Tuesday, 23 July 2013

World Championships - Sopot, Bulgaria - Task Five

Sopot finally delivers one for the speed bar merchants flying 130km in three and a half hours for what was essentially a triangle of sorts. 
With cloud base above 3,000m and climbs of +5m/s on the 10 second average, we spent most of the time above 2,500m racing streets and joining the dots between clouds.  In the end LucaD took it from the rest with team SA into goal 5 minutes late. 
The top 50 were separated by seven minutes which represents a difference of just over three percent.  This seems amazing and I have reported this phenomenon on several accasions citing the intensity of competition, but I am starting to wonder.  In this instance the explanation I offer is that the the second half of the race required a touch more self-control after the excesses of the first 80km which had the lead pushing really hard under the clouds above the the main ridge which proved to be the most efficient route of the four options (North, South, foothills and Valley).  This allowed the lag gaggles to catch up which has been the case most days.
Another factor that may explain the clumping of pilots (other than the tiny performance differential between gliders) is the speed limitation: there is no reason on a good day not to scream around the course at full (or near full) speed on the transitions. This was not the case in open class where you had to decide how fast to go based on McCready, the size of your brain and/or the quality of the day. 
The speed range was big enough to make a real difference and on a day like today I suspect we might have been handed some serious punishment by the don (Luca) had he been on an open class wing.  Today Luca pushed the hardest above the mountain in the first half of the race and in the end he only won by seconds from Petr, Adrian and Yassen.  It was good to see PeterN arrive fast in goal along with Frank, Primoz and a couple of other guys I rate really highly.
Russel and I are clawing our way back up the rankings with Russ in 27th.  The grape vine has started the 'hundred mile' rumour for tomorrow, so I had better get my beauty sleep.

Sunday, 21 July 2013

World Championships - Sopot, Bulgaria - Task Four

Disclaimer: my violent mood swings are directly linked to my flying performances. 
Today I am feeling a lot like James Brown.  Actually I feel better than that old hack!  After the extreme depression of landing in the dark valley of misery I could almost hear The Death of Orpheus being played by my imaginary detractors.  Today I was SURE Eddie van Halen played Eruption for me as I crossed the line in single figures!!
121km course, and what a rush that was!  It adds a totally new dimension to the idea of 'street racing' with huge gaggles drawn out and screaming around the track with almost total disregard for the course-line.  The lead was dominated by Gin pilots pushing all the way to the very end where we all jammed the pulleys together under the congestus at the last turn point gaining almost 1,000m in altitude over the last 20km.
Mickey Sigel flew in front with three Gin pilots taking the first first three slots (and most of the lead-out points) into goal.  Stefan Wyss won the day from Steban and Mickey.
Russel came in a few seconds behind Andre saving SA some team 'face' after the perversion of the previous day.
The cloud flying problem seems to have abated temporarily and I have video evidence of every single trip I took to base showing NO cloud flying in my gaggle(s) at any time.  It seems serious threats and some dire sanctions by Nicky the meet director had the desired effect.  Now why can't every-one just play 'nice' all the time?  

Friday, 19 July 2013

World Championships - Sopot, Bulgaria - Day Four (or Five) - Task Three

So before I get going I must say that I had a less than perfect day landing after 60km when 64 of my fellow competitors got to goal.  I rode home in the losers' bus and drank the tequila of inadequacy with as much good humour as my overly competitive genes will allow without feeling overly false.  HOW LONG IS IT GOING TAKE (to quote my son Sebastian) to win one of these stupid world championship events!!!???  Ah well I intend to hammer out a respectable result with whatever pig iron is left on this miserable mortal coil.  Forgive the overly dramatic prelude, but we did watch 'Les Misrables' last night and it appears to have taken hold.
With that off of my chest, what bizarre day was that!! Holy crap!  Viagra climbs and sink of the Prozac variety in the Darth Vader Valley of Darkness with the overly moist convergent cloud shadow.  The field is in TOTAL disarray with several of my all-time heros sucking hind-teat in the hinterland of the overall  placings:  LucaD, JoshC, MickeyS, NickG, TorstenS, PeterN, Arnie, Guy, Adam ChristianB to name but a few, are languishing in, or near triple digits.
If SA team group landing wasn't enough, adding insult to injury Nevil got zeroed for suspected cloud-flying along with a couple of others leaving Stef as the non-scoring lone ranger to goal for team SA. 
Even after the absurdity of the super-final in Colombia, cloud flying is here to stay it seems. 
My Eureka solution(s) to the cloud flying problem:
1. Develop a probability algorithm based on the last 10 years worth of world championship and world cup tasks and derive the cloud flying 'signature' thereby busting 'cloudies' in the great Lance Armstrong tradition whereby all previous cheats are named and shamed and stripped of any significant honour/result.  The cool thing about this is that we have no need of FAI/CIVL/PWC or any other administrative body, we simply publish the probability results based on peer-group consensus independently and ask the aforementioned bodies wtf they intend to do about it.
2. Persuade comp organisers to apply the cheat algorithm to their comps and shift the responsibility onto the pilots to prove their innocence (as shockingly draconian as that sounds, even I take video when I think I may have to explain how I got 300m up the side of some cloud)...  and yes, we all know about multiple bases and cloud-tunnels (http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=B-JXmC12WWQ), but I would wager the cloud flying 'signature' will be unique and damning once the quants work it out.
3. Get the manufacturers of our flying instruments to include temperature and humidity into the track log.  We know how precise upper air soundings are, so this data is sure to flag entry into cloud as opposed to blue thermals which will have distinctly different temperature and humidity 'signatures' which will aid in the application of burden-of-proof for the pilot. 
I hate the idea of over-regulation and the failure of the same has been so completely and utterly demonstrated through the En-D disaster and resulting farce of certification along with the circumvention of speed systems and tweaked performance.  Having said that, cloud flying remains an annoying fact of life, so stringent rules backed by theory and technology are long over-due and infinitely more desirable than some arbitrary glider limitations and contrived certification regimes. 

Wednesday, 17 July 2013

World Championships - Sopot, Bulgaria - Day Three - Task Two

The Devil in the Dust
The forecast would have had most free-fliers sleeping late and digging out kiting gear.  Not the paragliding world champs!  We enthusiastically headed up the mountain after a sublime rest day to bask in the sun while the wind was howling over the back and producing dust devils commensurate with an event of this magnitude.  We watched in awe as the first devil tried to steal a boomerang and harness lifting it a dozen swirling meters before slamming it back onto launch while fighting two desperate pilots for ownership of a second and third glider and almost succeeding.  A second dusty came steaming through launch like a freight train a little later and this time it grabbed two harnesses with gliders in pack bags stripping them clean of any loose pieces before rapidly moving them down the hill with frantic owners in hot pursuit tackling their kit and holding on for dear life.  The dervish raged for a chaotic minute or two before retreating with the spoils of its raid taking two garments all the way to into the clouds above launch in minutes.... and then we flew the task.
Happy Place - Waiting around listening to blues and thinking of home and cloud streets
Fear no Evil
So we bombed off into the valley-of-death-glide for a seventy km challenge in the valley to keep us off the lee of the mountain.  The start was one of those days where one hundred and fifty pilots spent a lot of effort ridging up the side of rapidly developing cumulus while trying to stay out of the clouds at the start followed by a desperate glide to the first turn point across the Sopot Valley to the south followed by a blanket search of just one thermal in the valley without sun.  One thing is sure at events such as these so soon after the start: the fact that if there is a thermal anywhere within one hundred square kilometres of a valley in shadow, it WILL be found and ridden back to base.  Having said that, this knowledge is not very comforting when you have been on glide for 15km and that elusive thermal is shy and not showing her skirts.  We eventually found a tiny patch of sad looking sun and almost all got up in the end before flying around the course in around two hours twenty.  The first fifty pilots were within one hundred points of one-another with a total of one hundred and twenty five pilots in goal which is amazing considering the diabolical start!  A good day for team with most in goal pushing us into eight position overall.  Russel is tenth overall and Andre 17th some fifty points back with Chris top fifty.

Monday, 15 July 2013

World Championships - Sopot, Bulgaria - Day 1 - Task 1

Johannesburg to Sofia via Istanbul
A pleasant drive through the sun flower fields from Sofia to Sopot admiring the gorgeous cloud streets set the tone for the 13th FAI world championships:  Mellow and seriously organised.  Management secured 'casa Africa' for the team.  My serviced 'crib' has aircon (it works) and clean sheets plus en-suite bathroom with shower (replete with real hot water 24/7).  The house is the talk of the town with vicious rumours circulating about how we outbid other teams to secure the mansion (including pool, boma, flat screen & volley ball court).  Whatever the case, I have never been this comfortable at a competition outside of South Africa ever... so I guess a BIG thank you to Jan & Chrissi for making it happen.
The launch is massive and the ride up the cable way is relaxing in a simple kind of way with 101 two seat open chairs, recently refurbished, slinging us up to launch over roughly 2 km of cable.  A 75 odd km out-and-return east-west course was set with two turns points before goal amid great excitement at the super sweet cu's and wind dummies melting into the clouds.   As is so often the case, the valley clouded over and 150 pilots were stuck on launch well after the race was due to start.  Make that 149 with Marco Littame who smoked every-one by 100 points getting off shortly after window and flying around the course alone while the rest of us were cooling our heels waiting for it to start working.  We eventually got off with the lead gaggle bouncing along at base dodging clouds along the way before getting flushed at the easterly TP.  The lag gaggle got the jump after the lead got flushed in the lee of the northerly wind.  RusselA managed to make up lost time flying a more direct line with AndreR a few minutes after to goal.  Chris landed inside of speed section but short of goal with Nev, Khobi and Stef going down at the sucky section near P1.
There will be many disgruntled pilots seeing as it felt like a bit of a lottery with many world title contenders down and out on the first day.  The Swiss, German, British and American teams were among many of the top teams who got caught out with Italy, France and Brazil putting in strong performances.  The up-side is that it is only day 1 with a high probability of good hard racing to come and perhaps a fist day shake-up will break the recent trend of EN-D processional course flying.