Luckily Lauren isn't too sentimental. I didn't have to worry about hurt feelings by going flying on Valentine's Day. Now me, I am sentimental so normally I wouldn't think about flying but the forecast was just too good to pass up. It had been raining off and on all week and the pattern was supposed to continue into the early part of this week. However, we were due for a brief break in the weather on Saturday before the another storm was forecast to roll into town later that night. That was what they were calling for in the middle of the week, but as we got closer to Saturday the forecast delayed the arrival of the second storm until late Sunday.
If I didn't have to worry about Lauren being upset about not being home for Valentine's day, there was the matter of missing my daughter's lacrosse games. But as it so happened the games were to be played in Santa Barbara. I've never missed a single sports event that either of my kids have participated in. What was one day, especially considering the fact that these type of conditions only come around every so often and there would be another game to attend the following day? At least we would be driving up to Santa Barbara together and meeting later in the day. She, her brother and one of her best friends and teammates could even watch me launch before heading over to the games; that should more than make up for me not being there. Well, that's what I kept telling myself to help allay my guilt.
As mentioned a number of times, Santa Barbara is at its best when it is post-frontal, but more often than not the winds are too strong out of the NW and or cloudbase is too low to fly. As you can see the winds were forecast to be perfect with regard to direction and velocity. Dampness would be another matter and low cloudbase did prove problematic for a number of pilots. But a couple of us managed to get by the most difficult spots; a lot had to do with timing.
Unfortunately, my family had to leave for my daughter's first game before seeing me take off. They did, however, get a chance to see a few PGs and Tony's Atos take flight. It seemed a bit early to me. There were clouds forming overhead, but they had a grey, blah look to them. But the early launchers made it work and were soon making their way down range.
I launched around 10:40, just after Jonathan Dietch, who was ready, willing and able to go on his first open distance XC flight. As you will see in Jonathan's video above, launch was working just fine and we were soon making our way east. A quick tank up at the Thermal Factory and we were on our way to Montecito Peak (below).
It was paint by the numbers to Castle Ridge with all the usual spots working like they're supposed to. I would spend most of the day flying with Dean Stratton. Most of the photos are his. The one below is looking back from Castle Ridge toward the west and the road cut on East Romero.
When there is an abundance of moisture, cloudbase is at its lowest and thickest from Castle to the start of the Casitas Pass where things tend to open up a bit. It's never a bad idea to slow down a bit in this section and work whatever lift you can find because the usual spots maybe just too shaded in to work. Saturday wasn't any different, and indeed, once we got past the powerlines things opened up enough to make a play for the Casitas Pass.
West Divide; Whiteledge out in the distance
Generally speaking, you want to have at least 4500 ft of altitude above Noon Peak before heading over to Divide; on Saturday we left from the clouds 300 ft below that. But after another quick climb to cloudbase at Divide we were on our way to Whiteledge. Unfortunately, Jonathan didn't connect at Divide. He did, however, have a fortunate glide to Lake Casitas, otherwise he might still be up there.
My normal go to spot didn't work at Whiteledge -- perhaps because I arrived lower than usual -- so I had to eke around the front corner. But each little finger spine got me a bit higher as I progressed eastward; by the time that I rounded the far corner I was back up to cloudbase again. Reports on the radio indicated that Tony had landed at the Diversion Dam, which was just ahead. Since I was starting further south than normal I ended up coming in below the top of Bump Three, my usual go to spot from Whiteledge. Since Tony was on the ground I was bit worried about being low, but as soon as I hit the spine the vario started singing. I didn't climb terribly high but it was enough to go for a glide across the 33.
Coming up to Nordoff Ridge
Up ahead, Dean was skimming the top of the Nuthouse spine. He had gotten ahead of me at Whiteledge. The Nuthouse didn't work for me so I continued on to the Pyramid...low. I've been down at the bottom the Pyramid before and had made it work, so I wasn't too worried about bombing out. But on the other hand, there was Tony down on the ground at the dam. It took awhile for something to came through to set a wingtip into, but once it did I was up and out and giving Dean chase.
Dean making the glide to Twin Peaks
Running down range having to stop at each spine in order to tank up negates a lot of the performance differences between HGs and PGs. Still, I fly a Lightspeed; Dean was just flying more proficiently than I was. We stayed together for most of the flight because he'd out climb me, but then I would get him on the glide, especially the long ones like the one between Nordoff and Twin Peaks (above).
Boyds, Puckers and then Santa Paula Ridge in the distance.
The Rocky Bluffs
As you can see from the photos above, Ojai was gorgeous and as usual worked like a charm. I left Puckers with 6k, my highest point of the flight, for a glide to Santa Paula Ridge where I met up with Dean again. Despite my encounter with a PG during my last flight, Dean and I mixed up pretty good when we shared a thermal together. Still, I was a bit reluctant to get too close and that probably cost me an opportunity to stay with him on the climbs.
At the east end of Santa Paula, Dean angled out to a small cloud forming in the valley while I decided to fly right off the end of the range toward Oat Mountain and the one cumulus cloud sitting above its foothills. Up ahead east of Piru the sky was dotted with clouds. If we could have made it there there would be no telling how far we could have gone. But getting there ended up being the problem.
Dean and I had a nice climb out above the foothills about halfway to Piru, but both of us ended just short of the clouds. I gave it my best in the foothills east of Piru, but I was never able to latch on to anything solid. It was especially hard to do while losing my breakfast in the process.
Because the Lightspeed does have a little more umph, I managed to make it a little further down the 126 than Dean. Judging from the picture taken some time after landing, if we had flown through the area just a tad later we might still be in air.
Distance: 56.66 miles
Max Altitude: 6,062 ft