Monday, 24 December 2012

Winelands Open 2012 - Last Day

Waking up to the dull ache in my upper legs served as an instant reminder of a harrowing ordeal during the final day of the Winelands Open in Porterville.  The mild hangover of celebratory relief brought some respite:  There is something quite unique about the experience of watching a really close friend going through some apparently fatal manoeuvres on a cliff at speed flopping around like a rag-doll absorbing multiple hits from immoveable chunks of the mountain. 

The task committee set a creative task that gave you a world of choice cancelled by the conditions that confined us to a high speed ridge race with the wind strengthening cross-on from the south.   On a regular day as leader of a competition I would regard this as a gift, but not this day…

There were three of us racing hard in front of the field half way through the last task.  We had taken the turn point on the ridge and were headed back when Andrew took a violent and irrecoverable collapse meters from the cliff on the northern side of a big gorge.  By the time he took a third full body blow tumbling down the cliff my mind had already accepted that no animal could survive such violence.  I watched Stefan Schmoker take a fatal hit in Valle in 2009 and this seemed ten times worse.  It took about a minute of frozen animation and horror before the unexpected and desperately urgent appeal came through from Andrew on the radio in ragged anguish: 'Please send the chopper now!'.   Before I knew what was happening I exited my spiral dive and flared hard hitting the steep slope in the only spot of the lee that seemed like it might accommodate a landing and thumped in about 100m above and to the north of Andrew's position.

Crashing madly through the fyn-bos and hearing Andrew telling me not to panic brought irrational relief.  I squashed the standard retort thinking there could be no head injuries if he was conscious enough to be insufferable at a time like this.  If the truth be told, my premature relief was absolute. 

Andrew is probably the toughest bastard I know.  Strong, fit, resourceful and determined with a lifetime of war stories to be told.   I found him lying on his side on steep slope clinging to some roots.   I quickly wedged some flat rocks under his butt to stop him sliding.  He had managed to unclip his harness and dig his radio out before broadcasting a concise self-appraisal (which turned out to be accurate) and urgent instructions to despatch a helicopter.   All within a minute of coming to rest.  Between a rock and a hard place doesn't even come close!  I did a quick check trying to remember my trauma training as a medic in the army in the early 90’s.  What was it that SOB corporal Schutte taught us? 
I checked his head, eyes, pulse and breathing before looking for breaks.  The wrist was easy to spot: off-set by an inch and pointing at a funny angle.  I felt two broken ribs and he 'reported' sensitivity on his spine (ok, so he shouted at me).  I couldn't hear any gurgling in his chest and his abdomen seemed normal with no whining when I prodded looking for internal injuries.  Andrew was in huge pain which was growing.  The pain was clearly communicated by the timbre of his voice when he told me it was too painful to speak. 

I was feeling inadequate and cursing myself for not having paid more attention during my military training, but I came to the conclusion that he would probably live and walk normally again so I provided some shade with a packing bag and went and stood to one side to take a deep breath, to speak on the radio and to make some phone calls.

A couple of pilots hung about and guided the medics down to us.  We had a drip up in minutes and then broke out the morphine and dormicum.  I knew the morphine was kicking in when Andrew started speaking again (in a clear voice).  The helicopter arrived within the hour and dropped two more rugged mountain rescue types. 

The morphine didn't last long as the wrist was niggling. Rob, the medic, had pumped enough morphine into Andrew to paralyse a horse along with enough dormicum to pacify an injured elephant.  Yet Andrew still grabbed my arm and looked at me with pin prick pupils and the slit blue eyes of an addict and almost begged me to do something about the pain in his arm.  There was nothing more to do so I told him to 'suck it up' and 'stop whining' which earned a dazed look of loathing just as the helicopter returned to pick up the 'package'.   

I had the dubious privilege of scrambling back up the mountain with Andrew's kit. 
Walking down the mountain with two sets of kit was not an option so: I looked for a launch place; bunched my glider with a wing tip presenting into the howling wind; strapped the extra glider to my caribiners on my lap; and executed a sit-down-wingtip-reverse-pull-up-off-a-cliff-flying-backwards launch that no-one teaches and which would have made Mike Kung proud! 

Andrew ended up with a messy fracture of the left arm/wrist; fracture of L1 vertebrae; two broken ribs; three broken toes; and a cracked sternum.  He has survived five hours of surgery and is in good spirits recovering in Cape Town. 

As for the competition… It doesn’t seem to matter that much anymore but our team won any way and they gave me enough points for the last day to win the overall individual competition.  The biggest irony has to be receiving the Andrew Smith Trophy for the best performing south African on a serial wing (which happens to be the end of a wine barrel some forty inches in diameter weighing in at thirty pounds).  As if I need a reminder of an excessively emotional day.

Many thanks to Waldo and his team for a world class comp.  Thanks also to RobM, Nicky, Henry, Khobi, Dudley, Rob and the rescue team among others who were willing and able to step up on a rough and demanding day.

Friday, 21 December 2012

Winelands Porterville Open - 2012 - Day 6 - early Opinion

It would have been too much to expect another perfect day.  Today looks poor in comparison.  1.5 - 4 m/s thermals with a low base and westerly winds predicted. 

Winelands Porterville Open - 2012 - Day 5 - Task 4

We have been coming to Porterville for ten years or more.  I can quite honestly say that yesterday was probably the best day we have ever had.  A 100km task to Clanwilliam was meticulously set by the task committee and flawlessly executed by half the field.  Any fool that grumbles about task four needs a decade of therapy in my humble opinion.

Nevil took it from Andre and the French by a minute or two followed by the usual suspects.  Anton narrowly missed giving us all another flying lesson when he landed short on final glide a good twenty minutes before the rest. 

Anton and I had a wonderful run down the ridge to Skerpheuwel before going to the moon at Maan Berg @ 5m/s for 1,500m.  Constriction was not working so I hung about while Anton went for the win.

Max Vario (1s): 7.1m/s
Max Vario (10s) 5.4m/s
Max Alititude: 2345m ASL
Total Climbs: 12,132
Effective Glide: 8.3


Thursday, 20 December 2012

New Glider!! Day 4 Task 4 Cancelled

What do you do when you get an SMS @ mid day informing you that your Super Final glider is one thousand miles away and you're in Porterville chomping at the bit? 
In my case you phone your friend Ben and ask him if he knows anyone who can help.  What happened after that put a massive smile on my face.  I hereby punt Send and Receive Couriers unashamedly and with great confidence.  Dion called me within five minutes of my plea to Ben (who happened to be in Nairobi looking to open a shop for le Creuset).  Dion had one of his people pick up my glider within the hour and another of his guys delivered the glider into my hands within 12 hours of my first call!!!

Wednesday, 19 December 2012

Winelands Porterville Open - 2012 - Day 4 - Early Opinion

The temperature forecast is lower than yesterday which makes for a poorer day according to our sounding forecast for soaring:

Tuesday, 18 December 2012

Winelands Porterville Open - 2012 - Day 3 - Task 3

My grandfather offered this advice on his deathbed: A closed mouth gathers no foot.  I should have listened. 
No sooner had I published the smug celebration of an 'effortless' task win before requiring all the 'effort' in the world to survive task three!  What a complete cluster of bad timing, missed climbs and faulty lines (as in faulty towers).  The comedy of errors had me scratching below 400m on four occasions before tunnelling my way through the mountain to goal with GregH (who managed a better finish).  In the end a number of pilots were gracious enough to slow down at the end to gift me ten or more places preserving my tenuous position on the overall ranking.  The results are here:
Andrew Smith: 'Memorable moments from yesterday: spending 20minutes above the wheat fields, I was the absolute lowest pilot in the air and having a wild celebration when I finally managed to get up to have other pilots beneath me; joining underneath the main gaggle hunting the core and getting a solid 4m/s on the average.  About to feel clever.  Look up and watch my mates speck-out @ 8m/s; required glide to goal 2.8 and only just getting in.'
My pilot of the week has to be the guy who has made goal everyday on a beginner glider (EN B), Calum McComb.
Task Summary:
There were reports of 8m/s thermals with some going to 2,500 asl.
For those of you who saw the early opinion forecast of conditions, here is the updated 10H00 sounding from yesterday.  There was a significant difference in surface temperature which saw 42degC.  The adjusted sounding looks like this:

Monday, 17 December 2012

Winelands Porterville Open - 2012 - Day 3 - Early Opinion

Here is our interpretation of the sounding from 23H00 last night:

Winelands Porterville Open - 2012 - Day 2 - Task 2...

We are 'calibrating' soundings in order to give more accurate forecasts to the task setters in preparation of the world cup in February next.  To this extent I have a basic license for RAOB along with the analytic module which permits us to use the soaring functionality. 
If you have a look at the Cape Town sounding @ 23H00 on Monday night you will see that an inversion was expected @ 1,300m ASL along with average climbs of 719fpm (3.5 m/s) and base @ 2100m ASL.This sounding shows SE winds of up to 15Kts @ 1,000m ASL.  The neat thing about the RAOB application is that you have serveral models to choose from and you can adjust the dew-point and surface temperatures before predicting the day.  We set the surface temperature to 37degC to get this picture.  Interesting that 31degC was the minimum temp to punch through the inversion according to the model.  Looking at my vario pretty much confirms base and climb rate which is spectacular IMHO given that the sounding data was >12hrs premature making the prediction very accurate.  The same is true for the Sunday night sounding which had the first task exactly right.
We don't expect to get accurate data when a front comes through, but are confident when conditions become progressively more stable in between fronts.
Task 2
The second task was sublime in every aspect.  Launch conditions were perfect and the ridge was accommodating.  Andrew and friends set a creative task of 57km which included a 6km exit start from launch @ 13H00 followed by a choice of ridge or valley down to a 5km radius around the Eendekuil T junction which was far enough from the ridge to cause many headaches for those asleep.  Then a hop skip and a jump over the back into the Citrusdal valley followed by a 'big feeling' detour on the foothills of the BIG mountains and on into Constriction. 
With more than 50 pilots into goal, in a task that may be the start of some paradigm shifts, we have high expectations of some more amazing task setting!
I had one of those rare days where theory and practice contrived to give me an effortless task win by a few minutes from Abe.  If only it was like that all the time.
A good day for the team with most making goal in good time.
Task stats:
Max Vario (1s): 6.6m/s
Max Vario (10s): 4.9m/s
Max Alt: 1862
Total Climb: 7,173m
Effective Glide: 7.8

Sunday, 16 December 2012

Winelands Porterville Open - 2012 - Day 1 - Task 1

Three practise days yielded no realistic record prospects but we did manage some interesting flights which included a fairly satisfying run to the south of the Porterville ridge followed by a crosswind crab to Pieketberg with AndrewS and RusselA.  That the R11 is supreme is beyond question as was brutally demonstrated into wind on the ridge where the IP6's were a minimum of 16 km behind having completed only 14km.  I guess I need to 'get over it' as Andrew insists, but I lament the pleasure and performance of the greatest flying machine ever invented and regret not being able to demonstrate it's beauty in competition.
My 50km FAI Triangle attempt was diabolical in every sense of the word.  There are certain conditions in Porterville where flying on the ridge can be construed as problematic and this was one of them.  I managed the first 13km in 27 minutes followed by 22 km in 20 minutes which was well under record pace, and then I stood still in the Southerly which had cranked up to 'fresh'.  I eventually limped back to Rob's house at a paltry 25km/h claiming nothing but my free beer from Rob.
The first task was set for 55km of intrigue and experimentation whereby the task committee sent us south for the start before a tricky 44km radius turn point that bisected the ridge @ roughly 45deg followed by a linear course line down the valley to the north with goal (P4701) beyond Eendekuil on the way to Rhenosterhoek. 
The inversion broke to my advantage before the start allowing for an effort free start and subsequent romp to goal via two turn points with a strong sprint finish in the convergence for some of us.  Africa's Finest (our team) enjoyed mixed fortunes with two of us in the top 15 and the other half landing short or experiencing some navigational issues. 
It looks like we may fly every day so it's a looong way to go but I will bank a task win anytime and anyhow.  With luck the lead out points will go my way too. 
I don't know when the results will be out but have a look here:
I have some video footage which I will try edit tonight but without decent 3G coverage I can't promise anything.
Flight stats:
Max climb 1s: 6.2m/s
Max climb 10s: 4.6m/s
Max speed: 71km/h
Max Alt: 2008m ASL
Total Climb: 6,900m
Task: 55km
Effective glide : approx 8
Time 1h39'20''
Ave Speed: 33.3km/h (medium pace)


Wednesday, 5 December 2012

Extreme Badge Collecting

It's been a while since the SVE (Sun Valley Experience sort of like the Jimi Hendrix experience).

My post-world-cup depression has lifted with the prospect of the annual trek to my favourite place and comp: the Winelands Open in Porterville.

Some of us are going down a little early to get some practise (on the R11).

Some time back I was wondering how to 'practise' for competition without actually flying competition and I decided try my hand at a couple of closed circuit records.
Last year we went to Porterville before the comp and tried the 50km FAI Triangle  and 100km Out and Return
 ( for the first two stabs and narrowly missed the world marks and claimed the (vacant) regional ones.  Neither day was particularly conducive to record claims, but I tried anyway. 
The 50km triangle was uneventful but the 100km OR was an arduous affair because the day turned out to be windy and viciously thermic. The start was 25km down the ridge from launch and into wind which involved pushing full bar just to get the ground speed above walking pace.  The guys with me at the start on serial wings turned and stood still before going to land. 
This was probably the most challenging flight I have had in years simply because I was flat out (to the rings with neutral trims) most of the way taking massive marlin strikes every few minutes and barely able to maintain 30km/h for one hundred minutes. 
It kind of frazzles your nerves when you are at the limit of your ability for hours on end without a break simply because you're chasing the clock and a minute behind with very little in reserve.  At the turn I dropped the trims all the way and held on to the red things with hands aching in protest and completed the hectic return leg in half the time it took to turn.  I was convinced that you could not fly a paraglider faster than that! ... and yet I missed the world record by a depressing minute or two which drove me to humiliating analysis of the track-log lamenting minute details and innocuous little wasted seconds that lay hidden like cancerous cells which when clumped together felt like the great big festering tumour of failure.  There was nothing to do about it and I'm going back to try again.
I have to tell you that the clock is the most brutal of competitors because it is relentless and unmoved by anything you do which is also fantastic because it is all about absolute performance.  There is no relativity (conditions notwithstanding).  So you have to be honest and suck on it when you fail.  The up-side is you find out where you are inclined toward mistakes which eat time under duress.  You don't get to practise competitor based tactics (which you should be doing in your head anyway), but you get to iron-out technical details.
Needless to say the competition felt like coastal soaring in comparison (given the compulsory serial gliders and short cross/downwind romps).
Here's my schedule for the rest of this year and first quarter of next:
Winelands Open: Porterville, SA - 16 - 22December
World Cup Super Final 2012: Rodanilho, Colombia - 16 -25 January 2013
World Cup 2013: Porterville, SA - 23 Feb - 2 March 2013
I haven't decided on the rest of the world cup tour and there's also world champs to consider if I make the team.
In the mean time, Roll on Porterville!!