Task Day 3.
The air is warm and dry today, haze enveloping the hills. Textbook inversion conditions. The question is, how strong and long lived an inversion?
Fast forward 6 hours.
On launch the task committee is taking a little longer than normal. The conditions are putting a hitch in the planned task. Plan, discuss, re-plan. Eventually, arrival at the final destination – consensus.
The task is posted. An ambitious one, running from the Chabre launch site to the far north-east corner of the turn points.
Jocky finishes the general task briefing and moves to the northern side of launch for the ‘special needs’ briefing (a walk through of the task for the newbies such as myself, though from the turnout it appears everyone is a newbie today).
Wind tech after wind tech is sent out, all maintaining just above launch. Looks like the inversion still reigns supreme. One, Chris, manages to climb out but not very high – maybe 1600m. It is enough to set a launch open time and a shortened window (1 hour) is declared to ensure everyone gets off quickly. Once the window opens, a deluge of launching pilots we have not. Most are holding and waiting, hoping for stronger conditions. The few that do go early suffer the same fate as the wind techs, boating back and forth in front of launch.
The trickle continues and we have a virtual gaggle right in front of launch, most soaring, some thermaling, others indecisively alternating between both. It is only a matter of time before the window is closed.
And lone behold, a call across the radio – ‘Launch is closed’.
Time is needed to clear out the building rats nest of wings trying to avoid being swallowed by the ‘fish’ (the bailout LZ shaped like, you guessed it, a fish).
After 5 minutes, launch reopens. And is subsequently closed. Re-open. Closed. Re-open.
15 minutes shy of the end of launch, I am ready to go. I was none too keen on joining the repeated swell of rats nest early, but it looks like most pilots are away leaving the ‘Happy’ gaggle to boat around launch.
During a comp, there are three distinct phases of gaggle. The serious competition pilots will often launch first, get up and away quickly – this is the first, the comp gaggle. The second gaggle, what I would call the main gaggle, is made up of XC pilots who are here to learn and improve their flying, the competition aspect is secondary. The third group are pilots who have just learned how to thermal, have little to no XC experience, and are here to have fun and maybe achieve a personal best flying distance in the double digit range.
This last group is the ‘Happy’ gaggle, also known as the ‘WOO-ho!’ gaggle. And it is the ‘Happy’ gaggle that I launch into.
Some think they are thermaling, but are coring sink more often than not. Others think they are ridge soaring, but are not tight enough in and sinking out. Others still are attempting to test the passive safety of their wings going over the back a bit on the low side. For all of these differences one thing unifies this group, they are having the time of their lives.
Oh … they share one other characteristic – they are destined to frustrate any and every attempt on my part to climb out and get away.
After launching, a trio decide to stick on my tail as I push several kms down the ridge. If I turn and backtrack, they follow. I try to figure 8 in what feels to be a bubble about to break loose, they follow. I push out and start working lift, they follow.
Eventually I hook a core and put the wing on its tip in an attempt to shake my pursuers (most newer pilots are notorious for not banking hard enough in a climb and will frequently get pushed out by the stronger rising air).
That immediate issue resolved, lets rewind to the debrief the night before. Jocky mentions you want to keep an eye out for rapid movement around you. The source is typically a wing turning fast in a strong climb. If you see this, go there.
Return to the present.
The more talented members of this gaggle have some degree of thermaling ability and if they have launched sufficiently early enough, will already be well above the ridge. Add this height to Jockys advice and my attempt to climb out.
The tailing trio below me, the herd fast approaching from above. Without going into the details of what transpired, I started looking at my hook knife then looking at the lines of the other gliders, looking at hook knife, then lines of other gliders…
The lesson taken from the experience – if it is even remotely stay up-ble and the hill/comp has a fair number of newer pilots, launch as early as possible and by all means avoid the ‘Happy’ gaggle in the air like the proverbial plague (as opposed to on the ground, where their excitement post personal best 5km mini-XC is a wonderful thing to witness).
The following day was a write off due to storms. The awards ceremony and wing raffle was enjoyed by all, some a bit more than others with the noise of partying ending with scant few hours of darkness remaining.
The comp is done, onto the XC course.