Sunday, 6 September 2015

Ager World Cup 2015 - Task 3 - Flying again!!

We had a looong slow morning to wait out the soaked earth and ground level cloudbase.  

During this time of aimless milling around the world cup pasted ozone's complaint on the notice board followed by DHV's denial and re-test statement.  For those of you unfamiliar with the latest storm in a tea-spoon, I will summarise it for you (or for the parody go to my previous predictive post):  

1. We have a new class of competition glider called CCC
2. Ozone test pilots went and tested another manufacturer's glider because they could not match it's performance (said so themselves)
3. Ozone then claimed foul play and spammed the entire world of paragliding (CIVL, PWCA, DHV)
4. DHV re-tested and denied the existence of a problem and in a letter to CIVL Harry Buntz said they planned no further action (this is the closest you will get to DHV actually showing the finger IMHO).
5. Just about the entire field of bored and agitated competitors groaned a collective groan of despair: "here we go again!".  This is goat-herding at its very best!

By then the cloudbase had lifted and all pilots instantly forgot the manufacturers squabble (I'm coining it man-squabble because if women were running the show this kind of cr@p wouldn't happen).

Pilots are funny like that.  We grumble intensely until it is flyable and then we are in fine form.  It's like herding ill tempered cats who are easily distracted by squirrels:

The task was worthy of the rain and para-waiting.  It featured a dabble out front, a gamble over the back, and a grovel to the east.  Seventy odd kilometers later about half the field got in spread evenly.  

Saturday, 5 September 2015

DHV Responds to certification problem claim

No sooner had the ink 'dried' on my previous post and DHV replied!

Certification News

It has been alleged that the boomerang 10 does not conform to the CIVL CCC standard.

Ozone test pilots have given the PWCA video of their failed attempts to apply the 25% brake on full bar test on the Boom 10.

Without going into the detail,  respect to Ozone for handling their observations with infinite tact.  This is a master class in how to throw rocks without appearing to be the aggressor while saving the planet at the same time :)

I can't wait to hear what CIVL, DHV & Gin Gliders have to say on the matter.

It just occured to me: do three liners pass that test? 

Wednesday, 2 September 2015

Paragliding World Cup - Ager, Spain - Cancelled Day... Wings over troubled water

We went up to launch today after several delays.  
We went to the briefings several times to be informed of delays.
We went down the hill after the last delay.

The thing about no-fly days is that idle pilots breed contempt.  

It has been a very long time since there was significant controversy in paragliding.  Ok, not that long, but months of relative peace are better than constant bickering right? Normally we would say that is a good thing.  Sadly that is an Ostrich's outlook, because trouble has never really been that far away since the END of Open Class.  The inevitable trouble has reared its fugly head with the CCC (pronounced with a stuttered K'K'K' as in KaKaKa - or lots of doodoo if you're having trouble keeping up).

Rumour has it that certain characters (of a rare gas variety) have been lurking in the shadows seeking an opportunity to take revenge on those left shining after a lets-try-forget-it-and-move-on episode of terrible tarnish.  

A terrible conspiracy is about to break!  Beware the truth will be revealed and the precious ring of supremacy will be regained!  It brings to mind images of the fatally flawed character Gollum plotting against the lovable Frodo in Lord of the Rings.

Aside: It so happens that I am a huge fan of Tolkien.  The only thing that kept me sane in the ten weeks of basic training of my dubious military career was good old John Ronald Reuen Tolkien and his trilogy.  You might say that Tolkien Reuened me (hehe) because I spend much of my life categorising people as a casting director for Lord of the Rings might.  

Back to my point:  It seems allegations of skullduggery between parachute manufacturers are imminent.  

We look forward to a spectacle of world cup class witch-hunting Black Adder Style:

For those of you who can't be bothered with innuendo and intrigue I can only offer this to give you insight into what world cup pilots get up to when given too much time (compliments of François Ragolski with Pal Takis):


Tuesday, 1 September 2015

Paragliding World Cup - Ager, Spain - August 2015

It has been almost ten years since I was last in Ager.  I attended a British Open competition on a Boomerang 4.  It was particularly memorable on account of the fact that Fernanda and Sebastian were with me.  Sebastian took his first steps at the age of ten months on the grass of the campsite that is the venue for the headquarters.  I always said I would come back to this magical place, and now the world cup has delivered on that wish!

The view from the road on the way to Ager

Àger is a municipality in the comarca of the Noguera in Catalonia, Spain.  It is a picturesque little village of around three hundred inhabitants.  Catalans speak Catalan which evolved from Vulgar Latin around the eastern Pyrenees in the 9th century (wikipedia).  This is no reflection on the residents who are warm and friendly to the world-cup-horde who have temporarily swelled their population by a third.  

If you ask them they will tell you they are Catalans as opposed to Spaniards.  It is supposedly the same farther north in the Basque country.

Ager village with glorious ridge behind (looking north)

It is dry and hot.  
They grow olives here.  
It is good to go to countries where they grow olives if you are an olive connoisseur or a paragliding pilot.  

This basic olive growing requirement has ensured a high fly-to-drinking-in-the-rain ratio since it was applied to my comp regime.  Simply put (i.e. according to wikipedia) olives are grown in Mediterranean regions of of the world.  The Mediterranean climate is characterized by warm to hot, dry summers which is why it is good for paragliding.  A dry Mediterranean summer is defined as having less than 30mm of rain per month.  I call it the Oracle of Olives.

As in all things there is the yin/yang thang.  If Olives be the yin in Spain, then the yang is the Competitive Paragliding Curse.  The harbinger of the improbable with the power to terminate drought and flood alike! There are many examples on several continents. Some will recall the floods in Manilla, Australia during the 2005 world championships.  Many more will remember Baixo Guandu in Brazil more recently.  The comp was moved to Govenador Valadares because of severe flooding that made it impossible to travel to Baixo by road.

It came as no surprise then that the Comp Curse has had a go at the Oracle of Olives:
The cold front arrived abruptly, as forecast.  
The twenty knot winds announced the front amid crackling thunder and splintering door slams, as forecast.  
The 6.5mm of rain briefly lashed our quaint little village in fretful angled sheets, as forecast.
The entire field cursed the curse, as expected.

All is not lost as the Oracle has intervened staving off disaster.  The result: lady Olive has delivered three consecutive days of flying!  

The practice day was smokingly good.  Virile lift everywhere with light winds.  You could fly all day and into the night with the last pilots landing some time after 8pm.  

There was some pessimism about the front prior to the first task.  This was unfounded as we romped our way around the sixty something kilometer course in just under two hours.  The whole affair was kept in front of the ridge.  The task committee appeared to set the task so that we would not fly too close to the ridge for too long as has become habit at world cup events for some unknown reason.  

The day was not good enough to honour this cunning plan as we ended up really close and personal to the rocks and ridges for pretty much the entire race which saw nearly one hundred pilots into goal.  The first sixty pilots were separated by ten minutes or so which has also become the norm.

The second task really did look like it was in danger of being cancelled.  Not many were convinced with the cloud base well below launch height and significant wind expected.  Lo and behold a little task of forty kilometers was set in the front of the ridge.  It required a launch above cloud base with some ducking and diving to get down through the gaps to below cloud-base in order start the race.  

Waiting for a task above cloud-base

The start was a little messy with multi-level clouds forming and dissipating while one hundred men and women tried to avoid one-another in the misty wisps.  Nearly another hundred pilots made goal with the victor taking less than an hour.  This time, only six minutes separated the first sixty pilots.

The result of two small tasks? The first thirty pilots are separated by one hundred points on the overall rankings:

It may not be epic yet, but at least we are flying!

Friday, 10 July 2015

SA Open cat2 - Barberton 2015

It has been a while since I flew the annual Barberton competition hosted by the LSSC.  This is our winter competition site.  I have written about it in the past so I have pasted an extract describing the place at the end of this piece, or you can go here to read about its' fascinating history.

It is remarkable how well it works in Barberton considering the short days, soupy inversions, and dubious wind directions that dominate daily.  We managed a ninety minute training flight the day before the competition in the 8/8 gloom of blanket cloud cover.  

The first two comp days were cancelled due to wind, but we managed to fly anyway.  There were many novices present which is great for the sport.  The only problem is that you lose more days if the task committee is sensitive to their needs as was the case in Barberton.  This begs the question of how to deal with conditions that are good for some but dangerous for others.  One suggestion was to have an arrangement with the pilots where you tell novices to stand down if conditions are marginal for them and proceed with the task.  This was the case when I started competing and tasks were set for the open class without consideration for novices and intermediates.  I recall being told to stand down at least twice in my first two comps in windy places.  That is not to say we should do the same.  The current ethos in our local task setting is to give the novices every chance of success in the first half and to challenge the serious contenders in the second half of the race.  This is a wonderful approach which ensures maximum pilot enjoyment.

In all, five tasks were completed.  The first task scored all of a single solitary point as four of us managed to grab the only thermal that slouched through take-off on of the day.

I was feeling particularly strong for the first proper task and managed to convert a risky move up a blind valley into a fifteen minute lead on a difficult day (we have re-named this valley "3 in 1").  This gamble paid off as a comfortable platform for the rest of the comp where I felt I could cruise without much stress.  

The wheels almost came off on the last day.  Thankfully, FTV just about ensured the win before the task started.  You see I finally got my tiny brain around exactly how FTV works, so I did the math and saw that as long as I finished within 80% of my closest rival I would win.  I generally do not like doing that level of analysis as I think it affects your flying negatively, but I was curious and wondered who was in contention.

As it turns out, the podium hopefuls flew around the course amicably together leaving Anton to scream off ahead and win by a healthy margin negating the last task for Russell and myself.  Did I mention how much I love my Boom 10? 

Looking at the effect of FTV on the competition it is apparent that only Russell benefited from the formula vs the raw scores securing second place as opposed to fourth.  The rest remain more or less the same.  

Having said all that it did not feel so much as a competition but rather a free-flying holiday with a bunch of friends.  It is hard to imagine six meter per second climbs and cloud base approaching three thousand metres in the very middle of winter, but that's exactly how it was! 

Everyone knows about Porterville which is our local world class summer flying site near Cape Town.  Very few international pilots know about our winter flying site, Barberton, situated near the Swaziland border in Mpumahlanga or the 'low veld'.  It is as popular with the local pilots and possibly even has a longer tradition of attendance.  It is certainly the family friendly comp and many SA pilots' first comp site given the gentle and safe flying conditions.  Barberton is a small tourist town nestled in a bowl of ancient hills:
Wikipedia:   The mountains around Barberton are the oldest in the world dating back 3.5 Billion years, and these mountains include some of the oldest exposed rocks on the planet (only rocks from the Isua greenstone belt in Western Greenland are older). These volcanic rocks, which scientists call the Barberton Greenstone Belt, have given up direct evidence of conditions of life on the surface of the very early earth.
The first form of life on earth, a bacterial micro fossil Archaeospheroides barbertonis was discovered here and has been identified as being 3.2 billion years old.
It is no small thing to experience flying over this area.  The tasks may be modest by most standards, but what they lack in grandeur they more than compensate for in technical subtlety and picturesque appeal.

Wednesday, 21 January 2015

World Championships - Task 6 & 7

My first-in-goal-grin lasted at least a whole day before I was reminded of my para-mantra best explained by Kenny Wayne Shepherd's lyrics:

"Spank" (on youtube)
It ain't wrong to feel so strong when you think you got it going on
Life has a way of making you pay to the club where we all belong
Now you're free to believe that the good life is guaranteed
But watch your step 'cause it's a safe bet you're gonna end up on your knees

You're gonna get spanked
I'm warning you sister
You're gonna get spanked
Life's gonna hit you
You'll never know until you get, Spanked
You're gonna be humble
You're gonna get spanked
And your world's gonna crumble you'll never know until you get

Some do want to prove that there are really just a chosen few
So test your fate, speculate that it can never really happen to you
I've been high, at least tried, I learned to sleep with an open eye
You crossed that line, better take the time to kiss your ass goodbye


When you're so sure you got it right
All alone in the spotlight
You'll never see it coming


So we all get spanked at least once and no-one is immune, not even the giants.  Just take a peek at the leader-board and you will see by the points.

Speaking of being spanked, yesterday's task was a spanking affair in many ways. 
Four pilots got spanked with reserve deployments.
Twenty two pilots were spanked for airspace violations.
A dozen or more were spanked short at the goal-line and, last but not least, Felix spanked us all into goal by at least five minutes.

I saw the mid-air collision which was not pretty.  One pilot gently flew into another and was completely gift-wrapped.  I held my breath as they plummeted over the power lines in a flapping mess.  It felt like an age before they managed to separate and deploy.  I was convinced they were both going into the lines and the regallo was flying directly toward them.  Parallax saved them.

Sunday, 18 January 2015

World Championships - Task 5 and the bucket list

World Championship paragliding is like this:  You hack away mindlessly for a decade and a half filled alternately with hope and despair like a duracell-yo-yo.  

The thing that sustains you most is the prospect of a three week holiday in an exotic location doing what you love for your country every two years.   Once in a while you glimpse the elusive pot of gold and you dream of victory knowing how slippery the reality of that dream is.  You end up clinging to the thought of a single day where you might shine.  It has been fourteen years since a South African pilot has won a task at a world championship event.  I happened to be the team manager on that occasion in Spain (2001) and I marvelled at the idea.

Today was my turn!

I only managed to win by a single point,  and in the greater scheme of things, my (poor) overall position negates much, but it was on my bucket list and I would be lying if I said it does not feel good.

Even better is the fact that we are not even half-way through the competition with an optimistic outlook on the weather.  

The top-ten overall leader-board reads like the who's who of paragliding with all the giants present.  I salute you all and thank you for letting me slip through the gaps today gentlemen, I am very much indebted to you!

Friday, 16 January 2015

World Championships - Task 3 & 4 plus some bonus blah blah blah

How much variety do we expect?  Roldanillo has more than a bag of mixed nuts in a single day.  From the romping joy of the first day and the schizophrenia of day two, to the plodding gloom of day three.  

Today (task 4) was une salade mixte:  A little bit of rock 'n roll with a strong infusion of utter desperation topped with a dressing of relief, joy, hope, surprise and, ultimately, disappointment.  The latter was on account of the fact that we did not see the winning group scream into goal from the west ten minutes ahead of our fabulously fast gaggle smugly threading the cumulus cloud-street needle to imagined glory.  

Ah well! you can't win them all.  At least I got to fly with some friends.  In particular I spent a large part of the day sharing thermals with Carlos, Juan, Chris, Nick and Guy Anderson whom I so famously "discovered" in Montelegre some years back (see 'the future of English paragliding' here in 2012 and here in 2014).  Guy has a low number on his wing which casts a credibility aura and appropriate following in the air.  Low numbers (less than twenty) are earned at the world cup super-final and are not to be taken lightly.

Amazing people

The splurb on my blog says something about flying with fascinating people.  I have never honored this pronouncement properly so I thought I would start 'at home'.  Here are some things you probably didn't know about the people I am traveling with:

Anton Naude: Eight time senior protea national team pilot.  Attained Northern Transvaal Schools colours in Judo & Target shooting.  Anton has also represented SA at the PPG world championships on the tandem & trike. He has a Bcom. in Accounting and a Btec. in internal auditing.  He has two children and two grandchildren.

Chris van Noord: Two time SA protea national team pilot.  Provincial colours as part of the south eastern transvaal youth choir touring France & Italy in 1988.  He was a motor-cross-maniac breaking at least six bones per year for four years.  Before paragliding Chris was an avid sky-diver with 3,000 jumps, 300 wing suit jumps, and 100 base jumps. He spent a week in the infamous Pretoria central prison (where they keep the blade runner) in 1991 for stealing a general's official car while in the air force.  Two ex-wives and two kids.  Proudest moments were when his kids were born and when he scored for the SA team the first time in task three.

Russell Achterberg: Three time SA protea national team pilot.  Schools, provincial and national .22 shooting (despite the shaking).  Achieved senior national colours in the Tornado sailing class for world champs in 2000.  Springbok scout.  Phd. in electrical engineering.  One divorce, two kids.  Second wife more to his liking.  Prefect in junior and high school.  Never been locked up.  Never in naughty corner.  Doesn't play bridge very well.  Specialities include: spilling booze on Andre whilst travelling; losing stuff; general clumsiness.

Khobi Bowden: Three time SA protea national team pilot.  Her Grandad was the first British man to break the sound barrier in an aircraft.  Two degrees: Bsc. in mathematics from London School; Bsc. hon. in business and computers from belfast university.  Khobi ran a restaurant/bar in st. Lucia in the Caribbean in the nineties where her guests shot one another on occasion.  Arrested in st. Lucia for parking offence.

Theunis de Bruyn: professional student with a Bcom in business management and about to complete a mechanical engineering degree.  School prefect in junior and high school.  Provincial school rugby and six years provincial road cycling up to U19.  Clarinet grade 5.  Rock climber.  

Thursday, 15 January 2015

World Championships - Roldanillo, Colombia - Glider Speculation

Mads, Arnold and a few others have asked me to say something about gliders at this comp.  
Before I begin you must know that they may as well ask the pope if he likes being Catholic because I have always had the best glider.  I'll try anyway:

I have the medium size which I decided on for the handling and the fact that I lost some weight (how I miss beer and apple pie).  My harness is the Genie race 3 (M) and I clip in 1kg below the top (114kg).

Initial impressions are:
- the Boomerang 10 might be slightly better on glide at up to half bar.  I say this after four or five 10km glides yesterday with assorted groups of Ozones and Niviuks.  For those of you who know I cannot be objective go check tracklogs around mine at the first crossing and the final glide which was into wind
- it seems the Boomerang climbs slightly better and can turn tighter than the Enzo 2.  This could be that I am on the M or the conditions suit the wing although I managed to get on top of my goal gaggle in scrappy light lift yesterday (check the tracks if you are sceptical).  One thermal a theory doth not make and I admit I sucked at other times, but I generally feel competitive in the climb
- everyone seems to be able to go more or less the same speed but I feel more able to catch up here than I did in Turkey on my B9.  I find I can go faster than many in strongly rising turbulent air on full bar.  This is partly due to the high stability at speed on the B10.  In this respect it feels like R11 open class without the yaw.

There have been some complaints of floppy wing tips on the B10.  My wing does not seem to have that feature.  I suspect people flying light and/or coming off Ice-peaks and enzos may experience that, but I think a minor adjustment in technique takes care of it.  The wing is very light and responsive so all movement is transmitted to the pilot and I find myself catching unwanted movement very early.  The application of speed bar is light and smooth which may have something to do with the harness/wing combination.  

Basically it is too early to draw conclusions, but I am very happy with my wing so far.