Castelo Cross Country Paragliding.

Conditions today are expected to be more unstable with a risk of overdevelopment, maybe even rain.

The main group is to depart in the van @ 10AM and meetup with the flatbed at the Church located at the far end of the valley. The remainder of us (4 in total) are to join Steve in the pickup at 1030.

10 AM rolls around and the crew begin loading up the van. One of the lads, Ashley, returns to inform us Dean is sending him up in the pickup instead (there are only 4 seats and now 5 people). Looks like Ashley was evicted in favor of a pair of visiting Norwegians who are not part of the tour. The discussion the night before was that the pair would have to make their own way to the Church and arrange a second round ride up with the farmer. Gather that is no longer the case. Me thinks Steve and Dean might be having a little chat later today regarding ride logistics.

Ultimately Ashley is assigned to the bed of the pickup for what turns out be a rather bumpy and dusty ride up. At least everyone will get to fly today.

We arrive up top shortly after 11 and gather for the days briefing. The infamous ‘Dick of the Day’ award ends up in Ashleys hand for his flying exploits the day previous (what happens in Castelo, stays in Castelo). A quick overview of XCSkies and Meteoblue by Dean confirms our suspicion – risk of overdevelopment with a chance of rain later in the day. Dean’s traditional round table debrief is kept to a minimum – there are simply too many people and the daylight is burning. The plan is a repeat of the day before – a single turn point will be utilized while folk try to keep up with Dean. Given the hotshot nature of the better pilots in our group, it is all but a given I will not be able to keep up. Simply not good enough yet. Luckily Steve has included another guide, Rob, to help with the ‘newer’ pilots such as Ashley and myself.

Crew slowly gathering for days briefing.

The north facing launch is fairly wide allowing us the ability to lay out a half dozen gliders line abreast.Rob approaches and explains the plan for the day. Basically fly around and see the sights. In a perfect world, Dean and Robin would have laid out a multi point task with turnpoints of increasing difficulty – making things easier for retrieve and give everyone one a chance to fly the same course (and if they end up isolated, able to follow the group). Maybe another day.

Of note: cycles coming up launch have a west tendency. The western edge of launch is flanked by trees. Wind shadow and mild rotor. The east end is far better and is oriented much more into wind. Most pilots overlook this due to the extra walking involved and only realize the err in their ways once laid out. The walk is worth it.

Of course I have to learn this the hard way. Eventually a reasonably decent cycle passes through and I launch to join the 4 or 5 gliders already climbing out to the west.

Cruising by launch.
View up the valley (facing west),
Climbing out.
Still a ways to go.

On I plod further up the valley to a cloud near mid life – it is neither a collection of growing wisps nor is it fading into oblivion.A call over the radio from Dean to those of us in the climb: Time to head off to the next cloud. Conflicted given the instructions from Rob but I follow suit anyways. The first big mistake of the day – failing to top out the climb then follow. Altitude means options. By following Dean while I am not yet at cloud base means I just surrendered mine.

I arrive to find the climb at my altitude slowly dying. Dean chimes in on the radio to suggest continuing to hunt around while he goes and tries to find us a better climb.

My climb quickly begins to fizzle. Scanning around I spot a few other pilots more to the north and make my way over to them. The gaggle is more effective at finding cimbs versus a loner. And a climb we find.

Sharing a thermal with Graham on the Iota.

During this process of climb, transition, rinse and repeat, a menace coalesces in the distance: a CumuloNimbus (CuNim).

CuNim (storm cloud) forming off in the distance, to the west of Castelo.

The group knows to keep both an eye on this beast along with the rate of formation of clouds surrounding the valley. If clouds start to pop up rapidly and go vertical (‘Marg Simpson hair’ as the Brits phrase it), it would be prudent to consider landing quickly.

But for now everything is kosher. The CuNim is still quite some distance away and there is still a substantial blue hole over the flats to the south west. My attention returns to the group as they begin a glide towards the low hills to the north.

Dean is but a speck, high in the distance with a train of gliders stung out behind. I get a sense that Dean is very much about flying fast – maximize time on glide, minimize time in climbs. Simply put, one does not rack up the km’s going around in circles. Take risks, calculated ones mind you. In some ways it feels to be the antithesis of my experience comp flying where one lets the gaggle do most of the work and flying conservative (until final glide) almost always pays off. In essence – comp flying is fixed distance vs. near unlimited time (relative to the distance), while XC is fixed time (sunset) vs. unlimited distance. A lot of overlap in skill, but differing in mindset.

A satori of sorts but there is still flying to be done.

The crew push on northwards. Landing options are more limited with restricted retrieve possibility. Bushwacking in 37C temps on my second day of flying here? Not so keen. And I am getting low again.

I need a top up. So back south to the ridge face overlooking the valley. I am sure to snag something there.


A Nova Phantom sharing the same plan.
Heading south, into wind. Trying to avoid the venturi that is sure to be between the two hill tops at the bottom of the picture.

Climbing again.
It is unlikely I will be able to link up with Dean and the others at this point, so I branch off on my own to give the run to town a look.Another climb scored.


Castelo ahead. Tick Hill LZ to its left. Wall LZ directly below.

Unless I find another climb, the Tick Hill LZ (so named due to the tick infested long grass covering it) is a gamble with the growing sea breeze (one needs to arrive rather high at LZs here in Brazil due to the potential for power lines). The Wall LZ is possible but will put me further from the retrieve van with its AC (thus a longer wait for no real benefit).

Lets make the best of the situation and turn this straight line run into a triangle. Backtrack towards launch and try for an into wind valley crossing.


Motoring on back up the valley.
See the perfect crossing point ahead? Good. Cause I didn’t.

If there is ever a master of the low save, you’re lookin’ at ’em right here (I’ve since been given the nickname ‘ain’t no thermal low enough’ by my fellow tour mates). So I gamble on driving straight out in the valley with the intent of catching enough bubbles to make the opposite ridge line.


Rolling the dice.

Bubbles are found, but not quite enough. Eventually I roll snake eyes and need to find a LZ.

One final pass, looking for power lines.

LZ located. A side hill landing (crash) it will be.


No dice. Landing it is.
… and down.


Landed nary a scratch or bruise (it goes 50/50 in my case with remote side hill landings). Radio in on the retrieve channel that I am down and push a ‘retrieve me’ message on the Delorme.

The result.


Doesn’t take long for the van to pull up as I hike out and I find out I am somewhere in the middle of the pack in terms of landing time. Not a bad outing for the first XC at this site.

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