Friday, 8 July 2011

Xavier & Nicholai

World champs - Francisco & Eitel

World Championships - cancelled!

No surprises here! CIVL pulled the plug without really taking any notice of the plebeian pilot masses. I guess Andrew predicted it earliest but at least we have confirmation now: no more open class gliders in FAI I comps.

Part of me is delighted because now the Paragliding World Cup will continue the tradition that Frankie Brown spelled out for us today: 'fourteen years of world cup hosting five events a year and one fatality.'. Perhaps the problem lies with the authorities and not the equipment. And yes, perhaps the exclusivity of world cup is appropriate.

On the other hand as long as badge collecting remains a national passtime each batch of wannabe legends such as ourselves will sustain the bloated FAI whale that wallows in the sea of our CIVL subservience feeding on the plankton of our national pride.

See you soon in a thermal nearby from your ever faithful servant and proudly South African national team pilot.

Andre Rainsford-Alberts

World Championships - Sublime, Sad and Ridiculous

It breaks my heart that Xavier is gone too.
A black week for paragliding darkening rapidly by the condescending arrogance and total lack of leadership displayed by FAI representatives while Steve Ham gallantly tries to gain acceptance for a proposal designed to save what is left of this competition.

Steve’s initiative started well enough but the mood has turned partly sour with fractious opinions being bandied about between opposing camps of enthusiasts, nay Sayers and individuals with zero-on-the-first-day agenda’s.  There appears to be no time-line for decision making but we are hopeful for resolution some time today or tomorrow.

Looking on the bright side…. Uhm… well… ummm… ahhh… uhm!   Ok, moving along then: perhaps if we all fly seven hours a day (every day) we really will be safer.  Local sales of catheter/condom pee-tube thingies and adult incontinence nappies will spike.
Quote from Khobi while trying on aforementioned nappy: ‘Does my bum look big in this?’.  To which we all replied: ‘HELL NO!! Your bum makes that nappy look fat!’

The reality is that we will never fly these elegantly beautiful two line racing machines in FAI competitions ever again and the World Cup will grow in strength and continue as the premier body for high performance paragliding by individuals. 
And just in case you think I am gung-ho and callous you should know that I think this is probably a good thing.  FAI will never be able to reconcile safety and racing on paragliders in it’s present form.

One suggestion that has emerged is to send the FAI delegation home and let Steve Ham run a comp for the World Cup as a memorial to Francisco, Eitel and Xavier. 

Thursday, 7 July 2011

World Championships - Sober Thoughts

Two fatalities and nine reserve deployments in two days.  If you’re not here you probably think this place is seriously dangerous?  You would be right and wrong because most would argue yesterday was a fairly benign day.  One opinion asked what will happen in the next ten days if conditions become at all challenging as Piedrahita is known to be at times.  Others are dismissive in the sense that we all know the risks and choose to proceed and that any over-reaction locally will simply be an emotional response amplified by our proximity to these tragic events.  

What is more interesting (and perhaps unfortunate) is the fact that FAI/CIVL made changes in an attempt to make these events safer after the last fatality in Mexico.  A cynical view may be that all they did was a whitewash to cover or mitigate any liability whether real or perceived.  This view might find support if you consider the draconian waiver we were all forced to sign along with the fact that despite the rigid rules imposed by FAI/CIVL they remain at arms length shifting all responsibility to the organisers and pilots.

The organisers probably have no choice but to poll the pilots if any decisions are to be made regarding the continuance of the competition.  There is conflict between the dire implications of further incidents versus the critisism and claims that may be brought against them in terms of costs and commitments should the event be stopped.  Now I don’t know about the rest of you but my myopic understanding of these things paint a terrible picture of conflicting interests that do not promote objective decision making in terms of safety.

My bet is that FAI/CIVL will want to be seen to ‘do the right thing’ (whatever that is) while limiting any liability at the same time.  Steve Ham is as level headed as anyone I know and will probably do whatever he is asked to do within reason.  Vague I know but one thing is sure: EVERYONE involved will probably consult their legal representatives.

Having said all of that many of us would happily continue flying this competition albeit with the inescapable sobriety enforced by the passing of Francisco Vargas and Eitel von Muhlenbrock.  We did not know them personally yet still feel a sense of loss. 

Wednesday, 6 July 2011

World Championships - Spain - Bad news

Two fatalities:

Sent from my iPhone

World Championships - Spain - Day 2 - Task 2

Conditions were not so good today 'they' said so we had to bumble around below take off height to get the remote turn point before a start in town and another turn point west before a run to Avila 50km to the east.

Mixed success for SA. Andre fast, Russel fast but low, Henry and Khobi short.

Five reserve deployments and two serious incidents.

Henry: 'I'm sulking in a corner contemplating slitting my wrists after the pleasant cross country of yesterday'. This after landing at the pass.

Russel and big bad Brad from US: 'those power lines man! I mean hey dude! We were worried.. That's how low we were. Had to mince it up in a little scrappy bubble big enough for half a wing. Lost half an hour but better than landing. R11 looked like a jelly fish.'

The pic is of Brad Gunnuscio US team and full time paragliding instructor and acro pilot. Lives on north side point of the mountain in Draper Utah near salt lake city. This dude launches from his back door. Brad has been flying for fifteen years.. His dad was a hangy in the seventies. Claims to fame: US champion 2009; 2010 Monarca champion in Valle de Bravo Mexico; Brazilian open champ 2010; has beaten Felix at least once in acro. Pride and joy is 9 year old son Skyler who has two paragliders in his closet and has been flying since age 12 months.

World Champs - Spain - Day1 Task1

And so we were off to a glorius albeit chaotic start with a 154km task set past Segovia in a substantial west wind.  The SA men did reasonably well with Andre leading most of the way joined by Russel at the halfway mark only to be held up near the end.  Henry romped home on the end of the first gaggle in the 30's with Russel and Andre in the 40's and 50's

It was a relatively straight forward down wind dash complicated by an awkwardly positioned exit start gate that had most of the field stuck in no-mans land over the pass with ten minutes to go and no-where to wait in the relentless westerly.  The day was further complicated by no-fly zones and height restrictions along the course in the second half.  The start put a fair few on the ground and airspace navigation issues will cause tears because around thirty or so pilots who made goal received zeros for their efforts on account of infringements.  I imagine there will be fireworks at the team leader briefing this morning with protests, complaints and appeals being the order of the day.  

I have to say it is not that much fun trying to stay under 3,000m ASL on a booming day and avoiding little parcels of no-go-zones can be stressful and tedious.  It's a real bummer that quality pilots like Torsten Siegel should be out so early. 

Other notables who had less than a perfect day include: our viking mate Mads; Jack Brown from US (of Korea worldcup fame); Xevi Bonet who finished 10th in Mexico in his tenth world championship event; Elisa Houdry (defending female champion).

There is alot of flying to be done over the next 12 days so I guess it is too soon to make any predictions. 
Launch is hectic with strong wind and human bowling balls dragging through take-off on every second launch attempt.

The leader boards:
Male: Charles Cazaux, Rafal Luckos, Neil Roberts
Female: Petra Silvova, Regula Strasser Strasser, Seiko Naville
SA team in 14th.

Sunday, 3 July 2011

World championships - Spain

Braai time (barbecue for heathen) in Piedrahita to the sounds of Bob, Ramstein and Bueno Vista Club.

Friday, 1 July 2011

World Championships - Training day two

Strong westerly wind preceding a significant weather system had us punching into wind for and hour or two before landing with a lenticular backdrop to the south and cirrus to the west. Another good flying day with the rest of SA contingent arriving around midday. Probably no flying tomorrow with strong southerly predicted so we will probably tour Salamanca or Segovia which are spectacular.

World Championships - Piedrahita spain

Here we are after 24hrs of relatively mellow travelling.  The team this year is Russel, Henry, Khobi and I with Martin, Cyril and Jan along as the management team.  The comp starts on Tuesday so lots of time to practice. 

We had a four hour day with the French team yesterday doing a 97km out and return to the west (el Barco) in relatively difficult conditions.  All the usual suspects are gathering in this wonderful town with reasonable expectations of flyable conditions.

We have good internet access so should be updating blog regularly.