Tuesday, January 27, 2009

A hard day of flying

Another long task today, 94 km zigzag between the flats and the mountains: Race starting at 12:45pm, with Maguey, Aquila, Saucos, Diente, and finally Quintanilla as the goal field.

The weather wasn’t looking as nice as previous days, the brown layer was thicker, there were fewer clouds, and it was windier. So I was a bit surprised to see a task that would take us over the flats. Same launch rules as yesterday, so I got myself in the lineup and launched no problem before the ranking launching started.

As soon as I launched I could tell this was going to be a difficult day. First off, launching wasn’t the get-yarded-off-launch of previous days, the cycles were weaker and people were actually waiting for strong cycles, rather than lulls between cycles. And once in the air it was more stable-feeling. The thermals were small and punchy, not well-formed, and hard to stay centered in, especially as more and more pilots launched in to the melee out front.

So I got myself out of there, leaving for Penon at a lower altitude than I usually do, just to get away. Once over there I was able to ridge soar for a few passes before the armada came at me, and it was crowded again. So I left there for the Wall, where I could see some pilots getting up in some weak stuff.

Finally over the Wall and over to Crazy Thermal, where it was indeed crazy. There was lift, but it was disorganized, ratty, and lots of big sink in between the spikes of lift. It was not very fun at all. And of course when the armada joined me there were 150 pilots trying to get high in the shitty lift, and lots of yelling as gliders were folding up and swinging into other pilot’s airspace. It was mayhem.

The start wasn’t for another 30 minutes so we had to endure until then, and it was a relief for the entry start at 12:45pm (2 km around Maguey) so we could spread out a bit. But the relief was short-lived as we all arrived at Maguey more-or-less at the same time, low, and then there were 150 pilots scratching on Maguey to tag it and get high enough for the return glide back towards Espina.

Once again I left lower than I really wanted to, and made my way over to Espina. The going was actually not that bad, and was probably the best part of the flight, comfort-wise. Once over there I got up and joined Harmony.

The next TP was on the other side of the gorge/powerlines to the south, on the side of the far ridge. It was quite windy and the thermals on the flats weren’t very nice at all. You’d thermal in the wrong direction of where you wanted to end up. So Harmony and I flew upwind to Diente to try to get high off that, and be a bit upwind of Aguila. It didn’t really work, as by the time we flew upwind to it and thermalled out of there, we were back to where we had started.

Some pilots had chosen the upwind route to Aguila, but that involved flying over some very remote terrain with few roads, and a thick forest on the shallow slopes up to the TP. Not very inviting at all. So we opted for a slightly downwind route, which would take us into a valley with more roads and a village, and hope to thermal out of there and push slightly upwind for the TP, before turning around back to the windward side of the slopes.

This tactic didn’t work, as it was so windy the thermals weren’t well-formed down low, and the TP turned out to be quite high up, not quite enough to get on glide. I managed to get to within 600m of the TP before I had to turn around, in order to make the glide back out to a safe landing spot. I saw a glider circling before me over the LZ’s, so I joined him in hopes of getting high enough for attempt #2. This thermal took me to the other side of the valley, where a pilot had landed in the trees and was busy extricating himself.

When I reached the limit of that climb I pushed back towards the TP, but it was even worse than before. I couldn’t get to it, and the winds were quite nasty. I saw a bunch of pilots had landed directly below me at the village cemetery, so I threw in the towel and decided I had enough of this shitty flying. Landed in a nice 20 km valley breeze along with Harmony, Joanna, Rasa, and Shane.

We could see other pilots struggling to get out of there, but it wasn’t really working for any of them, and eventually our field became littered with gliders. Enough for 2 retrieve vehicles to come get us, and about 10% of the comp’s pilots landed in the same general area around Almoloya. Those pilots able to penetrate into the wind and not get hammered were able to get away and back to the safety of the mountains, where it seemed less windy, and clouds were now starting to form.

Apparently between 50-70 pilots in goal, and I think had we been able to escape the ground-suck of TP #2, we would have made it too. It seemed to be quite easy after that stretch, over mountains, less windy, and the usual convergence between Serro Gordo and Saucos. But I was actually quite glad to land as early as I did, since the flying wasn’t particularly nice, and on a non-comp day I probably wouldn’t have bothered to fly over the flats. There were also 4 reserve deployments, 2 mid-airs, and 2 tree-landings, so I’m sure other pilots will report less-than-ideal conditions. So for 1 hour 15 minutes of flying (although I was flying and waiting for the start for an additional 1:15) I flew a grand total of 21 km. Tracklog is here.

Meanwhile Jim, Keith, and Brett made goal after some hard flying (and it was Brett’s first goal of this comp so he’s stoked).

1 comment:

  1. Thanks Nicole for a great blog, with so much great detail and none of the sensationalism of others. Reading it makes me feel I'm almost there with you - its had me on tenterhooks throughout the tasks! Say a big Hi to Kirsty for me - she's doing brilliantly for her first worlds. Hope to see you guys out there one day in the not too distant future... Keep up the great blogging. Ruth Churchill Dower (UK)