Thursday, January 29, 2009

Long task and lots of scratching along the course line

Today was the longest task so far: 114 km zigzag, although when you subtract out the start radius and the large radii of a couple of the TP’s it comes to something more like 90 km. Launch and then La Pila, Elefan (north of Valle, on the plateau next to the butterfly sanctuary), back to Penon, south to Tezca1 (on the far ridge on the other side of the Piano plateau), Escale, and then Quintanilla as the goal field. Another task with lots of into-wind portions!

Was one of the first launchers when the window opened at 11:25am and already there were clouds forming over the Wall and Crazy. Cloudbase was initially only 2900 m, but it was projected to rise to 3600 m as the day warmed up. Lots of cloud flying before the start, and many warnings over the radio by the organization. I’m sure the Air Marshals were kept busy recording glider numbers.

Since there was so much lift around, it wasn’t necessary to hang out at Crazy for the 12:45 pm start, but as that time approached everyone started to converge at the 6 km mark. A bit chaotic at times, as the clouds would form around and underneath you, and you’d have to fly out and keep an eye on your personal airspace at the same time. I watched an Icepeak 3 do some impressive spinning down through a gaggle; fortunately he didn’t hit anybody on the way down and was able to stop it and return to flying mode.

Once the start happened it was the into-wind glide to La Pila. A long slog but everyone eventually tagged it, and then it was to the other side of the Mesa. I had spoken to Morgan (flies here a lot) about what route to take to the convergence from La Pila (3 Kings/Maguey vs. Espina), and he had recommended Espina as the quicker and more reliable route. But everyone in front of me had chosen the 3 Kings/Maguey route! So it was either a) fly back to Espina alone, and follow Morgan’s advice, or b) fly to 3 Kings and stay with a gaggle, and disregard Morgan’s advice. Hmmm.

Well I didn’t really want to fly by myself so early in the task, so I reluctantly followed everyone to 3 Kings. It wasn’t working there very well, and a bunch of us had to ridge soar our way on the actual 3 Kings rocks until something came along. Meanwhile Brett was very deep in, low, and I was keeping an eye on him. He eventually found something so my group flew in low to try to catch the same thermal. We needed to catch it, otherwise we’d be too low to fly back out and we’d be tree-landing on the glide out to a LZ. Fortunately the thermal was still there when we got there and were able to thermal up and out of there all the way to Maguey, and some breathing room.

Maguey was being cyclical again, and the previous group had eventually gotten up and out of there, but our group had to wait for the next pulse. It came and off to Serro Gordo to top up, and then over to the convergence.

The convergence was a bit weird today, as the clouds were forming at various altitudes, and you’d be at one cloudbase and then another cloud would form beneath you. It was difficult to stay in clear air as we glided towards Saucos. You could actually see the thermals outlined by moisture as a column of cloud would rise out of the trees and mushroom up to the bigger clouds overhead.

Getting to Elefan is not a direct route, unless you are really high. If you attempt to fly directly there you’ll end up overflying Torre, which is difficult to get away from and totally in the Lake breeze, and then you still have to fly over the back of Torre to get there. The easiest way is to follow the convergence towards Saucos and the butterflies, and then hang a left into the high mountains there and try to hit Elefan from that direction.

As my group was approaching Elefan the lead gaggle was already returning from it. We passed each other for a few turns up to 3600 m and then we parted ways. Very windy from the Lake, and punching upwind to Elefan was difficult. I could see Brett very low at the base of a hill the rest of us where attempting to thermal off of, and he appeared to be ridge soaring just above the trees. Then I lost sight of him as I got high enough for the final push to Elefan, tagging it, and then back to the relatively safety of the same hill.

I was with Kari and Renata and we struggled our way back to the main valley and Saucos, where the convergence clouds were still there but thinner. Kari took a more downwind line to the hills to the east, while Renata flew back to the Monarca area to try to top up there. I took the middle line and flew back to Quintanilla to try to get high there.

As I overflew Quintanilla I could see the goal field being set up with the line, Red Bull tent, and media vehicles. But I was too busy trying to punch upwind back to Penon to pay much attention. At the powerlines just south of Quintanilla I found a thermal which took me back to 3100 m and then it was slogging back upwind towards the Mesa.

I was hoping to catch something off La Casa or the garbage dump, but when I got there I was quite low and all the lift was broken up. I could see a couple of gliders above me trying to do the same and then it was over for me. Landed at the base of La Casa in a nice mossy field (nice to pack up in!), and Santiago from the Mexican Team joined me about 10 minutes later. We had flown about 60 km. Tracklog is here.

Santiago’s retrieve was there in about 15 minutes so I was able to get a ride back to Valle with them, thanks guys! I think that was my quickest and easiest retrieve yet, back at HQ by 5pm and able to watch from the balcony the lead gaggle getting high over Escale for the final glide to goal.

Brett was in the goal field (having landed there on his way back from Elefan; he wasn’t able to connect with anything strong enough to get him back to the Mesa) and reported that about 40-50 pilots had made goal, with many more landing short. Keith landed at the base of the Penon after tagging Tezca1, and Jim made it to within 2 km of goal. So no Canucks in goal today.

I really enjoyed the task committee putting us back behind Torre launch for Elefan; I’ve never flown back there on the high plateau and it’s always nice to try new places. There was lots of lift back there, but the influence of the Lake breeze was definitely felt. It would be cool to fly even further back and stay on that high plateau, but I’m not sure if there is much civilization in that direction. But I’m just getting slaughtered on the monster upwind glides that each task seems to have. The comp gliders seem to be doing OK, as it’s the same group of serial-class gliders I keep seeing in the LZ’s when we all land and shake our fists at the comp gliders still in the air!

PS I seem to be having problems uploading photos at the moment, but you can see the latest crop of them here.

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