Saturday, February 13, 2021

A couple days ago the forecasted winds for today looked too light.  However, the wind speed kept increasing with every update until it looked good enough to go this morning.  The direction was predicted to be too north until around noon, which was also the time of high tide, which meant I didn't have to leave home at a stupid early hour.

I arrived to find unusually snow-covered dunes, Mark already soaring, and John and Matt pacing about.  Matt reported wind speeds at the top-end of "marginally safe" and Mark's lack of groundspeed seemed to confirm that.  After putting on all my warm clothes and a check of the wind speed, I decided to fly.  As I got my flying gear ready Matt tried to launch his mini-wing from the top and quickly decided to move down lower.  Matt launched, flew about a little, and was walking up the dune as I was finally ready to play.

It was good to hear that the wind was too light to sustain Matt's mini-wing.  However, after a quick launch from below, it became apparent to me the wind was still strong ... until it wasn't.  There were well defined thermals coming off the warmer ocean.  The thermals would block the wind, lulling unaware pilots too close to the dune, and then blow through and blowing back anyone that was too close to the accelerated air at the top of the dune.  It was fun flying towards the water climbing but barely moving forward until the thermal passed and then diving back closer to the dunes to stay airborne until the next thermal blew through.

Photo courtesy John Mendes

The snow on the dunes and beach, the lack of birds, bitter cold and strong wind created an atypical atmosphere.  I played this silly game of dancing with blowy thermals for 30 minutes with John, Mark, Matt, and Paulo while Carl struggled trying to launch from the lower pathway (which isn't easy and requires a technique different than most launches).  I decided to land and offer to help.  Unfortunately, we found a rip in his glider so he had to pack his full size wing away.

Photos courtesy John Mendes

I launched again without even leaving the beach.  JoeR and Zoe arrived with their mini-wings about the time I was being blown backwards during the gusts.  It was an easy decision to land and wait for better conditions.

Mini-wings ruled the sky for the next hour or so.  Steve showed up and left without flying.  Most pilots with full size wings left, but Matt, Paulo, and I stayed for some more fun later in the afternoon.  I hadn't really planned to fly, but was kiting along the dune on the beach and started skimming along a few feet off the beach.  I was soon back up into the strong wind and had to spend most of my time staying out over the water.  I finally decided I had enough "dancing with the devil" and packed my gear away for the day.

I was glad that only "regulars" showed up.  It was a technical day and a good day to be cautious, which we all did.  I'm starting to enjoy launching from the beach and know those skills will allow me to move north and south along the outer cape with less fear of sinking out.

Track logs are available for flight 1, flight 2, and flight 3.

Tuesday, January 26, 2021


The best thing about the forecast for today at Wellfleet was it might be soarable.  Most of the usual addicts were passing, but with frigid arctic temperatures arriving later in the week, I decided the risk of sledders at the beach was worth it.

Fearing winds might be too light, I was surprised to see an ocean decorated with white caps when I arrived to an empty parking lot shortly after 9am.  It was probably soarable, but I wasn't totally sure.  I texted to the social media groups "whitecaps" and started layering on clothing, turning on electronics, and unpacking my wing.

I couldn't control my rosetted wing on the cliff edge, so I quickly decided to launch from the path near the beach at the bottom.  I pulled the wing up without any drama, turned and stepped into the air.  I immediately got ready to shave the dune, but realized the air was going up everywhere.  It was probably the easiest climb-out from the bottom I've ever had.

The wind was strong, probably 26 kph or more, and about 50 degrees cross so I stayed upwind; mostly over the beach or even at the surf line.  The air was anything but smooth; thermals were lifting off the warmer water providing 1 m/s climbs well beyond the surf line.  I played slowly flying upwind into the climbs while watching the sun create a mesmerizing dance of brilliant sparks as it passed through the blue sky and white clouds onto the dark ocean and then back up to me.

I spied a vehicle pull into the parking lot so I went to investigate.  I saw John G get out and point his cellphone at me as I flew by.  I just knew he was going to post to social media and the solitary day of flying would soon be over.  Oh well, the company would also be nice.

As expected the thermals were accompanied by sink and higher gusts.  For awhile the gusts would halt my forward speed for a moment and then I would continue onward usually through sink.  However, one gust pushed me backward at 4 - 6 kph long enough to get my attention.  The next gust pushed me backward at 11 kph for much longer than I was comfortable with so I returned to launch and landed on the beach below.

Another 2 vehicles soon pulled in and the party started.  John's beach wing flies much faster than mine, so we helped him launch and then helped Matt launch his new mini-wing for its maiden flight.  I was giving Ned a site intro when Matt sank out and reported the winds were getting lighter.  We dragged out our gear and hiked down to launch from the path below.  I was explaining how to launch from the path when I decided it would be easier to just demonstrate the technique.  I pulled up and again quickly floated up above the dune.  I briefly soared and then landed next to Ned showing one possible approach pattern.  Any questions?  ;-)

John G was coming down to help pilots launch so I walked part way up and took off again.

The forecast predicted the winds to slowly swing from north-northeast to the east and drop below soarable speeds.  Since Aton and Steve were interested in flying to Nauset Light to the south, I thought we should go before it got too late.  I signaled my intention and off we went; Aton in front and Steve behind.

Nauset Light.  Photo courtesy Stephen Verbeek.

Aton and Tom heading back.  Photo courtesy Stephen Verbeek. 

The trip south was fast and uneventful.  Our ground speed was more typical hang glider speed than paraglider speed.  However, that quickly changed as we turned around to head back north.  I really enjoyed the return trip since it became challenging as the wind was still crossing but the velocity was dropping.  The dunes north of Marconi Beach are low and tough to soar in light winds.  We all managed to tip-toe through that area and reached the higher dunes at the Marconi Wireless Station.  Aton played in the better lift as Steve and I arrived.  I kept pushing on fearing the wind would die.  Aton made one too many S-turns trying not to overrun me and ended up landing.  I thought I was done as well, but just managed to hang on until I got past Lecount Hollow Beach where I found enough lift to get back above the top of the dune.  Steve landed just before that good section.

Photo courtesy Stephen Verbeek

I joined a small crowd around launch and continued north.  I turned at the Beachcomber and was surprised to see everyone behind me on the ground.  Eek.  I turned around to stock up on altitude when I saw John coming at me from the north.  I turned south again with a comfortable altitude and watched John speed by below me.  The cool factor faded when John slowed and climbed in front of me.  I was now too low to turn around but sitting right in his wake dealing with tiny collapses as I dodged branches and pipes sticking out from the dune!  I was able to slow just enough to make a quick figure-8 and still keep my feet off the ground.  I blew past launch and a possible top landing when I saw my potential LZ filled with cars. Instead I landed at the base of the path, the last to land.

I talked, at a distance, with Nancy as pilots waited for the wind to pick up.  The wind never did return and soon even kiting was impossible.  I slowly packed up, said good-by and started driving home.  Snow started falling before I left the cape and the highway was covered by the time I was half-way home.  As I pulled into the garage and looked at the winter wonderland through the rear window I was briefly transported back to my glittering morning solitude in the air over the ocean.  The risk of sledders, at least this time, was worth it.

You can review the flights online at flight 1, flight 2, flight 3.

Friday, January 15, 2021

Beach Day

 The forecast looked good at Wellfleet for several days but I know "weather forecasts are fairy tales until the actual day".  A quick re-check of the forecast at 5:30 am showed stronger winds, but still within my limits.  I left home in the dark under a thick layer of clouds.  About an hour into the drive, a scenic sunrise framed by blue appeared beyond the deck of clouds.  As I crossed the canal onto Cape Cod, there wasn't any clouds or sign of wind; even the wind mills were stationary.  Um.  The parking lot at White Crest Beach was empty when I pulled in after 2.5 hours behind the wheel.  The wind was blowing but nothing excessive, either in direction or velocity.

Getting my paragliding gear ready I noticed a red fox wandering around.  It looked relatively healthy but was making a constant strange barking sound and wasn't concerned about me at all.  Having encounters with rapid animals before, I wasn't happy until it wandered off to the south.

I checked the wind around the corner one more time and it seemed fine.  A couple other pilots pulled in so it was time to go play.

I laid out my wing and realized the wind was more cross than I thought.  After fighting the horizontal turbulence from the dune to the north, I moved further south to be in cleaner air.  I was about 2/3 of the way through pulling my wing up when I realized I had also underestimated the strength of the wind.  I got the wing overhead just fine, but couldn't move forward and then was slowly drifting back.  I killed the wing but got pulled backwards and gift-wrapped Matt's truck.  (Thanks Matt for helping me "un-decorate" your vehicle.)

Maybe the updated forecast for stronger winds was accurate.  I gathered my wing, and what was left of my dignity, and walked down down to the beach.  After ensuring the lines were clear, I launched from the path barely 2 meters from the bottom.  The wind was strong enough, and cross enough, that I was able to work my way up the dune.  Knowing it was windy, I kept far in front of the ridge line.  My forward progress at times was less than 7 kph, but since it was cross it was easy to keep in front of the dunes.

The other two pilots joined the fun by launching from below and we carefully jostled around in the strong breeze.  By the time the next wave of pilots arrived, the wind had subsided enough that we were more-or-less soaring normally.

Flying my beach wing.  Photo by Max Kotchouro.

The sky got progressively crowded over the next couple hours as more and more pilots arrived.  I kept to myself on a dune to the north, separated from the crowds by a little gap.  I kept pushing out across the gap at Newcomb Hollow, seeing how far I could go and still make it back without landing.  Once I had enough of that I flew south to Nauset Light.  (I needed privacy so I could "dump ballast").  After returning to launch and then further north, I noticed Max making a kamikaze dive across the large gap at Newcomb Hollow.  As I expected, he landed but was trying to relaunch from the beach in front of higher dunes.  Since I had already flown for almost 3 hours, I was ready to stretch my legs and then continue flying north.  I landed about 10 meters short of the taller dune, but it was easy to gather my glider, walk a short distance, pull up and continue on my way.

I caught up with Max and then started working a light line of lift out over the water in preparation to cross the next gap at Ballston Beach.  I made it across, passing just over the heads of a family standing right where I needed to be.  They were thrilled to see me and I was thrilled to be passing over them.  I waited on the other side for awhile, but it appeared Max wasn't eager to follow.

The trip to Highland Light was relaxing "sightseeing flying".  Since the cape curves around to the north, the wind was blowing directly into the high cliffs and I was 150 meters above the beach.  I could easily see the other side of the cape and the curve to the northwest.

Highland Light and Cape Cod curving around to the northwest.

View across Cape Cod to the east.

It was easy but exciting crossing the gaps low on the way back.  I yelled to pilots in the White Crest parking lot that even after 4 hours of airtime, I was going to head to the southern lighthouse again.  I flew by Tom a little further south and he followed me on his first trip to Nauset Light in a paraglider.  On the way back, I noticed a hawk with its wings folded forward hovering over the dune.  I didn't want to interrupt its dinner so I drifted around but was surprised when the hawk started floating along with us and coming in very close.  It was definitely a special encounter.

I made one more trip north to Newcomb Hollow before returning south to top land at launch after raking up nearly 5 hours of winter airtime.  After stashing my gear, I was chatting, at a distance with masks, with a few pilots when a police officer pulled in.  He wanted to know if anyone had called 911.  We didn't know of anything happening and quickly checked.  In a few minutes a pilot sheepishly came forward explaining he unknowingly dialed 911 when his harness activated his phone.  Oops!

Pilots were still launching and soaring when I pulled out for my long drive home.

Part 1 on Leonardo
Part 2 on Leonardo

Max posted a fun video of the day.

Tuesday, January 12, 2021

Cold Gray Gift

The bare brown ground provides evidence that the weather is unusual this winter.  Temperatures just above freezing, light winds, and the promise of a snowless climb to the mountain top was enough to entice me and 4 other pilots to Mount Tom.  The prediction of full cloud cover and temperatures just above freezing keep many others away.  Karim and Terry were in the parking lot when I arrived at 11am.  They were waiting for John and Pete to arrive since they needed those mentors to fly.  After a bit of covid-19 distanced conversation, we agreed to meet John and Pete on top.

Aside from a few ice slicks from weeping springs, the hike up was dry and surprisingly comfortable.  I wondered what we would find on top.  Launch was frosted with snow, but ice free.  The wind was wafting in but not really enough for a restricted rocky cliff launch.  We started debating if we could pull up our gliders in the puffs coming in and would it get better later.  The winds were predicted to subside during the day and there wasn't enough sun to heat the rock wall to produce thermals.  Fidgeting ensued.

A couple short windows with a light breeze, enticed me to try launching.  I had no expectation of soaring; I was just hoping to play a bit in the stable air and avoid a walk down.  As I laid out, the breeze increased a bit more and I mentioned it might even be soarable.  It took me 3 attempts to get airborne.  The first was a typical Mount Tom "avoid getting plucked" timid pull-up that never got the glider off the ground.  I should have gone with the 2nd, but the 70 degrees crosswind caught me off guard and I didn't want to dance around and possibly lay the glider in the shrubs surrounding the narrow launch.  I was ready the 3rd time.

I picked a nice cycle, pulled up, and flew off into climbing air.  I flew south and yelled out to Peter who was trying to launch from the west launch.  The pilots on the main launch were now ready to fly!

Climbing was no problem, but the bumpy texture was surprising.  Maybe I stumbled into a weak thermal.  However, the climb and bumps consistently continued as I flew along and then out from the ridge.  Um.  I continued flying out and up until the lift became buttery smooth and the wind speed increased to 22 - 25 kph.  Ah, weak wave!  Once I figured that out, I mapped out the wave and floated to 600m without working.

Karim and Terry eventually got airborne and took in the frosty winter-but-not-winter views.  Terry was losing feeling in his fingers about the time Pete launched.  The wave had collapsed by that time and we found weak thermals to circle up in.  John, left on launch by himself, had to get creative to get off the rock.  I stayed airborne until he was safely in the air and then I landed to thaw my hands and say hello to Pat.

It is rewarding to escape the ground in winter and a bonus to launch into soarable conditions for a couple hours when expecting much less.

I posted the flight on Leonardo.

Here is a gray video from the flight.

Sunday, January 03, 2021

New Year

 Only had to wait two days before getting to fly in the new year.  I arrived early since the parking lot and launch at White Crest Beach in Wellfleet would be busy on a weekend day.  I launched early to stretch my wings, which worked out well since the day featured periods of marginally strong wind, marginally weak wind, light showers, and crowded periods in-between.

Photo of, and courtesy of, Max Kotchouro

I experimented with new launch techniques, landed on top a few times, managed one-foot landings on posts, and practiced proximity flying with foot drags near launch when conditions became marginal.  Oh, I  was airborne over 2.5 hours as well.  Not a bad way to start the year.

Information for four of the flights is available on Leonardo.