07 June 2008

A Screaming Finish

The last day of the British Open in Pedro Bernardo offered all the excitement and drama that one could hope for. A northerly wind over the mountains and the forecast of cloudcover in the late afternoon prompted the organization to set a task of a 63 km with a first leg south into the valley system followed by an out- and return leg along the valley. The idea was to keep the pilots closer to the village for a quick retrieve to ensure a timely prize giving ceremony.
Today the launch conditions were much better than earlier in the week and soon after the window was opened most pilots were in the air. Only to find that one had to struggle quite a bit to get and stay up. The northerly winds caused turbulent, broken, thermals that were not easy to catch. The start line was some 10 km from the mountain and in due time people glided across the valley. Where they soon found out that lift was very hard to come by. I myself had left the mountain a bit low and had decided to go for the small hills a bit east of the route, whereas most people aimed for the village that was baking in the sun. I arrived very low on that hill but did find some lift and carefully drifted with it up the hill where it gradually gained strength. Fellow scandinavians Mads and Tor flew into "my" thermal some 150-300 meter above me and got up quicker. The pilots over the village were really struggling low with people landing every now and then. Some tried to come over to us but from that low altitude could not make it and landed too. One even had to land in between the trees on the slope and had to spend the afternoon clearing the glider out of the tree. Meanwhile we had drifted into the start cylinder a bit early so after the start time, once we had some safe altitude, had to fly out some 100 m and come back. The gaggle over the village still had to focus so much on staying in the air that several forgot later to get out of the start cylinder. These poor fellows flew for hours to find out around the first turnpoint, at 32 km, that their instruments didn't automatically switch to the next turnpoint, which made them realized they'd missed the start....
My little group had grown to 6 with 3 more pilots joining us from above and together we made it quite quickly to near the first turnpoint (picture above). In that neighborhood we had to search a while and that gave the fastest 15 or so pilots from the "village group" a chance to join us. From then on it became a furious fast race to goal with everybody trying to do only the minimal amount of thermalling. Just before the 2nd turnpoint we were all a bit low and the pace slowed down somewhat; an opportunity for a few more pilots to catch up from behind. But the thermal we found there turned out to be pretty much the last one of the competition. Once our instruments showed that we in theory could glide to goal we started to glide to the goal.
I carefully kept an eye on my estimated height of arrival. For most of the time it showed some 60 m, but at some point it started to drop to 0 and then -70 m. When I then hit a small but good thermal I decided to do 3 turns and to gain some 60 m height. I actually gained 80 and then screamed on to goal at full speed. Like many other I made it (see track), but barely with only 20 m to spare! The whole group landed closely after each other, I was 19th with a very good time for 801 points. Below Joakim (SWE) welcomes Stein-Tore (NOR) into the goal field. Many of the pilots that were very low early on eventually made goal, but as said several of those had missed the start. But even these admitted that they had a fantastic day flying over 4 hours in the sun; the predicted overcast was nowhere to be seen.
Several people that had trouble earlier in the week made the goal this last day which made up for all the frustration from before.
Craig Morgan won the week in convincing manner, he had been leading out most of the time. I ended up at the 23rd place overall, a good result. More importantly I learned to fly with the leading group several times and for short periods even managed to pull the field. This racing in the flats, combined with the level of the other participants, was the perfect setting to gain competition experience and confidence. Let's see if that shows in the Nordic Open this July.
The evening was characterized by speeches, lots of free beer and small amounts of food and various announcements that the minibuses for the airport were to leave 6 AM, no make that 3 AM!

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