16 July 2010

Some involuntary flying

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

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

08 July 2010

Ready for the Worlds

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

05 May 2010

Finland 2010 season opened in style

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

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

19 April 2010

A French Workout

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

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

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

05 March 2010

Finnish mid-winter thermal right above the frozen sea

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

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

29 January 2010

Crazy Days

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

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

27 January 2010

Monarca Open 2010, task 3

Today, day 3 of the Monarca Open 2010, things went a bit better again. Far from perfect, but better. Already in the morning it was obvious that unlike the previous days we would have plenty of cumulus clouds in the sky to show us the way. A 65 km task was set with a start around Magay which also was the first turnpoint. Interestingly the next turnpoint was Laguna and was given an unusual 2 km radius. Alltogether this made it potentially advantageous to take the start on the north-west side very high to do a quick down-wind run towards Magay and then return to Laguna. I'd considered this but thought the advantage would at best be small, and as I didn't end up with a group to cross to Magay (before start time), decided to wait above Espina. Some 15 pilots tried the alternative and then got a nice lead on the way from Laguna to Saucos.
Once we'd reached Sierra Gordo and tanked up on altitude it was fairly easy to fly the famous convergence zone to Saucos and back to the plateau (see track). The real challenge was now to fly to the antennas at Divisaro, against considerable headwind. I saw new clouds forming all the time over the northern edge of the plateau and decided to take that straighter route. The normal route is to fly back to Magay and then turn towards the antennas. But I know from experience that the glide from Gordo to Magay is often too much for me and my glider. Initially my route seemed quite possible but later I failed to get back to cloudbase although I did find several thermals. Slowly I got ever lower and eventually had to land near Colorines; at best I was only 3,5 km from Divisaro for a scoring distance of 50.2 km.
Later I heard from one of the pilots that left me at Gordo for Magay that some of those crossed the ridge only 5 m above the trees, whereas others were forced to land on the plateau. So perhaps my plan was better but would have required company and/or better thermalling.

26 January 2010

Not a pretty sight...

the result list that is. Or rather the scores for us Finnish pilots in the Monarca Open 2010. Yesterday Karoliina however did quite well with 41 km, good for a 67th place, and nicely second of the ladies.

But today's task may well have been even trickier. It was "only" 56 km, with a exit start around the Diente turnpoint, then on via La Pila to Aguila; all these points in the "flats". From Aguila then back over the plateau to Javon and via a detour over Sacama back to Valle. Although today we saw some cumulus forming it was very difficult to get high in the valley. karoliina and Jyrki didn't make it to Diente and I myself bombed out after La Pila.

In the series of mistakes not to make: 1 km before La Pila I was in a dispersed gaggle switching a bit from one group to the other to chase the best core. I was eventually going up slightly quicker and when the thermal got a bit better organized decided to fly out to take the turnpoint and then return to the same thermal. Although that quite often is a reasonable tactic, this time I was too low. Especially as the thermals were fairly short lived (in that area) as I should have noticed and taken into account. So upon my return the thermal wasn't there and I had too little altitude to search for a new one (track).

Finnish pilot Make saved our day though. He patiently worked his way along the course and did a good 44 km of it. Several of the top pilots didn't make it today so the rankings will be shuffled a lot.

There were also a couple of pilots that got caught in the turbulence of the "crazy thermal" today and had to use their reserve parachutes. They landed in the trees but did not occur any damage. Also their equipment seemed to have survived the ordeal in good order, kudos to the excellent rescue team at this competition.

25 January 2010

A turn or two too few

Another great day in Valle de Bravo, the first of the Monarca Open 2010. After a bit of expected hassle with transport and briefing on this first day we got into the air at noon. The task committee had planned a route of appprox. 65 km. Some 20 minutes before the start gate would open the sky became very crowded with all pilots trying to get every centimeter of altitude before the crossing to the Magay turnpoint. Like yesterday the conditions were blue, but seemed weaker and the inversion wasn't lifting as quick. From Magay we had to fly to the antennas. Many pilots dived into the area in front of the plateau, but I found a good thermal at Magay and decided to stay high. That worked out very well, I could fly on top of the ridge, taking two more good thermals. After the last one I was nicely high above the whole field, and could glide directly towards the next turnpoint: Santa Maria, quite far out in the valley. On the way encountered some light lift but as I was still above everybody else decided to continue to glide. With a kilometer or two to go I had caught up with the leaders, thanks to being able to fly a more direct line, and started to look for some good lift. To increase our chances I diverted slightly south from the others, but didn't encounter anything. Most pilots glided quickly to the slightly larger hills in the south, but that seemed for me just a bit too far. So I turned back towards the plateau expecting to find some lift above the smaller hills on the way. Unfortunately that didn't work, down low the air apparently simply was too stable. Mere minutes later I was grounded (track).
The pilots that made the other hills struggled but then got high again and could glide back to the Magay area and then continued over the plateau to the Quintanilla turnpoint. That seemed to have been another area where several pilots ended up too low. The ones that survived it could then fly back to Valle, via Iglesia. The score is not available yet, but I think some 30-40 pilots might have made goal.
When assessing my flight I cannot think of any other mistake then not using the bit of lift that I found on my glide to Santa Maria. Sometimes a couple of turns (in the lift) and 50 m of altitude can make all the difference....

Update: Hours later Finnish pilots Karoliina and Make arrive back in town. Karo patiently worked her way out of Santa Maria and made it up to the plateau before the thermals shut down for the day. As Make landed out in the Santa Maria area and Jyrki near Magay, Karo now leads the Finnish pack! Still no official results but I think some 35 pilots may have made it to goal.

24 January 2010

General Repetition

On this last day before the Monarca Open 2010 we had an excellent final chance to practice. Norwegian's Ronny et al. (picture below) set a short task so that we would be home in time for the registration. It was a typical (but short) Monarca task: a 3 km start cylinder around Magay which also served as first turnpoint, then over the Mesa plateau and across the valley to Ramon, back to the Iglesias on the plateau and then landing in Valle de Bravo.
The start was set for 12:30, which was perhaps a little early but even so conditions were good. And soon became downright fantastic. As for the last couple of days it was a blue day (no clouds) but now the thermals were smooth, upper level winds weak, and the famous Monarca convergence was there. This made it possible to race on the way home from Ramon (picture above). The fastest pilots needed approx. 1:25, I myself was also quick in 1:35 (track).
In the afternoon did the registration, after tonight's briefing and opening dinner we are all set for a good week of competitive flying with friends.

23 January 2010

Warming up

In Finland we're experiencing a true winter, after a couple of years of "warm" winters that almost made us forget what the real thing is like. For the least couple of weeks several pilots have enjoyed the ridge soaring possibilities that open up when the lakes and sea freeze over. The frozen lakes have also been put to good use to introduce new students to the finer skills of paragliding. The picture shows a group near Ähtäri that had an excellent day in approx. -18 C.

Me myself and some other pilots have fled the cold, for the traditional trip to Valle de Bravo in Mexico, for the Monarco Open competition. Finnish pilots Karo, Make and Jyrki have been here already for a while, but I arrived only last Thursday night. As usual the place is buzzing with pilots. After some strange weather early in the month, it has now again been flyable for the whole week.
Yesterday made a 1,5 hours flight. The first half hour really needed to get into thermal flying again, little time after launch I found myself very low at the foot of the Penon and a lot of scratching and patience were required to get back up again. I then continued to fly the "task" that the Norwegians had set for themselves. This took me to the Espina corner and then over the valley to Aguila. But there I was on my own and that probably made me leave it to fast, too low. On the way back didn't find any good lift and landed a few km south of launch (track). After a long walk plus a lot of driving made it back to Valle.
Today had a much better flight 3 hours zig-zagging over the Mesa plateau. IWe started at La Case and from there tried to go to the infamous antenna. I made a nice transition to the Magay point but then a relatively strong head wind seemed to make it very hard. It also meant I significant risk to end up in some bad leeside turbulence. I couple of pilots were well on their way but all were very low and I didn't see anyone getting up. So turned back overt the plateau towards Gordo and then noticed that some pilots tried to get to the antenna along the northern ridge. That seemed a reasonable idea so I started flying that direction. When I was 5 km from the turnpoint I did again not see any of the pilots in front of me going up. Moreover I was now getting a bit tired so decided to fly "home" to the landing zone in Valle. On the way found some good lift which allowed me to make a bit of a detour and check out some other turnpoints (track). After 3 hours landed at 14: 30 and then enjoyed the warm weather, some 28 C, with a torta and a cerveza!