I think its Tuesday now – but I am not quite sure. I guess that is a good sign – once one forgets which day of the week it is, they are truly on vacation.
The forecast is starting to resemble what GV is all about – scattered clouds, light winds. There is a risk of a thunderstorm mid afternoon – but that is the norm here in the summer and nothing to really worry about. Where the appearance of a CuNim (Cumulonimbus -> thunder cloud) in the mountains would have pilots frantically looking at LZ options, here there are no terrain features to channel and focus the gust front. An unseen storm in the Rockies could be a threat to pilots a hundred plus kms away, but here, it is normal to be in the air with a solitary CuNim 30 to 50 km behind or to the side. Mind you when they start popping up all around, the usual rules apply – get down fast.
Up top, we settle into the usual wait routine -> cloud base needs to lift.
The cloud relents and Dean suggests slowly getting ready. Ever the calm, orderly one Dean is when it comes to getting kit ready. Quite the contrast to back home when the sound of a truck cresting the last climb to launch has one scurrying thinking its loaded full of launch potato students.
Then I spot the Germans starting to gathering their bags. Ain’t no fraking way I am getting a repeat of this. Hoist kit, trot quickly on down to the nice part of launch, pull out the wing, and claim my space.
Get word we are switching both flying and retrieve frequencies due to interference the previous flying day. Unfortunately, everyone else heard as well -> we had occurrences in Annecy of other pilots hoping on the tour frequency and trying to tag along as the guides led the group around. There was an attempt to create a more secure implementation of family radio called XMRS (I think) that used spread spectrum. Basically the signal is spread across multiple channels keyed by a code -> Code Division Multiplexing – a trade off of higher user density within the band vs. battery life. The signal is pseudo randomized using a key code (akin to a channel – except your channel count could be in the billions) and reassembled by the receiver using the same code. No code, no listen in. Not quite encryption, but beyond the ability of a human to scan for and listen in. Sadly it never took off.
Anyways, Dean lays out next to me and Simon next to him. As we get ready, the conversation turns to hydration pouches – Dean pulls his ‘Source’ out for a gander – the big selling point in his mind is the ease with which it can be cleaned. Will give one a look when I get home – the hose connectors on the Camelback were too big to fit through the hydration line hole in the RangeAir, necessitating pulling the connectors off, threading through the hose, then reattaching (dear Skywalk – what kind of pouch did you test this thing with?). Needless to say I now have a slow water leak – dumping the water prior to retrieve is the short term ‘fix’. Benefit number 2 of a front mounted reserve – if your Camelback starts leaking, it won’t soak your reserve (Benefit #1 is having your reserve handle in your line of sight rather than fishing for it to one side and below – a byproduct bias from my jumping days with ‘look, reach, pull’).
Everything sorted. The gent with the blue Ozone Delta 2 walks by, hunting for a spot. Our Deutsch friends have long since claimed the remaining decent space on launch and are sitting on the ground in their harnesses, leaving scraps. Rosetting the wing, I call the Delta 2 over and offer up my slot. Dean will be first off today, so I can just lay out into his space once he is clear.
Hrm. Nil-ish winds. Another forward.
That said, I have a good feeling about today – I think we might actually go XC.
I hop into the launch slot just vacated by Dean. Steve lends a hand getting the wing sorted out and keeps an eye on the cycles. Flip on the Contour and watch the pilots ready to go to my right. Two pull up and go.
“Looks good”, from Steve.
I give the two that just got away a few extra seconds to decide on a direction.
Once it’s clear they are not going to intersect with my path, I bring the wing up, give it a check and go.
I watch the pair to my right circle, but they are not climbing. The cloud over launch is darkest and thickest just downwind of the Cauldron – not downwind of here. The Cauldron is where I need to be.
Once in, it takes no time to lock into the climb that a trio of gliders above me are using.
Even with the moisture in the air, the ride is a contrast to flying everywhere else around GV. The thermals are rough and sharp edged – much like spring flying back home but without the climb rate. That said, 3.0 m/s is a godsend compared to the sub 1.0 m/s I’ve been finding everywhere else here. Bank up, hold on, and cloud base (coupled with escape from the mountain) is assured.
Simon launched just after I did and now joins in the climb from below. Looking up I notice everyone is going in the opposite turn direction from me, so a turn reversal is in order. Should have noticed that before starting the carve
The vultures come over and join the climb from above. Steve mentioned you know this is a good climb when the birds join you.
60 seconds later.
And still climbing.
I am not sure where everyone is and hunting for them in the white room seems like a particularly unwise course of action. More so when Dean is flying a mostly white Nova X-Alps glider. This provides some food for thought for a GliderHUD feature that could use either BLE or Wifi P2P to link to a cell phone and then onto a Leonardo Live like server that can can relay live location information for a friend or two (or your guide in my case) which in turn can be displayed as a bearing and distance.
Scooting eastward, I hop on the radio to announce my location and that I am at base. Dean replies he sees me and is to my east – just waiting to see if we need to run further east along the ridge or if a break will appear in the cloud above and behind launch.
Dean, “I see an opening.” I look right and spot it.
Turning to face. Key the PTT.
Reply, “Shoot the gap!”
Piece of cake.
Head on a swivel to keep an eye out for fellow pilots.
Flatland XC goodness await.
Clear of the cloud surrounding launch, Dean leads me southward to our next climb – a growing Cu (Cumulus – puffy white clouds typically formed by condensation of air rising within a thermal).
Simon is low on the mountain to the north but will swing around to the west and play catch up. If his 2+ hour scratch-fest/low save bonanza flight the previous day is any indication of his abilities – I am sure he will be with us shortly.
Dean spots a cloud ahead that is being worked by a visiting French pilot, Eric, on a Nova Mentor (I think). It appears the rock quarry is working well today.
Then Dean on the radio, “We need to leave now.” (with emphasis on the now).
Dean explains that the cloud Eric is heading to looks like it might start to decay soon and we may miss our chance to stone hop it to the next cloud forming beyond.
Dean follows the explanation with, “I’m going on bar.”
Hint, Hint. Try to keep up.
Thus far the speed, glide, and climb on the Carrera Plus has been phenomenal. I’ve been able to keep pace with Dean on hands up glide the whole way here (he is on Novas X-Alps CCC classed wing). But on bar we see the trade off of passive safety on my part for performance on his. At half bar I am sinking like a stone in comparison to his glide. This is a gamble, do I sacrifice height to try to catch the last bit of the thermal still forming the cloud or do I play it safe and hold onto as much altitude as possible by going hands up without bar – keeping altitude in reserve to find perhaps another climb that may pop up nearby?
Ease off to quarter bar. The glide flattens to something a bit more acceptable. But Dean is pulling away and still on a flatter glide. He arrives well ahead and above where I am and joins into Eric’s climb. It doesn’t take long before Eric is off again.
Dean continues his left hand circle and I join from well below. I lose sight of Dean as my climb starts to pick up – it appears the thermal source has sufficiently recharged for another go. Dean radios something about cloud suck. Keeping in mind the 45 degree rule, I eye the southern edge of our reborn Cu and edge my carve towards it. Carving in and out of the core, I keep watch for Dean. He radios he is clear of the cloud and looking at our next climb ahead.
Gliding down wind and along the main road connecting GV to Caratinga, the dictator of our day comes into view from behind the growing and decaying Cu’s …
The radiating gust front from this emergent Cb (Cumulonimbus or CuNim) is causing Cu’s to pop up in a circle around it. It appears to be 30+ km’s away and not yet a concern – but needs to be watched carefully from here on out.
With an eye to the Cb, I see what I suspect is our next climb – over the hills to the left (east) of the main road. Dean mentioned earlier that the NE wind is typically continuous here and any thermal source scoured by it has little opportunity to form a meaningful climb. The trick in GV is to try to find sources that are leeward of the wind, behind the hills – they will be sheltered and given a decent chance to coalesce. Especially if one is looking for a low save – expect to find it in the lee (and all the fun that comes with lee-side flying).
Dean makes a good pace towards the cloud – altitude gives options (including bar), a lack of it on the other hand limits what you can do. My being lower means I need to conserve altitude and not risk going bar, losing height and not having enough to capitalize on the climb (or worse yet, end up low and arrive with the climb having expended itself).
All this time, Simon has been chasing us – low and on bar. He will comment afterwards that he was frequently having to go half bar to keep up with us. Simon has been flying the Sigma 9 mid to upper end weight (flatland UK flying) while I have been running the Carrera Plus a few kgs over the top end (Western Canada mountain flying). The likely reason for the speed difference. On top of this Dean will eventually mention that the C+’s glide was quite impressive – I was able to keep pace with him when we were hands up but not on bar. So if bar performance is not a critical factor in wing selection, the Plus appears to be able to run with some of the ‘bigger boys’. That said it is still a 6.3 AR wing – if you have to ask if you are ready for it, you have already answered your own question -> probably not.
I finally arrive below the Cu Dean has since marked with a climb only to find out I’ve missed the boat – the thermal has petered out and the cloud is beginning to decay. I doubt bar would have made much difference.
Another switch in gears – survival mode. I need to stay up until the climb can re-establish itself. I radio to Dean my situation and altitude. He suggests try looking for climbs off of the nearby radio tower (towers tend to be be good triggers) -> the leeside of the hill the tower is situated on has been baking for a while, it is bound to give something off. It is just a question if I will be high enough to be able make much use of it.
Concurrently I start scanning nearby hills for signs of power lines. Have multiple landing option we were told (due to the power lines) and the best way to have multiple options is to start looking up high. A couple of hills look viable. The reason for the hills is three fold – power lines will be easier to spot, the power lines will likely be less plentiful, and there will not be any standing water (due to the abnormally high amount of rain we’ve rx’d recently). Basically an attempt to avoid drowning and getting fried.
While scanning the hilltop to my right, I note that the Cb from before is slowly inching its way towards us. Even if I get a climb back to base, it is going to be a struggle to stay ahead of this thing given my progress so far.
Rapid movement catches my attention. A pair of raptors of some sort, one chasing the other. Then a Swallow/Swift like bird darting around. This is a gift if there ever was one. I proclaim on the radio, “I see a Swift!” The only reason a Swift would be up here is if a thermal is carrying bugs up for the Swift to eat … and any thermal strong enough to carry bugs is strong enough for a low save.
And a glorious low save it is – even the Uburu join in. A congratulations comes from the retrieve truck below. Scratching and low saves are the modus operandi of one such as I who flies the ground and rarely the sky.
On the way back up I get a better view of the approaching Cb, noting the rain has enveloped the higher ground to the west and is making its way towards the river. I check my distance from launch on GliderHUD, draw an imaginary arc from the hill to where the storm is coming from and make that my imaginary line in the sand. 15km. Be on the ground before the Cb reach that line is my plan.
During this time, Simon has finally caught up to Dean and both have moved another 5 kms down the road from my current location.
I try catching up with them but start getting hammered in sink. Back tracking to lift is becoming less and less of an option with the Cb getting nearer. I get on the radio and indicate I am thinking about calling it a day – I will be unable to stay ahead of the storm.
Dean radios back that Simon has landed and that Dean will come back my way to land as well.
Landing options? Settle on a hill overlooking a farm that has a dirt road out to the highway. Fly two passes over it to look for lines – nothing, just some fencing. I can work with it.
Dean settles for the pasture below and sets down shortly after myself. Pack up the kit, a bit of over/under involving regular and electric fencing, and make my way down the dirt road to settle under the shade of a tree. 10 minutes pass, Steve appears with Simon. We load up the truck and head back to GV.
Half way there – the gust front from the storm hits. Rain shortly thereafter.
Our best day thus far and a wonderful sampler of what GV has to offer. The potential of this place is not lost on me.