Thursday, 26 July 2012

Paragliding World Cup - Serial Class

I am back in my beloved country after a totally relaxing time in Portugal where I had some time for reflection.  Some time back Mads Syndegaard wrote about the effects of EN D equivalence on world cup racing:
"... I have this horror vision of our sport turning into something like the pro road cycling; if you aren’t cheating (doped, in their case) you don’t need to bother showing up. On that note I’d also like to emphasise that the more rules we add, the more we benefit the cheaters – the “by-the-rule” crowd will either be corrupted, or go away.
I believe anyone scientifically minded could take the .kml files from the Superfinal last week and get even further proof of this theory; when I was watching it certainly didn’t look like anyone going alone had any success – this isn’t purely down to Serial vs. Open Class, but the trend is there. Pilots who are known and respected for their independent nature (how about Yassen, or AndrĂ© Rainsford?) did terribly in the comp, although AndrĂ© is adamant that this was just because he flew like a plonker – he doesn’t realise that the odds were stacked against him. Please note that I’m not saying the winners were the followers, I think Petsch is a great pilot and I’m really happy for him, and I know from eye-witness accounts that Josh actually flew the gaggle less than most, so you CAN beat the odds, but as always with odds, the odds are you won’t… "

At the time I thought perhaps Mads was being kind after I bottled in Valle and he was still venting frustration of the status quo on our collective behalf.  Now I see that this 'touring' view of Mads is mirrored by many (top pilots) who were in Montalegre where several suggested that world cup was becoming a 'travel agency' or 'FAI style heel dragging' with suggestions that finely honed skills are no longer a pre-requisite to finish well overall. 

For the record I was not entirely unhappy with my performance in Montalegre so I have no need to look for excuses.  To some extent I believe the site and corresponding conditions determine effective style and my experience in Montalegre worked both ways in the context of what Mads refers to: on one day I was in front and styling only to find fifty lurkers come floating over my head at the finish; and on the other day I was seriously dead and buried yet managed to pull back to a nine-hundred pointer.  Of more concern is that after getting the first day wrong I decided to cruise in order to try make top 25 for a shot at the super final.  Normally this kind of approach would make me feel dirty and impotent but I really really want to go to Columbia so I tried it out.  You can never enjoy the thrill of winning a world cup task like that, but it is soooo much easier than charging.  So now I understand and I don't want to fly like that!  So roll on Sun Valley!!!! THERE WILL BE NO LURKING IN SUN VALLEY!!

Sunday, 22 July 2012

What do Hisbolla, Hamas & The Taliban have in common with a Jew and a Muslim?

Many people ask me on tour if it is dangerous to go to South Africa.  Some are concerned about wind, lions and the rest of the Big Five and others are genuinely concerned about personal safety in our cities.  I am no longer puzzled by these questions as perception is often maligned from the truth through misguided news media or tabloids.  I generally answer by saying we would not have hosted the FIFA world cup (or the Rugby and Cricket world cup for that matter) if South Africa was inherently a dangerous place.  South Africa was recently chosen to host the world's biggest telescope or Square Kilometre Array which, at a cost of more than $2Billion, was a vote of confidence from the international community if ever there was one. 

We are a small country with many very serious issues, but for many the growing prosperity in South Africa represents hope for the entire African continent. 

To get to the point: we have wind on occasion along with crocodiles, bulls, ostriches and lions in landing areas for stupid pilots (like me), but whatever the case I bet when it comes to paragliding, the worst experience you may have survived does not come close to these two hectic stories:
Israeli world cup pilot Itay Takserman speaks of F16's and Hisbolla in Lebanon
Turkisk world cup pilot Yurdaer Etike abducted by the Taliban in Iran

Paragliding World Cup - Portugal - Montalegre - Day 7 - Task 4

Another North-Launch day with more promising conditions than the previous three days.  Another fairly long task was set with the first group of 40 or so completing the 80 odd km in 105 mins.  A little bit of a no-brainer task with only one minor shuffle in the top five where Russel moved into 4th place.  An awesome result for Russel and South Africa.  We can all be proud!

Vario & Task stats:
max 1s climb: 6.5m/s
max 10s climb: 4.5 m/s
Max sink: -5m/s
Max GPS Alititude 2102m ASL 
Total Flight Time: 2:38:16
Task Time: 1:47:27
Task Distance: 82.7km
Task Speed: 46.3km/h
Max ground Speed: 84km/h
Total of climbs for the day: 7,304m
Effective Glide Ratio: 11.3
Winning Time: 1:45 (Yoshiki Kuremoto)
Winning Speed: 47.2 km/h

The stats suggest wind and buoyant air which was exactly the case.  I took the final glide of about 20km with an expected L/D of 13 and pressed the speed bar full all the way and got to goal with plenty of altitude to spare.  My impression on that final sprint was that my IP6 was faster than most of the Enzo's which I suspect was a combination of wing loading and stability because every time they hooked a marlin, I gained fifty meters or more on them passing a good few on the way without ever coming off of the bar or touching the brakes.

I managed to interview three of the top four for you before the last day:

Saturday, 21 July 2012

Paragliding World Cup - Montalegre - Meet the Pilots

I was messing around with my Galaxy and realised it takes HD video so went looking for footage.  I say something about 'fascinating people' at the top of my blog somewhere, so I thought I would video some of the people I have met in Portugal. 

Friday, 20 July 2012

Paragliding World Cup - Montalegre - Day 6 - Cancelled

Today had cirrus around from early morning.  We went to the North launch site again and watched Felix and a couple of others demonstrate some ground handling after a little bit of rock-and-stick cricket with the English before returning to HQ without any task setting. 

Thursday, 19 July 2012

Paragliding World Cup - Portugal - Montalegre - Day 5 - Task 4

We were taken up to the north launch with light NW winds predicted most of the day picking up in the afternoon.  Optimism was high and the launch area was relaxed and cheerful after the harsh Chaves dust bowl experience.  Sadly the conditions did not extend the mood as expected.

My morning prediction turned out to be right with a stiff 40km/h breeze moving in after a 95km cross/down wind zigzag course was set.  It is not often that a world cup field elects to ignore the start time, but only a brave dozen or so left on time with four more groups leaving at roughly 10 minute intervals.  The reason was simple: not enough altitude to clear the plateau comfortably.  I left in the third group after gaining sufficient altitude to dive onto the rocks midway across the plateau where, in a rare display of relay style teamwork, my gaggle worked hard to stay up and work its way to the rim of the Chaves valley shedding about a third of the group in the process. 

The wind had come up by then and clearly there was some convergence setting up because from scratching in wretched 1 m/s lift over the plateau we were soon above 2,000m ASL in robust climbs of up to 4m/s.  Needless to say many level three calls were made (many from the ground of course) and the moment the task was cancelled the entire valley erupted into 8m/s lift.  It took all of an hour to land in the strong and blustery conditions.  Only one injury as far as we know (broken ankle) so we can be grateful.  A handful of pilots flew on to goal presumably not knowing the day was cancelled. 

It was probably the right call to stop proceedings, but frustrating that most pilots were out of danger by the time the call was actually made.  In fact I was much happier at 2,500m than fighting to get down in response to the instruction from the meet director.

Paragliding World Cup - Montalegre - Day 5 @ Dawn

I woke up to the wild spinning of the wind turbine outside my window (could be the title of a blues number).  As I sat down to report this fascinating fact, my wind turbine abruptly stopped spinning.  Methinks there be wind about. The bigger turbines are all spinning on the hilltops with what looks like strong easterly flow. 
We had a particularly entertaining dinner in the company of the two mud islanders, Guy Anderson and Emma Casanova.  It turns out Guy is the original Sir Fat Bastard of the notorious Fat Bastard Wine Company.  He tells a remarkable story of fashioning a Fat Bastard label on a whim and slapping it on a bottle of really good french wine before taking it off to a competition of sorts where the judges fell in love with it!  The brand then grew from a couple of hundred bottles to oceans of FB wine to be found all over the world and making it the second largest label of french origin in the US for some time.  We have our own version of FB wine in South Africa.  Personally I am a fan of the SA FB chardonnay in summer.  Little did I know I was quaffing the brainchild of a fellow paraglider which somehow makes the wine even more appealing. 

Guy had us in stitches about the fact that he plays 'real' tennis and is a member of the Fat Bastard Golf Society. 
Guy: 'I play a little real tennis'
Andre: 'Do you mean real as in serious tennis?'
Guy: 'No, I play real tennis'
Andre: 'Ok, so you mean competitive tennis... like a pro?'
Guy: 'No, real as in r-e-a-l'
Andre: 'Huh?'
Guy: 'It's like tennis'
Andre: 'I thought you said real tennis'
Guy: 'Yes that is what it is called'
Andre: 'Uh, Ok. So how does it work?'

Turns out it's another 'sport of kings' and the original form of regular lawn tennis invented to let royalty win the odd game by changing sides when your opponents are about to win.  Not really tennis, but I sort of get it now.
Real Tennis

As for FB Golf society, I have every intention of terrorising the Pecanwood golf club on my return home.  They have rules like whooshes, le Mans starts, reverse Mulligans, Flamingo putts and Mexican caddies. 

Wednesday, 18 July 2012

Paragliding World Cup - Montalegre - Day 4 - Cancelled

So we were bussed off to Chaves to wait around in the blistering heat.  At the risk of breaking the 'no whining, no moaning , no bitchin' rule in our house, the Chaves launch is a strong contender for worst launch in the world award.  It has not improved with age but we dutifully went through motions and prepared to launch after several delays.  Conditions went from possible to dangerous in ten minutes so it was canned.

A cold beer wagon eased the pain and frustration on launch as we waited to be herded back to Montalegre.

Paragliding World Cup - Portugal - Montalegre Day 4 Update

As expected the ceiling of 2950ASL/GPS resulted in 27 infringements.  The penalty rate is 10 points per meter and zero after fifty meters.  Real bummer for the guys who got it wrong.  Interesting that very few 'low numbers' got bust. 

Take the ceiling poll on the left if you are so inclined.

Paragliding World Cup - Portugal - Motalegre - Day 4 @ dawn

The Sun is up on a warm and wind still morning.  It is very peaceful despite the cheerful cacophony of birds singing their morning songs.  The hotel's wind turbine outside my window is without motion for the first time since arriving.  Expect a task that will weave a web over Montalegre today!

Still no results out because of some ' track problems' which I suspect is a result of the height limit imposed @ 2950ASL/GPS. 

There is something about boundary restrictions during big competitions that taint the overall tone and detract from the sporting spirit in my opinion.  I know observing airspace is part of the challenge and anyone who flies from my home site (the Dam) will be well versed in the art of staying within limits... but altitude based limits pose serious issues when invoked because the penalties are severe and the scope for cheating is immense.  What do you do where a track log mysteriously 'stops' near the ceiling?  What do you do about variations in GPS 3D accuracy?  How safe is it to have pilots making rapid descent manoeuvres in the middle of a task? How do you apply the rules AND give pilots the benefit of doubt at the same time?  It is easy to be smug about staying below a hard ceiling, but it is a bit off to see twenty or more pilots in a deep spiral when they left well below the ceiling and got hoovered flying at full speed and had no way of knowing it was going to happen despite their good intentions.

Tuesday, 17 July 2012

Paragliding World Cup - Portugal - Montalegre - Day 3 - Task 3

Today was the best so far (for several reasons).  Firstly the 2013 tour was announced.  You will see from the picture that Porterville is hosting the the first event!! Finally!!!!!!!!  What is also exciting is the possibility that if the February comp is up to scratch we have a shot at hosting the 2013 super final in December too.  Rock-on Porterville.  Huge respect to Waldo and Rob for all the years of slog.

Now its time to step up to the plate and show the world what we can do.  A personal plea to all my SA compatriots:  Speak to your club members and volunteer to help by calling Waldo and make it happen.
2013 PWC Tour

Montalegre take-off

Task Three was sublime balls to the wall racing with multiple options a dozen leader changes and airspace drama as Montalegre delivered a festival of flying with many stories of triumph and misfortune.  The altitude limit was set @ 2950m ASL as per GPS and we are yet to see how many casualties there will be.

The group split roughly in half en-route to the eastern most point which was the longest leg but re-joined at the TP and then the race was on to T0709 in the south.  The met report was spot on with light and variable winds with two inversions exactly where predicted.  The lead switched again at T0709 and T2910 with a desperate sprint from T1412 into goal with several pilots losing the plot and landing short unnecessarily.  Russel and I got in top twenty which means Russel will probably improve his 6th place and I will claw a few more places up nearer to page 1.  All in all a wonderful day of flying. 

Vario stats:
max 1s climb: 6.1m/s
max 10s climb: 4.4 m/s
Max sink: -5m/s
Max Baro Alititude 2746ASL
Total Flight Time: 3:42:28
Task Time: 3:04:12
Task Distance: 96.3km
Task Speed: 31.3km/h
Max ground Speed: 79 km/h
Total of climbs for the day: 11161m
Effective Glide Ratio: 8.6
Winning Time: 2:57 (Joel Debons I think)
Winning Speed: 32.5km/h

Russel reports: "First day of strong climbs where watching the ceiling was important.  A long day of racing but happy to keep it together and get a result.  The new glider is amazing and I can easily thermal inside the Enzos in stronger climbs.  The glider is remarkably stable on full speed.  I got to test it many times today on extended glides between thermals.  Confidence with every task.  Wish you here."

Paragliding World Cup - Portugal Montalegre

World Cup - Portugal - Montalegre
The paragliding world cup in Montalegre has seen the arrival of a very strong field after a dismal season of comp flying in Europe.  Not many world cup tasks have been flown so all eyes on Portugal as the forecast gives us some hope for the next four days at least. 

We spent a night in Oporto catching up with an old friend who took us to a fantastic restaurant on the river.  It's amazing how much better a dining experience is in an unfamiliar country when you have a local host. 

A ridiculously fast taxi ride with an ageing Schumacher driving at speeds of over 200km/h got us to Montalegre fairly quickly if not a more than little queasy with the serpentine roads once we got off of the 'autobahn'.

The opening ceremony was particularly festive as the pilots were led through the streets of Montalegre in rhythmic style preceded by a motley crew of seriously enthusiastic drummers and pipers.  Friday thirteen saw ten thousand people dressed up in witch garb partying at the castle in front of a massive rock-star stage dominated by speaker stacks and mega-watt lights and sound.  The festival organisers were good enough to leave the stage intact for our opening bash which saw more drumming and a sort of retro-gypsy bag-pipe ensemble wailing with dreads in the frosty night air.  The main act of musicians were a kind of revolutionary folk act (think Che meets McCartney) with a nurse on flute and lead singer on a mega-phone sporting a slick black moustache with more drummers and a bassist.  We still haven't figured out how a flute playing nurse fits into a revolutionary folk theme, but judging by the response of the locals, they were thoroughly entertaining.

It has been almost ten years since I was in Montalegre for the FAI world champs.  It seems much the same or perhaps a little bigger than what I remember.  We are staying in the Hotel Montalegre which has wifi, steam room, sauna and indoor pool.

Day 1 - Task 1
The first day took us to the North take-off with a stiff breeze which made for a quick 90km down wind dash that took the fastest pilot just on two hours. 
Russel got in fast and I got stuck before the last 20km having done a fabulous job of leading out with a handful of hapless comrades.  I was grateful to get into goal in the end with my companions less fortunate, but I was seriously late saved only by a straggler who bunched the points in my favour providing hope.

Day 2 - Task 2
The second day was easterly with a 55km slalom task which wreaked havoc with almost half the field landing before the halfway mark.  Twelve veritable masters made it in with Luc Armant at the helm.  This elite group included Russel with yours truly managing a top twenty some 5km short.  There has probably been a fair amount of muted grumbling among the 'unlucky' pilots, but if more than ten make goal everyone knows to keep quite because it was clearly doable if you know how to fly a paraglider.

I hope to write a little every day, so let me know if there is anything in particular you want to know about.  I have upgraded my equipment, as you may have deduced from the task images, opting to go the Samsung Galaxy Tab 2 7" Android route with XCSoar 6.3.8 including 90m terrain resolution backed by a miniGorilla power pack and DIY fashioned 'hood' to fend off glare.  I have to say I am seriously impressed with my $250 acquisition which pretty much does everything you could expect and more for flying.  The clincher for me is the fact that I can read my kindle books, play angry birds and watch or take HD video if things get tedious en route (inevitable on EN D equipment).