Wednesday, 7 September 2016

World Cup - st Andre les Alpes, France - Task 2 - 115km Out and Return (OMG)

Some explaining is required for the civilians out there:  a para-glider typically flies at between 40-60 km/h with a glide ratio of between 6 and 10.  To fly 100 km is a big deal when you're learning and this is generally achieved in your first three years.  One hundred kilometers out and return is worth 200 km downwind (epic by any measure) and and a 100 km triangle is worth about 250 km by most accounts (more than a personal best for many).  Such is the quality of the flying in st Andre that more than eighty pilots completed a 115 km triangle in just over three and a half hours with the hot-to-trot Bulgarian ace, Yassen Savov, handing out flying lessons on a scintillating day that encapsulated everything one would hope for in a sporting contest.

Absolutely bloody marvelous just about covers it in the absence of more convenient vulgar expletives.

That the first fifty pilots were separated by fifteen minutes is no longer surprising such is the quality of the field.  Did we have fun? HELL YES!!!  What with cloud-base close to three thousand meters and climbs in excess of 5m/s over terrain to write home about, I don't think we need much more than this.

Seldom have I seen fortunes change as often as today.  The start was glorious but quickly deteriorated into a bit of a dog-show for those who were sloppy about managing altitude to begin with.  It was almost comical to observe dozens of competitors being spanked in the lee of the western bowl simply because we were not paying attention to the local met.  I was one of those dumb-ass pilots, but managed to fix it after forty or so kilometers.  The rest of the day involved picking a line and applying as much speed as possible with some interesting terrain oriented interludes to spice things up every now and then.

All in all a more mellow day with moderate demands on the nervous system with two minor events in my case:

We expect to fly another three days... wish you were here.

World Cup - st Andre les Alpes, France - Task 1

A little task was set in the relative shelter of the st Andre flying bowl.  The idea was to protect us from the fresh north west wind.  The entire field managed to launch at least an hour before the race started as the wind at launch intensified.  It is not often the case in world cup task setting that you are challenged to think for yourself.  Today was different and there were three schools of thought: west, middle, and east.

I chose the westerly route along with a handful of die-hard comrades as it offered a ridge-run but with a distance penalty.  This route necessitated flying out of the relative shelter of the st Andre bowl with the application of copious doses of the speed bar not just once, but three and a half times:

Our group started with about twenty on the first run and ended with four.  The reason is best explained by my heart monitor:

We were rewarded with a winning margin of about five minutes after slightly more than two hours for eighty kilometers.

It is not often that I am given the chance to race a ridge, so this task was a gift tailored to my narrow skill-set serving up the win by a second from Michel Guillemot and Uli Prinz.  Many thanks to the task committee!

Tuesday, 6 September 2016

World Cup - st Andre les Alpes, France

Paragliding World Cup France: st Andre les Alpes

Of all the places I love in travel, the south of France is high up on my list.  The reasons are many and the pictures tell the story a thousand times better than words.

Arriving over the Cote d'Azure to land at Nice is the closest you'll get to feeling like the people in those old Peter Stuyvesant cigarette adverts.  The descent into Nice offers an uninterrupted view of the multitude of marinas sporting luxury motor-yachts and statuesque Provencal homes along the hundred kilometers of the French Riviera before touching down mere meters from the edge of the sea.  

It has been nearly a decade since I was in this very special part of the world.  I was part of a fairly large group of South Africans attending a British Open competition in 2007 which was truly memorable both from a sporting and a tourist point of view.

The first two days of this world cup were blown out so Russel and I did a bucket-list dash down to saint Tropez, Cannes, and Nice.  You have to see it to believe it!  For my South African friends: imagine the strip from Sea-Point to Camps bay in high season with the beaches packed and nowhere to park.  The only difference being that the French version carries on for one hundred and fifteen kilometers uninterrupted!  According to the Côte d'Azur Economic Development Agency, each year the Riviera hosts fifty percent of the world's super-yacht fleet, with ninety percent of all super-yachts visiting the region's coast at least once in their lifetime (trust wikipedia to know that).

On our way to view the show-case of opulent excess, we stumbled upon a medieval festival en-route in the mountain village of Comps-sur-Artuby which completed an unlikely contrast of old and new France in a one day road-trip.  The attention to detail was astonishing as the community populated the medieval encampment in full period costume replete with weapons and artifacts faithfully re-created to the historic standard.


As if that were not enough, the second day of competition was also cancelled, so we toured closer to home exploring the Gorges du Verdon and the historic town of Castellane not far from Saint-Julien-du-Verdon where we are staying.  The village is situated on one of the numerous freshwater lakes in the area which has been great for my open water swimming aspirations.

st. Julien (temporary home in France)

The Gorges du Verdon is spectacular in every respect:

Saturday, 11 June 2016

World Cup 2016: Gemona del Fiulli, Italy - Grazie e arrivederci Italy

So the rain persisted through the night and into the morning.  As expected the last day is cancelled and prize giving is at 10am. 

I admit I was here to enjoy the scenery and Italian hospitality with the hope of a top thirty finish.  That would maintain my national ranking with a view to an option to attend the World Championships west of Gemona next year.  

Finishing in the top ten was an unexpected bonus albeit two task only.  Russel managed top thirty so it was mission accomplished for the part-time South African world cup paragliding team!

A huge cheer for the victors AndreasM, YuriV, and HermanP.  They showed us how to do it!

If you have never been to Italy I would recommend it very highly.  

The Italian Dolomites remain high on my flying bucket list.  We drove toward that part on a non-flying day and I could feel the butterflies of anticipation jumping around excitedly at the prospect of flying in that magical place.

I will write more about the world cup and my impression of gliders once I am home.

Friday, 10 June 2016

World Cup 2016: Gemona del Fiulli, Italy - Task 2

Star Wars
I recall a post about a gloomy day during the 2013 Bulgarian World Championships where the entire field bombed off the mountain and flew a task in a completely shaded valley.  I think I called it the valley-of-death-glide.

Well today was one of those epic battles between light and dark forcesThe dark force claimed the mountains and foothills as far as the river engulfing the entire course.  The light force held the line steadfastly along the river offering competitors a glimmer of hope as they skirted the fringes of the course.  This allowed brave pilots the opportunity to launch raids into the dark territories snatching turn-points before scurrying back to safety as gloom gnawed at altitude.  At least half of our number were overwhelmed by the dark.

A bit dramatic I know, but it really was an epic battle.  An average speed of about 23km/h around the 68km course tells the story just as well.  

I personally had the lowest flat-land save of my life and I am convinced my brand new Naviter Oudie 4 was instrumental (sorry - bad pun) with its inertial electronics assisting the barometer in a way that I never could have imagined.  My trusty old vario just simply isn't up to the task of goading me to maintain altitude less than two hundred meters above the ground the way the new Naviter did today.  I had to turn the volume off on the old vario which was groaning erratically in the barely detectable lift.  

Many thanks to Jost Napret for delivering the device to me on launch.  It took all of sixty seconds to copy the terrain, maps, airspace, and task off of a micro-sd card a few minutes after the task briefing and I was set.

The Russian team pilot, Yuri Mashanin, won the day in 2h55 beating the small chase group by five minutes.  Thirty made goal.  I am delighted to report I bumbled into goal in sixth position after a diabolical start.  This was particularly satisfying given that I was stone last climbing in a medium thermal halfway to base when the entire field took the start at the top. 

My travel buddy, Russell Achterberg, was not far behind into goal which is amazing considering he has not flown at all this year.  I mean zero air time under cloth and string.  


Thursday, 9 June 2016

World Cup 2016: Gemona del Fiulli, Italy - Task 1

I wrote da Vinci day as the heading for task 1 on the Gin blog.  This is probably because we visited the da Vinci museum in Venice and it rhymes with 'day'.  

It is also true that the whole experience was a thing of science, beauty, and invention.  For those who are used to the Alps it might be that they are a little blase about the playground.  For the rest of us it is a rare privilege to be present when the stars align and the heavens clear paving the way to a glorious flying adventure in an incredibly beautiful environment.  

There is always the risk of rain in the Alps which is why I have largely stopped traveling to competitions in alpine environments.  The hit rate is too low when time is limited.  That is not to say that the yearning for towering snow-clad mountains diminishes in any way.  This is why it was enormous relief that we would fly at least one glorious task.

The task committee got it totally right with a healthy mixture of flat-out ridge-racing, a tricky valley crossing and a slower period of joining-the-dots in the flat lands.  The start was almost comical with ninety percent of the field rushing back to the launch ridge several kilometers off-course before jumping onto the back ridge to fetch the second turn-point.  

The ridge I am referring to runs eastward all the way to Kobarid and Tolmin allong the Socha valley in Slovenia.  This region probably bears the weight of more out and return world record attempts than most ridges anywhere else if I were to guess.  
The current out and return world record of 284km from Sorica (Slovenia) to Longarone (Italy) and back was set in the area in 2012 by the Italian, Arduino Persello.  Gemona del Friuli is roughly halfway.  Nicole Fedele holds the female O&R world record in the same region from Sorica.

Having flown a piece of the ridge that was most likely used for those records, I can understand that such mammoths flights are possible: we were all going more or less flat out on that part during the race on Tuesday climbing all the way in both directions for around 30km or more.

The task was almost 90km long and involved crossing the river twice: once from the mountain and a second time in the flats.  Yuri Vidic won in the end in just under three hours with another thirty pilots within six minutes so we all got maximum points with another forty finishing within another hour.

As for the rest of the week... rain, rain, and more rain...