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: