21 August 2011

Not back in the air, quite yet

Some readers of this blog have wondered where I hang out; it's over a year since the last post.

The main reason it has been quiet here is that I simply have not been flying. Recovery from last year's accident went actually quite well but it took of course some time. The bad news is that late in the autumn I started suffering from a strange illness that which is not really diagnosed yet. It's generally not very bad but just sufficiently serious to ground me.

In between I have good periods of a week or two and luckily one of those coincided with the yearly Lokkilok pilgrimage to Gréolières, at the end of April. That was once again a great week of flying, Robin did a nice write up.
That week was also a good opportunity to finally get to fly my new XC Trango. I needed to get used to the wing a bit, especially to using the trimmers but then it turned, and turned out as nice as I was made to believe.
But otherwise it has been up and down in the health department, not in the air. Fortunately I've managed so far to make the best of the situation, doing interesting work on a new web service for discovering and booking diving destinations, TangaReef. Check it out, and like us on Facebook!
And partly as treatment but mostly for sheer fun I volunteered the whole last week at the Underwater Rugby World Championships here in Helsinki. The warm and humid air in the pool building really seems to help a lot. So perhaps I can get back into the air before the winter is here again...

16 July 2010

Some involuntary flying

Just returned home from the Pre-Worlds in Piedrahita, Spain. Attentive readers will notice that this is before the end of the comp. On Saturday, the unofficial training day, I launched relatively early as the 10th or so pilot, while most others waited for the conditions to become a bit more reliable. We had waited quite long for the thick inversion to raise above takeoff, and it was still low; the first thermals only took one some 100 m above launch. But I wanted some practice in working the weak stuff so decided to go as soon as I saw that it was possible to stay up.
I'd worked my way some 5km along the ridge, when I hit a weak but clear thermal, and started circling in it, drifting up along the mountain. At the 4th or so circle I suddenly got a huge collapse, approx. half the wing folded in and worse, it cravatted (folded between the lines) for some reason. Never experienced such an "unwarned" collapse, and never a cravatte when thermalling. Much worse was that I was low, very low, over the gentle (not steep) mountain. I'm used to flying close to steep mountains where you always have altitude above the ground. Now I had only 30 m at most. However the glider behaved reasonably, I managed to steer away and maintain more or less a direction away from the mountain. I just started attempts to open the wing when the glider hit some turbulence, presumably lift, and surged forward somewhat. When I then swing under it, the glider picked up speed. Normally this would open the inflation, but due to the cravatte this time the speed made me turn back to the mountain again, and now with speed. By now I was really low, and obviously going to hit the ground soon. Luckily I managed to steer parallel to the mountain and found time to get my legs out. Hence the "landing" on/against a huge rock was hard, but not hard enough to kill me. I'd injured my ankle and felt a lot of back pain, but nothing seemed broken. Other than my radio that is. Some 15 minutes later other paragliders flew by and with some I managed to make contact, indicating that I was ok, but in need of help. Initially there was no cellular signal, but a bit later I could call 112, who already were aware of the situation and asked for details. Soon after two pilots who had top-landed on the plateau above me arrived, immediately followed by a helicopter with a paramedic rescue team. They assessed the situation and little later I was winched up into another helicopter. Then into an ambulance and to the local health care station. Then after a quick look by the doctor I was transported to the hospital in Avilá, for x-rays. Luckily these confirmed that both ankle and back had not fractured. The ankle was immobilized with plaster, and sometime later I walked with the aid of crutches in the opening parade! Huge thanks to all the rescue and medical people and the pilots who top-landed; you were all wonderful.

I stayed around a few days and recovered some strength, greatly helped by my house mates. Sunday evening was special of course with a great crowd on the plaza around the large screens. The Spanish deservedly won the World Cup, and happily forgave me and the other Dutch supporters our misplaced hopes. The wild crowd and fireworks at the final whistle blow made for an unforgettable evening.
Now, 6 days later, I'm back home and after a visit to the local health care centre relieved from the plaster and with permission to try to walk, gradually. It's even hotter here in Finland than in Spain so the possibility to have a shower or a bath is extremely welcome.

08 July 2010

Ready for the Worlds

Just finished packing; tomorrow I'll leave for Piedrahita, Spain, the venue of the paragliding Pre-Worlds. Meanwhile both the Netherlands and Spain managed to get through the football World Cup knock-out rounds and will contest each other in the final, on Sunday. It's going to be an interesting evening in the local bar!
I've packed my my camera already so had to take the picture with my phone....

05 May 2010

Finland 2010 season opened in style

It's that time of the year again. We've endured the long cold winter, did some flying in southern and exotic locations, and now we're ready, no make that eager!, for the famous long XC flights that are expected in spring time Finland.
So I was not surprised when Ari S. called me Wednesday evening to urge me to leave early on Thursday morning for the Oripää airfield. The forecast promised moderately strong thermals, quite much westerly winds and a reasonably high cloudbase, in short record weather. So there I was, a bit before the agreed 10 'o clock. It was quite windy already but as the sky looked promising indeed I prepared my gear. Within 20 minutes Ari and Jyrki arrived, soon to be followed by the local pilots Pekka, Jukka and Ari L, who were kind enough to immediately roll out the towing line. So at 11 we were all ready to go, with a number of sailplane zones activated, and an agreed goal of Selänpää, at 222 km.
Conditions at the airfield looked quite turbulent and the clouds small, broken and far between, but Ari S and Jukka were eager to try. They took 3 tows each which included a couple of heart-stopping starts, one reason why we others figured it was worth waiting a bit. They did encounter only broken lift over the airfield, and lower down the strong gusty wind caused very turbulent air. Some time later I felt that things look quite a bit better and lined up. Ari S. took this as a clue and asked if he could go first. After another difficult start up he went and then found a reasonable thermal. It didn't take him very high but off he went. I then had two attempts, one with nothing but strong sink, and the second with only some broken lift. It seemed time for a coffee break. I couldn't really stay for the late afternoon and drove the 2 hours back home
Later Pekka made a very nice 42 km flight to Forssa, and still later we heard from Ari S. who had managed to stay up in the broken stuff next to the airfield and after some 40 km found better conditions and eventually made it to the Hyvinkää airfield, a 118 km trip! I'll never let him jump me in the towing queue again ;)

Update (Wed 5 May): Mika P. reports from the Leivonmäki free-flight paradise that hang-glider pilot Vesa has been in the air for at least 4 hours now, so could have gone far! And Mika himself did a 24 km triangle.

19 April 2010

A French Workout

Lokkilok is in Gréolières again, with a small group of Finnish paraglider pilots. The weather has been variable over the last week with over-development almost every afternoon. However, each morning, and many a late afternoon, have been very good for flying. So far 10 flying days out of 10!

It all started on Thu over a week ago when Jorma A. and myself arrived in the afternoon and went for a walk up the mountain. The next morning look great so we walked the 40 minutes up to the Gréolières start, some 200 m above the village. With a 20 kg glider bag the first few times really hurt! After a nice flight we landed before the (too) strong mid-day conditions, but after lunch went up again for another two hours of flying. Saturday was even better, but I had to cut my afternoon flight short to fetch Timo and Aki from the airport. We then started serious practice of thermal techniques, concentrating on efficient turns and active flying; I tried to make catch some of the points on video.
Tuesday we made lot of progress when conditions were unusually good at Roquebrune (Monaco) and the guys could make two good flights each, thermalling above the launch and over the sea. On Thursday Jorma went home and Ossi and Merja arrived, just before all the airports were shut due to the volcanic ash. Our routine of walking and flying continued however, naturally with great meals and wine in between. Otherwise we might loose some weight. Friday we had another good day at Roquebrune, while on Sat we deiced to take it easy and visited the famous Gorge du Verdon; followed by some flying at Gourdon.

By then Aki and Timo were "stuck" here in France, as no planes would leave or enter Finland. So yesterday morning they simply continued and made their best and highest flight so far, all the practice really starts to pay off. In the afternoon we then for good measure made the walk down to the river and back, a very steep patch of the GR4 trail, 260 m of what could almost be described as steps. So we should be in good shape for the good sunny weather that seems to return now, which should allow for another full day of flying!

05 March 2010

Finnish mid-winter thermal right above the frozen sea

Today was on the ice at Karhusaari, together with co-instructors Rami and Mika, hoping to teach our eager students. And to try out the new pay-out winch of our club. The sky was clear and sunny but it was quite windy and above all gusty. Also although the thick layer of snow was compressed during the last week into a nice hard layer it now harbored a thick layer of soft slush under it. So conditions for teaching were marginal at best.

But we really wanted to try that winch so we decided to tow me up. Initially it was difficult to inflate the wing and keep it nicely above the ice-road as the wind also turned out to be very twisty, but eventually I managed to make a good start. The winch worked very well indeed and within a few minutes a was some 350m above the beautiful winter archipelago landscape. After I released the little kite on the winch line opened quite well and started to fly and was nicely pulled down by the, now reversing, winch.
I meanwhile pressed the bar to glide upwind to what seemed a thermal possibility. And indeed I was rewarded by an unexpectedly good thermal, that took me up at some 2 m/s, which peaks of 3 m/s. The string wind made me drift quickly back towards Estonia, so quite soon had to leave the thermal that by now had formed a nice little cumulus cloud high above me.
In any case the first thermal of the 2010 season for me in Finland; and it's only early March! I uploaded the short flight to the XContest as it is funny to have a flight above the sea in there; Google Earth doesn't show the ice we have in the winter!

29 January 2010

Crazy Days

Days 4 and 5 of the Monarca Open 2010 have been very strange indeed. On Thursday morning we had a sunny briefing (picture above) where we were told that overdevelopment (too many, big, clouds) was to be expected especially over the Toluca plateau. Hence a task was set that kept us in front of the launch area. Before the launch window was opened the sun was blocked by overcast and it was clear that it would be a difficult day. I launched early and managed to slowly work my way up and to the edge of the start cylinder, but then sank out and had to start all over again. Amazingly it was possible to get up under the completely grey skies. After the start the field slowly worked its way to the end of Espina, which was the place to get high before starting the glide into the valley towards the Diente waypoint. From there it was southwards to a new turnpoint, Sur. Only a few pilots managed to get there and a little bit back. Many landed out even before the start and another bunch at a couple of km south of Diente. That was where I landed (track) whereas a bunch of gliders that were only 20 meters above me managed to work their way up and got close to Sur. I'd flown (only) 15 km in 2:40 hours. I decided to walk back to the main road which was an interesting 2 hour hike along canyons, over hills and through forests. But then I quickly got a ride back to Valle where we enjoyed a stunning sunset.

Today it looked like we would have another weak day, and a short task was set that would keep us out of the canyons in the valley but close the plateau instead. And indeed, the free flyers seemed to have even more difficulty to stay aloft then yesterday. However, this time around conditions improved a lot once the launch window was open, despite a persistent thin layer of overcast clouds. Around start time at an early 12:40 a large group was very high and dived towards Espina to continue towards the antennas at Divisadero. The leading group went far down into the foothills whereas others decided to stay high above the edge of the plateau. We then went back towards the launch area. It was important to be high before crossing the valley so that one could fly right back to the "crazy thermal" or to the Penon rock. To me it seemed that there was wave in the area as some lines were so much betters than others. Once back in the Penon area it was easy to complete the course, via the launch to Espina and then to Valle. The fastest pilot completed the 53 km speed section in an incredible 1:20. I needed 1:48 which was good for a 29th place (track).