Wednesday, October 31, 2012


Desperation was knocking at the door as the last bits of mountain flying for the year slipped through my fingers.  The weekend forecast for coastal soaring at Wellfleet had a Goldilocks aura about it; too weak on Saturday and too strong on Sunday.  I was in the middle of a list of chores on Saturday afternoon when I finally succumbed, tossed the gear into the car, and started the 3 hour drive to the Cape in spite of Hurricane Sandy's approaching visit.  (Most good flights at the Cape are followed by nasty weather!)

I arrived to a mostly sunny sky filled with paragliders bobbing over the sand dunes.

Many hang glider pilots were standing around; on the ground.  PK showed up and snagged a tandem paraglider flight with John while Keith and I convinced ourselves it was strong enough for hang gliders.  Keith, who had been there most of the day, was already rigged.  I helped him launch and watched him soar before going to setup my glider.

I had to step over three paragliders laying on the sand to reach launch.  The wind was good when I arrived, but pilots were literally flying a few feet over and along both sides of my glider.  I had plenty of  people watching for an opening.  Finally everyone standing around my wing started shouting "go, go now, go, go".  I took a quick look at the streamer and was unimpressed.  Against better judgement, I started running.  A pilot laying out the lines to his canopy stood up as I started moving, forcing me to immediately turn away from the ridge and its precious lift.  No problem I thought, I can deal with this.  However I had to make another turn away when a pilot dropped below the ridge directly in front of me.  Uh oh.  I was down, but maybe not out.  I spied a low spot in the dunes ahead.  If I maintained my altitude and got a tip above the ridge at that dip I might save it.  It probably would have worked except a pilot flying low in the same direction in front of me decided to stop and turn; right there.  It might have still worked if he didn't slow down and turn again when he saw me approaching.  I was yet again forced away from ridge and I knew that was it.  I flew as close to the ridge as I dare, occasionally dipping a wing tip into the dune.  I squeaked out a mile before landing close to an easy access point at the Beachcomber.

Several pilots came down to the beach to chat while I broke down.  One was George Ferris, whom I hadn't seen in ages.  Pilots were still soaring in the fading daylight as Ilya, Keith, Kevin, Peter J, PK, and I headed off to find food and sleeping arrangements for the night.  We celebrated Ilya's first soaring flight at the Cape at Land Ho! in Orleans.  PK mentioned several times that he saw me standing on the beach as he soared overhead.  Thanks pal!

We were up and at the beach by 6:00 am Sunday morning.  We expected the wind to be stronger, but not gusting over 30 mph (48 kph).  The strong wind and the forecast for increasing winds, increasing chance of rain, and increasing tide heights due to the storm surge momentarily stunned the growing crowd of pilots.  I, and several others, decided to "give it a go" and planned to land if conditions got worse.  While others struggled in the wind Jeff C and I setup sheltered behind the restrooms across the road.  The humming wires reminded me that the wind was strong but the rain was not really necessary.

John A, Peter J and a few other pilots helped me walk the glider across the road and then into the air.  (I love walking off launch into the smooth coastal air with my hands on the base bar).  Unlike the previous evening, I quickly got above the ridge and made a few strafing runs at the pilots gathered on launch.

I don't have pictures to share since it was too wet for a camera.  Scattered showers blew through and beaded up on my visor.  It is a good thing that the rain drops blow off at high speed!

I flew north to Highland Light.  I saw a dozen seals, usually in groups of 2 or 3.  I flew into, and then with, a flock of seagulls so thick I lost sight of the horizon.  There may have been 200 of them.  It was a truly amazing experience.  I rounded the lighthouse and then shared most of the return trip with PK.


Crossing gaps was easy so I continued south past launch towards Nauset Light.  I decided to turn around when I noticed the tide was starting to consume the beach.  If the forecast had been any less dreary, I would have continued on.  It just wasn't worth pushing my luck.

Instead I decided to push my luck back at launch where there was plenty of beach left.  ;-)  I mapped out the rotor around launch so I could eventually top land.  I then started trying to hover motionless directly over a clump of grasses to the north of launch.  The pilots on the ground thought I was getting ready to land and gathered to lend a hand.  I appreciated the gesture, but I wasn't ready yet.  So I let them know by tossing out a low diving turn over them that had at least a couple ducking.

Ilya and Kevin

Remembering the lines I scratched into the dune the previous evening, I thought a wing-tip drag across launch might be a worthy maneuver.  (Remember, you only stop playing at the Cape when you break your toys!)  I thought I had it perfectly planned out, but alas, not quite.  My previous dives through the rotor were straight through.  This maneuver required making a turn within the rotor which meant I would be in the rotor much longer; a fact I didn't account for.  I started my run, initiated the turn and immediately knew it wasn't going to end well.  I was short on energy (altitude and/or speed).  I dragged my wing tip on the parking lot and ended up face-first in the sand.  Although it wasn't the "show off" move I planned or the tip-toe landing I expected later on, I didn't damage the glider or myself.

Nick also played around top landing and diving at pilots.  He had many sweet landings but got everyone's adrenaline pumping on his final landing that was too complex to describe!

Nick diving through the rotor

Touching down


Only one paraglider pilot with a speed wing showed up, but decided it was really not that much fun.

Randy was the last pilot to land.  Allen S, Jeff C, and I drove north to our favorite landing spot to watched him land and then helped him carry his glider to the parking lot.


It was gusting to 40 mph (65 kph) by the time we left.  The next day Sandy was throwing 86 mph (138 kph) gusts at launch and smashing tall waves against the dunes below.  I watched the rain, leaves and branches blow by my window for most of the afternoon.  I was content, at least for a few days, thanks to Sandy.

Pilots have posted videos here.

Flights: 2, Duration: 1:35