The Brazilian Cross Country (XC) league is holding the latest in their year long XC contest here in Governor Valadares (GV). We were told to expect 93 pilots to attend this event so things might get cozy in the air. Thankfully the comp organizers are not going to close the launch meaning we don’t have to race to get ready and launch ahead of the main comp group.
On top of this we get word that we can also expect a contingent of 20+ Norwegians to arrive for a XC course of their own. Rumour has it that the course is mandatory for these pilots to be deemed XC ready and given an endorsement by their National Association Committee (NAC). Is that a cash register ringing in the background?
In amongst the hustle and bustle of the comp Dean gathers us up and lays out the plan for the day, an out and return (Dean’s favourite – to save on the need for retrieve, I gather). The turn around point will be Engenheiro Caldas again (hopefully not blocked by growing overdevelopment/storms this time). The wind today is straight east (rather than the hoped for NE tail) which means a cross/tail component on the way out and a cross/head component on return.
Rob (the second in air guide/instructor joining Dean this year due to the sheer size of the group) syncs up with me for a quick discussion regarding the flight – if I am able to keep up with Dean’s group, go for it. Otherwise Rob will be hanging back to provide in air coaching as needed to stragglers.
We get the crew in the air in record time (word has it afterwords that from first to last it took less than 7 minutes to get 12 pilots plus 2 guides off).
I quickly join Simon in snagging a climb just out front of the Cauldron.
While successful in getting above launch, the climb dissipates. I need to find terrain that is still receiving sun. The west side of the mountain looks to have just what I need (and will put me closer to the XC jumping off point – the hill to the west nicknamed ‘Salvation’).
Time to push on to Salvation.
Salvation delivers and South East we go.
But in the transition from Salvation to the hills flanking Era Nove, I start to bleed height profusely. I will end up on the deck shortly lest I find a low save.
A Y-shaped hill baking the sun to the west of the village catches my attention. Two of the three sides of this hill will likely be shielded from the meteo wind, allowing heat to coalesce into thermals.
I scour along the eastern side of the hill, ears keen for the beep of a climb.
I top up in the climb. Rob radios with a congratulations and outlines the plan for us on this paragliding flight.
The trick of the Ibituruna to Caratinga milk run is correctly picking the right band of high ground to fly along. The typical pilot, such as I, would jump back and forth across the main road while the more adventurous would oft times dive in behind onto the higher ridges. To minimize the risk of a multi-hour hike out, we will keep to the ridge lines within glide to the road. While thermalling, we should not only be on the lookout for our next climb, but also watching for what is happening along both potential paths => try to anticipate what is likely to happen along each ridge. In effect, plan for potential route adaptation on a small scale.
Our plan made, Rob and I sync up. It takes us little time to reach the elbow in the road demarcating Alpercata.
Another top up is required before moving on. The meteo wind is from the NorthEast and will drift us back fairly far from the road. Sometimes rules are simply made to be broken.
I noticed multiple times while thermalling with Rob that he would widen his turn, despite the fact that we had locked in on a decent climb. Subsequent discussion with Pat Dower regarding this observation brought an enlightenment. Did I think to check my current climb rate against the climb rate of our last thermal and that of our best thermal? We may have been in a decent climb, but it might have been weak in comparison to what the day had been generating up to that point. If this was the case, it would not have hurt to widen the search while climbing – especially if the thermal had multiple cores. Climbing faster is not limited to just technique but awareness as well.
Rob and I push on.
During glide, Rob points out which clouds are growing, which are decaying, and which are indeterminate. Thus far Rob has seen no need to jump across to the eastern side of the road, though we will likely be forced to as we approach Engenheiro.
Once past the gas station, Rob points out the higher ground to the east. He brings to my attention that there are fewer and smaller gaps between the clouds there. This new route will be a safer bet than what we are using currently.
Across the road and established in a climb, word from Dean over Engenheiro is that they are turning back towards GV. Rob suggests we do the same.
An about face. Rob and I begin to work climbs together, though a head wind slows progress down.
Approaching Alpercata, I spot elements of the comp gaggle working a climb to the west. I immediately beeline for them and leave Rob behind. Not the wisest of moves. Rob loses sight of me and is forced to proceed on alone.
I try to work in amongst the group but end up level with another glider that insists on turn reversing every turn in the thermal. I gather they are just jealous of the Gin Explorer.
In the dying hours of the day an attempt at one last low save prove fruitless and I put down in the hills south of the town. The hike out is about half as long as the flight proper, but Steve stays in constant contact via the Delorme (the beauty of 2 way msg’ng). Steve gathers me shortly after I reach the road.
This is one of those days when you can’t help but love this sport.