Sunday, April 29, 2007

Flytec - Day 7

I broke camp and was ready to leave immediately after the pilot's meeting. At the morning meeting Davis described the stats from the previous epic day of flying and the less than exciting weather forecast. Those two bits of information helped PK and Tim decide to also skip the last day and send their gliders home with me instead of inconveniencing Mark V. I ran into Beth and Bubba on the way out; I wish I had more time but I needed to start the wheels turning.

I left under a solid overcast sky but was looking at puffy cummies lined up to the coast as I got east of Orlando. I called Dave back at Quest and he forwarded my observations to everyone sitting under the tree waiting for something to happen. Later in the day, I called Linda and found out people did fly but that she landed in a dry swamp area and was up to her chin in brush. Um, glad I skipped that!

Unlike the uneventful first day of driving, I kept encountering accidents and delays on the the second day. After using some creative "off road driving" to get around a nasty 2 hour backup in New York City I had a front-row seat to a accident on I-684 near the Connecticut border. I had to wait while the state troopers, ambulance, fire trucks, and cleanup crew cleaned up the mess.

I made the doctor's appointment at 9:00 Monday, only to be told that "yep, you should have a CT scan and we'll let you know when that is available". Couldn't that been scheduled over the telephone so I could have flown Saturday? Sigh. Anyway, I had the CT scan and the original mass didn't show up which is really good news. However the CT scan did show a nodule in a lymph gland that will need to be scanned again in the near future to see if it changes, an abnormality in my trachea (which I think might have happened during a flying "incident" a few years ago), and an enlarged thyroid. These are all minor and although I joke that I would have been better off not knowing anything, they are good to know about.

Now I just have to get over a flu "going around" that buried me once I got home and wait for the perpetual rain over New England to leave so I can go flying again.

Flytec - Day 6

I was at the door of the urgent care facility when they opened at 8:00 to pick up my x-rays and the radiologist's report. The staff were friendly and accommodating; unlike my physician back in Massachusetts. I called my physician around 8:15 and left a message with an operator telling them I faxed them the report, I had the x-rays, I was in Florida which was at least a 2 day drive away, and I would appreciate a prompt call back. I called another pilot from my area, Mark V, to see if he could shuttle some gliders back home if I left before the meet was over. Mark said no problem.

I wasn't sure if I should break camp and start driving, go get a CT scan at a local hospital, or go flying since nothing important could happen until Monday (it was Friday). I called my physician's office again right before the pilot's meeting at 10:30. This time I got a nurse that said the doctor only answers phone calls between 4:00 and 4:30 in the afternoon. What? Yep, can't do anything until then. Well after that infuriating exchange the booming forecast and a 127 mile task to the Florida Ridge made it pretty easy go flying.

Although I have flown from Wallaby Ranch to the Florida Ridge before, I knew it would be fun to fly there from Quest. It would also be fun to fly with a lot of other gliders since I usually fly that task alone. I have to admit my medical issues kept creeping into my mind, but once the tug started rolling all that other stuff simply faded to the background.

I had sweet tow and solid climb to what I thought was base at 3600 feet. I then looked to the east and saw Ron coming my way in his Canadian maple leaf glider several thousand feet higher. Yow! The entire gaggle moved to the northwest and slammed into a climb that yanked us into the ice box at 6900 feet. I immediately got on the radio to tell anyone on the ground to wear whatever they had and that this was coming from a cold weather New England pilot. I never got below 4800 feet again until I was gliding into goal.

Most of the field was bobbing around at cloud base and took the first start. I zipped over to Route 27, but it didn't pay off as it did yesterday. The main gaggle found an equivalent climb on course line that left me a half-climb behind. I flew to a developing cloud over the Route 27 and I-4 interchange that I just knew should be working but wasn't. I spent too much time trying to prove myself right and lost the lead group. No worries, just move on; it's a long flight. I checked in with our driver Mark, who made a quick stop at Wallaby on the way south. I told him to tell anyone with a glider to get into this epic air right now or they will regret it.

The classic Florida convergence line setup up right down Route 27 south of Lake Wales. I've had several runs on this sweetie but never during a competition and not at 7000 feet. There really wasn't much strategy involved; just keep flying the cloud line, pull the bar in, occasionally turn in really strong lift. I could have flown faster, but my arms were soon too tired to fly as fast I as I should have. My SeeYou flight analysis states I was rising 30% of the time when flying straight; I wish every flight was like that. I got on the radio at one point saying I knew I was coming into a strong thermal since it was filled with gliders, birds, trash bags, and leaves!

Somewhere south of Sebring, my "other world" forced its way into my mind. I started having those "what if it's cancer" thoughts. About that time I spotted a big flock of large birds coming into the cloud I was gliding under. If I had surgery in my future, this could be my last flight for awhile. I decided it was more important to play than race to goal. I took a detour and merged into the middle of the flock as they cruised around base and exited out the other side. It was fun having birds completely surround me; well worth the diversion.

Back on course I continued gliding south to the Ridge. The convergence line weakened and faded further east as I reached the Route 27 and Route 29 intersection. I had positive numbers to goal, but knew this area was always full of surprises. I also had other pilots with me that I wanted to beat into goal. I decided to drift east over the open fields and then dive due south to the ridge. I passed a couple pilots, but Montana Jeff was slowing catching me. I dove across the line 1 second ahead of him; whew too close!

Once on the ground I quickly dug out my cellphone. I had one message. As expected the doctor's office called after 4:30. It was now 5:02. I called but only got an answering machine. Dang. I guess I should have flown faster. ;-) I left a message and started to break down. A few minutes later I got a call from my doctor's office; I guess not everyone left at 5:00. I setup an appointment for 9:00am Monday morning in Massachusetts which meant the meet was over for me.

It was strange merging the Quest and the Florida Ridge experience I had just a week ago. After we broke down, the Brits were back at their favorite spot on the deck, Dennis was moving through the pilots, Steve was laughing out loud, and Cheryl was taking pictures. There were many many happy pilots at goal. I lost count of the "this is my longest flight ever" high-fives. Even PK, who landed short on the other side of the river, still had his longest flight ever. It was truly an epic Florida day. I flew 128 in 3.5 hours and averaged 37.5 mph, which after factoring out the wind, meant I was flying at 27.5 mph which is very fast for me.

Now we faced the long drive back home. At least everyone (Dave, Derrek, and I) landed at goal, but that really didn't take the edge off the double long drive for Mark. The crew indulged my desire to get a picture of the sun setting over the orange groves. We passed Jack and PK in Sebring and invited them to join us for dinner at Sonny's. We got back, quickly unloaded, checked-in, and disappeared into the dark.

Flytec - Day 5

I noticed a voice mail message on my cellphone last night just before I crawled into my tent. It was from the nurse at the urgent care facility I visited on Sunday. She said it was important that I call her back. I assumed they needed information to complete the insurance forms. I started to call in the morning but was interrupted by some friends and was soon swept into the day's flying.

With the forecast for a north wind around 15 mph I thought the task committee might send us straight downwind to the Florida Ridge. However, in an effort to spare our drivers, the committee called an 85 mile task to the intersection of Route 27 and 544, then a crossing downwind leg to the east at an intersection, then a long crossing downwind leg to the west back across Route 27 to an airfield at Fort Mead, then another crossing downwind leg back to the airfield at Avon Park on Route 27. Once I saw the task I knew it was going to be fun and challenging.

I had a sloppy start but wasn't too worried since I knew I could make it up. I left the main gaggle north of Wallaby and flew directly east to better looking clouds over Route 27. That paid off as I cut off most of the main group as I crossed I-4 south of Wallaby. However, I played around in weak lift much longer than I should have in the lakes area around Haines City and several pilots caught me.

The second half of the second leg and the first third of the third leg was directly downwind of a large lake. I hung back in diminishing lift to stockpile as much altitude as possible. The entire gaggle left at the same time for a long glide into the blue, with me several hundred feet higher. I noticed gliders along the far east side of the lake but they were not as far south as us since we stuck to the course line. I kept heading for the turn point even as I noticed the lower pilots start to break rank looking for lift. I radioed back to Dave, Derrek, Linda, and Mark to leave with as much altitude as possible. I noticed a pilot turning down low but he was drifting off course line. I kept pushing for the turn point which should be outside the wind shadow of the lake. Bingo. Me and three other pilots found a strong climb right near the turn point. Once again I stocked up for the glide back across the blue as Dave and Derrek came on the radio saying they were coming into the turn point very low and might not make it.

I started the third leg nice and high (4300 feet) and with good company. As we got lower, I took a gamble on a new cloud that was forming downwind of course line. Oops. Nothing workable there. (You can see the diversion on the track log). The pilots that kept pushing along the course line eventually found a good climb over Route 27 but the climb was gone when I got there. I was now too low to go anywhere else since I was pinned up against two large lakes. That little diversion was the "memorable mistake" for this flight that ruined my scoring for the day. I wallowed around in bits and pieces of lift while I watch group after group of gliders fly in over head, connect with a climb, and move on. Oh well, such is life. I finally gained enough altitude to plow upwind to the northwest to a forming cloud where I found a strong climb and got back into the game.

I pushed a little upwind of course line hoping the northern edge of a lake might trigger some thermals, but I didn't find anything. The blue sky wasn't decorating thermals so there were a lot of gliders sniffing around for a climb when I arrived near the 3rd turn point. However, the group worked together and finally consolidated in a nice climb to 5000 feet. I had positive numbers over best glide to goal after quickie climb to 5400 feet just past the 3rd turn point. Some pilots rushed off for goal but I kept my speed in check since I wasn't sure there would be a "bailout thermal" if I came up short near goal. The remaining pilots seemed to agree with me as we headed towards goal at a conservative speed. The speedsters were soon veering off course line looking for lift as the rest of us continued on. I took a few "safety turns" but they turned out to be unnecessary as the area right before goal was lifting off as we flew through.

The goal field was filled with gliders, even Fred, Raean, and Mike who flew in from Wallaby. (Thanks for the awesome postcard Raean and Fred!) I parked near Ron, snapped a few pictures and wasn't even broke down when Mark V, Dave, and Derrek showed up. Apparently my advice to stock up before diving for the 2nd turn point helped Mark F and Linda, but Dave and Derrek were not in a position to heed my warning.

I finally called the nurse on the ride back home. The radiologist had found a suspicious mass on my x-ray and recommended meeting with my physician and getting a CT scan ASAP. Not the kind of news anyone likes to hear. So much for privacy also, there is nothing like discussing important medical news in a crowded HG retrieve vehicle!

Thursday, April 19, 2007

Flytec - Day 4

Today was a day of unusual clouds. Although the low-levels of the atmosphere were mostly stable, the mid-levels were unstable and active. This produced a lot of unusual cloud patterns that changed from hour to hour.

The 72k (45 mile) task was to a small airstrip to the northeast and then to field to the north northeast. Kevin took a test flight and reported abundant light lift so the tugs started rolling on time. I had a sweet tow behind Jim to a climb and slowly climbed to 5000 feet over the field. A few of us headed to the start circle and didn't find much. We were still wallowing around when the next gaggle joined in a bit higher. I didn't have much altitude but flew back upwind to snag the 2nd start clock and returned to the gaggle.

It was then that I made the biggest mistake of my short flight. I was ready to go and instead of continuing the climb I joined a couple other pilots on a glide along course line. I faded furthest east but the glider furthest west found the next climb. By the time I got to the climb I was below the rest of the forming gaggle, including the gliders that let us take the risk leading out. I never really found the climb and had to move on low. I connected with a couple little climbs but was never "in the race" with everyone else. Jack, I and another pilot found a bumpy climb short of the first turn point that was drifting off course line and over a lake. I thought that climb might be our ticket out, but it just gave me enough height to cross the lake and make minimal progress until I had to turn down wind further off course to find an LZ. Four other gliders that glided directly across the lake higher landed in the same field in a light rain about 3 miles short of the first turn point.

Mark and Dave picked me up shortly after I finished packing. We drove on to pick up Derek who landed with Kevin and Jim about 10 miles short of goal.

Once again I had problems flying effectively in the large gaggles. I had trouble climbing when everyone else was turning in large circles that prevented me from centering in the small bubbles. Even so, the single decision to fade east on a single glide probably did me in for the day. Many pilots made goal and I'm sure I dropped a lot of places in the standings. Still, it was an interesting flight and one I would have not tried if free-flying.

Rain fell last evening as we enjoyed a very good female singer with an acoustic guitar and free-flowing blueberry beer. I slept well if not long.

Wednesday, April 18, 2007

Flytec - Day 3

Everyone was ready to fly today after watching the wind blow on the first 2 days. There was some initial concern with wind and turbulence this morning but that gave way to the apparent lack of lift. After a 30 minute delay on a late task to begin with, we finally kicked the rigid wings into the air and soon followed. I had a good tow and found a tiny patch of light lift that everyone wanted to share. Flying in the gaggles today, like most blue days, required constant attention. I swear several pilots tried to hit me and many others were tossed into my path (and me into theirs). Flying in large gaggles in weak choppy lift is probably my least favorite part of competition flying. You do better sticking with the gaggle, but it isn't necessarily fun.

There was little time for sightseeing on the trip south to the intersection of Route 27 and 544 and then to the southeast, but I did get a chance to check out all the contrails over the Lakeland airport during the aerobatics shows. (I would have taken a picture if I wasn't so low).

I flew with many friends today, but ended up flying with Kevin and Guga from Brazil as the day was shutting down. We climbed and drifted in a proto-thermal for a long time. Kevin headed downwind to the east while we stayed behind. Since Kevin didn't find anything I decided to drift across the north end of a lake and use my 1800 feet to glide due south on the east side of the lake. I lead out and Guga followed. I hit a strong bubble over a tree-line and thought we might get a climb out. However, it was a "one hit wonder" and I was soon shopping for LZs.

I could flown a little further but I found several fields with hills; in Florida! The fields had 75-100 foot mounds that just didn't look like fun. I turned around and flew back to a nice flat cow pasture and landed in a moderate west wind. Guga landed about a minute later.

A bunch of pilots made goal so my score for the day will be minimal. I should have jumped gaggles during the 2 times I had a shot. I would have gotten further along course line; and maybe into goal. As it was I flew 70k along course and was in the air over 3 hours.

Tuesday, April 17, 2007

Flytec - Day 2

Windy; called after a couple delays.

Bruce, Mark, and I were chosen as the safety committee. It looked windy in the morning and the reports from the surrounding airports verified that. However, the winds were predicted to slacken and they started to drop off to the north. Bo went up and said it might be ok for one or two pilots going XC but recommended not launching a large competition field. If you know "go for it" Bo then that might have been enough. However the deal-closer was the fear that the rush to setup gliders and dash into the air to get the expiring start clocks would create an unsafe atmosphere where one or more pilots might incorrectly rig a glider, bypass a safety check, or not carefully think things through.

Dave, PK, and I had lunch at Wallaby. PK needed to pick up a part and I wanted to see some visiting pilots; Dennis, Mark, and Phil from New England and Rick and Philipi from Ohio.

I included some pictures of a plane that visited Wallaby a couple of weeks ago. It was decorated as a dragon.

On a personal note, I finally went to a doctor Sunday afternoon. Without tests he could not be sure but he began treating me for "walking pneumonia". For the first time in over a week I awoke this morning feeling like getting out of the tent instead of crawling back in.

Monday, April 16, 2007

Flytec - Day 1

Squall line rolls through just before the morning pilot's meeting. It rained so much the clubhouse was surrounded by a shallow lake. Then it blew hard all day. Needless to say, the day was called. (Click on the radar image to see it in motion. Thanks Nigel.)

Sunday, April 15, 2007

Florida Ridge - Day 7

I didn't sleep much last night due to my coughing and probably bothered everyone camping in the orange grove. As expected I dropped a few spots when the new cumulative scores were posted. Kevin had a good day and was now just a few points behind me. I hate passing up good flying days and with the race so close I just couldn't sit out the day even if I didn't feel good.

I talked to several more experienced racers and they all said I should stay close to Kevin and just make sure I arrive at roughly the same time. I had only tried to "cover" a pilot one other time when I unsuccessfully tried to hang onto Bubba at the East Coast Championship two years ago. I liked the thought of doing something different so I had a plan for the day.

I had a fast tow to a good climb behind Russell in the silver bullet. I climbed well and was on top waiting for Kevin. The gaggle soon topped out and began bouncing around at the top of the bubble, bobbing up and down on every circle. I waited for Kevin and soon we were following each other around the sky. (Anytime I couldn't immediately find Kevin, I would look behind and see him on my tail.)

We had a good start and had predictable glides and climbs close to course line. On the way to the second turn point we came up short for a climb and had to stop in a weak excuse for a thermal. We all were searching for that elusive core that just didn't seem to be there. Kevin made a large swing to the west that didn't pay off and came back lower than the main gaggle. I was ready to move along course line when Kevin headed 90 degrees to course line downwind. I know I had a plan, but I just couldn't bring myself to follow him. So I let him go and pushed on. I looked back and could see he found a good climb, but was drifting off course.

I joined Davis in a good climb before the second turn point and from there the rest of course was straightforward. Around the second turn point the pilots that took the later clock caught up; they probably didn't suffer through a slow climb like we did. I was leaving the turn point when I saw Kevin coming in. I shared a nice strong climb to cloud base with Paris before heading towards goal northwest of La Belle.

I watched Kevin pull into the last climb before goal. I was tempted to leave when I had 1000 feet over best glide but decided to be conservative since I saw 2 gliders circling just short of goal and I didn't want to blow final glide; I just needed to match Kevin. I finally left when I had 2000 feet above best glide to goal. The glide was ok for awhile, but I ran through some sink that took my altitude down to 500 over best glide. I made a single turn in strong lift and that is when Kevin blazed by me. I followed closely and crossed the finish line a few seconds behind him.

Kevin was a real sport and walked over and congratulated me when I parked my glider. It is fun competing with friends and good sports.

Brian, Patrick, and Rodger all were waiting at goal, since their task was a downwind run to the same grass airstrip. I snagged a quick picture of all the sport class pilots that made goal. Linda, George, and Mark all arrived at goal so Ron only needed to make one stop to pickup his crew.

Rodger won the national sport class title and also the sport class meet. Linda won the women's title, Campbell won the rigid wing title, I won the national flex wing title, and Dave Matthews from Great Britain won the flex wing meet. We eat pizza, drank, and talked into the night; well most of us did. My voice was totally gone and I was wiped. I took a nap on the hammock in the middle of all the commotion.

Florida Ridge - Day 6

I had to eat my words today. I told Brian and Rodger that we wouldn't fly after a strong storm blasted through at dawn. Well, I was wrong. The sky gradually cleared from the north and the predicted over-development and thunderstorms never materialized. Although still ill, I decided to fly and staged right behind the task committee (Davis, Kevin, and Jim) and listened in as they wrestled with the task selection. The original task to the south would have taken us directly into a area shaded with cirrus. Instead they decided to head cross-wind to the north into the cumulus field. It was a good call.

I launched early and got a sweet tow behind Rhett. After a good climb I headed north and formed a mutating gaggle that just wouldn't move even when we started sinking. I got on the radio and said it was either time to head back or push on. I finally got impatient (smart?) and moved on. Several other gliders left and we found a good climb just outside the start circle. I quickly climbed up and then headed back to nick the start circle and reset my start time. Linda got on the radio and wanted to know where I was going. I curtly answered "start circle". She quickly replied "No way!". I made the 1.5 mile round trip and got back into the same climb. Several tardy pilots were not so lucky and eventually headed back towards the airfield.

Linda topped out first and led out. She led me and a handful of pilots to a couple of more climbs before I caught up and left on a long glide across the blue. I flew the next portion of the 70+ mile course by myself racing hard. I made a strong turn east off course line to a cloud line that didn't really payoff that let Bruce and Jack catch up. We shared a climb or two before I headed more upwind while they proceeded along course line. While I had a buoyant glide with lots of little climbs, they pushed along with a mostly smooth glide. I came in over them south of the airport that was yesterday's goal. I should have kept pushing more upwind but I saw Bruce turning so I swung around and headed back east to join him. Bruce really didn't have a good climb and before long I lost my height advantage and soon was even a little below him.

About that time I noticed the texture of the air changed and I knew right away I was on the back side of a lake breeze front. Dang. I tried to push back upwind to where I was before but it was too late. I tried to work some broken lift but eventually landed in a field across from a fire tower in a light southeast breeze that was directly opposite the west northwest flow above. A few minutes later Bruce landed with me. Bruce and I started breaking down and then started seeing the "Spanish Armada" float over head. Bruce started counting. 2, 4, 5, 6, 8, 9 gliders. Crap. A while later Mark made a picture-perfect approach into our field followed by Olav.

I had mixed emotions about the flight. I was pleased with my aggressiveness and was very comfortable being out front by myself. However, I was upset that I didn't notice the lake breeze until it was too late; I should not have missed all the classic signs that were there for me to read. Bruce and I lost our 2nd and 3rd places and Kevin just about caught me in the race for the national title. Bjorn was the only flex wing to make goal.

The sport class had a good day running downwind to Clewiston. Patrick spent some quality time with the local law enforcement, Rodger reaped the benefits of landing at a golf course (manicured lawn and a bar), and Brian (who won the day) discovered the joys of long downwind glides and how black wet recently-burned sugar cane fields can be.

Thursday, April 12, 2007

Florida Ridge - Day 5

I have not felt well for a couple of days and I was really hoping for a day off today. Although the forecast included scattered thunderstorms, I knew we would fly. The forecast did not look good for racing; very little lift (<200> 15 mph). We staged our gliders and waited. Dave and Steve played wind dummies and promptly sank out. We waited some more. Dave, Steve, and a German comp pilot towed up and sank out. We waited some more. Some of the British team when looking for alligators in the drainage ditches, one pilot packed up and went fishing, and the rest huddled under gliders and tugs for shade. We waited.

Finally we spotted cummies forming to the southwest, then to the northeast, and then to the southeast. The high cirrus was moving away and ragged clouds began to form wherever it was blue. Davis and Jack towed up and managed to hang on for awhile. When I saw clouds form directly to the west, I suited up. Jack, Linda, and I were towed up at roughly the same time. Linda found a climb just as the sky started popping. I couldn't find her climb and finally decided to land and get another tow. I got punished coming into the tow field; rocketing 200 feet up and down while on approach. I finally dove into the field, rounded out, and flared into a gust. I zoomed so high that I was drifting backwards when I landed on my butt. Yikes.

I was now the last open class pilot on the ground and more cirrus was moving in blocking the much needed sun. I hooked in behind Rhett and started rolling down the field. I came off the cart in a turn but immediately got the glider level and repositioned behind the tug. Bad things can happen when the glider starts in a turn down low and I was not going to let that happen.

Rhett dropped me near a decent thermal and I climbed while drifting downwind towards goal 45 miles away. Ahead of the me sky looked great, but above and behind me the clouds were dying or gone. I moved north whenever I was high enough to run. The entire field was ahead of me but out of sight. I hooked up with James on his Phantom and Nigel for a couple of climbs but spent most of the trip by myself.

Once I got into the sun the climbs became more substantial and marked with clouds. A convergence line set up to the west of the big lake and things were easier once I reached it. I bounced under that line of clouds into goal.

I was slow but hopefully not embarrassingly slow. Linda gave herself a birthday present by making goal. Mark showed up with a gift at goal. While I was breaking down I saw Rodger fly overhead at cloud base. Rodger had the flight of the day in the sport class flying just short of 50 miles.

We awoke this morning to an approaching thunderstorm. I snapped a few pictures before the sky opened up.

Wednesday, April 11, 2007

Florida Ridge - Day 4

Although it would probably rain or blow up into thunderstorms we setup for an early 34 mile task to the Lake Placid airfield to the north. I got into line as soon as I was ready and Steve towed me downwind to a wimpy little climb. At first I wasn't happy being dropped off with only 300 feet over best glide back to the field, but as I slowly climbed and watch other pilots land back at the field I changed by opinion. Once near cloud base the lift improved and I had no problem moving from cloud to cloud in the pillow-soft lift.

The sky to the north along course line started getting dark and then speckled with showers. I was ready to take the first start gate but no one in my gaggle wanted to go. No problem, it wasn't looking promising downwind anyway. I pushed back upwind and joined Kevin and Wolfgang in a little climb. Just as we reach cloud base it started to sprinkle and then rain. Kevin went on course line and I push back upwind. It continued to rain and I could see rain to the west as well. At that point I decided I had enough and took off to the east to find a dry place to land.

I landed in a light rain in a sugar-cane field next to highway 74 that had a bridge across the ever-present ditch/canal along the edge. A few minutes later I watched Paul land on the other side of the road in a pasture field adorned with small trees. I called in to inform Cheryl that I, a member of the safety committee, just landed because I thought the conditions on course line were unsafe. Cheryl informed me that the day was stopped 10 minutes earlier.

Meanwhile a Starling was constantly scolding me for intruding on his space. I could get within a few feet before he fly to the next bush only to return when I moved back.

Ron zipped out and picked me up and then we threw Paul and Olav onboard before heading back. It was a good thing we stopped the task because the radar of the course line was painted yellow and red with strong thunderstorms. A group of us drove into La Belle for Mexican food and retired to our tents for a loud and brilliant light show into the night.

Tuesday, April 10, 2007

Florida Ridge - Day 3

I was the first or second pilot to launch today. I got dropped off upwind but quickly drifted back in weak broken lift. Paul was dropped off above me and we both floundered awhile before pushing upwind. I was watching the altitude above best glide back to the Ridge drop lower and and lower. I kept watching Paul to see if bumped into a climb or turned back. I was down to 400 feet above and turned back just as Paul did the same. I had a better line back and made a pass over the nursery as Paul was landing. A 1200 fpm monster yanked me upward and for a moment I thought I might get up. However, after a 1000 foot gain, the rowdy climb turned into a trashy washing machine going down. I zipped over to the field and landed just a few feet from the end of launch line.

Although I was the first to launch I was also the last (open class flex wing) to launch. I was clipped in behind Lisa and we began to roll. Just as the glider started "jiggling" in the cart the tug slowed to a stop. Luckily the glider settled into the cart and I rolled to a stop. Since the prop was still turning, I assumed Lisa saw someone on approach but later learned she didn't have full power and properly aborted. The ground crew pushed me back to the start point and clipped me onto Russell's tug. The big engine on that beast yanked me into the sky and just as the start gate alarm went off. So much for an early start! The tug plowed through a strong climb at 700 feet but I shot up and to the right. I was reaching for the release when the weak link blew. It took a couple turns but I centered the thermal and climbed to cloud base downwind of the Ridge.

It was a struggle plowing upwind to the south. I knew I was late so I pushed hard to reach the start gate 6 miles away. I made cloud base over the starting line at the last valid time. Not the start I wanted but still acceptable. I kept pushing against the strong south wind and made slow but steady progress. I started missing climbs that I just knew should be there. I finally noticed that the wind had shifted from the south, to the south west, and then to the west. Duh.

I flew over George at the first turn point, rounded the turn point and headed to the next turn point north of La Belle. The sky over La Belle was dark, low and ugly. There would either be lots of lift or none. I turned back for a relatively weak climb to stock up. There was lots of lift over town, but almost none further north. I glided down to 1200 feet and was shopping for LZs when I stumbled into a weak climb. George flew in over me, worked together to center the thermal, and both climbed to cloud base. I lead out for the 2nd turn point bopping under some dying clouds. George found a little climb but I pressed on.

It didn't look promising ahead. There were already gliders parked along the road at the turn point and a couple other pilots diving over the turn point and heading back. I was very low by the time I got the turn point and drifted down wind looking for salvation instead of heading south on course line. I bobbled in some weak broken lift until I had enough altitude to push south to where George and Nigel were circling. I didn't find anything at 900 feet so I dove across a "tiny restricted" pasture so I could land next to the road. Then the "unplanned" part of the day unfolded.

Nigel floated into my field a few minutes later and George landed 1/2 mile down the road in scrub field. Ron showed up with the trailer so we could fit Nigel on our rig. We had not heard from Mark but Linda was waiting on the ground south of La Belle. Just as we were leaving a cloud of dust with a hang gliding truck in the middle showed up with Mark on board. We transferred Mark onto our rig and drove down the road to get George. We were tying down George's glider when we saw a pilot walking down the desolate dirt road towards us. It was Bjorn. We were not going to leave anyone stranded there so we tossed his glider on and squeezed everyone into the truck with me sitting in the center console in the front.

We didn't have anymore room for Linda so we needed a plan. I knew that Brian wanted to eat dinner in La Belle so maybe I could get dropped off in town, eat, and then get a body ride back. Brian didn't answer his phone so I called Rodger. Rodger said he would track down Brian and mentioned that Dave and Steve were driving in from Wallaby Ranch. So I called Dave. Dave was at least an hour away so I kept my options open, but was holding out for Brian. Brian called back and said he would come get us. So I asked Mark to pull over in La Belle and asked George to drop off my flight computer for scoring. Bjorn also offered to wait in town so we walked up to McDonald's for ice cream. A few minutes later Dave called saying he miscalculated his distance and was just outside town. Before long Dave, Steve, Bjorn, and I were sitting outside McDonald's on main street.

We made plans for dinner when Olav called Bjorn. Olav was still waiting for a ride and it was getting dark. Brian graciously offered to pick him up so we borrowed Steve's GPS while Dave and Steve went to check into their hotel. We picked up Olav just as the light was fading and got everyone back to the Ridge. We capped the evening off with yet another meal at the Gator Bait Pub. I don't think I could have made up a more complicated trip back home!

Monday, April 09, 2007

Florida Ridge - Day 2

The forecasts for today were mixed; some predicted light winds while others predicted moderate winds. The task committee picked a task for each forecast but by none it was clear the light wind forecast was correct.

Our task was a 45 mile trip to La Belle, south to an intersection, back to La Belle and then back to the Ridge. The sky was blue, the winds light, and the birds flapping. We had 4 15-minute interval starts beginning at 2:00. No one launched when the window opened at 1:00 but Olav, Bjorn, and Jack launched and discouraged further activity. Olav and Bjorn returned to the field, but Jack pushed on out of sight and eventually landed.

As the final start gate approached we started launched in earnest and surprisingly found workable lift. I worked my way to the edge of the start circle and took the last start. I was with most of the British team and Paris. We were getting close to the top of a climb near the first turn point when I pushed upwind a bit thinking I would find better lift. I fell off the edge of the climb and was soon 1000 feet below the rest of the gaggle that was just leaving. Crap. I flew the next leg behind the group but caught everyone on the way back to La Belle. We all wallowed in lightly sinking air before we all pushed on low.

I had a sweet glide northward and plowed into a strong climb near the turn point. I flew through the lift, got the turn point, went back and topped out with Bjorn. We started heading home and took a few turns we should have skipped. I finished 6th for the day, but 1st was within reach if I was more aggressive. Live and learn.

Rodger had an "outback" experience in the cane fields, Patrick won the day in the sport class, and we all spent the evening at the Gator Bait pub again.

Sunday, April 08, 2007

Florida Ridge - Day 1

The wind shook the tents all night long and was still making the flags snap at sunrise. The fear of another blown-out day at the Florida Ridge was gnawing on my psyche. A quick check of the forecast on my cell phone from my tent gave me some hope as the computer models showed less wind later in the day.

Before we left the orchard where we are camping, Rodger showed us the Easter "surprise" his girls packed for him. Sweet.

The day's task was a zig-zag crossing downwind course to the south that turned out to have some crossing upwind legs after the wind veered more the the west than predicted. The sport class, that features Allen, Brian, Patrick, and Rodger had a straight downwind task to the same goal. We all had an open start window, meaning we could leave anytime after 2pm.

I launched second and left as soon as possible with Kevin, Paris, and Paul. We had long low-altitude glides with weak climbs until about the time we reached the first turn point. The climbs started becoming stronger and the were climbing higher. Unfortunately, the rest of the pilots were catching us. We turned into the crossing upwind leg to the second turn point and had to push upwind in the blue. It was tough, but not impossible since there was a lot of broken lift around.

The last leg was directly upwind, at least for me. I chickened out on the final glide over 3 miles of orange groves and took a safety climb that let 5 gliders get in front of me. (If I came up short I would have to land in the orchards, there was not bail out area.)

Most of the field, no matter when they started, landed roughly at the same time. I can not remember that happening before. I walked through the "inland beach" we landed in, broke down the gliders, took some pictures of the happy pilots at goal, and waited with George for our driver Ron. Mark landed back on course, but found another ride. We declined a ride that Jack offered so we could help Ron find Linda. Once loaded we drove a few miles away into a sugar cane field to extract LInda.

We had a good dinner at the Ridge and spent the evening at the Gator Bait Pub. All-n-all, a good way to start the meet.

Wednesday, April 04, 2007

Cloud Explosion

Like yesterday, I was the first to launch. Unlike yesterday, I had the text-book perfect tow. I followed Carlos through the buttery smooth air until we center-punched a smooth 700 fpm up. Carlos waved, I pinned off, waved back, and started circling. I took that sweet smelling orange blossom express to cloud base. I was dancing around the cloud's edge before the next glider was even rolling across the field. That's the way it should always be!

I surfed the side of the cloud while the rest of the XC gang climbed out. Mick called a task to the Citrus Tower in Claremont, Quest, and back to the ranch. Mike and I left together as the sky exploded with clouds. The lift was strong with clouds forming below us, around us, and beside us. I flew to the 192 - 27 intersection before I saw any blue or made any turns. Mike and I raced north, him on the west side of 27 and me on the east side. I had a slight lead until there was a "weak spot" in the line of clouds on the east side. I crossed over 27 to the west side as Mike flew in over me. Mike kept pushing on while I slowed down before heading over the town of Claremont under the now seriously overdeveloped sky. Mike found a good climb near the tower that I was more than happy to slip into.

The area between the tower and Quest was stable looking with high blow-off from the earlier cloud explosion. I took a deep breath and jumped in. I arrived at the other side low, too low to even reach Quest. Luckily I found some bubbles that first got me high enough to sneak into Quest and then finally high enough to consider shopping for something better. Jason joined my climb, then Mike, and then several rigid wings.

Mike and I climbed to base and headed back. We fanned out looking for lift under the decaying sky. It was way too smooth and every cloud we investigated was silent. We were getting low and had maybe one more chance to find the elevator. Mike faded left and I went south towards some sunlit fields. I flew through some chop but no lift. We were now too far apart to rejoin. Mike eventually landed at the state park and I circled in broken lift over those fields for a long time. Slowly it turned into a real climb of 100 fpm and finally 200 fpm. Some time later Dave flew in overhead.

Dave was still much higher when we left, but a least I had enough altitude to search for something. We had a gentle glide under an old cloud line but I needed another climb soon. I spotted a 1500 foot high dust devil coming from a construction site near the 27 - 474 intersection and prompted headed for a spanking. Before I could get my punishment Dave called me back to a 600 fpm climb that I couldn't find. Dave headed home while I took a few more minutes to find the climb further upwind.

Once back to base, I had an easy glide in; in fact too easy. I was climbing at 500 fpm while on final glide; so much for blazing in at tree-top height. I gave up, slowed down, and watched Dave land and Kerry pull someone up. I unzipped my harness, spread my legs to create my custom drogue chute, draped my hands over the base bar in the smooth air, and waited for gravity to do its job. A few minutes later I looked down and saw Kerry just a few yards directly below me. Dang, I wish I had the camera ready. He waved up and I waved back with both hands. Too cool.

A short time after I landed Mick arrived after clawing his way out of a hole just north of the ranch. Way to go Mick!

I was in the air 3 hours and flew a 51 mile triangle with 6 climbs. This might be my last flight here before heading south to the Florida Ridge for the nationals.

Monday, April 02, 2007

Where's the Off Switch

After the long flight to Georgia yesterday, I just wanted to fly for a couple hours and then chill with the pilots arriving for the upcoming meets. Brian, Dave, Steve, Jim, and Al are here.

I was the first to launch again and Carlos and I slammed into something wicked at the south end of the field around 700 feet. Carlos fell off to the left and I shot up to the right. I tried to correct but knew how this storied would end. I released, did a quick search, and started climbing over the trees drifting north. Once above 1200 feet I relaxed and started watching the action on the launch line below. Kerry and Mike started the takeoff roll but the tug stalled after Mike was in the air. Mike tried again only to break a weak link coming out of the cart. Mick and Mike eventually started a slow climbing. I wanted to keep the flight short so I decided to head out by myself towards Quest.

I was traveling up Route 27 having a good time not paying enough attention to the conditions. Before long I was low and looking for an LZ south of 474. I boxed a sunny field and found a broken climb that took forever to mature.

Meanwhile Mike flew overhead heading to Quest. Once back up I had an easy glide into Quest and climbed with Jason before heading south along Route 33. Once again I was uncomfortably low looking for a lift north of the glider port under wispy excuses for clouds. Mike found a strong climb west of the glider port but he was beyond my reach. I pressed on and found a strong smooth climb to the southwest of the glider port and then had an easy glide back to the ranch.

However, as I approached the ranch the lift gradually increased to 800 fpm over the field. The windsocks were dancing around so I decided to park in a climb and take some pictures of Steve and Captain Mick at cloud base. Once done with the photo shoot I was ready to land; remember I only wanted a short flight. I glided to the southwest, got low, and headed back. Once again I encountered strong lift over the field. Dang. I looked for sink but couldn't find any. I gave up, relaxed in a climb, and checked out the scenery. I did some speed runs and came back low. Yep, still lifting off. I began to worry that a sea-breeze front was moving through but there weren't any signs of that happening. I got on the radio and asked for the guys on the ground to find the "lift" switch and turn it off. I finally got so tired I just blasted in not caring which way the wind was blowing. I had a good landing in variable winds and was dragging tired butt around for the rest of the evening.

I was in the air 4 hours 45 minutes and covered a 53 mile triangle.


I was up early tossing things into the truck so I could meet Paul and Lauren at Quest Air. The tugs at Wallaby were "parked" at 1500 feet, so the forecast for strong wind in the morning was right on. Once at Quest I exchanged telephone numbers with Dave who offered to drive before asking where we were going. You should have seen his face when we said "Georgia"!

We were worried when the winds were still shaking the trees at 10:30. It was obvious we wouldn't be starting early so flying a recording-breaking flight unlikely. I saw some lulls in the wind about the time the pilots sitting under the shade tree starting wondering if the day was a total loss. I didn't want to be a part of that "scene" so I just started getting ready to fly. By noon there were nice launch cycles and I pushed out right behind Davis.

Bo towed me dropped me in a weak climb upwind, but it was bittersweet since Davis was beaming to the north up over Groveland. No worries, I was climbing and the rest of the gang were just getting ready to launch. I drifted north searching for any climb while Paul got dropped in a strong climb to the west. I thought I might land north of town but found a broken climb that got me high enough so I could finally reach a good climb and "get into the game".

I hooked up with Paul south of the highway and then Paris and Mitch showed up. We shared a couple of climbs before Paris left us in the dust. Paul, Mitch, and I spent most of the day within sight of each other. Paul and Mitch got away from me south of Ocala when I had trouble unzipping to "dump ballast". I eventually caught up several climbs north of town over some large lakes.

Lauren, who was hoping to break the Florida women's record, couldn't get away from the field. She graciously agreed to take over Dave's duties and headed out with the truck.

The radio conversation was funny. Davis was the only pilot in the group had been in that area before. He and Belinda were constantly guiding their little goslings and answering questions like "Do I follow the 2 lane road to the northeast or the train tracks to the north?", "Can I go west of that big lake and still be out the airspace?", or "Did you go north or northwest at the at that little town?". We had very little of the normal "do you have something other there" type of conversation.

I really enjoyed the trip since I was flying over new territory. It was the first time I flew east of Gainsville. There were picturesque horse farms and of course lakes. We flew right over the runway where John Travolta keeps his flying toys.

Further north, Davis told us to not drift any further east since we were approaching restricted airspace around Jacksonville. I pushed further west to follow a little string of pearls popping up in the blue while Paul glided more northerly to a climb that Mitch was just finishing. Paul announced he had is first 100 mile flight in a flex wing. Paris announced he had his first flight to Georgia. Paul and I made a smooth cruised over a large prison, but I had an extra 2000 feet on him. Paul made a last-ditch search over a huge landfill he called "Mount Trashmore" while I pushed a little further north and found a climb while Paul was forced to land. Bummer.

The rest of the gang were getting further ahead as I tip-toed through a large expanse of pine plantations. Lots of trees, few LZs, no clouds, and little altitude. I thought the day was dying when I cruised over highway 10. I picked out a small construction site as my LZ. Mitch relayed my position to Belinda and Lauren. I didn't like my intended LZ so when I stumbled into light lift I started turning. That little climb progressively got better and I was soon at cloud base again.

About that time Belinda got on the radio and said that Davis had landed since his radio died. He was concerned that retrieval would be a pain if pilots continued on over the pine plantations that do not have cell phone coverage. He wanted everyone to land where he did to make pickup easy. I was about 12 miles away but had an easy glide at cloud base along a sea-breeze convergence line. I could see the Jacksonville skyline to my left. Paris gave me good visual landmarks while he circled down that led me right to the field. Davis certainly picked an interesting field to land in. Check out the picture for the image that greeted us. We had flown into Georgia but had landed back in Florida.

Paul and Lauren showed up before we finished packing. (Thanks very much Lauren for driving all the way to Georgia and being such a good sport about it). We all stopped for dinner and made it back to Quest a little after 11pm; not bad for a flight to Georgia.

Total distance 139 miles, airtime 5:45.