any signs of slowing. Dustin (meet organizer) joined us for breakfast and was confident that the wind would cooperate but we may not be making it back here.

I went into town around 8:30 to pick up some AAA batteries and other provisions (beer). While shopping was made aware that alcohol sales aren't allowed before 10 am on Sunday, so we'll have to go without today. Since I was in town I decided that a little WAR driving would be appropriate since no Internet was available in the hotel room. The town is pretty quiet on Sunday morning so I could drive slowly down a few streets looking for a good WIFI signal. In short order I picked up a Netgear router that was unsecure and got connected. I did my posting and weather briefing quickly and signed off probably within 5 minutes.

On the way back from town I could see the wind had decreased significantly, so it looked like it might work out for a triangle task. At the pilots meeting they call for a 70 mile zig-zag task to the SE but not back to the hotel. The task would end up taking us about 57 miles away parallel with Tuson, AZ.

Since our gliders aren't setup we do not have to take the half a mile shlep to the runway (I think that's a bonus after seeing just how far it really was. During setup dust devils would roll through and one time picked up several unattended gliders. Like many times before I suited up late (probably spooked a little from seeing a lot of weak link breaks (Phill told me he got the rope up high, meaning the weak link broke on the tug side giving him the rope in his face). So I was one of the last guys in the long line to tow. Tom Lanning was helping on the launch, I asked him why he thought there were so many weak link breaks. He said most were popping out of the cart to get above the dust the tug created during power up. So when it was my turn I just made sure I picked up the cart and flew through the dust. It was like flying blind but I got a smooth one and was up really quick.

I got a powerful tug and he had me up top quick. I pinned off before being waved off and promptly started looking for friends (others marking thermals). No one was in the vicinity but there were a few pilots just east of the hotel marking what looked like good first climb. I pulled the VG on and ran for them. I got the climb right away but it started out about 250 up. Later we were about 6k and then moved towards the edge of the start cylinder. Interestingly even though the day was a right turn day others that joined the thermal above me started thermalling left, so much for the turn direction. Making the start cylinder was easy enough as we found a climb right at the edge of it. Myself and another pilot I think that was flying a T2C made way pretty well and stopped to top off midway to the first TP but the climb was weak compared to earlier climbs so we left it and climbed in the next thermal 3km from the 1st TP. I was on my own at this point and angled right of course line seeing how the wind was from the west. I also wanted to stay away from the swampy area on course line. I was watching one pilot get drilled and it looked like he would put it down in the pastures below. Too bad he didn't hang on because to the left of his track was a nice big fatty going up 600'/min. As I was climbing anyone else around that saw that climb came in and joined. Most were above me but I soon met them at about 8k. Most left angling right of course line. I took a more direct route but did not get as good of a line as others.

About this time I started to struggle to stay high and began to slow my pace. Other pilots kept on pressing on. Some didn't fair as well as others. I was maintaining and kept my patience and climbed in to the top of whatever I could find. As I made my way towards the 2 TP I was keeping and eye on the dust devils that kept popping off the backside of the mountain we would eventually fly over on the last leg into goal. I thought if I could get there it would be the ticket into goal. But back to the matter at hand, short of the 10 interstate I found a good strong climb that would take me back to 8k and plenty of altitude to make the 2nd TP and start the last leg into goal.

The next problem was the irrigated fields we had to cross, but they ended up not being a problem at all. I was flying mostly by myself since the 1st TP, so I was pretty surprised when a pilot closed on my position. We topped out (8k) in a thermal just shy of the irrigated fields. From there I thought the glide to the lee side of the mountains on course line would be a breeze, and in fact they were. But the dust devils that were there before no longer coming off. Matter of fact the wind had switched , and was now blowing from the NNW. Crossing the mountain nothing was working and I kept looking but not much activity was evident. Still at 4k I could see goal about 15km away. I started to hear gunfire, guess that was because I was over 2 shooting ranges. Just west of the shooting ranges I found a light thermal but it was climbing, and I hadn't had anything for almost 10km. I took it but it was drifting faster than it was climbing. At some point I decided to take my chances and move toward goal after reaching 4k. But it wasn't to be. I ended up landing 11k short but had made a good effort and was satisfied with my performance. I would end up 27th for the day in a field of about 60.

Sunday, April 20, 2008

We Arrive

Arriving wasn't without it's drama. Just south of Phoenix we run into traffic that costs us nearly an hour. Otherwise we were on track to get into Casa Grande within 5 1/2 hours. As soon as we arrive we see many gliders set up. It's really hard to believe anyone flew today since it was so windy. Later we find out that several did but the wind proved to be a factor to staying up.

Talk about wind, we had strong winds from the Arizona border to right before Phoenix where it just pretty much stopped. 25 miles south of Phoenix the wind returned. Probably 20mph from the SW.

Anyway as we arrived the pilots meeting was just getting started so we barely made it for that, but got the basic details and then got the waypoints for the comp. Saw many pilots that I've met in Texas, Oregon, and elsewhere. The resort grounds are really nice, the rooms aren't. Small is a bit of an under statement. The beds are pretty close and not all very big, but I guess we didn't come here for the accomodations either. No internet in the rooms so most of the updates will happen from the phone (no audio blog this year) during the day and flight updates the day after.

At the pilots meeting Davis said the wind is supposed to back off, but at 10pm it's still breezy. If I had to guess I would say we got another day of breezy conditions. Rumor has it that we're not flying back here tomorrow, but going long. How long will be the question, but with such an international crew we'll likely see something like 70 miles or longer. The furthest waypoint in the list is Blythe but with the wind from the SW I think we can count that one out. The number a layout of the available waypoints really works for triangles but not for downwind tasks.

Saturday, April 19, 2008

On our way

As we left this morning the skies of Sylmar were grey, overcast and the temp was at least 20 degrees cooler than the day before. Hope it doesn't follow us.

Greg was just opening the storage bins when I arrived in the LZ @ 9:45. We had things packed up pretty quick and went to pick up Phill.

Since we left Phills house we've made pretty good time (we left around 11:00 and drove 281 miles to the Arizona border in about 3.5 hours, roughly averaging 80 mph). Works for me! About 160 more miles to go and we'll be there.

The drive has been windy and since getting into Arizona the wind has been crossing from the right (southerly flow about 15 - 18). Makes for a slower trip now

Thursday, April 17, 2008

Testing from Treo

Now that I'm a day away from leaving for Arizona, wanted to ensure that mobile blogging is working.

Anyone that might be reading this, make sure you give Phill Bloom a hard time for changing our whole travel plans. Being the coach of your kids baseball team and a hang glider pilot is hard, eh Phill?

So we're not leaving for Arizona until 10:30 Saturday morning (kinda feels like Santa Barbara last week). Hopefully we can make some good time on the road and get a flight in (been a while since I last towed up).

As we leave gas prices are inching up to $4.00 / gallon. Really hope we do triangles as much as we can. Phill thinks because of so many people and international pilots that the comittee may want to go big. That's likely OK later in the comp, but early on I'd like to ease into it.

Looking at the weather the height looks around 10k - 12k for Sunday but winds are forecast to be 25 mph from the SW so returning a triangle that day might be difficult. Of course that's the NAM and it's still two days out so things might change. Today the BlipMaps showed that the day was light winds with altitudes in the 12k range (sounds perfect). Tomorrow looks like the winds begin to pick up. Guess well see in a few days.

New Blog Format

After a few changes, I've made the jump to a new format for the Sylmartarians Blog. Phil, Greg, and I are preparing to go to the Casa Grande comp in Arizona this Saturday. Lots of pilots from all over the world showing up so I hope I can stick with everyone. Look here for information on the how the comp is going.