Saturday, June 21, 2014

Summer Solstice

I was excited about Saturday all week.  Not just because the best part of the cross-country season was fading away and not just because I would be grounded for a week or two as I visited family and not just because everyone else was excited.  No, I was excited because the forecast looked great for a change.

I reviewed a course on Friday evening that Randy Brown planned to fly from Hang Glide New England in central Massachusetts to Chatham out on the cape.  Randy invited me to join him the next morning but I was already drafted into a crew going to Mount Ascutney in Vermont.  Oh, they also had a driver.

Jeff Curtis, Peter Judge, and Lee Minardi showed up bright and early at my place Saturday morning.  Lee decided to fly at Morningside instead of the mountain and decided to drive up on his own to avoid the long XC retrieve.  Two other pilots, John Beckley and JJ Cote wanted to carpool as well, but it was now too late to add them in.  Poor John had to drive north by himself, but since JJ was sort-of on the way, Lee left to pick him up while the rest drove north in my car.

We were near an exit for Hang Glide New England when Jon Szarek called.  He wanted to know if we were still going flying.  Uh?  Jon said the latest forecast predicted serious cloud cover, maybe enough to shut down thermal production.  We pulled over and re-evaluated our decision.  Jeff was full-in for Ascutney.  Peter and I weighed the options, including the fact we had Robin lined up to drive retrieve.  We finally decided that the strength of the sun on the longest day of the year should produce thermals, even if clouds shaded the ground.

We picked up Robin and JJ at Morningside.  JJ loaded on knowing that I promised John a ride to the top; meaning he might have to unload at the base of the mountain.  As feared, everyone else had driven up by the time we arrived, leaving one too many pilots for my car.  We discussed draping JJ over the hood of the car like a bagged deer but luckily Peter Cassidy showed up and offered John a ride to the top.

We caught up with Robin, who I hadn't seen in a long time, on the drive up.  The setup area was buzzing with pilots, hikers, and, it turned out, another old friend I hadn't seen in a long time; Ann Morin and her son Keith.

Keith and Ann Morin

JJ Cote

PK and Jeff Bernard

Jeff Curtis

John Arrison

John Beckley

My socializing was interrupted by another call from Jon.  He wanted to know if we saw any blue upwind to the northwest.  "Well, a tiny bit", I answered.  Jon said it was totally decked over at Morningside and there was virtually no wind on the surface.  "Luckily for us", I told him, "we might have enough wind to keep us up".

John Arrison launched first and climbed to the top of the mountain.  That was enough to get the lemmings moving.  With Ann and Robin's help the entire lot was soon in the air.  (Thank-you Ann and Robin for all the help!)

Jake Pierce (Photo by Keith Morin)

Jeff Bernard (Photo by Keith Morin)

Me (Photo by Keith Morin)

Peter Judge (Photo by Keith Morin)

JJ Cote (Photo by Keith Morin)

Ilya Rivkin (Photo by Keith Morin)

It was easy to stay up in the mellow air, but difficult to get high.  Even if we did get high, the nearly complete absence of sunshine on the ground downwind made XC seem pointless.


Me and JJ (Photo by Keith Morin)

The clouds slowly thinned, spots of sunshine broke through, and we started finding real climbs.  Soon it was going up almost everywhere and most of us played at cloudbase.

I crossed the river and tried to formulate my next move.  The forecast predicted moderate northwest winds but our drift indicated a "healthy" north wind.  I looked south and saw nothing but a smothering deck of mid-level clouds with no cumulus below them.  The track to the east looked doable, but flying that direction in a north wind would be difficult on a good day, let alone a marginal one.  Unsure what to do, I just started orbiting in anything that wasn't going down waiting for the universe to show me the way.

I hung on with John B, Jake Piece, and Ilya Rivkin north of Morningside.  As before, the clouds smothered their lifeblood and soon started to thin.  Jake and Ilya landed and I was low before another pulse of thermals kicked off weak climbs.  I drifted south of Morningside but slowly got back up as I approached Charlestown.  At that point, I gave up going XC for the day.  It was a premature decision, but I just wasn't "feeling it".  I felt like a fool when I flew upwind from Charlestown back to Morningside and climbed the entire way.  Sigh.

I flew around Morningside as the day continued to pulse, cycling from complete overdevelopment, to broken sunshine, to renewed thermals, and once again back to complete overdevelopment.

I was climbing in an especially good cycle with a couple visiting pilots that towed from Morningside when I heard Peter J was leaving the mountain low and Jeff, JJ, and Peter C were landing out front.  I flew upwind and met Peter near cloudbase over Morningside.  I played some more before gliding off my altitude and prepared to land.  Once again, John B and I were coming in to land at the same time. I wanted to avoid forcing one of us to land in the tall grass so I burned off my altitude and landed quickly.  Unfortunately, I didn't notice there was no wind on the surface and didn't flare as strong as I should have.  No problem, but I didn't get any style points.  ;-)

I regretted giving up on the day.  Although the climbs were weak and sparse during the down-cycles, the wind was strong enough that I could have drifted down the river for a nice early summer sightseeing trip.  No one went far, but I think the potential was there.  Still it was good to be in the air and a good way to start the summer.

Jeff, Peter C, Peter J, PK, John B, and I stopped for dinner at Ramunto's where we ran into Dennis Cavagnaro.  We talked flying until the food and drink was gone.

Here is a video from the flight,

By the way, Randy did go to Hang Glide New England and flew most of the course we talked about the previous evening.  Congratulations Randy!

Flights: 1, Duration: 2:35, Distance: 9.6 miles

1 comment:

Ilya Rivkin said...

Great write up and photos Tom! It was a great day on Ascutney once again!