Sunday, July 31, 2011

2011 Belgian Nationals, Day 1, Task 1

Today looked like the nicest weather to fly in. The forecasts talked about almost no wind, no chance for overdevelopment and nice thermals. We decided to launch from the north take-off on Chabre and set a task flying zig-zag along the edges of the valley. Should have been a task to get many people in goal.
The reality was that there was a serious south wind blowing at Sisteron, which decked many pilots, because we had to get the Gache waypoint. Many, including me, were flushed down in the lee winds.

I did have a good start thought and was racing with Carl Wallbank and Malcolm Brown. But that of course doesn't help you when you land out... Thanks to Mitsubishi, we had to do some off-road driving today to get my glider. 4WD works well :-)

Luckily, only Carl made goal and many, many pilots landed near Gache. I should not have lost too many points, we'll see. Many thanks to Jamie for the pictures.

Worlds ended, Belgian Nationals now

The World Championships ended with a sad day. Being on a bad launch on what turned out to be a beautiful day. I ended the Worlds in 28th place (143 competitors).
I arrived in Laragne, because the Belgian Nationals are about to start here. We're going to have a minute silence for Ricky who was killed after a failed start on the north launch. Very sad news.
We have good weather forecasts for the whole weak. Hopefully we have a comp with lots of safe and enjoyable flying...

Thursday, July 28, 2011

2011 Worlds, Day 7, Task 2

We finally had another task on day 7 (Tuesday, 26th). It was a very interesting task. We headed off south first in real racing conditions. Fast climbs, fast glides. Then we had to head north past the windmills, where we had a turnpoint. I was a little slow on the return and to make things worse, I flew 2,5 km past the turnpoint at the windmills... I was very upset about making this mistake as I thought it ruined any chances for me that day. But, while flying further to the north, I got an interesting line and I caught up with the second gaggle. I left the gaggle early, pushing for the most north turnpoint, which was covered in shade, hoping that I could glide back before the whole valley shut down. The opposite happened. I would not have been able to glide back, but after some surviving on the Gubbio ridge, a few spots a sun came through and everybody joined in a few very dense, low thermals. At one point, I was climbing faster in the middle of two gaggles and soon both thermals converged, causing both gaggles to collide. That was the most dense, chaotic traffic I have ever flown in.
From then on, about 70 gliders were close together and it ended with a 29 km glide on the edge of the rain, with an 18:1 glide ratio at 65 km/h on average. I even had to burn off some altitude in the end, speeding up to 110 km/h on a day where everything was overcast and rain was coming our way.
The glide into goal was probably one the most dense ever in hang gliding. People like Jonny Durand and Vicky Cain said they had never seen anything like that before. I heard that 40 gliders arrived within a minute of each other. I was in the middle of that pack, placing 28th. Much better than expected after the errors early in the task.
Johan Marien, a Belgian pilot flying his 3rd flight on a Spyder was having his first flight on Monte Cucco. He was 100 m above the landing field when the whole pack zoomed in. He couldn't believe his eyes. When I spotted the Spyder on final glide, I thought "he's in for a surprise" :-) Other pilots flying higher above Cucco also witnessed the arrival and had goose bumps, just like many spectators on the ground. It's a shame a haven't found any good photo or video footage of it. Seems that everybody just watched and nobody recorded it...

Happy to be in goal pretty fast:

Wednesday, July 27, 2011

28th

28th in the second task and in the general results. My personal target was top 30 (143 pilots present), so I'm not unhappy.

Sunday, July 24, 2011

2011 Worlds, Day 5 & 6

Days 5 & 6 were canceled. And there's not much as miserable as a hang gliding competition without flying...
Although we had some free flying yesterday in the early evening. I first had some fun buzzing the launch, but when I got into a thermal with some strength, I decided to take it and it soon became a solid 4,5 m/s to 2000 m. I decided to go for Gubbio against the 30 km/h wind and Karl Reichegger (I think), seemed to have the same plan. We took a 2 m/s in the middle of the valley and almost drifted back to above launch. But we had made some advance and could glide to the Gubbio ridge now. When I arrived there, the winds were almost NW and I spent 40 min soaring the ridge, but not getting any decent thermals anymore. I couldn't get back, so I landed near Gubbio.
Julia was flying herself, so when she didn't reply to my sms, I decided to walk to Gubbio and have dinner there. Gnocchi with a tomato sauce, bacon, rucola and parmesan. It tasted good and it filled the stomach.
I really hope we fly another task tomorrow! We came here to compete.

Saturday, July 23, 2011

Live tracking

We all have GPS trackers at this comp. And, you can follow us live on the internet. Suddenly people can see the race unfold. And it's fun to get some comments from people who watched you fly online. I didn't realize who much more transparent our sport becomes, when they gave me the tracker.
You can also replay tasks in Google Earth, certainly something to check out!

2011 Worlds, Day 4, Task 1

Yesterday, we had our first task. Due to the high winds, the organization decided to launch from Monte Subasio, above Assisi, which is a 1 hour drive from Monte Cucco. The launch site is huge and there was no problem at all setting up 150 gliders. The sky looked nice, but is was evident that there was a lot of wind.
We got a 120 km task up and down and a bit into the valley of Assisi. We launched and just before the first start gate, almost 150 gliders joined in a single thermal. I've never seen that much traffic. My position was good and I wanted to go early, so I took the first start gate, as did about 100 others I think. It was a fight against the wind and I got a little behind the leaders, almost catching them at the first start point.
But I also had to manage my GPS problems. I had forgotten to enter the first turnpoint twice (once for the start gate and once for the actual turnpoint) and only had the 'optimized distance' in the user fields. So, once I canceled the route, to start a GOTO to the turnpoint, I didn't have a distance because 'Dist to WP' was not on the display and you don't seem to be able to change the user fields in flight... So I went a bit further than others did, to make sure I got the turnpoint... Many also landed at the first turnpoint.
I got a good run back to the start and at 70 km into the task I was back with the leaders. Now, the struggle into the 35 km/h headwind to the turnpoint in the valley started. At first, I was blown backwards in lighter thermals in the shade. Only after a while I got a 2 m/s and I started making progress again. I ended up 200 m below Manfred about 3,5 km before the turnpoint. We flew into a thermal and I saw Manfred go up, but only had 0,5-1 m/s myself. Not enough for a 35 km/h wind. So I pushed for the turnpoint, being quite sure that that was going to be a thermal trigger. Against my expectations, I could not reach it, because we approached it from the lee side and the glide wasn't good enough for that. I had to land and saw many gliders come over...
I'm 33rd in the results which is better than I expected when I saw everybody fly over. But I should have done better. Losing a very possible 10th-15th place 2/3rds into the task is not a nice feeling.

Day 3 Video

Uploading took a few tries, but here it is:

Thursday, July 21, 2011

2011 Worlds, Day 3, Canceled

We all were hopeful for today and drove the whole flying circus to Monte Cucco's south launch. But soon it was clear that the winds were higher than allowed in the local regulations. Gusts over 40 km/h, so there was not going to be a task. The winds away from the mountain looked strong, but flyable, so when the task was canceled, about 2/3 of the field went free flying.
The thermals were great and I enjoyed a 1 hour flight, before I landed because there was a bit too much lift to my liking. I had to work a bit to come down to the landing field in pretty turbulent air, but that was the worst of the day. Once landed, the sky looked much friendlier again and it turned out to be a very nice afternoon.
A video with some impressions of the windy launch place is uploading. Coming soon...

Wednesday, July 20, 2011

Worlds 2011, Day 2, Canceled

The second day has been canceled due to high winds as well. There's a real chance for flying tomorrow. Let's hope we finally get started.
Yesterday morning, I proposed the idea to go to Castelluccio to have some local flying there. The site is known to be protected from high winds. We didn't go to Castelluccio, but visited the Frassisi caves instead. It definitely was worth the visit, but it hurt when the Germans told in the evening that they were flying up to 4000 m in wave conditions at Castelluccio. Damn, I missed an exceptional opportunity...

Monday, July 18, 2011

Monte Cucco Video

Monte Cucco is a special place, where you can find smooth air in strong wind conditions. We had two of those days just prior to the upcoming worlds and we played around a little. Hope you enjoy it, we did :-)

Sunday, July 17, 2011

Pre-comp-nervousness

There's a lot going on here. The World Championships are about to start, so everybody is nervous. And in this nervous atmosphere, everybody has to register and the technical rules are checked (sprog measurements, helmet certifications).
The sprog measurement requires 150 gliders to be measured within 2 days in quite a hot sports hall. No need to say that some people get stressed there. Moreover because some things are a bit weird. The minimum settings for the sprogs are defined by the manufacturers. That's a bit like letting the cyclist teams in the tour de france decide themselves how much doping is still safe for their riders. You can guess what the result would be...
And then there is the 'no more prototypes'-rule. It seems that some people who very much know what they are doing in this sport, arrived with gliders which are different from their certified gliders. A bit weird as well, isn't it?
Next to that, there's the discussion about helmet certifications. The rules for this are well defined and already known a year ahead. It seems that a number of people are trying to cut corners there. Please, give the organizers a break. It was really easy for all of us to comply to that simple rule...
So, as you can see, a lot of pre-comp-nervousness. May it stop soon. Let the flying begin! If the weather permits...

Thursday, July 14, 2011

Munich - Fiesch Open. Turbulent times.

Driving to Fiesch over the Furka-Oberalp pass was great:

Arriving in Fiesch, it was soon clear that a lot of people hadn't shown up. Fiesch has a very bad reputation when it comes to turbulences. Were people afraid, so short before the worlds? Nobody wanted to risk any injuries, that's for sure.
The first task immediately was the most turbulent flight ever for me. But what an experience it was to fly above the glacier! Here's a picture published on the OzReport:

You see the huge blocks of ice and you feel that the reserve chute is something which will only extend your life for a short while :-) It's a shame we never got to experience a high cloud base, I never got above 3000 m (although the organizers gave us a certificate telling us we participated in a comp where we flew above 4000 m, lol!).
But hey, not too much time for sightseeing, there was a race going on. The first task started with a really good start position for me, but I struggled after the first turnpoint. The rest of the task, I raced very hard and I ended up 6th, just 5 minutes behind Manfred, the Schumacher of hang gliding ;-). On final glide, the glider was rocked to all sides. The side wires slapped a few times, but I think the tail is working very, very well. Dustin flew next to me and slowed down to half VG and 80 km/h, while I could just charge on...
The second task was a big disappointment for me. I flew the first 2/3 very fast, only Primoz ahead of me and Manfred below me. When I only needed 400 m more to make goal, I didn't take a 2 m/s to cloudbase (which Manfred did take). 5 Minutes later I ended up in a sink hole and didn't react in a very smart way. I ended up on the ground and could only curse at myself...
One of the Russian girls had a bad landing and broke her hips. It was very strange to hear the organizer tell us on the briefing that she was ok because she was going to be able to fly next year. It got even stranger when he told us a few minutes later that the day was canceled because the comp didn't have any accidents and he wanted it to stay that way. Huh?
So, on the canceled day, we visited the Aletsch glacier. Pics here, they're impressive!
The third day I missed the start gate and had 2 tough moments. Ended up half an hour slower than the leaders and 26th on the task. I ended up 17th overall, but I clearly had higher expectations...

Tuesday, July 5, 2011

Are we going to get any comps?

I took 6 months off the job to see what's possible in terms of competition flying. But the European season brings me one canceled comp after the other. Alpen Open, Italian Nationals, Austrian Nationals, they all were struck by bad weather. Next two comps are the biggest of the year. The Swiss Open in Fiesch and of course the World Championships in Italy. The past few days they had some nice flying in Switzerland, but look how the predictions look like for the comp: snow and thunderstorms. I can't believe it...

Flying in Gemona, spectacular!

During the last weekend I flew in Gemona with Davide, Suan, Gerolf, Tom, Anton, Artur and the Ukrainians. On Saturday, we hit a very special day there. Cloudbase was at 2400 m above the flats and there was rain and abundant lift over the mountains. It was freezing above 2200 m and I didn't put on enough clothes on the hot and sweaty launch. Soon I was freezing in the air and after 1,5 hours, I decided to land because I was shaking all over my body. Anton and Gerolf used the cloud street in the flats and landed on the beach :-)
On Sunday we had different weather with rather turbulent conditions. NW winds were flowing over the mountains, so we mostly flew in light lee conditions on the south faced slopes. Here's a video of that flight, it's a quickly made compilation of Sunday's flight, but I think it has some spectacular views. Check it out :-)

Monday, July 4, 2011

Croation Nationals, Beautiful Istria

It's about time to write down how it was in Croatia! First of all, Croatia is the first country where I was stopped at a border and told I could not cross it. The GPS sent me over some tiny roads in the middle of the night (and also in the middle of nowhere) and suddenly I saw two headlights coming my way. And they aimed straight for me. I had to stop on the tiny road and it turned out to be a border patrol sending me back. I could not cross the border there at night. And I was only 4 km from the place where I had to be. Raspadalica, above Buzet:

Raspadalica is a very nice take-off, 400 or 500 m above Buzet, with a camping right next to launch. The grass field is covered with a variety of herbs. When you drive your car to the tent, the tires roll over them, resulting in an intense perfume when you exit the car!
The competition tasks were run from Ucka, a 1400 m high mountain on the Adriatic coast. Here you can see that the rigging area was small and we needed to use every inch of it. (Funny how you swap metric systems when you swap languages...)

We had three tasks in total. Primoz won the first and third and was second in the second task. A convincing win for him. For me, the first task started with true racing with Primoz, Balasz and Franc. Somehow I thought I saw a better line leading to the second turnpoint and I went for it. Only to regret that I thought I knew better than Primoz... I got low, spent a lot of time recovering from it and had a slow run into goal then. Still 4th for the task, so it wasn't a bad result.
The landing still had a surprise. The winds were switching when I approached the field and I waited too long with my decision on how to fly the circuit:

The second task started with an interesting launch. We had NE winds above 1500 m and S winds down in the valley, which I didn't realize. I explored the area on my own before the start gate and waited under a very nice cloud. After a while, the cloud got stronger and when I exited the lift, I got into quite severe turbulence. I was scared even with the VG off. So I left that cloud and went for the cloud where all the others were. When I arrived there, 4 minutes before the start gate, I saw that Primoz was still climbing, but very slowly, while all the others were looking for other options. I also started searching for stronger lift and only found sink. So, you fly at cloud base for 45 minutes only to lose 500 m in the last minutes before the start :-( I decided to start anyway, convinced that the ridge to the first turnpoint would work. But that wasn't the case due to the S influx of maritime air into the valley. I was on the ground much sooner than expected. And I could forget about a nice classification in the comp... The 4WD Mitsubishi came in handy during the retrieve:

The third task started with magical flying before the start. A convergence set up north of Ucka and I was flying between the cloud wisps, at 2400 m, with a fantastic view over Istria and the islands in the Adriatic Sea:

The first start gate was at 14h30, which is already very late, but it was a blue day out in the flats, where the task was flown. Being the only one very high at the time of the start, I had 2 options: start and risk it on my own in the blue, or give up my position and wait for the second start, half an hour later. I opted for the first and had a 25 km glide to the ground... Here I fly into the valley where I had my last hope to find a thermal:

It ended with a landing with the drogue chute. I practiced a few a those landings since I haven't been doing them for a long time. I'm always shorter than I expect to be. The drogue chute is working well :-)

I couldn't find the scores online yet, but if I remember well I ended up 12th. Wanted to do a lot better...