Friday, 13 September 2019

World Cup - Brazil 2019 - Pico do Gaviao, Andradas - Task Four and Five - Mind your head!

There are few things more stressful than landing prematurely during a world cup task.  Normally being too high is only of concern in the context of clouds.  We are limited to 10,000ft (3048m) ASL here in Andradas which would mostly be alright because cloudbase is not often higher than that.  Unfortunately, we have had three days in a row where 10k was not enough and task five was diabolical.  Imagine screaming along under healthy looking clouds with a safe margin under the airspace and you hit a potent line of lift thinking you're ok.  You fly a little faster as you climb inexorably to the hard limit.  Eventually you hit full speed going up at five meters per second and you get that feeling you're about to hit your head in the door-way.  Some bumped their heads and were heavily penalised.  The first two guys to goal yesterday were affected along with half a dozen others on a day where our wings were severely clipped as we were denied the normal euphoric freedom of a rare four thousand meter day with wall to wall cumulus and cloud streets.

A third day of fast racing and potent thermals around a 100km kilometer course.  You can't ask for much more from a competition site and we have every expectation of another hundred kilometer task on day six.  When asked if we would fly a bigger task our task committee veteran, Pepe Malecki, quipped: "No, we only make a short task of one hundred kilometers today".

There has been much debate among competitors about the modern trend of heavily congested gaggles at world cup.  Proposals to change the scoring and introduce mechanisms to break up the gaggle are beginning to circulate.  The main concern for organisers and the PWCA management is that of safety.  Mid-air collisions and near misses are becoming common-place and it is only a matter of time before there is a serious and regrettable incident.  Joerg Erwald has a time-based scoring proposal, the Italians are apparently looking at inserting no-fly zones at crucial points along a course line, and there is the idea of speed runs with departure bonus points instead of lead-out points.  There is also the concentric circles task style which has been tried before but poses recovery challenges.  There are those who believe the gaggle has become the most efficient mode of racing and will remain dominant irrespective of task inventions to break it up.  There is also a majority of top pilots who excel at the gaggle style with little motivation to change.

At least yesterday was refreshing as the Mexican, Manuel Quintanilla, lead a tiny band of five into goal a full thirty minutes ahead of the rest in an impressive display of flair and valour.  He receives my newly minted Lion Heart of the day.  You roared like a Kalahari Lion Manual and we all heard you!

Wednesday, 11 September 2019

World Cup - Brazil 2019 - Pico do Gaviao, Andradas - Task Three - Catch up!

Most paragliding pilots dream of flying a one hundred kilometer FAI triangle at some point in their lives.  Not many get around to it.  Well folks, if you want a hundred triangle I suggest you come to Brazil because in Andradas you get to do it with almost a hundred pilots at a time.  It was an interesting day with convergence lines and fires en route.  The height restriction is proving to be pesky with several pilots being penalised for infringements.  

The normal mass gaggle dragged itself around the course at a fair pace before slowing after the last turn-point before rushing into goal with sixty completing the task within ten minutes of the leader.   

Gilmar Couto won the day and Yael was the first woman in goal.  The overall results are compressed to the point where predicting a probable winner would be purely speculative.  Consider the first fifty pilots are separated by less than one hundred points with four potential tasks to follow.  I still think Raffael Saladini is in with a shout but there are twenty or more who could do it based on the days to come.  

As for my own performance? I managed to get 10km behind early in the day after a terrible internal debate about whether or not to fly with the gaggle.  In the end I decided to fly with the gaggle, but it took 50km to make up the 10km deficit.  I caught them with 30km to go and then it was a cruise to goal for another solid score which has put me back in the game.  It's not that I don't like to fly with the gaggle.  I actually love it and the crowded thermals don't bother me.  I just prefer to go my own way as in the classic 1977 Fleetwood Mac hit "You can go your own way".  It just doesn't pay off so I'm gonna try a little harder now that I'm warmed up.

Tuesday, 10 September 2019

World Cup - Brazil 2019 - Pico do Gaviao, Andradas - Task 1 & 2 - I said Follow the damn gaggle!

And so it was that the Olive Prophecy came to pass with two days and two tasks.

Task one was won by Chigwon Won (try say that five times quickly).  Chigwon Won won one here two years ago too (I can do this all day).  The Korean charger is leading the comp after another great performance on day two.  

Both tasks featured romps into the flat lands due to moderate wind forecast.  The first task of seventy odd kilometers started to the south over the back before a westerly leg ending to the south.  Several pilots were penalised for breaking the 10,000ft hard ceiling.  'Others' were penalised for stubborn stupidity and general uselessness as I launched ten minutes before the start after messing around with my gear and then running around on launch as the wind changed.  In some bizarre turn of fortune I hooked into a pencil of a thermal that boosted me to the top right at the edge of the start cylinder with twenty seconds to go allowing an immaculate start while my fellow competitors, who had been mincing around majestically for close to an hour, wallowed below in my wonderous wake.  That was about all I can claim on the first day as I ignored the gaggle and defiantly flew the tiger-line cursing myself every time the vultures helped me dig my way out of the holes I had dug in the excruciating solo cross country that had me slow to goal close to the bottom.

Ghigwon took it from the Brazilian ace Rafael Saladini who won here in 2017.  Raffael put in a good performance at the world championships in Macedonia too and must surely be a favorite to win along with Chigwon.  

It was another characteristic mass ensemble to goal with three quarters of the field arriving at goal within minutes of one-another after two hours.

The second task started to the west before a southeast leg followed by a southerly finish for and eighty odd kilometer task in stronger wind.  The wind forecast saw the entire field fly a huge bow north of the course line to the west for fear of drifting to far downwind of the turn-point.  It was too much to bear!  Even after the punishment of the first day, I could not bring myself to deviate so dramatically off-course.  An observer would have heard some serious rhyming curse-verses as 'we' held an intense internal debate about doing the wrong thing for the right reasons.  Imagine Smeagol trying to decide if he should kill Frodo for the ring:  

In the end I told myself 'I refuse to fly like that!' and went off on another solo mission along the course line knowing full well that my wife and friends would be tearing their hair out in frustration.  You expect another sad tale of woe? You would be wrong: after dawdling along climbing in every little bit of lift and getting stuck for fifteen minutes, I still managed to get to goal within two minutes of the lead with 100% of the lead-out points.  I wish I could say this was skill on my part, but, acknowledging that one flight a statistic doth not make, I experience the rising suspicion that something's not quite right with the top level of competition in paragliding. The French have perfected the gaggle-control approach introduced by the Swiss many years ago and they are being emulated by just about everyone else.  The result is what appears to be a form of group-think led inadvertently by the best in the business.  I have the utmost respect for the talent at the top and I believe the quality of the average world-cup pilot is the highest it has ever been.  I also think a change is in order if we think the mass procession we witness daily is not really what XC racing is all about.   

Having said all that, it was another magnificent day of flying and there is enormous joy to be found on a final glide of almost thirty kilometers with ALL your flying friends travelling at close to one hundred kilometers per hour over the ground.  One hundred pilots separated by seven minutes after two hours!

Christian Deacu from Romania took it from the two Brazillian Rafaels and Jon Pio from SA with Emma Casanova leading the women into goal.

The bad news is that Goran, our charismatic world-cup president, crashed at launch breaking his leg in the sketchy launch conditions.  We wish him a speedy recovery.  


Sunday, 8 September 2019

World Cup - Brazil 2019 - Pico do Gaviao, Andradas

Brazil has been one of my favourite world cup tour destinations over the years.  I had a look at my comp record on and I was amazed to see that this is my eighth world cup event in Brazil since 2006 in Castelo where I started this blog.  We also had a world championship in Governador Valadares in 2005 which was won by Steve Cox and Louise Crandal in a ten task festival of flying that was recently repeated in Macedonia a month or so back.  This was new territory for me given that I was not at this years' world champs having represented SA for the first time in Portugal 2003.  I was not sure how I would feel about it, but other than the absolute frustration of trying to follow a two week comp during work hours with nothing but live-tracking, I was fine if not even relieved.  The longer comps are no longer desirable in the context of the priorities of family and work commitments.

I will now focus the occasional world-cup event in short form in places that grow olives.  This rule was formulated by Andrew Smith some years back.  It turns out that if the region of your selected competition grow olives, your chances of accumulating flying time is maximised.  

Wikipedia explains it :

Olives like hot weather and sunny positions without any shade, while temperatures below −10 °C (14 °F) may injure even a mature tree. They tolerate drought well, due to their sturdy and extensive root systems.

The Olive formula: lots of sun + not much rain + dry unstable air = high cloudbase + strong thermals + many hours of flying

 I am happy to declare that we will pass many acres of Olive groves on the way to the Pico do Gaviao launch every day!

I will try write every day.  

Friday, 29 March 2019

Baixu Guandu Super FInal- March 2019 - Day 7, Task 6 - 100km (because we can)

The mornings are mercifully cooler offering brief respite from the oppressive heat of the day.  A forecast of more wind had the task committee set a large start radius enticing some to fly great distances before the start in search of some advantage.  If that sounds absurd consider any advantage, no matter how small, is priceless among this field where every second and every meter counts.  It is also the reason why we continue to see blatant cloud flying almost every day.

Where exactly you took the start yesterday didn't really seem to matter because the cloud streets determined the route after the first turn-point.  If you missed the first couple of climbs after the start glide you were pretty much screwed because you don't catch up if you were late entering the race-track that marked the first 65km.

I was with tiny group who went left of the main group at the start.  We had to spiral down to get under the cloud blocking the course and then simply followed the clouds north of the line which put us in the lead for most of the race.  I was a tad disappointed in the lead group who decided to pimp the lead-out pilots for almost 100km.  I appreciate most of them are podium hopefuls, but it becomes a little tedious when we could have crushed the middle part of the course had they worked with us a bit more.  I guess I should learn to do that more, but I got my points in the end albeit a little later to goal.  The speed for the day was around 35km/h which is fairly quick for a hundred km task.

We have two days left and the stress is showing with many really good pilots slipping down the ranking.  I am trying desperately to keep my stuff together.

The French continue to dominate taking four of the top five positions along with the top female currently.

The general consensus so far about the UP-Guru and the Flow-Spectra is that they are good, but not better than the B11 and E3.  I cannot say what the Icepeak is like as I have not flown with them much.

I can say the Gin Genie Race 4 is a great harness.  I normally have various aches and pains after six tasks in any competition, but this time I feel fresh enough for another comp next week.

Thursday, 28 March 2019

Baixu Guandu Super FInal- March 2019 - Week 1

It has been a long time since I posted something on this blog.  Many things have happened in the interim, but to cut a long story short I am inspired to write again given that we are back in BG for the Super FInal and it would be selfish not to share our experiences in this sultry wonderland.  Hot and humid the week started as temperatures were nudging close to forty degrees.

There is some or other complicated weather system that set up between opposing high and low pressure cells that have caused flooding or alternate heat waves depending on your location relative to these cells.  It took a few days for the temperatures to return to ranges that we recall during our last visit.
Image may contain: sky, outdoor and nature
Phot: Felix Rodriguez Task 7 (yes that's me right in front of the camera)

The first two days of competition were diabolical with seemingly impossible conditions grounding almost all pilots save a few magicians who somehow tunneled their way through the gloom of 8/8 cloud-cover to goal.  Things started to improve on day three with subsequent tasks returning to normal close racing.

I managed to bomb out on the first three tasks which was humbling to the point of humiliation.  I was staring last place down a short barrel.  To add to the pressure, I was put on the Gin Team for the competition.  This may sound like fun, but consider with team-mates like Michael Siegel, Torsten Siegel, and Petra Slivova, scoring for the team is already a challenge.  Between them they have won world cup events, super finals, European championships, and World championships (not to mention numerous 'other' events and world records).

I am flying my large Boomerang 11 at 120kg re-trimmed by Adam van Renssen with a Gin Genie 4 harness on loan from the Brazilian Gin dealer Luciano Tcaenco.
Image may contain: Andre Rainsford-Alberts, smiling, mountain, outdoor and nature

I will write about all things paragliding for the remainder of the competition.  In particular people want to know about the new Flow and Guru gliders.... watch this space!

Photo: KJ Bowden

Friday, 20 April 2018

World Cup Brazil 2018- Baixo Guandu - Task 4

Today was a really really good day for racing paragliders.... sadly most of this happened without my help as I crashed and burned early at about 40km for another schizophrenic performance.  Luckily for our team Russel and Khobi brought it home giving us hope for the team podium and with Russel close to the top ten.  So there is everything to fly for tomorrow.

I don't know how the race went down, but it sounds like the 90km course was joyful with cloud streets and lively thermals improving throughout the day.

Michael Kuffer won again moving him into top slot in the overall ranking.

Thursday, 19 April 2018

World Cup Brazil 2018- Baixo Guandu - Task 3

So the good thing about coming near to last in a task is that things can only get better as in Howard Jones (have a look at the world class mullet) or the more familiar D:Ream.  And what could possibly be better than stumbling across the line into goal with a really good mate for a one-two South African win.  Top three for Russel and I, first team, and second nation thanks to a strong rearguard performance by Jon.  I had a good talk to stupid-Andre during my walk of shame yesterday among the turkeys and then we just had it all our own way today for once and it felt good.  The lead-out points gave the task to Michael Kuffer by a single point from me with Russel three points behind.

Some superb task setting gave the field all the choice in the world in a 71km dog-leg task.  The whole field was a little gun shy after the grueling survival event yesterday which resulted in a precious conservation glide at the start followed by some medium racing once we were all emboldened by the better-than-expected conditions.

The course took us over Baixo which proved to be the crux as the entire field scattered faced with the choice of multiple racing lines.  My group decided on the northerly route which felt like a touch of convergence while most followed a more direct route and others went to the south enticed by higher terrain and brighter sun.

It was a mellow day with low stress and friendly gaggles.  Khobi was into goal a little later and Andrew landed short after making ESS.  The discards are working in our favour for now shifting Russel and I up the rankings.  Now if we can just hold it together for another day...

Photo Courtesy of PWCA - Phillipe Broers

Wednesday, 18 April 2018

World Cup Brazil 2018- Baixo Guandu - Task 2

We woke to broken cloud and blue patches and a favorable forecast.  A race of 71km was set to the North on account of the fresh south easterly breeze.  It started with a bang and quickly turned into a whimper as the entire region was closed down by cloud cover.  Most of the field ended up scratching in light lift after the first glide for eternity. 

Yours truly managed to land early after scratching 100m off the deck for an eon.  I take great pride in the fact that I have never come last in a world cup task, but today was close!

To add insult to injury I had these turkeys for company as I walked the 5 km to town contemplating failure:


The rest of the field slogged it out dropping like flies along the course.  Some twenty pilots made goal after three and a half hours.  Khobi was the best of the South Africans followed by Jon, Russel, and Andrew who all got around 40+km down the course.

There is great optimism for the rest of the week.  Today will be a discard for most but there is little scope for errors seeing as we need four tasks to drop today seeing as 25% of your worst score is dropped for every flying day in the scoring system.  

World Cup Brazil 2018- Baixo Guandu - Day 2 & 3 Cancelled

You could call it World Cup fever.  This is when the weather turns spiteful whenever the World Cup rolls into town.  Two days of intermittent showers have grounded us.  We did not even go up the hill on Monday because:

We went  up the hill on Tuesday which was interesting because the dirt road was muddy and the driver of our van probably had rally driving experience judging by the way he was drifting around corners and gunning the motor up steep sections.  We then sat around for several hours before the rain arrived.  The day was cancelled and then a ten minute window opened up just long enough for a bunch of pilots to bomb off and get chased by the rain and wind making for interesting entertainment.

This photo was taken by Dmitry Korolev during the first task.  

This is the Rio Doce river which suffered a catastrophic environmental disaster in 2015 when a BHP Billiton tailings dam ruptured spilling a large volume of toxic sludge into the Santarem river valley.  The tailings contain extremely high concentrations of heavy metals such as arsenic, lead, and mercury.  The toxic mud reached Govenador Valadares within days where a 'State of Public Calamity' was decreed in response to the water shortage in the city.  The entire river is rendered toxic leading to water shortages with more than two hundred municipalities affected.  The spill reached the Atlantic ocean within weeks. The toxic mud is spreading across the EspĂ­rito Santo coast, where cities closed down access to beaches.  It will take decades for the heavy metal levels to return to normal and even longer for the river ecology to recover (if ever).

Those responsible will pay fines of $20 billion excluding personal liability claims and the cost of containment and rehabilitation.  Brazillian prosecutors have filed homicide charges against 21 people including top execs of the mining companies so far.

It is kind of weird to see these wide expanses of river without any people near the banks or a even single boat floating on its waters.

Sunday, 15 April 2018

World Cup Brazil 2018- Baixo Guandu - Task 1

Who would have thought a day that started doubtfully would turn out so right!  The deluge that welcomed us home in the evening before gave a cloud-base below the road on the drive through to Baixo in the morning with no fewer than three levels of cloud starting on the ground through the stratus into the cirrus.

We were trucked up the mountain at 8am to the launch site where the normal first day buzz permeated proceedings.   Many were doubtful until the sun sparkled through just in time to lift the wind technicians enough to get the racing juices flowing as one hundred and twenty pilots took to the air.

A sixty kilometer dog-leg task was set to the east for thirteen odd kilometers before a left hand turn to the north along the river past Baixo to a remote goal field guarded by a low ridge and a river crossing.

The start was sublime with conditions allowing competitors to climb up the side of the lower level clouds above launch before heading off on the course.  The pace was fast and furious with cloud-streets marking the way to the first turn-point allowing pilots to apply maximum speed to escape being sucked into the clouds.  The clouds were developing rapidly some 20km into the race in a cat and mouse game with rain chasing our progress.  My group managed to escape the rain mostly but others reported torrential rain thrashing their gliders in a cacophony of sound (imagine the sound of heavy rain on a massive plastic bag).

In the end there were fifty three pilots into goal with another twenty five making the end of speed section but landing short of goal.  I am proud to say team SA was second today flying under the Alas del Hombre  banner (The Mexican Mecca for Monarch butterflies and humans with wings).  We were sixth in the nations.  Both Russel and I were in goal quickly a minute or so behind the lead finishing in the top fifteen for maximum points.  Andrew was not far behind.  Jon and Khobi were agonizingly close landing a few kilometers short.

Michael Sigel won the day on a Boomerang 11.

'Home' Rock - photo: Red Russel Achterberg

World Cup Brazil 2018- Baixo Guandu

It has been almost ten years since my first blog post in 2008.  I did a single post during a comp in May 2008 in Poggio Bustone, Italy.  It was only later that year when Andrew and I flew in the Super final in Brazil that we wrote about the flying properly (

It is therefore a sweet coincidence to be back in Brazil with Andrew on the ten year anniversary of the blog, and on Andrew's 40th birthday in the same place (almost).  The comp was supposed to be in Castelo, but they moved it to Baixo Guandu at the last minute for 'political' reasons.

Our group comprises of Khobi, Russel, Jon, Andrew, and I.  This is the same team that went to the world championships in Italy last year.  Having said that, we are at a world cup!  The standard is higher, the vibe is relaxed, and the rules are different in a social kind of way.

Brazil has always been a popular destination for world cup pilots.  Baixo Guandu is no exception with the added boost of having held the Pan American FAI champs here last week.  As a result the field is pretty potent so we're looking forward to some stiff competition.

Baixo has a similar look and feel of Castelo and the rest of Espirito Dos Santos in that: the climate is hot and steamy; the terrain is lush green with massive weathered black granite domes rising out of the vegetation randomly; and it rains intermittently in monsoon mode.

The launch site is precariously perched atop one of these domes.

The practice day was sublime with clouds to the horizon and thermals marked by raptors.

I hope to bring you a lot of flying in the next few days.  Get the app if you want to follow the action or find it here.
Image result for baixo guandu granite domes

Thursday, 7 September 2017

World Cup Brazil - Task 4

The tasks get longer as the conditions improve.  We were set a course of nearly one hundred kilometers which turned out to be exactly right because conditions seem to shut down fairly quickly.

The task was set to give some variety of choice.  This did very little to separate the field as the mass gaggle decorated every thermal around the course like some giant tree with colourful flowers.  One or two pilots did their own thing and were rewarded accordingly.  A US pilot, Kody 'the Bean' Mittanck, was one of these who flew the course solo crossing the line first in just under three hours.  Kody ended up in fifth place behind a group of Brazils' best pilots with Erico Oliveira in the lead.

It was commonplace to see 5+ on the averager as all thermals were going to the top like high speed elevators.  

The field did stretch out a little from the halfway point.  I was lucky enough to snag the six up with a small posse just before the second turnpoint to the west which put us in front for a good half hour or so.  We could not convert the advantage completely but the result was satisfactory with lead-out points helping a bit.

We are expecting the best conditions yet for day five, so lets see what happens.

Image may contain: sky

Wednesday, 6 September 2017

Brazil World Cup - Task 3 - Firefighting

What a glorious day!  A better forecast and light winds allowed a slightly longer task of 87 km.  The launch was a bit stressful because the wind switched just as most pilots were kitted up and waiting to launch which saw a mass waddle to the south launch.  Felix managed to launch west but tumbled down the slope requiring assistance from the rescue crew.

The start was a less demanding as was the run south to the first turnpoint.  With base at 2,800m and strong climbs showing 5m/s on the averager I thought it was a milk run.  The first sign of trouble was heralded by the shade to the west from a fire near the second turnpoint which wreaked havoc on the field.  Scattered as marbles on a floor it was every man for himself.  My group got hoisted up on the fire in the end but we had no answer for the korean pilot, Kim Hyeong Joo, who took eight minutes out of us which translates into a discard for most.

The koreans are on fire, but their unusual names continue to cause confusion:

Khobi: So who won?
Andre: Joo won
Khobi: Which jew?
Andre: Joo is not a jew
Khobi: say what?
Andre: I said Kim Joo is no jew
Khobi: You're an idiot!

Image may contain: sky, nature and outdoor

Tuesday, 5 September 2017

World Cup Brazil - Task 2

We woke to thrashing trees tormented by a nagging north wind.  There is wind most mornings just not as strong.  Some people saw forecasts that suggested increasing wind to 50km/h but we went up anyway.  The organisers confidently set a task despite the howling breeze citing a favourable forecast.  It was to be a 75 km downwind dash with a couple of kinks along the way.

The wind dropped on cue and the race was on!  It was total dog-show at the start with a hundred pilots struggling to stay in front of the ridge.  The last two minutes were crazy with undecided pilots caught between cycles flying in all directions avoiding one-another like a three dimensional Asteroids game.

Diversion: How many of you remember Asteroids?  I was the Asteroid king in junior school spending every afternoon at the local cafe until closing time in '79 to the disgust of my mother.  Catch this dorky review of Asteroids on YouTube if you want to understand why I can fly paragliders.

Where was I? Ah yes, the race.... After sorting out the start we got more or less organised along the course line and romped our way around at a moderate to middling pace.  We all arrived at goal more or less together.  This has become the standard at high-end comps .  The bulk of the field clusters up and cruises behind one or two markers in a sloping wedge formation taking very little risk feeding off the leaders.  It is an effective tactic, but a failed strategy when the conditions get weak or very good at opposite ends of the spectrum.

In the end the first sixty pilots were separated by ten minutes and almost the entire field got to goal.  This means the day was really social as you had company all the way.  It was especially pleasant given the collaborative mood of the competitors.  This might have had something to do with the stern warning delivered by Ulrich at the task briefing after complaints of unruly behaviour in the air on day one.

Image may contain: mountain, outdoor and nature