Saturday, February 4, 2012

Final task!

Let me start off by saying: GOAL!

The final task of the SF and it was a medium-sized 76km from La Pila to Mesa-D, back across the mesa to Laguna (out by Divis) and then the lake.

Cloudbase over on the Wall was already 3700m and it wasn't even noon yet; a good day shaping up!  Those of us who launched early had a really fun time playing around the edges of the clouds with no crowds to worry about.

Heading to Mesa-D
Of course that all ended when everyone else joined in and then it was the giant merry go round until the start.  A perfect thermal right over La Pila and then it was time to head to Mesa-D.  This is partway to the Monarca ridge and there are multiple ways to get there: I saw many pilots heading straight down the middle of the mesa and the shade but I didn't want to get shaded out.  So myself and several other pilots diverted to the Wall where we ran the sun/clouds to the Penon and then dove over the back as well.

This was taking me to the dreaded Sacamacate area and I was determined not to make the same mistake as yesterday, so I took it slow and tried to stay at cloudbase as much as possible.  Many pilots had raced ahead, low, and were now stuck in the shade and the wind between Mesa-D and Sacamacate.

I was getting low(er) after tagging Mesa-D and was not keen to repeat my performance of yesterday, so when the other 2 gliders I was with decided to head to Sacamacate low and try their luck there, I said no way and instead turned back to the sun where I could see a glider climbing and beamed out again.  So unlike yesterday I was able to fly over Sacamacate and see that I was gonna make the Wall and Salvation!!!

With the hardest part of the course behind me I was able to relax and cruise along to Laguna on the NW side of the Maguey-Divis ridge.  A couple of hang gliders showed me the way and then I had to figure out when I had enough height to cross the lake, tag the La Pena ESS, and then tag Torre, all on one giant glide, since from that direction you are unlikely to get additional lift once leaving the mesa.  When I knew I was gonna make it and my instruments agreed it was time to leave the safety of the lift and head over the water.  The good thing about the Torre 400m, if you arrive too low to tag it the first time around, you can ridge soar your way up until getting it, and with the ESS already behind you, you can take all day to this and not get penalized.

The goal field was quite crowded but there was still a tiny space left over for the late-comers :)  My first goal of this comp and it only took 2 weeks to get it right!  And it was great to finally see what a SF goalfield full of pilots looked like complete with music, refreshments, cameras, crowds of people, and even a couple of BASE jumpers (is a tandem considered a "BASE"?).

More pics are here; tracklog is here.

I know today's task was not "big" like previous ones, but I still feel pretty happy about finally getting to goal at least once during my first SF.  And it's a nice way to finish off the comp: on a positive note with a great last Valle flight under my belt.  Now it's time to pack up the glider and head back to Canada, but not before one last party in Valle!

Note: I didn't bother taking any photos of the closing ceremonies; you can find these and videos at the PWC website.

So that's the end of my first SF.  It was truly a privilege to fly against the best in the world and I learned tonnes about efficient flying, various transition strategies, and general decision-making.  But I've had enough PG for now; in my 4 weeks in Mexico I racked up over 62 hours of airtime and 1050km of XC.  I'm pooped!

Friday, February 3, 2012

Penultimate day at the SF

I hate Sacamacate, I really do!

The task committee decided to go big for this next-to-last day with a 120km task that criss-crossed the mesa to Saucos, La Pila, past Llano, Santa Maria, and finally the lake.  When I heard it was 120km and involving a east-->west crossing of the mesa, my heart sank, as in all my years of trying this mesa crossing against the wind, I've only accomplished it once.  But, maybe this would be the second time :)

Anyways, heading to Saucos was pretty uneventful against a quarter-headwind (it was NW up high) and coming back at least to Mesa-D was also fine.  The problem came with crossing to Sacamacate from Mesa-D...on the mesa it was SW, not NW, which meant it was an uphill and upwind slog to get to the other side.

Saucos TP
Now I possibly had the altitude to get over the edge of the mesa back to the Penon side, but it was gonna be tight, and I'm not fond of pushing full speed bar into the wind, low, over trees, approaching the probably-rotory edge of the Wall.  The potential risk is too high for me; over the years I've watched lots of pilots chuck reserves as they get a rotor-collapse too low to the ground and end up in the trees, or just plain ol' don't make the glide over the edge and end up in the trees anyways.  Call me a wuss but I wanted more height to get this right.  So back I turned to the hated Sacamacate to tank up and try again, and of course my curse replayed itself, with no coherent lift to the clouds sitting above it and I landed on the plateau right at the base of my nemesis.

Other pilots with more balls sailed overhead and apparently made it over the trees and to the Penon side, where they presumably flew many more km's.  From the preliminary results, it appeared if you could make it over the edge of the mesa you were golden for at least another 50-60km.

Did I mention how much I hate Sacamacate?

On the flip side I did have a beautiful afternoon waiting for retrieve, working on my tan and enjoying the last bits of warmth and sun before I head back to Canada on Sunday.  Retrieve took a while since the regular road to Sacamacate is apparently closed so I eventually had to get a local to drive me down the little-known "back way".

It would be nice to break my streak of not making it back over the mesa against the wind, but unless we try this again tomorrow it'll have to wait for another year :)

Thursday, February 2, 2012

Superfinal Task 7

New pics are here!

Finally after several days of grey skies and weak conditions, today dawned bright and sunny.  There was, however, lots of moisture on the grass so I figured it would quickly go big as it heated up.

Watching it start to blow up over the volcano
Today we had to tag Divis and then head south over the flats to Aguila, before crossing back over launch to the convergence to do a zig-zag over there before heading for the lake: about 96km.  In keeping with the quickly developing skies the lift was abundant but so was the sink, and it was very bouncy all around.  I had a hard time keeping my glider going in a straight line (as reported several other pilots) since it was quite turbulent in spots.  One almost-reserve on the way to Divis but this time the Enzo pilot managed to halt his cravatte-stall-spin routine before hitting the trees and flew away unscathed.

Aguila is across the flats to the south and it was a long let to get there.  A bunch of us were at cloudbase when we left 3 Kings but not much on the way across to Aguila.  I passed several small hills and considered stopping at them to sniff around for lift and tank up, but the group I was with just kept going and I preferred the safety-in-numbers concept vs. going it alone so early in the game.

The hill we were heading for is bordered by a canyon, high tension power lines, and a river, all great things to be heading for, low!  As I dropped lower towards the hill I knew I had made a mistake in staying with the gaggle as they arrived slightly higher than me and were able to climb out, while I (and a M4 pilot) were stuck on the wrong side of the canyon, river, and power lines.

There was a house with a clearing just short of the edge of the canyon and power lines, so Luciano and I bit the bullet and landed in the front yard as the rest of the gaggle climbed out above us.  I had no idea where we were, just on the wrong side of everything, but fortunately the farmer was home and gave us both a ride to the nearest town in a pickup that I thought was gonna up-n-die at any minute, where we hooked up with the official retrieve and Darya, Marina, and David who had also landed.

Meanwhile there had been a reserve toss just behind the Penon with the pilot landing on the ground safe and sound, and no damage to either his Enzo or his reserve.  I also heard reports of a second reserve toss but I don't know specific about that one.  As we drove past Jovan's we picked up part of the lead gaggle who had raced themselves into the ground a few km's short of goal; not very happy campers!  It was completely shaded out and OD'd to the north and east so many pilots got low and landed in the shade as the cu-nim blew up over the volcano.

I'm not quite sure I really "enjoyed" the flying today.  Irrespective of how I did points-wise, today was just a bit too bouncy for pure enjoyment.  It was tough to keep the glider pointing in a straight line on the transitions with lots of pitching (apparently the new gliders don't do this as much, better for plowing through rough stuff)...many other pilots reported bumpy conditions with lots of glider-wriggling going on.  Even though I would have preferred to climb out on Aguila and at least make it back to the Penon (with the hardest part of the task behind me), I wasn't that broken up by landing early as it meant I could relax and enjoy the heat and sun on the ground vs. a couple more hours of being bounced around in the air.  And at least I wasn't last today too :)  I am maintaining an average of ~107-110th spot per task so at least I'm being consistent!

Wednesday, February 1, 2012

Task cancelled in the end

Another grey day in the morning and the wind techs were having a pretty hard time staying up.  After 2 provisional tasks and talk of using elapsed time the day was finally cancelled due to "too-weak" conditions and the rapid loss of sufficient task time.  I think a large part of the decision was because of the perception of luck being too much of a factor today.

Assembly line of Boom X line stretching
But it was still flyable so most pilots chose to free-fly since there would be retrieve from the Piano LZ until 4pm.  As expected, it was initially very light and mellow conditions but most pilots were able to climb up on the Wall.  I saw several pilots head over the back to fly to the lake, while a bunch more stayed local.  I played around over the Piano to test the climb-out-ability of that area in case I ever end up low there during a task.  Yes despite the cloudiness it was definitely thermic and entirely possible to climb out from only (for example) 100m.  Good to know for future reference!