The skies today were similar to yesterday (big clouds and probably shading on the Mesa), but there was about twice as much wind forecasted. The task committee decided on a 106 km task: launch, exit around Penon, Llano out to the SE across the flats, Divisidero, Elefante behind Valle, 3Kings, and goal at Quintanilla. So once again lots of back-and-forth across the Mesa.
I launched early at 11:15am and worked my way up to 3300m in front of launch, and proceeded over to El Penon. Below 3000m it was SW, but above 3000m it was very north, and strong too. The higher I got the more wind I encountered from the north, until at about 3600m (cloudbase) I was pointed north, going forward at single digits. Hmmm interesting.
I stayed high, and punched upwind slowly to the G-spot, still at 3600m. The start was a 6 km exit around Penon, and the first TP was to the SE, so most pilots opted to stay out front in between launch and Penon. I had the G-spot all to myself, which suited me just fine.
As the start approached I noticed a very large cloud starting to form upwind of the G-spot, so I slowly punched my way to the upwind side. The north wind was very strong, and I wondered if it was strong enough, and the cloud “dense” enough, for me to ridge soar up the side of this cloud (I’ve down this 2 times before; the last time was Feb. 2008 at Mt. Woodside, in similar clouds-and-windy conditions). I decided to see.
Up along the upwind side of the cloud at 3600m, and my vario slowly started beeping. Slowly but surely I S-turned myself along the upwind side of this cloud until I was just shy of 3900m, making my way about ½ way up the side of the cloud. I made sure to keep in the clear so not to be accused of cloud-flying, so if a wispy started to form upwind of me, I would move upwind a bit more and keep the wispies behind me. The wind was super-strong from the north, and this first TP was going to be a quick dash there, and a long slog back, if you stayed high.
The start came and I had to detour around the cloud a bit so as not to fly through it, and started on course to Llano. Other pilots had split into 2 main groups…a group who went the direct way over the hills, gorge, and powerlines, and a slightly upwind group who stayed over the flatter terrain.
Only a couple of minutes into the race, Jim Orava reported seeing a pilot going down in the gorge, getting blown backwards, and was requested to turn around and give co-ordinates by the organization. He did so, and also reported seeing the pilot OK on the ground, but as he had to backtrack into sinking air to report this, he fell behind, and eventually landed at Llano. But since he was requested to turn around and give co-ordinates, the organization is going to give him an average score for today, for doing the equivalent of a “landing to assist”. So despite him only flying 22 km, he’ll get credit for much more, which is decent of the comp organizers.
Meanwhile the super-north layer was replaced by a super-south layer lower down, so my downwind speed of 65 km/h (not using any speedbar) was very quickly replaced with 15 km/h. And not even at the TP yet! I punched speedbar and was able to just barely clear the hill the TP was located on (it was actually located on the upwind side of the hill, and we were all approaching from the leeside), and turned tail to join the group that was hanging on for dear life, frisbeeing back to the north. The group below me was in even more dire straits, as they were in the total lee of the hill and the valley breeze was in full force. I saw many pilots land at Llano; 1 pilot reported having to land downwind to avoid some trees and did a complete tumble-and-roll routine. It didn’t look very fun for those pilots.
My group was able to thermal back out of there and out of the valley breeze, back up to the safety of 3300m. However it was north up there, so we had the choice of either staying low and flying downwind in the valley breeze, or staying high and flying upwind in the north wind. We all chose the latter :)
Slowly made our way back towards the Mesa and the group split in 2. The other group headed for Espina, while my group headed for Crazy. It was lee for either choice, but I figured Crazy would be a bit more reliable in the shade and lee-ness, as there were small foothills we could use to get up and over the rim.
It was indeed shady but not too bad, and as long as we stayed below the rim on the downwind side it was OK thermalling. But as soon as we got above the rim and the north wind hit, it was a bit chaotic. I made sure to stay well-clear of the other pilots while I worked my way back up to cloudbase.
The other group was doing the same at Espina, and we joined forces on the glide across to Maguey. Headed there was slow, but we got there above Maguey and I was able to do the usual ridge-run-at-Bridal routine to get myself to Divisidero. But the going was very slow, 20 km/h or so, unless I used the speedbar. Coming back was going to be fast!
Tagged Divis and then turned around for the run back. Since the next TP was behind town, it was a bit out of the way to do the usual Serro Gordo/San Augustine-Saucos run, and more direct to fly directly over town. But I’m not sure the direct route would work cloud-wise. So I opted to fly back the way I came, along the ridge, and was going fast.
Then I made a mistake. I found a thermal that wasn’t particularly strong, but took it as I was a bit low on the ridge and wanted to top-up. Down low the winds were more SW, and this thermal was tracking back over to the north side of the Mesa very sharply. And it wasn’t that strong. I should have skipped this thermal and chosen another stronger one. But I stuck with this one, and found myself on the north side of the Mesa, which is not ideal for most situations. But I figured I could get up to cloudbase and then punch crosswind to Serro Gordo and get myself under the convergence.
But I fell out of the thermal (!) and couldn’t find it again. Damn. I searched and searched but it had either fizzled, or I couldn’t find it. And I’m on the downwind side of the Mesa. So I turned tail and headed over Iglesia to see if I could find something around Serro Gordo, but it was super-sinky and when I got there, I was too low to get to the upwind side of SG and the Iglesia side was in the lee and all sinky. So I ended up landing at Iglesia, and it was only 3:15pm, very early to be landing. Tracklog is here.
I was rather annoyed for allowing myself to get caught on the wrong side of the Mesa and then fall out of the mediocre thermal I allowed myself to take, but at the same time I was glad to be safely on the ground. It was very windy all over the place, no matter which altitude you were at, and at the shear between the 2 levels was particularly nasty. And when I discovered Elisa sitting at Iglesia, waiting for her retrieve, I didn’t feel so bad.
The French retrieve came for Elisa and they offered me a ride, which I gladly took. Back into town where I found Jim at HQ, bemoaning the fact he had only flown 22 km. But he looked better when I told him the organization was going to give him an average score for today for what he did at the start. Brett had a really good day, getting back from Elefante and landing at the base of Escalares, for about 80 km. And Keith made goal. Early reports of about 60 people in goal (rather less than usual), with Urban Valic in 1st, about 20 minutes ahead of the next pilots!
My distance for today was 55 km. Rather short compared to recent days. But earlier today on launch, I had a conversation with Greg from Luxemburg. It’s all a matter of perspective…if we were flying these types of flights either at our home sites, or in Valle while on vacation and it wasn’t a comp, we’d be ecstatic at what we are achieving, for sheer distance, time flown, and what kind of ground we are flying over. But because this is the World Championships, all of a sudden we think our flights aren’t so great. We have to remember that this is just a comp after all (albeit it a big one), and to take it all in stride. And with just 2 more tasks to go, for those of us at the bottom of the rankings, it’s just not worth fussing over anymore.