Wednesday, January 7, 2009

First Flight of 2009

Do you have to include a flight to your flying statistics if the only reason that you threw the glider on the truck was because you were going to participate in a contest, and that if you were just free flying on our own you would have stayed home because the conditions looked less than ideal? Aah, what the heck, even with that extended sled ride, 2008 was still probably my best year. I set a PB with the 107 mile flight from Blackhawk in the spring, and I also had my longest flight from Santa Barbara to start the year off. That flight was the longest flight from Santa Barbara by anyone last year. So here are my final stats for 2008:

Flights: 9
Distance: 472.45
Hours: 22:08

The last two years started out like gang busters; I flew over 60 miles in each of my first flights of the year. What would the first flight of this year be like? There was a dying front coming though on Saturday, but I wasn’t expecting much in the way of post-frontal conditions. To my pleasant surprise, Friday’s forecast for Sunday actually showed some potential. Tony was still out of action so I called Owen Morse to see if he would like to join me. Owen participated (actually won) in the XC League Meet but Santa Barbara didn’t really cooperate with great conditions; this would be a good chance for him to fly it when it was on. Then on Saturday Tony called to say that No Cal pilot, Scot Huber, was in town and was looking for someone to show him around. Scot holds numerous site records so I looked forward to flying with him. Well, family obligations got in the away of Owen’s plans so it would be just Scot and me with the plan being to meet at Bailard on Sunday morning.

Although the lapse rate looked good there was the matter of a fairly strong NE wind that we would have to contend with out in the Santa Clara river basin. Because of that, I had my sights set on perhaps setting a new Out and Return record. We didn’t have a driver so if anything if we made it back to at least Divide Peak we would be able to land next to one of our vehicles. We would still have to retrieve the other truck from launch, but it would better than hitchhiking from points unknown. But as luck would have it Tony accepted my request when I called him in the morning to give us a ride up the hill. He also volunteered to pick us up wherever we landed at the end of the day.

If I was pleasantly surprised by the forecast, I was doubly so when Cus started popping over the range on the way up to launch; with a prevailing NE flow I was expecting a blue day. Despite our bit later than normal start, Scot and I were the only HGs at launch. The PGs, however, were out in force. That would end up being good and bad: good, because no matter how fast you set up your glider they are always faster and so they provided nice wind dummies; bad, because at first conditions weren’t as good as they looked making things awfully crowded above the Thermal Factory with pilots just trying to stay in the air. I would end up having a mid-air with one of them. More later, but both of us were able to continue our flights.

Scot and I launched a little after 11:00 (the local HGs were still nowhere to be seen). The early launching PGs were all doing great with some high above the RR and others already on course from the Thermal Factory. Personally, I don’t like to hang around launch and when it’s crowded less so. Launch was working great, but when I had the altitude to make it above the first bump of the Thermal Factory I pulled out of the lift and went on my glide.

A slow, and as it would turn out, eventful start.

When I first got to the TF I had to share the air with just 1 or 2 PGs. That soon became what seemed like dozens as more pilots got in the air and others began sinking out from the higher elevations. Scot and I would spend the next 40 + minutes bobbing up and down atop TF doing our best to dodge the PGs (and they, us). As it turned out I wasn’t very successful.

If the PGs have it over us in their ability to slow down and cut a sharper turn, we have the advantage in sink rate. On Sunday the better sink rate seemed to have won out as one by one the PGs dropped out of the sky leaving only a few of the later launchers to contend with. That didn’t stop me from getting up close and personal with one of them.

Rather than write again about the incident here I will just repost what I submitted to the South Coast PG forum:

“I had a near mid-air with someone on a blue paraglider and I just want to tell my side of the story and apologize for my contribution to the incident. I was working some light lift in front of the Thermal Factory when the paraglider came in from the Skyport to join me. After turning one or two circles together it looked to me like the PG was getting the best of it so I widen my circle to let him climb through and then I dove in behind and below him after he banked up inside of me. The PG continued to crank and bank...right over the nose of my glider. Whether it was from the turbulence from my glider or caused by his evasive action the PG then had a very scary looking collapse. Luckily the pilot pulled out of it and continued flying on.”

I came to find out later that the collapse was caused by my wing nicking one of his lines. If you want to read more about the incident you can click this link and scroll down to the start of my posts:

As things would have it, that same thermal finally got me high enough to head out on course to Montecito Peak. I was supposed to be showing Scot the way down range, but he had actually gotten ahead of me after climbing out from Parkers. Going to and leaving from there was something that he did on his own. And it ended up not being the last time that he would take the less than conventional route, completely ignoring my advice in the process. Please note that I write that with a sense of intrigue and in no way mean it to be insulting.

Anyway, east of Montecito all the normal spots were working just fine. We started playing with cloud base (roughly 4,500 ft) just east of Castle Ridge. It took awhile but I finally caught up with Scot just west of the power line crossing. Just in time to, ahem, guide him through the Pass. I arrived at Noon with Scot in tow below the main point so I continued on to the eastern spine. Whereas I tried to hold the high ground Scot stepped a little more out front. There were clouds to Whiteledge but Ojai was completely blue making me believe that the NE was scouring things out. Because of that, I wanted to step directly back from Noon to get on the back ridge line before continuing on. But while I was sitting there trying to make things work close to the main point, Scot was busy enjoying a ride to cloud base. Seeing that I changed my plans and stepped out front to join him.

As I made my way to cloud base Scot made his way to Divide Peak – has never been down range before and there he was leading the way through the Casitas Pass. Seeing him go on his glide I got on the radio to tell him not to go any further than Divide until he could climb out above the peak. Soon after that I was at cloud base and on a glide to join him. Only he was nowhere to be found. That is until I looked east. There was Scot at about 3500 ft at the base of East Divide. The only thing I could do was to tell him to keep me informed of his progress.

A view at Whiteledge from the NW. Some advice: always climb out on the front points first; don't just fly up the face.

For myself, after having a slow but steady climb above Divide, I headed for Whiteledge. I arrived comfortably and had another good climb at my usual go to spot in front of Whiteledge’s namesake. Scot had managed to pull it off and was now climbing out above Whiteledge, but further out front. As we sat at cloud base the thought was to perhaps turn back for an out and return (spending so much time at the Thermal Factory put the Kibosh on an OR record attempt) But the reports coming over the radio about the strong west near launch persuaded us to take a chance and continue east despite the blue skies. As it turned out we had a west wind all the way through the Ojai Valley.

The Ojai Valley looking south. Photo by Marty DeVietti on a different day.

From Whiteledge I angled toward Bump Three while Scot took a straighter line to the 33. He was rewarded with a nice climb to the base of the last cloud that we would see for the rest of the day. Bump Three was good for a few 360s but that was about it. However, I had a pretty good glide and ended up crossing 33 at about 3,500 ft. Scot was slightly ahead now starting to climb up the Nuthouse spine. I had the height to continue on to the Pyramid, but as I was crossing out front of the Nuthouse spine I hit some nice solid lift. After topping out I headed for the Pyramid, but found nothing worth stopping for so I continued on toward the front points of Nordoff. At that point I got on the radio to tell Scot that there was no reason to step back to the higher back range through Ojai as the front points work perfectly fine. Two seconds later he came back over the radio to say that he was taking his altitude and stepping back to the back range. Oh well, you try.

The Ojai Valley looking east (photo: Marty DeVietti)

At Nordoff I climbed out to 5,400 ft above the high point behind the front ridges and then went on my glide to Twin Peaks. The lift there was smooth and steady if not particularly high there. But I had my best climb of the day above the front point of East Repeater. There I climbed to just under 6k in strong and steady lift. Afterwards I made a play for Puckers for one last boost before heading over to Santa Paula ridge. Puckers, on the other hand, didn’t cooperate and I had to bail all the way back to just below the front point of Boyds. There I picked up a low leaner that drifted me back to Puckers again where I had an eventual climb out to 4800 ft. Not as high as I would have liked, but it seemed like the day was shutting down so I left with that. Meanwhile, Scot had come low into Boyds at about the time that I was half-way through my climb above Puckers. After topping out I looked back to see how he was doing only to see him continue east low. This time he didn’t pull off and ended up putting it down on the side of a hill near the Thomas Aquinas College.

From my glide from Puckers I came in fairly low on the west flank of Santa Paula Peak. But as soon as I got over the ridge I hit a strong thermal. Unfortunately, it didn't take me very high. If I had to guess I'd say that the top was being sheared off by the same strong east that I would eventually encounter when I got around the corner. And the same east wind that began knocking me down after I did, making me think that I was going to have to land up on the plateau. But it was also the same wind that allowed me to ridge soar an east facing cliff that gave me the altitude to make it out to the 126.

Once on the ground I gave Tony a call and by the time I finished breaking down he was there to pick me up; soon after that we had Scot with us after a nice property owner gave him a ride to the 150 for an easier retrieve. Thanks again Tony. And Scot if you’re reading this it was a blast flying with you. You don’t hold all of those site records by playing follow the leader – here’s to you.
Distance: 38.33 miles
Duration: 3:31
Max Altitude: 5,926 ft