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.

No comments: