16 September 2009

Distance in autumn

It's autumn in Finland but nevertheless we can get some nice flying. Saturday Skyriders organized their annual end-of-season party. With a turnout of some 40 pilots, coffee and cake to celebrate recent medalists, a break in the rains just when we had a fun spot-landing and ground-handling comp, a sauna and swim, and this all topped with excellent food and some drinks it was the best edition of this great event ever. To get a feel for the mood check out some of the pictures (by Janne).

Between many days of unstable and windy weather we had a couple of good ones. And as in our national cross-country (XC) league still several competitors have the glorious top spot within reach there is no lack of motivation to make use of those good days. The XC ranking based on flights anywhere in the world was recently shaken up when Ari, Mladen and Antti did many long flights during the XC Open competition in Piedrahita, Spain. Well done!
In the ranking based on flights made in Finland Mika P. has been leading since mid summer, with me not too far behind. Mika reported some nice thermal flying on Monday, but no distance; his brother though managed a short 10 km flight.

The general weather forecast for Tuesday looked a bit better, but the thermal forecast predicted no thermals at all, stable air. However, as said we're motivated and after a clear, cold night, a sunny clear day should result at least in some lift, somewhere.
So around mid-day I prepared the tow setup at Hyvinkää airfield, and was soon joined by Sakari, Jari and Juha. There were some little cumulus clouds forming so as soon as we we're ready I had myself towed up. Right into a good thermal, actually surprisingly strong at times 3 m/s. Cloud base was low though and the airspace ceiling at Hyvinkää is even lower (4000 ft MSL). I waited for a little while for company but nobody seemed to get up so then I set off in a northerly direction to work my way out of the restricted airspace.
There were quite many thermals, but usually rather weak, with occasional stronger bubbles coming through. I carefully took pretty much every bit of lift that I encountered to maintain as much altitude as possible as lower down thermals were obviously even weaker and less organized. So I was going slowly but making progress. Once I was in the next zone could go a bit higher, actually to cloudbase at some 1300 m. I made short glides from cloud to cloud, but many clouds disappeared before I got to them. Large areas with harvested fields seemed to work best so I jumped a bit around. It was difficult to decide upon the best direction to make distance. Early on going west seemed promising, but little later most clouds to the west disappeared. Meanwhile I'd noticed a bit of streeting along the very light south-southeast wind so I decided to continue northwards.
After 3 hours the city of Hämeenlinna came in sight. I couldn't get much beyond it as there were no more thermals, an airspace ceiling and too large forests and lakes to cross. Besides I was getting really tired, all the thermalling in weak lift required uttermost concentration and was exhausting. So landed after 3,5 hours at the edge of the city. The XC league result was 53 km/points, which is excellent for September in Finland. But 10 points short of overtaking Mika's lead...

26 August 2009

20 Days

Closed my French flying vacation with a nice flight at St. Hilaire, famous for the Coupe Icare flying festival. After the prize giving ceremony of the British Open at St. Jean and a short night, started up my good old Fiesta at 6 AM and directed it towards Grenoble. After couple of hours arrived in Veroppe, home of Finnish pilot Sami. After a family breakfast we drove to the St. Hilaire launch. Over the years I'd been passing by this famous site several times but never when it was flyable. This time it was. The entire mountain was baking in the morning sun, and when we took off around 11:30 we found some lift, despite the air being very stable. That stability combined with the northerly wind make those thermals very narrow and hence turbulent; impossible to stay inside the core. Taking such thermals a couple of meters from a giant rock face is daunting indeed. At times I managed to get a bit above the cliff and then dared to take a few pictures. After a good half hour landed for a last French lunch in the restaurant right next to the landing field.

Unfortunately it then was time say goodbye to Sami and his family, and indeed to southern France. A run of 20 consecutive days of flying in sunny weather had ended. In those 20 days flew just over 48 hours and hundreds of kilometers. In the process extended my knowledge of the area a lot, never before did so much cross-country flying there.

Anyway, jumped into the very hot car and start the long drive to Finland.
I took the route "around" Switzerland, to avoid the Swiss motorway fee, but that was a mistake. The toll charges for the French part from Geneva to Mulhouse were a bit over the 30 euro Swiss fee, and it is at least a 60km detour. Otherwise it all went smoothly, despite warnings of heavy traffic. All the way to Stockholm the weather was nice, and in Sweden it indeed looked quite good for flying. The sunset over Stockholm as seen from the giant ferry to Finland could be called "impressionistic" (picture below). In the morning arrived in Turku, Finland, on schedule and after a mere 2 more hours of driving was back home!

22 August 2009

British Open at St. Jean, Task 5

Despite forecasts of strong winds (explained by Tom Payne, picture) the British Open at St.Jean was finished in style. The winds appeared to be managable, but due to rather stable air a short task of 41.2 km was set. In addition we launched a bit later than earlier in the week. Around the start time cloudbase was just above 3000m. Most pilots tried of course to be at the altitude right at the entry of the start cylinder but most were a bit below that. All raced towards the first turnpoint, north of the landing field and then quickly turned back towards the ridge and launch area. A couple of pilots, led by I think Craig Morgan and including myself, decided to "attack" and bravely raced towards the next turnpoint over La Seyne. This was risky as we would arrive there rather low. I myself thought that with north-west winds we had a chance of finding convergence on the way. In addition I did see sailplanes circling in the neighbourhood of the turnpoint. After taking the turnpoint the two leaders immediately went north towards, trying to fly over the ridge that borders the village. I myself was very low over this ridge and made a crucial mistake when I thought to have entered a thermal, turned, and only went down 20 meters. A hundred meter ahead made the same mistake, and then could no longer fly around to the north-west facing end of the ridge, which borders a large valley (see track). The two leaders and one Ozone pilot that had followed me did make it there and caught a thermal near the "castle" and then could finish the task, presumably rather quickly (the provisional score shows Craig coming in third at 1:08:54, exactly one minute after the provisional winner, Bayon). A couple of hours later several pilots are still enjoying the excellent evening conditions.
In an hour so the results should be clear and the prize giving ceremonies can start....

few more pictures

21 August 2009

British Open at St. Jean, Task 4

After two cancelled days, today we had another great day of flying, and a 69 km task. The course was interesting with turnpoints in the valley, on the main ridge as well as on the Morgan at the other side of the lake.
Returning from the Morgan was probably to most crucial transition, quite many didn't get up when back in the St. Jean area, others had to use a lot of time.
For once I got this right, realising that high up the winds were north I used a good thermal in front of the Morgan to get up to 3400m and then glided quickly along a convergence line.

As in the days before the comp the line bend a bit, and in my favour. So I could fairly easily get to the next turnpoint in the valley again. There the sailplanes showed another thermal and after that it was quite straightforward to connect back to the ridge and fetch the southermost turnpoint. On the way back I tanked up height in the strongest thermals. In front was another cloudline but the upper winds had shaped the clouds into strange formations so I wasn't sure that would work. Actually it worked very well and I arrived over the last waypoint and goal with 1000m surplus altitude.
So could have finished 5-10 minutes earlier, now my time was 2:48, probably good for a 30-something place. Luc Armant once gain won the task, in 2:02, but today nr. 2 was only a couple of seconds behind. At the Morgan I was still "only" 3km behind those leaders, but they fly so fast that I have no way to keep up.

Update: results and my own track are now on-line.

20 August 2009

British Open at St. Jean, Day 5

Unfortunately we had another day cancelled. This time the conditions on launch were quite strong already when the first pilots arrived; the chairlift here is comfortable but a bit slow, taking some 25 minutes. The forecast was excellent with light southerly winds, good thermals and a high base. The winds however, obviously were quite a bit stronger. A task was set but around briefing time local pilots were seen flying backwards right in the valley in front of launch.

Meanwhile Ozone's David Dagault was reported to have launched from Col de Bleyne for a record long flight attempt, and he blasted right over us a bit after noon. By then he had covered 80 km and was very high going straight North.

Little later Benôit Muriel, from the Gréolières club, agreed with the Meet Director to act as a proper wind dummy and took off. He needed quite some time to get up in the broken thermals and windy conditions. But then he slowly managed to get south, and higher. The task was postponed in the hope of slightly more moderate winds later in the day.
When an hour or so later Benoit reported 10km/h winds at altitude a new task was set and at 15:30 the start window was finally opened. But after only two pilots had launched it was closed again as the conditions at launch were very strong again. Moreover clouds in the valley started to look dangerously large. Some 15 minutes later the task was cancelled. Like most pilots I launched and flew half an hour and then landed just before it started to rain. Still 20 minutes later, I'd gone for a run, it really started to pour, accompanied by strong gusts.

19 August 2009

British Open at St. Jean, Day 4

Day 4 was cancelled due to thunderstorms. We went up the hill and got ready. A short task was set but before the window could be opened the first thunder could already be heard. The Meet Director cancelled the task and we all rushed to fly down.
The forecasts for the next days are good again so we expect to continue to race tomorrow.

British Open at St. Jean, Task 3

Aided by yet another good looking forecast the task committee of the British Open planned an interesting course for day 3. The 70 km route would take us out in the valley for the start and first turnpoint, then south along the mountain, back out into the valley a bit before crossing the lake to the Morgan. From there we had to take the peninsula in the lake and then return to a final turnpoint in the valley just south of the goal field.

The air was quite stable, and hence the thermals over the mountains were fierce. I saw Benoit cravette; it seemed worse than I'd experienced yesterday but in the end he managed to clear it and continue, actually made it into goal. A few pilots reported strong conditions over the radio.

It was the last part of the task that proved tricky, coming back from the peninsula one had to find some lift fairly quickly. I took a more or less straight line to the lower hills in the valley where I'd seen some pilots climb up, albeit slowly. Alas, when I arrived there I couldn't find anything and soon was on the ground, after 53 km (see track). Some 10 minutes later a group of 7 or so arrived and got up right over me. Some of those, and several others, dived for St. Vincent and soared there for a long time hoping to get up again. I think only one pilot of that group managed to get out of there (Pat Dower). Yet others flew back to the Morgan and typically got up there but then had to fight quite a bit of headwind on the way back.

In the end Luc Armand again won the day, and again very fast in 1:47 for an average speed of 35 km/h. And as in the other the days the french were heavenly represented in the top 15 of the results.

18 August 2009

British Open at St. Jean, Task 2

Task 2 of the British Open called for a complex criss-cross route with the start and first 2 waypoints in the valley. The leg between the 2nd and 3rd waypoint was very tricky, very few pilots managed to climb out once low there. Pretty much half of the field bombed out there, including myself.
The cloudbase was very high again at 4000m so once pilots made it back to the Dourmillouse ridge the rest of the course was not too difficult, despite strong winds from the northwest. A bit over 30 pilots made the goal, after 77.6 km; some came in very low and had to land in one of the fields next to the designated landing field in Seylonette.

There were rumours of free beer in the goal, which is why I decided to walk there after having landed nearby. The beer was not there but it was nice to see the heroes come into goal. Once again Luc Armand won the task, and like yesterday the French pilots did very well. Several of the Brits manged to wedge themselves between the frogs though (results).
I had a good start and was gliding high towards the 2nd waypoint when I suddenly, without any of the usual warning signs, hit huge sink which cravetted my wing badly. It took me quite a while to sort it out, meanwhile loosing a lot of altitude in that sink area. As a result I then had to scratch that difficult area between turnpoints 2 and 3. I managed to ridge soar for a while but never managed to really get abo ve any of those smaller hills.
The weather for today, and indeed the next days, continues to look good, so there should plenty of chances to improve one's rank!

17 August 2009

British Open at St. Jean, Task 1

Yesterday the task committee of the British Open planned a fast route of 59.9 km. The conditions were a bit less strong than the previous two days. Also the air was a bit drier so there was less shadow caused by clouds. With good thermals over the main Dourmillouse ridge and bands of convergence in the valley this allowed for a fast race.

Some 30 or so pilots timed their start right, and quickly took the first turnpoint over the landing field in front of the ridge. Some then went right back to the ridge to climb back to the ceiling of about 3500 m, others glided straight to the next turnpoint which was at a corner of the ridge, some 10 km south. That last group got there first but very low and several bombed out soon after. Those pilots that had tanked up altitudenow easily took the turn point and could glide almost straight to the next turnpoint, over a lower mountain in the valley. This was a second place that saw many arrive low. It was possible to climb out of the area but it could be slow. Once high again the rest was fairly easy: out to the Morgan on the other side of the lake, get high again there, and then glide to Seyne and from there back to the landing field. With the goal at 1300 m and some sink along the way it was important to start the last glide with a bit of extra altitude, or to take a small detour over the foothills, several pilots came a few km short.

Ozone's Luc Armand won the day in an impressive 1:39 hours closely followed by other French (local) pilots. A bigger group arrived some 15 minutes later and then slower pilots trickled in.

I myself had a good start but took an alternative route to the 3rd turnpoint; instead of going back to the ridge I followed a cloud line accross the valley and only then turned north for an easier glide with less of a headwind. As such the idea was not bad, but it made me fly alone. I now ended up a bit behind others that had taken the simple approach as a group. From there on I managed to fly the remainder quite quickly, but slowed down a bit on the last leg to ensure arrival in goal (see track). I needed 2:25 good for a 44th place.

16 August 2009

The Exploration of St. Jean

Today the British Open will start, here at St. Jean de Montclar. Used the previous three days to make three different flights throughout the competition area. It is a very interesting place to fly as the local conditions can vary tremendously from one place to the next, and also from day to day.

On Thursday it was fairly easy to go into the large valley and find lift, places where lift could be expected indeed offered it. The dominating westerlies were quite strong so it took a while to cross the valley, but otherwise it seemed "textbook" flying. I ended up very low at, or rather below, St. Vincent les Forts but managed to work my way up there. Started my glide back to the landing field at St. Jean a tiny bit too low as the valley wind was from the south, so came in a 100m short, a useful lesson for the comp (see track).

On Friday there was almost no lift at all in the valley. On all edges of the system there were nice clouds with the cloudbase raising up to almost 4000m. In the direction of St. André there was cu-nimb (thunderstorm clouds) so I stayed clear of all clouds and topped out at 3700m, don't think I've ever been that high. But the strong lift (notice the "smoke thermal" in picture) under those clouds was accompanied by vast areas of strong sink. I surely never experiences uch big areas with sink. So flying became a bit of a jojo experience. In a couple of minutes up from 1500 to 3500 and in the next few nminutes down again to below 2000m, desperately searching for lift. I ended up low in the neighbourhood of Seyne where I found some lift, but the strong valley wind broke it up too much too my taste and I landed a bit north of the village, some 6 km from the "goal" (see track).

Yesterday then was the best day. At first it was very stable, and early large clouds shaded a lot of the area so the devise was "wait, wait and wait". The previous days I had been amongst the first to launch but this day I wanted to launch late and see what the, now numerous, other comp pilots would be doing. People launced in batches, but most managed to slowly climb up to the Dourmillouse and then it seemed easy to stay high. I choose my moment of truth carefully and that payed off as I got up quickly. I noticed a convergence line and decided to circuit the valley counter-clockwise. The first 25 minutes I could mainly follow the bended convergence and then contineud to jumo from cloud to cloud. Base was high again at some 3500 m. Crossing the valley back I was a bit too optimistic and ingnored some lift halfway that I should have used to top up. Now I ended up a bit low in the foothills but those worked as expected. I had to scratch a cliff for a little while but then I good thermal came through that took me back up to base. And then it was easy to race the ridge north. I then continued to passed St. Vincent, but not quite over to the Morgan, today I surely wanted to make the landing field and be in good time for the registration (see track). Not far from the landing field I encountered a large area with 4 m/s lift, after six!
As registration was slow, I was glad I had only some 15 people in front of me in the queue, I was happy to have landed in time.

As comps go this one will have a bit of relaxed feeling as the weather here is "late". We will have briefings at 10 or 11, then a task briefing at launch around 1 and perhaps start flying at 2 and racing at 3. With retrieves expected to take less then 30 minutes we'll all be back at a decent time despite the late flying. Yet, as demonstrated by the last three days, tasks will be very challenging and varied, far from simply racing the bowl.

12 August 2009

...and back, almost

After yesterday's trip to St. Vincent it was time to attempt the out and return flight. Today people launched a bit later, we actually moved to the west launch. The air was much more humid and cumulus formed early on. Except at cloudbase winds were south-westerly today, with the help of clouds and wind I dared to take a shorter route and made it to St. Vincent in just over 2 hours, almost one hour faster now.

I immediately started the return trip to St. André. Initially I could simply follow the clouds with occasionally thermals being marked by the numerous sailplanes and the odd glider. South of the Dourmillouise massif the southwest flow was strong and progress slowed down. At the last valley crossing I bombed out, some 14 km short of the goal (see track). The reason was probably that I earlier should have followed the Montagne de Chevel Blanche westerly ridge, instead of trying to go straight over. I also could, and should, have waited for company. Flying with a group always works much better once things get difficult.

It seemed that two italian pilots with competition gliders made it all the way back, as well as at least one (french?) hang glider pilot. Well done!

Tomorrow it's time for an easy day, probably at St. Jean, the venue for the British Open next week.

St. André - St. Vincent

Gorgeous, it was. The weather, the views and the flying on the 11th of August. After a week in Gréolierès had moved to St. André les Alpes, known for strong conditions and great cross-country potential. Around 10 the navette took me and a bunch of others to the south-east take-off. Many opted for an early morning flight but those with plans to go far waited for the thermals to kick in. A bit before noon the first pilots managed to stay up and soon the sky was filled with gliders of all kinds.
I'd planned to fly North towards St. Jean and St.Vincent, the area where the British Open will take place next week. Once a few gliders were really getting above the launch I got into the air, climbed up and started to follow some early leavers. After some 5 km I joined a group of three others and from there on we kind of flew together. Going north the mountains get ever higher but luckily the thermals took us even higher. After a couple of tricky crossings we reached the Dourmillouse massif which appeared to be a kind of gliding highway. I could simply race the ridge for the last 10 km! Numerous sailplanes that passed under, above, and between me and the ridge provided for some additional excitement.
At the end I cranked up a bit more height and went into "wait and see" mode. One of our group continued north across the lake and when I saw that he managed to get up on the other side I decided to follow. Some others seemed to go down at St. Vincent. My crossing was not so successful and I had to work hard to get up a bit. Once I thought I could make it back to the St. Vincent ridge I decided to do that and land after an intensive 4 hours in new territory (see track). A local pilot, Pascal, was kind enough to provide a ride to Digne from where it was easy to hitch-hike back to St. André. Thanks!
Most of the time I had my hands full with controlling the glider but during some glides I (barely) managed to make some pictures.

08 August 2009

Intensive practice in the southern sun

Mika S. and myself had a great week of intensive practice, here in Southern France. We drove down to Gréolières, stopping in the Netherlands for a brief family visit. On Monday the mistral caused wind over the back on every site, so we used it to rest from the long ride.

On Tuesday the weather was "on" and we made two long flights locally at Gréolières, doing small out- and returns to the end of the ridge at Coursegoules and small triangles. Especially the afternoon was great, smooth bouyant air, we landed only at half past seven!

Wednesday we went to the nearby Col de Bleyne site which is a better starting point for cross-country flying. Mika started early and after a bit of work got very high. Meanwhile local experts were launching and showed us where to fly. I had hoped to fly to St. André but the west wind was far too strong. So after battling that for an hour or so I turned east and flew to Gréolierès and then on the Coursegoules and back to land in Gréolières. Mika returned to Col de Bleyne and fetched our car.
In the afternoon we went to Monaco where Mika made the nice evening glide over Monaco to the beach (in the picture).

Thursday was similar, but the predictions were a bit better. The locals were now serious about attempting long flights and took off at 10:30 in what seemed weak conditions. I waited a bit, which probably was a bit of a mistake. This as later the strong north-westerly kicked in and I couldn't get passed the Teillon mountain and had to return. Those that left early got more west earlier and then only had to fight a cross wind, not a head wind. Of course in the late afternoon did another good 2 hours.

For Friday the forecast offered some clouds, the whole week had been blue, with a small chance of thunderstorms. Hence I was at the Gréolières launch early to make most of the morning. A southerly wind made for very strong conditions that were truly turbulent above 1500m. When I noted that I stayed a bit low and tried to make some photos of all the pilots in the air; some worked out, and many didn't it. Around noon everybody came down to land.
Not so Mika who had been doing some work and only then got to launch. He was joined by two locals and they enjoyed strong, but now less turbulent, conditions and actually managed to fly to Bleyne and back. Mika just returned when I started an afternoon flight. With the thermals now getting slightly weaker again, and a huge cumulus nimbus building over the mountain, the air became a bit more messy again so after an hour we decided to land and go for some ice-cream in Tourettes-sur-Loup.

19 July 2009

Kiikala - Hyvinkää

Saturday morning a small group of enthusiasts gathered at Kiikala airfields to enjoy a quite rare day with light winds. We started towing early to give fresh and less experienced pilots a chance to fly in light conditions. After a couple of hours the thermals were gaining in strength, as shown by Juha N who in the maiden flight of his new Rush2 managed to get and stay up for a while. Little later Mika S and myself decided it was time to get ready for cross-country flying.
Mika had planned to fly to Nummela or Hyvinkää airfields. As both are located withing restricted airspace he had programmed the various areas into his navigation instrument. And checked the ceilings for the days with flight control. I simply looked at the map and decided to shoot for Vesivehmaa airfield, a distance of approx. 134 km.

As happens quite often, we turned out to be a bit too optimistic. In a band laying over the southmost part of the country there clearly was a drier, or more stable, airmass in which very few cumulus clouds appeared. We could see that some 20-30 km to the North much better conditions were to be found.
So it was not a big surprise that in our first couple of tries we could not really get up. At best I encountered a waekish thermal that drifted quite fast, the north-westerlies aloft seemed as strong as predicted. However, the same winds brought the "good" weather slowly closer. Once I was up for the third time I found a strong thermal that took me up to cloudbase, albeit that the cloud desintegrated once I'd reached it. It looked too difficult, and probably futile, to wait for others to join me so I set off towards my far away goal in the north east.

The first couple of hours the flying felt really difficult, largish areas with strong sink were interleaved with thermal areas, but in those it was hard to find the narrow cores that were needed to really get up. Once found those cores were excellent, often 5 m/s up! The route however, was perpendicular to the main flow and hence I had to hop from (sometimes invisible) cloud street to the next. The same north-westerlies pushed me all the time towards the restricted areas.
But after a while I managed to get into that better airmass and this made things a bit easier. Now there were more clouds, that lived longer and formed clearly visible streets. I used one of those streets to fly straight into the wind, hence positioning myself into a more favourable location for the next few jumps.
But after some 4 hours of intensive flying I'd only come to withing 69 km of the goal, and was getting rather tired. When in front of me there was a large area with no clouds, and to my right a beautiful cloud street to the Hyvinkää airfield, I decided to change my course. Soon I was spiralling down to the airfield where I saw some other paraglider pilots packing up. After almost 5 hours I was welcomed by Ari and Kimmo (in the picture) who had been flying tandem passengers all day.

Although the going had been really slow the track shows nicely how one often had to make significant route adjustments to make progress. Some pilots call this the "chess" aspect of cross country flying. One has to think and look ahead to avoid getting stuck. This day had almost all possible challenging factors: a strong cross wind that required many "jumps" from lift bands (cloud streets) through sink areas, many lakes that cause areas with no lift, largish wooded areas with no landing options, and airspaces that should be avoided or where one has to stay below a ceiling altitude.

Little later Mika called us and informed that he was some 10 km west of the airfield. Once we'd packed up the Hyvinkää towing gear Kimmo brought Mika and me to the Hyvinkää station where we only had to wait a couple of minutes for the next train to Helsinki. Meanwhile Juha K saved our day by driving my car and Mika's keys to Helsinki, thanks!

12 July 2009

Rain refugees

After a thunderous Tuesday night some of us simply had had enough. When Wednesday was cancelled because of the ongoing rains Juha K., Sebu and I executed a wild plan we had researched the previous night: rent a car and drive to the closest flyable place (with dry air).
As we could take turns the 800 km ride to Nice went smoothly and as we passed Monaco just at the right time Juha and Sebu could fly down to the Rocquebrune beach. We then hurried to Gréolières for famous pizza at the Barricade.

Thursday we had some good flying at Gréolières, once we managed to get high Sebu and I flew the ridge all the way to Coursegoles and back. We landed for lunch and in the late afternoon had another, shorter, flight. The next morning we heard that some local heros (David, Luc, and someone else) had flewn a 195 km triangle!
We ourselves on Friday probably took off a bit too early in Gréolières and never really got high; a bit of overcast seemed to dampen the thermals too much. But in the late afternoon we had a fantastic flight in a nice clear sky and strong conditions at Gourdon.
Meanwhile we had met a nice group of Swedish pilots who planned to attempt the classic flight from Col de Bleine to St. André on Saturday. At the launch we went together through the route details and then waited for the thermals to turn on. I took of first soon to be followed by Sebu, Juha and 3 Swedes. At a crucial point all but me and Juha did not attempt the glide north to the next ridge, but continued westwards which is a bit of a dead end. I easily got to the other side and up again but a bit furhter along the route encountered ever stronger headwinds. I probably should have gone over the mountain again a bit earlier instead of trying to fly around it. Nevertheless a very nice flight. Once on the ground I was very lucky to get a ride back to launch. Hence I could make a second flight, now back to Gréolières. There were a lot of clouds now and I could pretty much just glide home, at times having to pull big ears to stay below the clouds.
Sunday morning we had to get up early to drive back to Slovenia, so we could not fly, but our escpade was really worth the effort (and expense): 4 days with good flying!

07 July 2009

Rain... and cancelations

Day one of the Nordic Open ended early as the leading group in task 1 flew right into a huge shower that was waiting at the first turnpoint. At launch it had looked liked a quick task seemed possible, and very soon after a short briefing the 130 pilots took off to work their way towards the start cylinder. At launch there was little wind, and quite often from behind, so some of us had to wait a bit. I myself had to wait for some gliders right below me on the hill to get away before I could launch.
Soon the sky was filled with gliders; and clouds as the weather was clearly over developing by now. After that start time a front group glided quickly towards the next turnpoint closely followed by a second group that contained mainy Finns and other pilots that could not get of the hill as quickly.
But within 15 minutes these were flying in the rain and soon the front pilots reported dangerous conditions which prompted the afety director to cancel the task. Many just managed to glide back to the head quarter landing zone but nobody managed to pack before the rain hit that area. Later in the afternoon the hotel area was covered with gliders that were dried in the sun.

On Monday, day 2, the forecasts and sky didn't look very promising but we were transported up to launch nevertheless. Thanks to an extra bus the logistics were even more efficient but nevertheless when we were all there it had become clear that it was impossible to fly a task. At the same time it was decided to also cancel day 3 as the forecasts promised even worse weather. Right when the briefing was over with the friendly folks of the Ljublana airport called in to warn us of a strong front approaching fast so we could not even fly back home.
Jouni (thinks he) needs all the excercise he can get before the X-Alps so decided to run down and then maybe home and I was silly enough to join him. Even though we took an easy pace my legs are of course very stiff, after 25 km of running on sandals.

05 July 2009

Nordic Open 2009 ready to start

It's another Sunday morning here in Preddvor, Slovenia. In half an hour we will have the first morning briefing for the Nordic Open 2009 paragliding championships. Most of us arrived here on Thursday and Friday and despite the daily over-development we could get in a bit of practice, yesterday actually allowed for some good thermal flying.
The weather gurus forecast more over-development for the coming days, with showers and the possibility of thunderstorms. So it quite possibly is going to be difficult to have valid competition tasks; but at least we should be able to fly.
And it's very nice indeed to see lots of old friends; last night we had an opening dinner and although the food quality was undoubtedly way below the most pessimistic expectations, the traditional spirit and comradeships of the Nordics was bountiful.

30 June 2009

Super Camp

Super! Indeed, it is hard to find the right superlatives to describe the 2009 Finnish Free Flying Camp. As usual the country's paragliding enthusiasts gathered to celebrate and honour midsummer, at Jämi airfield. And as usual the first two days (20-21 June) were rainy. Between the showers some powered pilots managed to fly and when late Saturday evening the sky cleared out Juho tried to fly the Jämi ridge, so despite the weather those days could be bookmarked as flyable.

On Sunday morning we were welcomed by a perfect blue sky and the early hours were effectively used to tow some less experienced pilots and flying students. Soon the air became thermic though and it was time to plan a cross-country flight. We set out to fly an ambitious triangular course, via Lavia to the Hämeenkyrö airfield and then back to Jämi. It turned out that the winds aloft were a bit stronger than predicted and that southwest flow made the task a notch too difficult. I myself almost managed a slightly smaller triangle but bombed out in the last leg, some 5 km from the goal.
Other pilots decided not to fight the headwinds and flew downwind; Mika for example flew a nice 35 km to Parkano.
Several of us had to go back to work then but many lucky ones could stay. The weather only got better all the time and pretty much all pilots managed ever longer flights. On Thursday Jussi and Vesa got clearance to fly through the Pori airspace towards the famous Ytteri beaches on the west coast, and ended up just inland of the beach to be warmly welcomed by the masters of the estate where they had landed.

The same evening I managed to get away from work again and do three nice evening flights, with the last one taking me up to over 1000m AGL, and this at half past 8 in the evening! All evenings were really nice, with such clear skies it really is light throughout the night.

Friday was another good day and we planned another, larger, triangle: via Parkano to Hämeenkyrö airfield and then back to Jämi. I was the first to get towed up and managed to work my way up in the early weak thermals. I waited for a while but it seemed nobody was going to join me so I set off for Parkano. As the thermals were not that strong this first leg took a while, but up to some 5 km before the Parkano turnpoint it had been fairly easy to make progress. There I got pretty low but found good lift over some fields. Once back at cloudbase it was easy to glide to Parkano. The straight route south to the next turnpoint was not an option as there was an enormous blue hole (an area without any clouds, hence presumably with no lift). So I flew back to the same field where I caught the same thermal, now a bit higher.
From there I tried to fly the western edge of that blue hole, but as I was doing that it seemed to expand westwards. It turned out that some time later I actually was back at Jämi.
By now I had been almost 4 hours in the sky and decided to check out if I could get some company at the airfield. I didn't see any other paragliders but did notice that a nice cloudstreet was forming in south-easterly direction towards my turnpoint! So I went for the first of those clouds to find a nice strong, yet smooth, thermal. And then two sailplanes speeded towards me from the north; company after all! I tried to make some pictures, but fiddling with my camera really detoriated my thermalling accuracy and hence the sailplanes were coming up quickly towards me. So put my hands back on the brakes to control my wing and steer into the thermal core. Almost at the same moment the sailplane pilots decided that they were high enough and continue to race southwards (presumably towards Räyskälä, where the Junior World Gliding Championships take place).
A bit later a started to glide along the cloudstreet that took me to within gliding distance of Hämeenkyrö airfield, the turnpoint. But by now this was firmly in the blue hole area and it seemed highly unlikely that I could get up there. As the flight back to Jämi seemed easy and quick I decided to call it a day and fly back. After a whoppy 6 hours landed right where I had started my tow (flight track).

Saturday more people turned up, including hangglider pilot Ville. The predictions still forecasted easterly flows, and Mika suggested we all try to fly to Merikarvia, right at the coast. This time Juho was towed up first and soon was high and started to work his way westwards. I was next and also got up but noticed that the clouds were gathering together in big lumps that caused enormous areas along the route to be shaded. Not good, and not the situation to fly a direct course. I decided to try to southern edge of the cloud constellation to ensure I would have sunny fields within good reach at any time. This worked well. Once I was at the end of the clouds decided to glide furiously towards a largish area with similar fields. The sink on the way was as bad as I expected, or worse. Above those fields I found some boyant air, but no real lift. I tried to scan as much of the area as possible and then noticed some gulls that started to thermal low. They saved the day as I could just get to that spot and join the thermal, that eventually carried me all the way to cloudbase again, now at some 2300m.

From there on it was fairly straightforward to fly to the coast, but it remained important to go around the large shady areas. The equally large clouds only lifted in very few and small spots, so every now and then some serious thermal hunting was required. Using this strategy I actually managed to approach the coast quite high, and greatly enjoyed the very rare opportunity to fly out a bit over the sea! I could see from the waves and foam that there surely was a good seabreeze down there but at my altitude of some 1000 m there was almost no wind at all. Time to take out the camera! Little later I went back to the town and landed in the local baseball field, indeed in a 8 m/s headwind.
Just when I started to pack I noticed Mika approaching from the south. As his radios were without power my attempts to provide him with information on the conditions at landing were useless. In fact he had not noticed me at all and in the end landed a couple of hundred meters north of me. Little later we celebrated our success at the terrace of the local kebab restaurant. This was actually next to the church, a very large wooden construction and apparently indeed one of the largest in the Nordics.
Later we heard that pretty much all pilots had managed to get up and away and many broke personal records for time, altitude and distance! Indeed a super day.

Sunday morning those that had been all week flying their socks off decided that the bed and shower at home were more attractive than another hard day of flying. Me and the others that had been grounded during the week did not want to miss the opportunity of another good day and set out to tow in very different conditions. A drier air mass was flowing in from the north west, causing much more gusty conditions and snappy narrow thermals in the airfield area. Only on my third tow did I manage to follow one of those up. The now much stronger winds made me drift to the southeast and I decided to go for the short classic flight to Sammi, a mere 15 km away.
With an eye on the upcoming Nordic Open championships I decided to try to practice a "final glide", i..e. to start to glide to the goal at just sufficient altitude. I wanted to that at 1500m but around 1300 m I hit an inversion and the air became very turbulent. As I'd drifted a bit more closer I decided to give it a try. As I'd expected I ended up a bit short, making me a little more confident about guessing those final glide altitudes. Nowadays we of course have our instruments to do most of that work, but as my XCTrainer was in service I had a good chance to hone my own skills.
Two other pilots took off much later, enjoyed quite much better conditions and could fly all the way to the Tampere approach area.

In the end we had 7 consecutive days of excellent XC flying, none of us could remember a similar period. For example Mika reported 19 hours in 19 flights over the week; I did 11 hours in 3 days. And the weather is still very good! Some of us managed to upload some flights to our own Finnish section in the XContest.

For me it now is time to prepare for the Nordics though. Got my XCTrainer back (excellent and fast service from Aircotec) and now should clean and check my gear a bit and then pack...

More pictures

31 May 2009

A busy summer weekend

After that first nice spring weekend May did not provide us pilots with the usual record breaking conditions. It was rainy, windy, or both, or then sunny but too windy. But this last weekend was nice again, with challenging "dry" thermals in a perfect blue sky.
On dry, "blue", thermal days the ceiling of the boundary layer with thermal activity is lower then the height at which the humidity in the air would condensate so no clouds are formed. Apparently these conditions are more difficult to predict as the forecasts for this weekend have been too pessimistic by quite a large margin.

On Saturday the usual group of enthusiasts/optimists gathered at Kiikala airfield. It was surely gonna be sunny, and me and some others simply didn't believe the forecasts of "no thermals, with a ceiling at 900 m MSL". I was towed up around 12:30 and immediately found some lift. Weak lift as expected, but lift nevertheless! Slowly I got higher and once I got to about 700 m the lift got a bit better. I boated around a bit waiting for company but it seemed too difficult for the others to get up. So despite the low ceiling of about 1100 m I pointed my glider south and started to glide towards Hanko.
Hanko is a regular goal, it is a small city on the tip of a long peninsula in the very south-west of Finland, famous for its beaches and summer life. Usually it is impossible to get there as on practically all thermal days one has to fight sea-breeze. But optimistic as we are we of course did believe the prediction of little or no sea-breeze whereas we didn't believe the forecasts claim of "no thermals" ;)

And sure there were thermals! It was actually quite easy to find them; almost in perfect text-book fashion there were thermals heated by fields, triggered by rocky hills or small lakes. Often weak, but at times with strong cores. The main trouble was the elusive nature, the cores didn't stay put at all and often I lost it and I had to hunt for the core over and over. Twice I got very low but the textbook tactic saved me. With some 25 km to go I could clearly see that smoke stack of the Koverhar steel mill and most of the time it went straight up. As Koverhar is right at the coast that looked promising, no sea-breeze!
But some 5 km later I got some really good lift, too good to be true compared with the rest of the day and got up to over 1500m. I suspected this to be the sea-breeze front and indeed once I set of for the next glide there was nothing but a south-westerly head wind and otherwise smooth air. So a little later I landed in the area of Bromarv (see track). Thanks to Karo and Make for a long retrieve! On our way home we enjoyed a nice dinner on one of Ekenäs (Tammisaari) many summer restaurant terraces.

For today, Sunday, the forecast was even worse: warmer more stable air, no thermals and a southwest meteo wind picking up in the afternoon. So of course we went to Kiikala again. I was expecting a very similar day, but it turned out quite different. At the airfield the winds seemed very light so with Juho we planned a small triangle of about 45 km. We were to approx. 15 km due south-east then 15 due west and then back to the airfield, 15 km northwest.
I was the first to get up and this was much easier than on Saturday with clear defined thermals that were not as narrow. Initially the ceiling was again at about 1100 m. I waited a bit for the others at the north end of the strip but when I saw that Juho and Jukka were clearly cranking at the south end I went there and joined them in the same thermal. We rode it up all the way and then I started to glide to the south-east. This first leg was quite easy we found some thermals along the way. A couple of times a moved around a bit in front to explore the area and to check if we still had a group.
A bit before the turnpoint, one of the junctions of the new motorway, we had a good thermal and before we reached the top I decided to fly out, take the turnpoint and then came back to the thermal. Somehow Jukka lost it here, but I don't know exactly how.
Juho and I now started to work our way west. This was against some headwind and apparently we were jumping invisible cloud streets, as we now had strong sink between bands of thermals. But it went all fine up to the next turnpoint, another junctions. There were some good fields bordered by rocky areas and small lakes, but we didn't find anything to take us back up, even to we together scouted quite an area. Minutes later we were both on the ground, approx. half a kilometer apart, after some 34km and a good 2 hours of intensive flying (see track). Thanks to the triangle task we were close to the airfield though so Leevi and Pekka were soon there with a welcome retrieve.

All in all a wonderful weekend, over 5 hours in the air, with only the minimum 2 tows, and almost 100 km total distance.
We now also have a Finnish league in the XContest and this weekends flight surely help to motivate all to try hard ;)

01 May 2009

Spring is here!

A couple of pilot friends started already yesterday, but for me it was today: the opening of the Finnish summer flying season. We gathered around noon at our Kiikala airfield and quickly prepared the towing setup. Juho K. was the first to go; he had to search a bit but just before coming in to land found a nice thermal. The same thermal caused quite a strong backwind at our start so the rest of us had to wait a while.

It is very typical at our airfields that thermals are triggered somewhere near the middle of the fields, especially if it has 2 runways that cross each other. No matter where, i.e. at what end, the start is set up, you will have wind from the back. Patience, and timing, are important, the trick is to be ready to launch when winds are nil, or light from the side or front. Often when you start the tow in a clear head wind the thermal is behind you and most of the tow will be through sink which when sufficiently bad will leave you with far too little altitude to fly back into that thermal.

I was next in line and lucky to time it right as I hit a nice thermal right near the end of the runway, at the end of my tow. Conditions were very nice, with thermals that took me up to about 1600m at 4m/s. Only close to the strong inversion at that altitude was the air truly turbulent.
As the winds up high seemed light I decided to try a smallish triangle, as an exercise. The first leg went very nice but the second leg into the wind was much more difficult than I'd expected. Sink was quite strong, but the real problem was that below 900 m the wind had picked up. On what would be my last glide I slowed down to less than 20 km/h once I was a bit lower, while still in 5m/s sink. I only just made it to the field above which I'd hoped to find a thermal. I arrived with only 50m altitude, too little to search for a thermal. A bird showed me one nearby but I was too low to go there. So after exactly one hour I was on the ground (flight track). Very happy though as it was my first flight in months, and after several weeks of bad flu my first day out. Even the walk out to the main road was a joy, in sunny warm weather. On a hill close to where I landed I saw a colony of wood anemones, a sure sign of spring in Finland.
Efka had planned to fly the calmer late afternoon and picked me up along the route, thanks! After a detours she'd also found Juho who had flown a more straight downwind track and had landed some 20 km from me.

22 February 2009

A taste of alpine flying

Last week our family spend the traditional Finnish "skiing" vacation in style: we were in Chamonix, France.
Joanna and the children challenged themselves on the various slopes every day, enjoying the sun, the huge mountains and the stunning views. Whereas I myself managed to fly all but one day, typically in very light conditions.

The weather was characterized by northerly winds, causing the main Planpraz site to be in the lee. This was not a problem, but it may have caused the thermals to be "broken"; in any case they were very small in all dimensions. Nevertheless the flying was nice and interesting. I'd never started from really snow covered slopes; here there was actually a ski piste prepared just for us pilots!

On Friday there were no clouds at all and it turned out the best day of the week with somewhat stronger and slightly larger thermals. I made two flights, in the first one I had a nice thermal bubble right after launch and I could turn up to above take-off and the lift station, but then it was again over. Inspired I went back up for a second flight. Now only got bits and pieces of boyant air straight after launch, but once I was some 600 m below take off found a good thermal close to the mountain. I had to do figures of 8 in it, but it did carry me a good 150 meter back up. A bit later found a similar but shorter-lived one (or then I simply found it near the end of its lifetime) and then it was time to land; after 30 minutes, the longest flight of the week. Working such patches of light lift makes for excellent practice and in those settings it is great fun!

07 February 2009

Finally bagged

Yesterday's last task in the Paragliding Worlds was stopped, to allow helicopters to rescue two pilots. As nobody had reached goal yet this meant the task was invalid and did not change the score. Those unfortunate pilots are both reported to be stable into recovery.
I was just about sufficiently fit to fly in the morning and was amongst the first to take off for the 85 km long task. Conditions were blue, with light winds, and relatively weak thermals but significant turbulence in the sheer layer. I was in the leading group to cross the valley towards the Elefanten turnpoint behind Valle. We ended up very, very low over the foothills at the other side and me and several others were forced to land while the other 8-10 that were only 10 meters higher managed to get slowly up.
Teammate Ari never heard that the task was stopped and flew into goal thinking he had won the day and that all the other top guys had bombed out. Some indeed had, like me, but most of course landed when the task was stopped.
So the comp ended in this strange way, but in the evening we had a nice price giving ceremony, and a good party. Collectively we flew more than 125 000 km to determine that Andy Aebi, Elisa Houdry and the Czech team are the new champions.

For Finland the results are mixed. Ari ended up in excellent 15th place, no Finn ever ranked that high in the Worlds. Jouni had a bad first week with tree landings etc., but showed good form in the last tasks. I flew a couple of good tasks, but had difficulty adpating my speed to the field and the conditions, and was nailed down by illness. One comp we will all get it together, and we now know that we have what it takes to challenge the very best in the world.

As was expected the local organization was downright perfect, and the hospitality of the town and its people just wonderful. This combined with the great weather and flying conditions makes for a perfect comp setting.
The accidents were sad as always, but nwo finally seem to have triggered a serious discussion about various safety issues that I expect to result in some actions in the upcoming CIVL meeting.

06 February 2009

Another long dry run

For me it was another day in the sick bow but for those pilots that were fit the task committee and the weather conspired with a very difficult 100 km course.
The forecast predicted stronger winds, drier air and high thermal tops. And indeed the few clouds that were seen early on dried out soon, demanding pilots to fly in the "blue".
Despite it all some 40 pilots are reported to have reached goal. Ari and Jouni were amongst the first 10 or so!

05 February 2009

Decision day

Today was a decisive one at the worlds. The task committee had set a very original 106 km challenge. The start already sifted the armada as it was a 6 km exit in front of launch but now with the next turnpoint as Llano in the south.
My own decision was to refrain from flying in the hope of a quicker recovery from the flu.
The course took the pilots back to the antennas and from there to the Elefanten point. There were many possible routes for this leg especially as the cloudbase was really high. Urban took the most westerly route and won the day by at least 15 minutes.
"Only" some 50 pilots made goal today, fellow Finnish pilots Jouni and Ari were fortunately amongst those happy few. Although they were a bit slow we might well climb a bit in the nation ranking.

04 February 2009

Fast and lonely

Yesterday-s task 8 of the Paragliding Worlds called for 114 km of flying. The fastest pilots completed the approx. 100 km speed section in an incredible 2,5 hours!
I was still weak and decided not to use the early window opening and instead launched in the ordered way, that is late. Unfortunately conditions at launch were weak so the ordered launch took a long time and I was really late in the air. As a couple of other late launchers dropped out early I flew the whole day completely by myself with no help of any other pilots. In fact most of the time I didn't even see any others, not even in the distance, weird! Flying alone is much slower and after 4 hours and 75 km I was so tired I decided it safer to land.
Finnish team members Jouni and Ari came into goal, again around 30-40 place, some 20 minutes behind the leaders.

03 February 2009

High an dry

After the rest day on Saturday we did not fly a task on Sunday. Instead we commerated Stefan Schmoker, the pilot who sadly died in an accident on Friday. We flew more or less straight from launch to Valle, with flowers which we dropped over the landing zone. In the evening there was also a mass in the main church.

Today it was back to normal again with a whoppy 97,4 k task, mainly in the flats but with a last leg over the Mesa back to Valle. Initially the conditions were quite turbulent but after the start thigs got better. There were fewer clouds today, and more interestingly, the thermals topped out at some 3700m later in the day; very high that is.
For whatever reason I suffered from influenza with fever last night and throughout the day. I decided to try to fly but very carefully, staying clear from the traffic around the start and also otherwise ensuring at least double the normal safety margins. It was definitely tiresome byt after a total of 4,5 hours of flying I landed in goal; needless to say very happy! My time of 3:34 is of course not very good, approx. an hour after the leaders, but goal is goal.
Teammates Ari and Jouni also made goal and quite a bit faster. Ari had early on a very clear lead and took a route back over Espina. Unfortunately for him the predicted notherlies higher up were not really there so he had to fight the normal southwesterlies for some 30 km. Needless to say that cost much time, but he finished approx. 40th. Everybody else took a more direct course, ove the flats and the smaller hills which worked quite reliably. Jouni flew conservatively and came into goal as 60th or so. All in all one of the better days for the team as a whole we expect to climb up in the team ranking a bit.

Tonight it will be an early night for all of us and hopefully we'll be fit to fight again tomorrow. We have four more tasks to improve our scores...

Today managed to upload my track in the local internet cafe. Some day we'll try to upload our tracks to the XContest.

31 January 2009

Tragedy of an epic day

Sadly one pilot incurred a fatal accident early in todays 6th task of the paragliding worlds. He was seen in a bad cascade hitting the vertical rocks behind the Penon peak.
The day started beautifully with a start over the Slater hill. Today the cloudbase was higher and I glided back in front of the Penon and then to the launch which was a turnpoint today. From there quite many flew into the rough thermal where the accident took place. I was there earlier and didn't have any problems. Quite opposite, at that point I was joining the leading group. Together we climbed and drifted to the next turnpoint. There we were almost at cloudbase and then glided under the clouds towards Agila. We were shooting for the Magay mountain and many managed to just overfly it. Others were a bit lower but could get around it. Unfortunately my serial wings performance was in this case just that crucial bit worse and I arrived too low to get up at the side of the hill. Hence landed in a small peach orchard.
After a nice walk got into a retrieve car that continued to pick up many others that hadn't made the glide either.
A bit later we heard the tragic news. It's sad that this so far perfect comp had its first accident on the last day before the rest day. And even more sad for all that it was a fatal one.
Ari kept his excellent form and came into goal nicely. Jouni also encountered turbulence in the Penon area and decided to land when he was low after clearing a collapse.
Tomorrow we have a much needed rest day. Hopefully we Finns can put ourselves together and all start flying as good as Ari!

30 January 2009

A long run

Update: I wrote the first version of this entry on my phone while waiting in the goal field. Somehow the wrong picture got inserted above. Ari made lots of really good pictures that we'll try to upload on Saturday, which will be a rest day. The Team Leader of the Swiss, Martin Scheel, has also many good pictures on his web site.
Jouni indeed was in the trees again, but this time got his glider out of it allright, albeit that we got half a tree into our apartment. He'd done approx. 90 km before ending up in those trees, and many of those with a broken stabilo line, which made it difficult for him to fly straight.

Today the task committee finally came up with something really difficult: a 114 km task via Lapila to a point behind Valle and then once more over the valley and the plateau to Penon and then out to Llano before returning to goal in the main valley near Ramon.
Me and several others landed in the goal field on the way to Penon, after some 60 km. Despite the early landing I felt that my flying was much better than the previous days.
Conditions seen more stable then expected and 30 minutes before the task deadline there's nobody in goal yet.
But at least one pilot ben be seen gliding to goal... And a group of 20 or so following in the distance.
Turns out that Ari is in that group! Nicely in approx. 25th place. Jouni is reported to be in the trees again, but allright. Hopefully his wing is ok as we have no more spares.

29 January 2009

The good and the bad

Today another not so good day for me. Somehow was well established in the gaggle 2 minutes before the start but after those 2 minutes somehow 200m lower. Conditions were rather turbulent and staying aloft while avoiding all the other gliders took me too much energy. We flew to the antennas and from there to Monarca. Around the antennas I started to fly a bit better and decided to try a short cut to Gordo. I knew that this was risky; it worked on the first training day but it isn't sure. I lost a weaker but decent thermal halfway and then came some 100m too low at Gordo and only could try the back side, and low. That didn't work so that was it for me today.
Locals offered me a quick ride back to Valle where I could watch the pilots come into goal. Ari was in the first group approx. 5th! Jouni flew his old glider now and nicely made goal in approx. 30th place. It was a good day for the Brits with Jamie and Russell both in the top 6. They landed together in "tandem" on their identical Ozone Mantra R09 wings. I think Andy Aebi from Switzerland was first, but as the speed section ended at the other side of the lake it was hard to tell.
Many pilots are starting to feel tired, the flying is intensive and the days long. The Finnish team heads out for an early dinner (by Mexico standards) and then plans to sleep as much as possible....

28 January 2009

Bombed out

Today's task 3 of the paragliding worlds was a 94 km course with a start over Magay and then a leg south to Aguila and then over the plateau to Saucos and zigzag via Gordo to goal.
The air seemed drier today there were no clouds yet at start time. Today I had a very good start and was amongst the first to hit the thermal over turnpoint 1. We then glided back to the Mesa, some of the hotships could glide right over it, but most of us thermalled up on the "lee" side, which worked quite well. A big group then glided towards Aguila . I should have worked up a bit more altitude before that glide as I couldn't cross the smaller hills halfway and had to work quite a bit to get up there. Luckily I wasn't alone, many people ended up struggling low at Aguila . In the end I took the turnpoint low close to the ridge, on the backside of the actual mountain, and then dived into the little valley. There I and a few others found a good thermal that took us up to 3000m again and back into the race. I glided straight towards take-off, expecting a good thermal halfway. I fellow pilot missed that one, and landed literally seconds before I found it, some 80m above the ground. Like yesterday an congregation of sparrows indicated that something was there, and soon I was going up with 4 m/s back to 2800m. Then glided to the front of launch but now it was my turn to miss a thermal and after quite a bit of struggle landed right next to the road. Just when I had packed the retrieve car stopped next to me, perfect! As you can see I was not alone to bomb out. It was a difficult day and many pilots ended up in the fields. Nevertheless some 50 pilots or so made goal.

Just as I'm writing this Ari arrived here at the championship HQ and he thinks he was among the first 30 in goal! Jouni tree landed approx. halfway the task. He is fine but his glider has some damage.

27 January 2009

A hill to far

On today's second task of the Paragliding Worlds the organizers decided to make things a bit more difficult. This as on day 1 a whoppy 109 pilots made it to the goal. So a task of 91,7 km was set including a tricky leg from Lapila to Aguila and from there back to the antennas and then over the plateau followed by a final valley crossing to goal.
In the (early!) morning Team Leader briefing the organizers got permission from the FAI delegates to use the proven launch procedure where during the first 10 minutes anybody could launch and after that period the launching would be by current standing in the championship.
I myself, and teammate Jouni used this opportunity to launch early as we wanted the ensure a good position at the start, a 6 km exit cylinder from launch. I had to clear a knot after launching but then quickly got up and was the first pilot to establish a nice holding position above the wall just at the edge of the cylinder. Before long that area was of course crowded with almost all 148 participants, plus the marshalls and media tandems. There were also clouds and everybody was trying to avoid bumping into each other and from flying into the clouds, while at the same time trying to stay high and close under those clouds.
At start time the whole armade glided towards the first turnpoint. Quite some pilots had managed to get higher between the clouds and soon formed a leading gaggle. I was not so high and wasted some time trying to get higher after a few km. Such a fairly small gap quickly resulted in me flying far behind the lead all of the course. Especially the second half of the leg to Aguila took me a long time. I then flew all alone back to Piano, where I catched up some pilots. Then it was a bit slower again to the antennas, where I found a last good thermal. I glided towards Gordo but didn't quite get there and had to land 10 km short, after more than 5 hours of flying. Much later met with Ari and Jouni who had made goal, but in the end of a second group. The leading group had split on the way back with one group taking a more direct route which turned out faster than the route over the mountains. Results are not in yet, but it is believed that at least 80 pilots made goal, so we can expect an even longer task tomorrow.

26 January 2009

Of Ups and Downs

Update: Ari actually placed 2nd! on this first day. Jouni was 79th and Robert 98th. Finnish pilot Heimo happened to be in Valle last week and made some nice pictures of us in the opening parade, and of Ari landing into goal.

The last couple of days the Finnish team at the Paragliding Worlds experienced a variety of ups and downs.
On Friday the Swedes had set a 53 training task. Not all pilots flew that task but Robert was 2nd to make goal! Ari and Jouni bombed out. Jouni used the opportunity to train walking, a good 10 km.
Friday night Robert and Jouni turned ill and stayed in bed most of Saturday. But we managed to participate in the nice opening parade.
Resting payed off as we were a bit weak but fit to fly the first task today. Conditions on launch were gusty and this slowed things down. Launch order on this first day was by world ranking order and this caused Robert to be really late at the start.
Ari was on time though and flew fast with the leaders and then choose a good line over the Mesa towards Ramon and then on to come in goal in an excellent 3 place!
Jouni and Robert were much slower but both made goal so overall the Finns opened the championship well.

23 January 2009

Hot Practice

After a long, but smooth, flight and a couple of hours drive we arrived last night in Valle. After a good night of much needed sleep we woke up to beautiful sunny weather, just as it is suposed to be! First thing to do was to move to Posada Doris, where we stayed last year, and which was much nicer than the place we had booked from home.
After the standard Valle breakfast we took a taxi to launch. Jouni is really serious about training for the X-Alps, so jumped out and jogged the last mile up the hill. At the launch we greeted many friends; there were some 60 pilots there. I also just managed to say hello top Heimo before he took off. He is visiting Valle this week as a "tourist". Most competition pilots waited till about 11:30 before taking off.
My plan was to fly a couple of hours and get used to the landscape, the strong conditions and to the abundance of gliders around me. The meteo wind was notherly which is opposed to the thermal induced southerlies so much turbulence was to be expected. It turned out not to be so bad, but I made sure to stay far from any tricky place.
After launch quickly gained height above the launch and then waited a bit for the other Finnish pilots. When I saw a couple of gliders getting up over the Mesa I started to work my way to Penon, Mesa and then onwards to the antennas. Near Magay was a bit low but then it worked really well and I reached the antennas more easily then I'd anticipated. I was a bit alone there and decided to wait a bit, slowly gaining more height. A couple of pilots dove over the ridge but seemed to go down very fast. Many others didn't quite fly to the antennas but turned back towards Maguay. I decided to try to make it to Gordo. And that actually went quite well. The clouds over the high plain were low but it all worked quite well. As I didn't want to tire myself tomuch I then turned North over the lake towards Valle and went to the Valle launch, which every now and then is a goal point. I boated a bit on the ridge there and then slowly let myself drift down to the landing zone. After some 2,5 hours itwas nice to pack the gear while sunbathing!
Ari landed almost at the same time, but Jouni flew quite much longer and landed a bit further away and then walked at least 10km. He wanted to train more "walking with glider" for the X-Alps.... Tomorrow we willhave the first official training day for the Worlds and I expect we' ll try to fly a task.

21 January 2009

Taking off

It's 5:30 in the morning and a good snow storm makes the idea even more surreal, but we're taking off in a minute. We are Ari, Jouni and Robert, the Finnish team for the paragliding world championships that will take place the coming weeks in Valle de Bravo.
Ari and Jouni are true Valle veterans, they were amongst the first European pilots who "discovered" this wonderful place some 10 years ago. Both are also experienced competition pilots. And will bring brand new competition gliders.
For me it is the first categeory 1 competition and I'm very exited to participate. I'll fly my trusted Ozone Mantra M2. If all goes well we should be able to practise Thu-Sat; we surely can use some good air time!

03 January 2009

Lokkilok organic T-shirts

We start the year with some blatant commercialism: Lokkilok now offers really nice, cool, organic, T-shirts imprinted with the Lokkilok logo. All of the profits (approx. 20% of the revenue) are used to support this blog and paragliding activities; notably to help pay for participation in the upcoming World Championships!