Sunday, October 21, 2012

Flying near Parrsboro, Nova Scotia Oct. 17-19

Photos of recent flying in Nova Scotia are here and here.

Alex and I allocated a few days during our visit to Nova Scotia to go paragliding at Parrsboro, which is where I learned to fly in 1999.  Unlike most flying in BC, NS flying is almost exclusively coastal ridge soaring (although there is the odd inland thermal site), with most of the established flying sites in the Parrsboro area around the Bay of Fundy.

One of the unique qualities of flying here is the temporary nature of the beach LZ's.  With the world's highest tides, your LZ can disappear in a matter of hours or minutes, so most flying takes into account whether the tide is in or out.  So along with checking the marine forecast for wind conditions, you also have to consult the local tide tables.  On the flip side, at low tide you have oodles of extra LZ and in fact the flying can become even better, as the slope of the exposed beach can add significant height to your effective ridge, as well as the exposed sand contributing additional heat (provided it's sunny) for extra instability.  Sea thermals are common in November and December as the ocean temperature remains fairly constant while the air temperature plummets, creating a nice temperature gradient conducive to thermal production.

Joggins fossil cliffs.
Notice the disappearing beach LZ as the tide comes in :)
With numerous bays facing almost every wind direction, so long as there's wind, you can find a place to ridge soar.  Over the 3 days we were in the Parrsboro area, we flew 4 different sites with 4 different wind directions.

The fossil cliffs in Joggins are primarily a W-NW flying site, with both low and high cliffs to suit various wind strengths.  You can launch from an undeveloped property right on the smaller cliffs, or else from the fossil centre if you want to start higher.  When it's not flyable you can go exploring on the beach for fossils (they are continuously being exposed as the tides and storms erode the cliffs).  The views are pretty spectacular as you can see jagged red and grey cliffs along the shoreline and New Brunswick in the distance.

Fox River with the launch next to the treeline.  Red is blueberry fields.
The main flying site in Parrsboro is Fox River, a SW site that faces the prevailing wind direction.  This is a section of low bluffs that is excellent for student training, practicing your top-landing techniques, swooping, or just relaxing in the air for hours.  The occasional cabin on the beach means you can wave at the locals as you fly overhead and they will always wave back...they love watching the PG's fly overhead!

Whenever the wind switches to SSW or pure S, then you have enormous stretches of coastline to play with.  Cape Chignecto has some spectacular flying on the 300' cliffs in the provincial park, but on the day that we briefly had SSW winds we chose a closer flying site near Ward's Brook.  Launch is out of the backyard of a property at around 100' (the locals don't mind, and in fact will come out to watch) and then you have oodles of cliffs to overfly.  If the winds are right you can go XC from here (ridge soaring the entire way) and try to fly to Spencer's Island...there are a couple of big gaps to cross though!

Cape Sharp at West Bay with the tide coming in.
Cape Split in the far distance.
Pre-storm, you'll often get some form of east wind.  If it's E or SE, or even ENE, then you can go to West Bay (which actually faces east).  The views are spectacular if you get high as you can fly out to Cape Sharp and look over the back at the enormous volume of water churning on the other side as the tide goes in and out.  Don't get blown over the back...it's nothing but ocean behind you!  Further in the distance is Cape Blomidon and Cape Split (also flying sites) on the other side of the Bay of Fundy.

There is also a secondary SE flying site closer to Partridge Island...one of the local pilots has property and a cabin there, and included is a launch from the front yard!  A much smaller flying site than West Bay, but in some ways more interesting and technical due to the smaller terrain and the obstacles and gaps to traverse.  Looking out from bed one morning, we saw that it was blowing up in the front yard so Alex went flying...too light and just a sled ride, but it was rather neat to wake up and be flying a few minutes later!

Our borrowed cabin with oceanfront, includes launch site ;)
We had perfect sunny weather and flyable windows every day, and the deciduous trees were in their full autumn glory...the reds and yellows practically glowed fluorescent against the blue skies, and were nicely contrasting with the occasional green conifer trees.  Usually the trees change colors a week or so sooner, but this year they were a bit late, so we were lucky to be there for the peak!

The flying sites near Parrsboro can be flown year-round, and different sites are on at different times of the year depending on the prevailing winds for the season.  In addition to the more established sites in Parrsboro, there are a couple of sites in Dartmouth (next door to Halifax) as well as potential sites near Digby and Yarmouth.  And of course Cape Breton has oodles of potential sites along the Cabot trail...there's simply not enough pilots in Nova Scotia to properly fly and document them all!

If you are interested in flying in Nova Scotia, get ahold of me or contact Michael Fuller.  He's the owner of Pegasus Paragliding which is the only PG school in the area, plus he's my former instructor!  Alternatively, give Brian Wheaton a shout (also listed on the PP website) as he's always keen to show pilots around.

Tuesday, October 9, 2012

St. Vincent Oct. 7

Time to leave north, but a quick stop in St. Vincent to check the flying potential.  No wind on the lake but lightly thermic, so I offered Alex the IP6 so he could get a fly on it.  Several other pilots showed up and got above launch, while others (students I think) did sled rides to the lake LZ.  It was only stay-up-able for maybe 1.5 hours before the window closed, but enough time for most pilots who wanted to stay up, to get the chance.

Off to Geneva airport tomorrow morning for our flight to Nova Scotia and 10 more days of vacation!

Saturday, October 6, 2012

St. Andre Oct. 6

Pics of the day here.

After yesterday's fantastic flight I felt like a more local flight, so even though the forecast was calling for similar conditions to yesterday (at least initially) I only flew for a couple of hours and stayed within easy retrieve distance of St. Andre.  I did however, go to Pic de Chamatte, which I've seen several times this trip, but never flown to.  The lift was so abundant that once establishing myself on the ridge, I didn't do any turns either going there or coming back and heading to the LZ.

Looking back at Chalvet from Crete des Serres.
It was kinda nice to land so early, before the afternoon wind funkiness manifested in the LZ, and be able to sit in the heat and sun and just chill out and watch other pilots coming in during the afternoon.  A group of visiting pilots decided to do the Dormillouse run and made it back to St. Andre before the approaching high cirrus arrived and shut things down, so there were many happy pilots in the LZ this afternoon.

This is our last flight here as the forecast is for strong wind for the next few days, at least locally, so we are going to start heading north for our Geneva flight out on Wednesday.  We may fly St. Vincent as we head north; it looks like another group is heading there tomorrow as well.  St. Andre is a great place to fly, although I get the impression that wind is a common occurrence here and pilots just deal with it.  It's amazing that this site can still produce 100km flights this late in the season!

Friday, October 5, 2012

St. Andre Oct. 5

Heading north towards St Vincent from Tete de l'Estrop.
After a very nice sightseeing tour of the Verdon Gorge and part of the French coastline along the Mediterranean, we returned to St. Andre as the forecast was calling for light-ish winds and less north, both good things!  It was a late start to the day but once it turned on pilots were crossing to Cheval Blanc no problem, unlike previous north-wind days where it's a big crux.

Flight is here, and photos are here!

Over on CB I got my highest climb, up to that point (!) and wasn't sure what crossing would be best, it being my first foray that far north.  Waited for Alex to climb up and then it was time to start jumping the spines north towards Dormillouse and St. Vincent, roughly 50km away.

The views were spectacular and the climbs just kept getting better the deeper we flew.  At one point over Tete de l'Estrop I got to over 3300m and it was cold!  Lots of sailplanes were out as well, and once we arrived at Dormillouse there were several PG's low on the launch ridge over the lake.

It was getting later in the day and we were still only halfway; we still had to return!  Fortunately we had a bit of a crosswind tailwind to return which helped a lot, and taking the deeper line meant we were able to take advantage of the higher terrain and the associated higher thermals.  It was a bit of a glide out to suitable LZ's at some points, but I decided to stop worrying about it and committed to making the climbs and staying high so it wouldn't become an issue :)

Returning south on a slightly different line, Alex and I were able to make it past all the remote terrain and back to the Thorame valley with lots of nice fields.  We had just descended from the high mountains into some pretty low terrain (relatively speaking), and we still had 10km to go.  Unfortunately part of the last 10km involves crossing a canyon with very few LZ's...just the sandbars on the river, and that's if you're lucky!  It was a bit ridge soarable at the entrance to the canyon, and I briefly thought about trying to ridge soar my way through this section, but I was unsure if it would work, and didn't know exactly how long this stretch of canyon was (I wasn't high enough to actually see St. Andre or the lake, otherwise I may have tried to just glide past this section and land at the other side).  So I turned back and landed at La Batie, just at the entrance to the canyon, after getting to within 9km of my start.
Heading to the Dormoullouse.

Alex had landed in Thorame Haute in the same valley along with another pilot who had a ride arranged, so getting back to St. Andre wasn't a problem and back well before dark, just in time to watch the final pilots landing in the dusk.

It was a really fantastic flight and I was amazed that it was still possible, given the time of year.  But apparently the Dormillouse run has been done every month of the year, which tells you something about this place :)  There were so many options when it came time to make the gap jumps, sometimes flying the spines was fine, other times it was necessary to fly deep.  I'm glad I had Alex to fly with since it was my first time really going XC here, and lead out quite a few times :), since the skies were otherwise empty (except for the odd sailplane) and most of the St. Andre pilots had either chosen other XC routes or landed out already.

Wednesday, October 3, 2012

St. Andre Oct 3

Initially we were going to go to Gourdon and join Jim and Colleen, but got the SMS that it was "totally black cloud cover", so back to St. Andre.  A delay as we watched a motorcycle who had just passed us, wipe out on a curve right in front of us.  The other couple that stopped seemed to be at a bit of a loss until I told them to phone 1-1-2 and then they seemed glad to be able to do something :)  Initial inspection showed a busted shoulder and leg and slight shock, but his leathers and helmet protected him otherwise and his touring buddies showed up with the ambulance on its way so we continued on.

At St. Andre it was already flyable and some pilots were already on their way to the north, but it seemed a bit windier and more northerly the further north we went.  Alex watched a hang glider crash into the trees right off launch, and then I saw a glider in the trees above Lambruisse.  We could see him moving around and trying to get the glider out, but then Alex saw a reserve toss in the lee of Cheval Blanc and the pilot get dragged over the rocks, downwind, along the side of the mountain until he was able to get his reserve under control.

At this point we had enough carnage for the day and decided to land while we were still ahead (!).  There were something like 8-10 pilots landed around Lambruisse and reported both incident pilots were OK (they were part of tour groups) so back to St. Andre to watch the antics in the LZ as pilots landed in the sometimes south, sometimes west, wind conditions.  For some odd reason pilots here like to approach the LZ from downwind when it's really windy rather than stay closer in case the wind changes direction, and they end up barely making the LZ, making for some exciting landings (will they land on a car in the parking lot, the roof of the outbuildings, the trees, the river ?).

Tomorrow is predicted to be windy so we are likely to head to the coast for some sightseeing and maybe some swimming in the Mediterranean :)

Tuesday, October 2, 2012

St. Andre Oct. 2

Waiting for the low cloud to burn off.
New photos here.
Tracklog here.

After yesterday's epic rain (we got caught up on launch and had to hide under the overhanging roof of the hut on the west launch...it was locked and we couldn't find the key :) the ground was completely soaked, but the skies were clear and the low fog was burning off.  Looked like it would be a good day; lots of pilots showed up, almost to the point of looking like a small comp had showed up :)

It took forever for the low cloud to burn off but once it did, pilots started hucking off although nobody was staying up.  It looked like it was gonna be a slow day, but then it turned on in a big way as the NW wind came in and people started ridge soaring.

Oodles of pilots were heading north towards Cheval Blanc but only a few actually crossed to it...I didn't like the NW wind coming in over the col so I turned around at the last gap crossing and headed back towards launch, detouring to the west to explore the smaller hills in front of launch.  Other pilots headed over to Pic de Chamette before returning to the very active LZ...it was switching from south to west as the two valley winds fought each other.  I watched one pilot not make the LZ and have to land on the riverbed.  His glider landed on the rocky shore but I watched him splash into a puddle (the river is very low now).  Initially I thought he was OK but it turns out he broke a wrist upon flaring into the big rocks at just the wrong angle.  And a nice whack as a HG landed the wrong way as the wind switched from west to south at the last minute...typical afternoon St. Andre LZ conditions.

Jim and Colleen flew Gourdon today and sounds like it was sunny down there after the low clouds burned off too...we may head down there tomorrow.