Friday, July 30, 2010

2010 Belgian Open, day 6 cancelled

The winds continu to blow. We drove up the mountain because we expected the winds to weaken, but that did not happen by 3 PM. To late to start a task so the day was cancelled.
Luckily, the predictions say that tomorrow should be a perfect hang gliding day. There will only be valley winds and 4 m/s thermals to 3500 m. Looking forward to it! Tomorrow is the last day of the competition and I am in the lead of the Belgian Open and 400 points ahead of the second Belgian, so tomorrow will be a tense day. I don't want to screw up!

Thursday, July 29, 2010

2010 Belgian Open, day 5 cancelled

Another strong wind day. Even sailing wasn't possible. Tomorrow looks flyable and Saturday looks superb. We'll see.

2010 Belgian Open, day 4, task 2

Yesterday morning looked like a perfect flying day. Sunny and almost no winds. We discussed a 120 km task while driving up to Chabre.
During briefing it was already clear that the NW winds were increasing and we removed the turnpoint at Pic de Bure, because it could be very turbulent there. That gave us a 94 km task. But, on the horizon, a thick cirrus layerwas coming our way. As it turned out, the cirrus was covering just about our task area the whole afternoon. Just after the briefing, Malcolm and I looked at each other and Malcolm said "what a rubbish task we have set". I agreed.
Tom launched early to make as much distance as he could before the cirrus shut down everyting. So, although I did not really want to start early, I had to start too. Tom got low and really had to work to get high. The same happened to me, I had to work for 45 minutes before I could start the task. Tom was long gone by then.
It turned out to be very difficult and I managed to fly 59 km, which is 3 more than Tom did. Nick Pain was the task winner with 63 km. But, because no one made goal, it was a low scoring task. While I feared that I was losing points while flying, I slightly extended my lead in the general classification. I now have 1400 points with Gijs Wanders (NL) in second place (1300 points). Second Belgian is Tom with 1000 points.

Tuesday, July 27, 2010

Belgian Open, Day 3 cancelled

Pretty strong mistral winds. No task today.

Belgian Open, Day 2, Task 1, first task win!

Yesterday we had a 77 km task from Laragne to the sailplane field in Puimoisson. With north winds, flying to the south should have resulted in a fast task. I started the task with 2400 m above Chabre and flew to Gache, arriving just below the ridge. I could only thermal up for 300 m there and crossed Sisteron to attach to the Roc d'Aigle. I managed an extra 300 m and was able to make it to the foothills of Montagne de Lure. Finally, in pretty rough conditions there, I was able to get high. But, we had a 2300 m ceiling due to airspace restrictions, cloudbase was a few 100 m higher. I made sure I never got over 2300 m and flew to the last turnpoint following the clouds. There was some serious sink at the last turnpoint and I had to find 200 m to make it to goal. 15 km before goal, I had my best thermal, with 4 m/s climb. I now easily could make it to goal, where I expected to see already a few gliders on the ground.
Big surprise when I couldn't find anyone there. I was first on goal and most of the other pilots had also taken the first start gate, so it looked good for me!
I indeed won my first task :-)
Currently there are serious discussions about airspace infringements. The FAI sporting code says that pilots who have minor infringements (less than 100 m) should get a warning and others should get 0 points for the task. Three pilots had minor infringements (I did with 18 m, Malcolm had 90 m and a 3rd pilot with 34 m). Three other pilots had serious infringements of more than 300 m. At this moment, the rules are applied, but discussions are going on...
I am surprised however that I have a tracklog above 2300 m. I'm quite sure my instrument never indicated that. The times I was close to the limit, I very regularly checked my height and I never saw anything above 2280 m. So it seems we must take a greater margin of error to be sure...
Anyway, it feels good to have won a task :-)

Sunday, July 25, 2010

2010 Belgian Open, task 1 cancelled

We travelled from Ager to Laragne for the Belgian Open. Toady was the first competition day, but the Mistral is blowing. Task cancelled.
The weather doesn't look good for the coming days. Tuesday should be flyable, and maybe even very good, but Wednesday and Thursday look like Mistral days again. Let's hope we get at least 3 tasks for the competition!

2010 Europeans are over!

Day 12, Task 9. Rain in the morning with a very low cloudbase. Quite a lot of wind predicted and there should be better weather coming in so we headed up the mountain. Some pilots didn't even start setting up their glider because they couldn't believe we would have a flyable day later on.
The weather indeed cleared and we got a 87 km task out in the flats. I started well and followed the lead gaggle until 20 km before goal. But, I wasn't feeling comfortable in the air and somehow slowly lost height in the gaggle. I started the race on top and now, near the end, I was low, but still in the lead gaggle. I just needed 1 more thermal to make it to goal. I started flying conservatively due to my decreasing altitude, but when I saw the lead gaggle shoot up 2 km ahead of me, I raced towards them. 1 km before the gaggle, I flew through a 2 m/s thermal, so I concluded that the one ahead surely needed to be a strong one if the area around already had such rising air. Sadly, I found nothing below the gaggle. The 2 m/s thermal probable was the same one, but broken from the part the gaggle was in due to the wind. I didn't find anything decent anymore and had to land 18 km from goal. I needed 1 more thermal to end the competition in style and I failed.
It cost me a lot of points because 50 pilots made goal. I dropped from 34th to 39th and I am no longer first Benelux pilot. That honour goes to Koos. Well done Koos!
Still, 39th place should provide me with something like 40 points for the world ranking, which should move me into the top 150. Will the Belgian and Dutch Open enable me to reach the top 100 this year? I'll try, but hey, no guarantee!

Thursday, July 22, 2010

2010 Europeans, task 8, racing day

Yesterday was a risky day for overdevelopment, so the task committee decided on a short 77 km task. Launch conditions looked difficult at first with a 22 km/h east wind in the valley, blowing along the ridge.
I took an early start and headed against the wind to approach the start circle from the east. I worked on that for half an hour, until the thermal seemed to die there and I drifted back towards launch. 5 Minutes before the first start gate, I got high again with the guys who just started at that moment...
But OK, I wasn't in a bad position to start and had a really nice, fast flight. In an easy thermal I didn't release the VG because I really want to optimize my climb. I pushed out a little and thermalled like that. Suddenly, I did it a bit too much and the glider got into a spin. I lost 100 meters in a matter of seconds and it was only after releasing the VG that I dared pulling it out of the spin. There was much more force involved in the spin than I expected it would have. I will never thermal the Combat with full VG again, not even in the smoothest thermals!
I loved racing the clouds and was in goal in 22nd position, which is my result in the task too. I got 792 points for the task, a new personal best which took me to 34th overall. First pilot of the Benelux. Absolutely way past my personal expectations or ambitions. I hope I can continu the learning curve. I love this sport!
Have a look at the videos on the Ager 2010 blog. The sound of gliders diving into goal at high speed is so cool :-) Yesterday I flew into goal with a top speed of 113 km/h. Against the wind that is. It's always big fun to aim for that white goal line!

2010 Europeans, task 7, lots of broken pieces

Task 7 was a tricky one. We headed northeast against a 20 km/h wind. The thermals were rough and I clearly lacked experience fighting against the wind in the mountains. After 45 km, I got into the lee of a mountain and it felt like being inside a washing machine. And one that's going down fast!
I had a nice green landing field in sight and could just make it there. There was already one glider standing there. The field had 3 terasses and the landed glider was on the smallest upper terasse. I chose to land on the biggest one, the middle one. I turned to downwind and saw the field from the side for the first time. ****! There are 2m high sprinklers all over the field! They were 20 m apart, but covered the whole field and there was no other option than to land in that field. Turbulent, windy conditions and having to land the glider in a 20 m crosswind lane. Not ideal to say the least! I managed to stay in the lane during my groundeffect glide, but got out of course and headed for a sprinkler short before I normally would have to land. I flared early and high to avoid piercing the sail on the sprinkler. The landing was pretty hard and I broke an upright. 2 Years without damage are finished...
5 minutes later a Hungarian pilot arrived low. I tried to convince him to land on another field, but he saw 2 gliders in a perfectly green field, so he came to land too. He slightly clipped one of the sprinklers with his left wing, causing some damage to the carbon winglet but landed fine. For him, it also was a big scare when he noticed the sprinklers (really late).
Another 5 minutes passed before Julia arrived on the scene. She was still quite high and probably could have made it to another landing field, but hey, our field was so green and already had 3 gliders on it. She didn't interprete our frantic movements to make her to land as an indication of trouble ahead. She came in nicely for her landing, but slow because she probably didn't want to have a long glide in between the sprinklers. And then, very quickly, a turbulence sent her nose down, crashing her into the field from about 5 to 7m. The impact was very hard and she was motionless when we arrived there. A few seconds later she regained consciousness and she could move all fingers and toes. But she obviously had a slight concussion and didn't remember the crash. The glider had a broken keel.
Another 5 minutes later, Natalia arrived. Congrats to her for a nice landing on that field. None of the pilots saw the sprinklers until the very last moment. The farmer came to have a look at us, confirming us that the sprinklers were 'veery dangeroos'.
I'll watch out for suspiciously green fields in the future!
Many more pilots had bad landings that day. The continuous flying was taking it's toll in terms of fatigue. Since the weather predictions weren't super for the next day, the organizers decided to have a rest day. Many pilots were repairing their glider during that day (in most cases just replacing an upright).

Monday, July 19, 2010

2010 Europeans, task 6, many lead points

Yesterday we had a stable, pretty difficult day with a 113 km task. I wanted to start early to take lead points to compensate for my speed and to be helped by others in the second half of the task.
While nobody wanted to start at the first start gate, I took off to a ridge north of the start, convinced that there would be decent thermals there. But I didn't find any when I got there. To make matters worse, got below ridge height and had to choose the east side of the ridge, which was in the lee of the westerly winds, because there were no landings on the west side of the ridge. To make it even worse, the first turnpoint was situated on the west side of the ridge, so I had to get higher to be able to cross it again.
When I already was pretty much convinced that I would have to land, I found my first weak thermal. I just allowed me to stay aloft. This continued for 20 minutes. Just maintaining height, not getting anywhere. Then things got better and I was able to start flying along the foothills of the ridge until Talarn, but never getting high enough to cross it. At Talarn, I suddenly had a 4 m/s thermal which took me just high enough to make it across the ridge. On the other side I got pretty low again, but eventually I found a nice thermal and got high (2500 m). I started the glide to the first turnpoint and saw that the valley north of the turnpoint was full of gliders. Many had taken the second start gate. I was first to round the turnpoint and headed for Talarn again, looking for my 4 m/s thermal to extend my lead. Major mistake. Talarn was a detour and I only found 1 m/s lift when I got there. The lead gaggle past me on the north, taking the direct route.
I could join the second gaggle and headed for the valley of Isona. Coming back from Isona I had a really close encounter with a vulture. It probably flew on the wave of my leading edge. So close! Beautiful.
I made goal in 12th position. I was slower than many others, but I knew I would have quite a lot of leading points. It resulted in 33rd position for the task with 94 leading points. Rob was right behind me in the standings, flying 20 minutes faster. So the leading points compensated for 20 mins flying. Not bad. The flight made me regain some places I had lost the day before. I'm now 43rd, it would be nice to make it back to the top 40.

2010 Europeans, task 5, racing with Jonny and Alex

Two days ago, we had task 5. I try only to remember the positive things about the flight. The start gaggle at cloudbase was nice and the race start was impressive. I basically followed Jonny until the first turnpoint and that definitely was faster than I ever flew before. Somehow I lost the contact after turning around from the turnpoint. I really don't know how that happened, but it did. And at the same moment the thermals seemed to die. I stayed in the air for another 20 minutes, but had to land after 45 kms. Not good. Lost 10 places in the overall standings (49th).

Sunday, July 18, 2010

2010 Europeans, task 4, 196 km!

On friday, we had a beautiful day and the task committee decided to give us a really big task. 196 km were to be flown. The day was really good and I surpassed my own expectations. I made goal, with a new personal record for distance and speed.
The final glide to goal was probably the most nerve wrecking thing I have ever done in hang gliding. I started the final glide about 25 km from goal, into a headwind. The compeo said I would have 600 m above goal and after a few kms glide, the instrument only gave me 200 m. Luckely the glide got better then and I rounded the last turnpoint with a predicted 400 m above goal. And with the wind in the back! Time to get some speed. I started gliding at 90 km/h and sped up to 115 km/h just before goal, overtaking Larry (USA) in the final kms. That was true racing :-p
Many happy faces at goal as an unbelievable total of 62 pilots made goal. The organizers never expected that.
And ofcourse, Jonny made a movie about it:

This flight put me in 39th overall, but yesterday's flight was a little disaster for me, landing after 45 km. So I dropped to 49th. But I'll write about that later. Time to get up the mountain for task 6!

Friday, July 16, 2010


Well, the general classification is published. Yesterdays task made me climb from 65th to 41st in the rankings. 1st Belgian and well inside the first half. Will I be able to continue this?

2010 Europeans, task 3, 22nd!

A 112 km task was set yesterday on a day which had a very pronounced inversion. People were not looking forward to the start gaggle as very dense traffic was expected due to the low thermal height. It was indeed very busy!
The day before was cancelled to strong winds and I bought some cycling gloves because my gloves are too hot for Spain. But... I pulled the VG when I jumped from one thermal to another above the start. When I wanted to release it when I entered a busy thermal, the VG rope got stuck around my bare fingers after only releasing a tiny bit. My right hand was stuck to the glider and I was flying the busy thermal with almost full VG. Not good. It took me about two minutes to untie the knot with my left hand and release my fingers which were pretty sore by then. Won't fly with these gloves again!
A few minutes later I was pretty high for the conditions and the first start gate opened. I decided to start, but only Markus Ebenfelder and I flew away. Two out of 90, I didn't trust it, so I returned to the start gaggle. 8 Minutes later I was pretty high again and I went anyway. That's an 8 minute penalty in time, but hey, it was good to get away and to be in front. I just had to make sure I kept flying and then a lot of people would pass me.
It turned out that I was very fast towards the first turnpoint, where I caught up with Markus. We were both thermalling with about 1 km between us when a group of about 15 vultures shot up beneath and in between us. We both headed for the birds. Their thermal was the best of the day for me and it was impressive to fly really close to them. One was only about 5 meters from me for a while.
I lost a lot of time from the first to the second turnpoint because I went through the valley and was caught by some pilots while I was thermalling up in a crappy thermal at the turnpoint. But from now on, I was no longer alone. A few kms further, the lead gaggle caught us (they started 20 mins after me) and I flew with the top pilots for the first time. I even sacrificed some height just to be able to glide next to Jonny and Gerolf for a while, to see how good my glide is compared to theirs. Not bad actually, I expected more of a difference.
Goal was only 2 thermals away at that point, so I started flying cautiosly because I really wanted to make goal. I took my last thermal only a few kms before goal under a convergence line because we were going to have a headwind from the sea breeze behind the convergence. Gerd Doenhuber flew under me to race towards goal and I had 400m excess height from a 6 km distance, so it really couldn't go wrong anymore. I had Gerd in sight and could race by him due to the height I had. Nice game :-) I lost the lead gaggle by flying slower, but came across the line in 12th position or so. Wow, certainly my best flight ever!
They published the scores for yesterday's task and I'm 22nd with 747 points. New PB. Taking the risk of going early provided me 91 lead points. The guys in 21st and 23rd were a good 10 mins faster. I like lead points :-) I don't know where it takes me in the general classification, but I think I will be in the top 50. Let's hope I can keep flying like this!

Wednesday, July 14, 2010

Jonny's video on task 2

Jonny has made a really nice video on yesterday's task. Make sure you have a look at the final glide and landing!

2010 Europeans, task 2

Driving up the mountain yesterday, we saw a thick inversion layer and we feared it would really be difficult to get up from the ridge. The task committee clearly also feared the stability and set a 90 km task. Rather short for a European championship, but I really had my doubts whether it was possible on such a stable day.

We all knew the start was gowing to be crowded. Pretty weak, sometimes broken thermals and 90 pilots fighting to get up. I started when about 50 pilots were in the air. Quite a view to see almost all of them circle in the same thermal. I took me quite a while before I found a decent thermal which took me high enough to start. I didn't want to wait another 22 mins until the next starting gate, so I started the race with an 8 minute 'penalty'. But it was good enough to be able to get away.
The first part of the course went well. I was catching up people because I could see them thermal ahead of me. Blay showed me a very nice 3.5 m/s thermal and thermalling up with him at the same altitude was really, really synchronized. And hey, I didn't climb slower than one of the best :-)
After the first turnpoint, I made the wrong decision of trying to follow ridges to speed up the pace. I left Blay and Wolfgang 'Wolfi' Siess because I thought they were taking too much risks trying to go fast and probably low later on. 2 mins later I saw them climbing very fast, but I didn't want to take the risk to leave my thermal at that moment to join them. Crucial mistake, they went up to 3050m and basically glided into goal from there. I got low on the other hand and survived on the ridge I followed but lost more than half an hour on them.
Wolfi got 3rd place into goal, I got 56th position. Damn... But it was a really good feeling to be on goal on a day where I had my doubts whether I would get anywhere. Spain is definitely different from Belgium ;-)
BTW, check out Wolfi's videos. They're pretty spectacular!

Tuesday, July 13, 2010

2010 Europeans, task 1

Yesterday was a difficult day. Stable air and weak thermals are not what Ager is known for. They set a 130 km task with 3 start gates. People were clearly reluctant to start because of the weak conditions. I planned to be in the air for the second start gate and I started at the right time for that, but I just couldn't get enough height to make the first crossing over a few unlandable kms. It took me an hour to get the first somewhat consistent thermal. I didn't look at the start time at all at that moment and just started the race.
I got quite low before the first turnpoint and flew low and alone after that. When I finally got some height again, I was joined by a gaggle and immediately after made a crucial mistake when I didn't trust the route they were taking. Soon after I was on the ground and I saw them passing by on the other side of the valley.
The flight delivered me 61st place out of 90 pilots. I hope to improve on that today.

Sunday, July 4, 2010

Preparing for the Europeans

On thursday, I'll drive to Ager to participate in the European Championships. And I'm nervous about it. Not about flying together with the best. I have confidence in my hang glider handling and I like the busy 3D thermalling-in-traffic-game. But what will my performance be? In the German and Austrian comps I flew close to Julia and Tiefi's performance, two other young pilots (6 and 4? years experience, but many more flights/comps). And they are flying really well in the Spanish Open at this moment. But what will happen when the top 5 of every national competition is present? I'd hate to be low down in the results. But I fear it will happen... and that's why I'm nervous about it.
I shouldn't expect it any other way. I only fly for three years, it's now not yet 2 years since my first cross country flight. And I fly in Belgium, where conditions aren't optimal, but maybe that's good for training?
Anyway, the waiting has lasted for long enough now. Let's just go and fly. And hope it will at least be a good training for the Belgian nationals, immediately after. I want to be on the podium there!

Friday, July 2, 2010


It's now July 2010 and I'm 201st in the world rankings, exactly 3 years after my first flight. 2 Months ago I was 501st. It's just a matter of flipping the 5 :-)
Time to get nostalgic. This is how it looked like 3 years ago. I was all pumped up and just couldn't wait for my first flight. I barely managed a smile for the camera. Come on, let me run off the mountain!

Nowadays things look way more aerodynamic and I absolutely love my sport!