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.