Wednesday, 12 October 2016

World Cup La Reunion - Last Task

The last day had a low base and southerly wind after a day of wind and rain.  This implied a run to the south after a little bit of back and forward in front of launch before a over the plateau to goal.  As before there was a load of scratching over and around gullies, houses, and power lines: just much lower than before.  We visited the bridge around Trois Basin a few times battling into wind before scratching downwind over the plateau behind st Gilles. 

The goal was in the sugar cane fields north east of st Paul close to the Dos D'Agne gorge that is used for the Le Maïdo volcano flight.  

It was a bit of a crowd pleaser compared to the previous three tasks so the comp ended with a fair number of pilots in fine humour after more than fifty made goal.

Prize-giving was festival where the locals pulled out all the stops providing heaps of food and entertainment.

I don't recall when last I had this much fun at a comp.  The local people are friendly and kind in a way that you simply don't see many places.  In particular a shout out to Sébastien Coupy and Mathias Ioualalen who were the most gracious dinner hosts imaginable.

Friday, 7 October 2016

World Cup La Reunion Task 3,4, & 5

The third day was another turd day for most with only two making goal and another three going more than forty kilometers.  The rest of us could not get around the 'corner' as we have dubbed it.  The reality of La Reunion and paragliding lies in the lee (so-to-speak).  In short, we can fly in benign thermic conditions because we are sheltered from the prevailing wind by the towering mass of the island which tops out at over 3,000m at the Piton des Neiges volcano.  The other volcano, Piton de la Fournaise, is still active and the last eruption was last year in June.
Image result for la reunion volcano eruption

So the prevailing wind is Easterly, and we fly in the lee on the west side of the island.  The localised low pressure results in cloud and wind which curls around the northern and southern points of the island toward st Leu which is why we fly from that area.  The only problem is that the stronger the prevailing wind, the more intense the low pressure of the lee which in turn increases the southerly air flow.  So when you send the entire field south of st Leu beyond Entre-Deux, most land before they are 10km from launch as they slide down the shoulder from Le Tevelave to Piton Saint-Leu trying to get around the 'corner'.  

I managed to get around and back on the fourth task which just happened to be a thousand point day, but mostly people are a little tired of pushing full bar over power lines and houses.  
It came as no surprise to me, therefore, that level three calls were made when we were asked to do it again yesterday.  You could see the wind shadow as a northerly whipped white horses out of the sea before we had even launched and the southerly backflow was very much in evidence.  The task committee had no choice but to send us south again.  It was too much to ask,  Several pilots called it dangerous by the third time we had to punch toward the corner in a fretful back and forth multi-point task.  We had flown less than and hour, so the task was not valid.  There was some grumbling from people who were in strong positions needing points, but mostly everyone accepted it and flew out to sea over the reef.  A couple of lucky pilots spotted a huge manta on the reef.

Image result for la reunion manta ray

The picture below is of a Tropic bird.  These exquisite creatures mark all forms of lift on the island and have saved us daily by showing the way.  I had a close encounter on the fourth day on my return from the south just before the 'corner'.   One of these delicate birds crashed into my lines, bounced off, and tumbled below squawking indignantly as it recovered and flew off apparently unscathed.

Today, Friday, is a rest day on account of rain and wind.

Monday, 3 October 2016

World Cup La Reunion Task 2

Captain's Log: It has been three full days since our arrival in this strange place.  Six foot perfection thunders through at four waves every five minutes in the undulating precision of a rhythmically righteous metronome.  That makes more than six hundred un-ridden waves from sunrise to sunset at one of the best breaks in this hemisphere.  

Paragliding generally works better when there is terrestrial heating taking place.  Today was not one of those days.  There was no-sun, no-lift, and no-magical thermals on offer and yet we remained aloft for hours.  A handful of mythical humans with Helium in their veins kicked bushes around half of the course with the rest of the field landing after 10-15 km or so of a 63 km task.  

The picture shows the pilots who managed to gain some handsome height for the day.

(photo: KJ Bowden)

On happier days:

Sunday, 2 October 2016

World Cup La Reunion Task 1

st Leu: It seems absurd to go to a tropical island where you look out at one of the best left point breaks in the world from your breakfast table.  It is crazy to watch line after line double overhead perfection chasing through from dawn... unridden!!  In a previous life this was Nirvana.  As a student I fantasised about this wave: Warm water on my front-side as a goofy footer.  So here I am, thirty years later, with the place to myself.  The only problem is I have no board and surfing is more-or-less banned on account of sharks and I'm here to fly paragliders. It was with more than a little reluctance that I dragged myself away from watching a handful of locals ripping this peeling point perfection to go and compete in a paragliding competition.  

I was completely preoccupied with the surf which was visible all day from the air.  Imagine my surprise, therefore, as I stumbled into goal in the lead after 70km of to-and-fro.  I decided to treat the day as a ridge run.  Not really the best strategy after telling my compatriots to stay high, but there you have it.

We are seven South Africans at this event and it is shaping up to be a blast.  The entire team made goal and we are in third position as a nation!

pics to follow

World Cup - st Andre les Alpes, France - Task 4 - Stopped and General impressions

It was as though they were willing me to win creating another ridge-run similar to the first day.. just shorter and more definite on a day where the organisers did not even want to go up the mountain which invited some hind-sight critique.  

You see, the task was stopped due to thunderstorm development over st Andre seven minutes before the one hour five minute minimum task validation time!  This was right about where three of us pulled away from the field by a few hundred meters.  I do not normally subscribe to the "could've, would've, should've, but didn't" school of life... my castle for the seven minutes that would have validated the task! Dream-on loser!  

Anyway, I walked away with an epic task win and thirteenth place overall in a place that delivered some of the finest conditions I have ever played around in.  This is better than a poke in the eye with a sharp stick I guess.

Yes, everyone wants to know about the Zeno, Enzo 3, and Boomerang 'Next'.

So here's a reality check.  
Fact: Luc designed and flew the Zeno onto the podium.  

Conclusion 1: the glider must be amazing
Conclusion 2: the pilot must be amazing
Conclusion 3: the combination is amazing
Conclusion 4: the guy lives there, he should have won on a Mantra
Conclusion 5: the conditions favour the pilot and the glider
Conclusion 6: let's have a look at the data

I chose 2, 4 & 6 in order to validate 1, 3 & 5.  The reason being that the glider looks fairly straight forward and stubby compared to the higher aspect of the E2 & B10.  It reminded me of the IP6 when Luc was fooling around with it on launch.  So, if it has benign flight characteristics it would be good in st Andre that required some attention to stay inflated at speed for hours at a time.

The data?  It is hard to compare glide performance in a place like st Andre given that you are being spiked by potent thermals all the time and there is nothing to say on the ridge except that technique obscures glider performance completely.

The third task does give us a better chance of comparison.  The glide to goal was into the flats from around sixteen kilometers out with a cross/headwind.  The following guys were in front together so I compared them from the end of the lifty section after the last climb at about 14km out for each:

Position # Pilot Glider Glide Speed Distance
2 12 Honorin HAMARD Ozone EnZo 2         7.6           52.6 14.2
2 37 Maxime PINOT Ozone EnZo 2         6.9           52.6 14.6
4 16 Felix FERNANDES Ozone EnZo 2         7.1           52.9 14.0
6 18 Torsten SIEGEL Gin Boomerang 10         7.6           51.0 13.9
7 11 Luc ARMANT Ozone Zeno         6.8           51.1 13.8

This one is interesting because, from what I can see on the tracks, Honorin & Maxime flew side by side as did Torsten and Luc.

If we were to conclude anything, it seems that:
1. There is something very wrong with Maxime's glider (did I mention he won the comp?)
2. There is something very right with Torsten and Honorin's gliders
3. the Zeno is up to a full point behind the Enzo and Boom 10 on glide

We would have to interview the pilots concerned to find out if this is anywhere near the truth.  
The data also suggest that two of the guys on the podium got there with inferior glide. HAH!

The conclusions that can be drawn resemble the routine of an acro pilot on LSD.  It is clearly pointless doing comparisons without dozens of samples if at all.

More to the point: Fly the damn glider and stop worrying about performance!

A simple logic check: what are the chances a low aspect glider will outperform the current crop of performance wings on glide?  There appears to be no giant leap forward in technology or construction advantages or we would have heard about it.  The much vaunted hundred-and-plenty-cell technology is slow out the blocks with the biggest gains being that of projected price point!  I'm told you can optimise a wing for a point somewhere on the Polar curve, but it seems unlikely that the Zeno would take down the E2 or B10 on glide through the entire speed range.  

Whatever the case, we are waiting with baited breath to see what we will fly at the super final and the worlds next year.  It also appears that the manufacturers may be playing cat and mouse with none wanting to release an inferior wing, so we wait until somebody pulls the trigger.  

In the mean-time we can amuse ourselves by speculating and spreading ill-conceived rumours.  Have you heard about:
- Piezo-electric lines, rods and fabric that tension the whole structure dynamically in flight reducing weight and improving efficiency of new air-foils and even harvesting power from movement?
- giant one-piece 3D wing manufacturing machines
- assisted in-flight wing trim 

It seems we have a lot to look forward to ;)

World Cup - st Andre les Alpes, France - Task 3 - Wow, Wow, and Wow!

Once in a while you get a day that is just about the flying and you sort of forget you're in a competition and rather soak up the experience because you just know it is rare and remarkable.  Most world cup events, excluding Chelan, have at least one highlight that everyone raves about and remembers.  The second task was in that league, so the third task was a gift.

The bulk of the field took the safe route over the Coup west onto the plateau toward Digne before heading north into the complicated confluence of valleys from La Brusquet to Barles and Authon.  It was in this area that we felt like cloudbase kings floating around in our airborne thrones.  Someone won but it didn't seem to matter as we excited the mountains into the flats for a twenty kilometer glide to the west.

Wednesday, 7 September 2016

World Cup - st Andre les Alpes, France - Task 2 - 115km Out and Return (OMG)

Some explaining is required for the civilians out there:  a para-glider typically flies at between 40-60 km/h with a glide ratio of between 6 and 10.  To fly 100 km is a big deal when you're learning and this is generally achieved in your first three years.  One hundred kilometers out and return is worth 200 km downwind (epic by any measure) and and a 100 km triangle is worth about 250 km by most accounts (more than a personal best for many).  Such is the quality of the flying in st Andre that more than eighty pilots completed a 115 km triangle in just over three and a half hours with the hot-to-trot Bulgarian ace, Yassen Savov, handing out flying lessons on a scintillating day that encapsulated everything one would hope for in a sporting contest.

Absolutely bloody marvelous just about covers it in the absence of more convenient vulgar expletives.

That the first fifty pilots were separated by fifteen minutes is no longer surprising such is the quality of the field.  Did we have fun? HELL YES!!!  What with cloud-base close to three thousand meters and climbs in excess of 5m/s over terrain to write home about, I don't think we need much more than this.

Seldom have I seen fortunes change as often as today.  The start was glorious but quickly deteriorated into a bit of a dog-show for those who were sloppy about managing altitude to begin with.  It was almost comical to observe dozens of competitors being spanked in the lee of the western bowl simply because we were not paying attention to the local met.  I was one of those dumb-ass pilots, but managed to fix it after forty or so kilometers.  The rest of the day involved picking a line and applying as much speed as possible with some interesting terrain oriented interludes to spice things up every now and then.

All in all a more mellow day with moderate demands on the nervous system with two minor events in my case:

We expect to fly another three days... wish you were here.

World Cup - st Andre les Alpes, France - Task 1

A little task was set in the relative shelter of the st Andre flying bowl.  The idea was to protect us from the fresh north west wind.  The entire field managed to launch at least an hour before the race started as the wind at launch intensified.  It is not often the case in world cup task setting that you are challenged to think for yourself.  Today was different and there were three schools of thought: west, middle, and east.

I chose the westerly route along with a handful of die-hard comrades as it offered a ridge-run but with a distance penalty.  This route necessitated flying out of the relative shelter of the st Andre bowl with the application of copious doses of the speed bar not just once, but three and a half times:

Our group started with about twenty on the first run and ended with four.  The reason is best explained by my heart monitor:

We were rewarded with a winning margin of about five minutes after slightly more than two hours for eighty kilometers.

It is not often that I am given the chance to race a ridge, so this task was a gift tailored to my narrow skill-set serving up the win by a second from Michel Guillemot and Uli Prinz.  Many thanks to the task committee!

Tuesday, 6 September 2016

World Cup - st Andre les Alpes, France

Paragliding World Cup France: st Andre les Alpes

Of all the places I love in travel, the south of France is high up on my list.  The reasons are many and the pictures tell the story a thousand times better than words.

Arriving over the Cote d'Azure to land at Nice is the closest you'll get to feeling like the people in those old Peter Stuyvesant cigarette adverts.  The descent into Nice offers an uninterrupted view of the multitude of marinas sporting luxury motor-yachts and statuesque Provencal homes along the hundred kilometers of the French Riviera before touching down mere meters from the edge of the sea.  

It has been nearly a decade since I was in this very special part of the world.  I was part of a fairly large group of South Africans attending a British Open competition in 2007 which was truly memorable both from a sporting and a tourist point of view.

The first two days of this world cup were blown out so Russel and I did a bucket-list dash down to saint Tropez, Cannes, and Nice.  You have to see it to believe it!  For my South African friends: imagine the strip from Sea-Point to Camps bay in high season with the beaches packed and nowhere to park.  The only difference being that the French version carries on for one hundred and fifteen kilometers uninterrupted!  According to the Côte d'Azur Economic Development Agency, each year the Riviera hosts fifty percent of the world's super-yacht fleet, with ninety percent of all super-yachts visiting the region's coast at least once in their lifetime (trust wikipedia to know that).

On our way to view the show-case of opulent excess, we stumbled upon a medieval festival en-route in the mountain village of Comps-sur-Artuby which completed an unlikely contrast of old and new France in a one day road-trip.  The attention to detail was astonishing as the community populated the medieval encampment in full period costume replete with weapons and artifacts faithfully re-created to the historic standard.


As if that were not enough, the second day of competition was also cancelled, so we toured closer to home exploring the Gorges du Verdon and the historic town of Castellane not far from Saint-Julien-du-Verdon where we are staying.  The village is situated on one of the numerous freshwater lakes in the area which has been great for my open water swimming aspirations.

st. Julien (temporary home in France)

The Gorges du Verdon is spectacular in every respect:

Saturday, 11 June 2016

World Cup 2016: Gemona del Fiulli, Italy - Grazie e arrivederci Italy

So the rain persisted through the night and into the morning.  As expected the last day is cancelled and prize giving is at 10am. 

I admit I was here to enjoy the scenery and Italian hospitality with the hope of a top thirty finish.  That would maintain my national ranking with a view to an option to attend the World Championships west of Gemona next year.  

Finishing in the top ten was an unexpected bonus albeit two task only.  Russel managed top thirty so it was mission accomplished for the part-time South African world cup paragliding team!

A huge cheer for the victors AndreasM, YuriV, and HermanP.  They showed us how to do it!

If you have never been to Italy I would recommend it very highly.  

The Italian Dolomites remain high on my flying bucket list.  We drove toward that part on a non-flying day and I could feel the butterflies of anticipation jumping around excitedly at the prospect of flying in that magical place.

I will write more about the world cup and my impression of gliders once I am home.

Friday, 10 June 2016

World Cup 2016: Gemona del Fiulli, Italy - Task 2

Star Wars
I recall a post about a gloomy day during the 2013 Bulgarian World Championships where the entire field bombed off the mountain and flew a task in a completely shaded valley.  I think I called it the valley-of-death-glide.

Well today was one of those epic battles between light and dark forcesThe dark force claimed the mountains and foothills as far as the river engulfing the entire course.  The light force held the line steadfastly along the river offering competitors a glimmer of hope as they skirted the fringes of the course.  This allowed brave pilots the opportunity to launch raids into the dark territories snatching turn-points before scurrying back to safety as gloom gnawed at altitude.  At least half of our number were overwhelmed by the dark.

A bit dramatic I know, but it really was an epic battle.  An average speed of about 23km/h around the 68km course tells the story just as well.  

I personally had the lowest flat-land save of my life and I am convinced my brand new Naviter Oudie 4 was instrumental (sorry - bad pun) with its inertial electronics assisting the barometer in a way that I never could have imagined.  My trusty old vario just simply isn't up to the task of goading me to maintain altitude less than two hundred meters above the ground the way the new Naviter did today.  I had to turn the volume off on the old vario which was groaning erratically in the barely detectable lift.  

Many thanks to Jost Napret for delivering the device to me on launch.  It took all of sixty seconds to copy the terrain, maps, airspace, and task off of a micro-sd card a few minutes after the task briefing and I was set.

The Russian team pilot, Yuri Mashanin, won the day in 2h55 beating the small chase group by five minutes.  Thirty made goal.  I am delighted to report I bumbled into goal in sixth position after a diabolical start.  This was particularly satisfying given that I was stone last climbing in a medium thermal halfway to base when the entire field took the start at the top. 

My travel buddy, Russell Achterberg, was not far behind into goal which is amazing considering he has not flown at all this year.  I mean zero air time under cloth and string.  


Thursday, 9 June 2016

World Cup 2016: Gemona del Fiulli, Italy - Task 1

I wrote da Vinci day as the heading for task 1 on the Gin blog.  This is probably because we visited the da Vinci museum in Venice and it rhymes with 'day'.  

It is also true that the whole experience was a thing of science, beauty, and invention.  For those who are used to the Alps it might be that they are a little blase about the playground.  For the rest of us it is a rare privilege to be present when the stars align and the heavens clear paving the way to a glorious flying adventure in an incredibly beautiful environment.  

There is always the risk of rain in the Alps which is why I have largely stopped traveling to competitions in alpine environments.  The hit rate is too low when time is limited.  That is not to say that the yearning for towering snow-clad mountains diminishes in any way.  This is why it was enormous relief that we would fly at least one glorious task.

The task committee got it totally right with a healthy mixture of flat-out ridge-racing, a tricky valley crossing and a slower period of joining-the-dots in the flat lands.  The start was almost comical with ninety percent of the field rushing back to the launch ridge several kilometers off-course before jumping onto the back ridge to fetch the second turn-point.  

The ridge I am referring to runs eastward all the way to Kobarid and Tolmin allong the Socha valley in Slovenia.  This region probably bears the weight of more out and return world record attempts than most ridges anywhere else if I were to guess.  
The current out and return world record of 284km from Sorica (Slovenia) to Longarone (Italy) and back was set in the area in 2012 by the Italian, Arduino Persello.  Gemona del Friuli is roughly halfway.  Nicole Fedele holds the female O&R world record in the same region from Sorica.

Having flown a piece of the ridge that was most likely used for those records, I can understand that such mammoths flights are possible: we were all going more or less flat out on that part during the race on Tuesday climbing all the way in both directions for around 30km or more.

The task was almost 90km long and involved crossing the river twice: once from the mountain and a second time in the flats.  Yuri Vidic won in the end in just under three hours with another thirty pilots within six minutes so we all got maximum points with another forty finishing within another hour.

As for the rest of the week... rain, rain, and more rain...