Thursday, 7 September 2017

World Cup Brazil - Task 4

The tasks get longer as the conditions improve.  We were set a course of nearly one hundred kilometers which turned out to be exactly right because conditions seem to shut down fairly quickly.

The task was set to give some variety of choice.  This did very little to separate the field as the mass gaggle decorated every thermal around the course like some giant tree with colourful flowers.  One or two pilots did their own thing and were rewarded accordingly.  A US pilot, Kody 'the Bean' Mittanck, was one of these who flew the course solo crossing the line first in just under three hours.  Kody ended up in fifth place behind a group of Brazils' best pilots with Erico Oliveira in the lead.

It was commonplace to see 5+ on the averager as all thermals were going to the top like high speed elevators.  

The field did stretch out a little from the halfway point.  I was lucky enough to snag the six up with a small posse just before the second turnpoint to the west which put us in front for a good half hour or so.  We could not convert the advantage completely but the result was satisfactory with lead-out points helping a bit.

We are expecting the best conditions yet for day five, so lets see what happens.

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Wednesday, 6 September 2017

Brazil World Cup - Task 3 - Firefighting

What a glorious day!  A better forecast and light winds allowed a slightly longer task of 87 km.  The launch was a bit stressful because the wind switched just as most pilots were kitted up and waiting to launch which saw a mass waddle to the south launch.  Felix managed to launch west but tumbled down the slope requiring assistance from the rescue crew.

The start was a less demanding as was the run south to the first turnpoint.  With base at 2,800m and strong climbs showing 5m/s on the averager I thought it was a milk run.  The first sign of trouble was heralded by the shade to the west from a fire near the second turnpoint which wreaked havoc on the field.  Scattered as marbles on a floor it was every man for himself.  My group got hoisted up on the fire in the end but we had no answer for the korean pilot, Kim Hyeong Joo, who took eight minutes out of us which translates into a discard for most.

The koreans are on fire, but their unusual names continue to cause confusion:

Khobi: So who won?
Andre: Joo won
Khobi: Which jew?
Andre: Joo is not a jew
Khobi: say what?
Andre: I said Kim Joo is no jew
Khobi: You're an idiot!

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Tuesday, 5 September 2017

World Cup Brazil - Task 2

We woke to thrashing trees tormented by a nagging north wind.  There is wind most mornings just not as strong.  Some people saw forecasts that suggested increasing wind to 50km/h but we went up anyway.  The organisers confidently set a task despite the howling breeze citing a favourable forecast.  It was to be a 75 km downwind dash with a couple of kinks along the way.

The wind dropped on cue and the race was on!  It was total dog-show at the start with a hundred pilots struggling to stay in front of the ridge.  The last two minutes were crazy with undecided pilots caught between cycles flying in all directions avoiding one-another like a three dimensional Asteroids game.

Diversion: How many of you remember Asteroids?  I was the Asteroid king in junior school spending every afternoon at the local cafe until closing time in '79 to the disgust of my mother.  Catch this dorky review of Asteroids on YouTube if you want to understand why I can fly paragliders.

Where was I? Ah yes, the race.... After sorting out the start we got more or less organised along the course line and romped our way around at a moderate to middling pace.  We all arrived at goal more or less together.  This has become the standard at high-end comps .  The bulk of the field clusters up and cruises behind one or two markers in a sloping wedge formation taking very little risk feeding off the leaders.  It is an effective tactic, but a failed strategy when the conditions get weak or very good at opposite ends of the spectrum.

In the end the first sixty pilots were separated by ten minutes and almost the entire field got to goal.  This means the day was really social as you had company all the way.  It was especially pleasant given the collaborative mood of the competitors.  This might have had something to do with the stern warning delivered by Ulrich at the task briefing after complaints of unruly behaviour in the air on day one.

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Monday, 4 September 2017

World Cup Brazil - Task 1 - Pipped by a Point

There was a carnival atmosphere on launch with no less than two mega-watt sound systems blasting out an eclectic mix of music to send the pilots off the mountain in pursuit of glory for an ambitious 83km task.

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You will understand the task perfectly if ever you have tried to cut solid metal with a cheap hacksaw blade:  It goes really well until about half-way through and then it becomes progressively more difficult as the blade loses teeth until it breaks or you run out of steam.

We failed to complete the task, but not for lack of trying.  The wind and dying heat of the day was too much for our equipment taking the edge off of our 'blades' agonisingly close to goal.

Most of the field landed between 10-20km from goal.

A korean pilot, Chigwon Won, took it from me by a single point landing less than five kilometers from goal.  Pretty cool name for a task winner even though it led to some confusion:

Khobi: So who won?
Andre: Chig-won Won won
Khobi: Say what?
Andre: Chig-won Won won
Khobi: Do you mean Chig won?
Andre: Nooo... Chig-won Won won!
Khobi: You're an idiot!

Racing aside, it was a glorious day of flying in a beautiful place.

Follow world cup site progress here
Follow local FB coverage here
Catch the video here.

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Grande Hotel Prata (home for the week and headquarters)

World Cup - Pico do Gavio, Aguas da Prata, Brasil - Practice days

It has been a long year of very little competition flying on account of my early departure from the world championships in Italy.  For those of you wondering: I left Feltre after the first task on account of my mother who ended up in ICU for a month.  To cut a long story short, mom survived against all odds albeit with a few more battle scars.  The life force runs strong in the Rainsford genes.

We are in Aguas da Prata to fly Pico do Gaviao which quite possibly has the most impressive launch setup of any site I have visited anywhere in the world.  There are launch areas for any wind direction with a coffee shop, cooled water fountain, serviced ablutions, ample shade, and souvenir shop with easy chairs and mobile phone charge lockers.  Auguas da Prata is located in the state of Sao Paulo some 200km+ north of Sao Paulo.  The population is around eight thousand which makes for a fairly quaint atmosphere when combined with brazilian hospitality.

Two days of practice in sublime conditions with cloudbase above three thousand meters eased us into the friendly environment of tree clad rolling hills.  It is drier this time of year and the expectation is that we will fly every day.  This is in stark contrast to our previous visit to the area some years ago when we sat in the rain in Pocos do Caldas for ten days.

photo: Stephan Kruger (South Africa)

Monday, 6 March 2017

Boomerang 11 - The "Bomb" (to quote my surf mates.)

The love of flying has inspired passionate expression for centuries.  It seems just about everybody who was or is anybody had something to say of the topic.  Poets, philosophers, authors, statesmen, theologians, and artists have all weighed in at some point.  We have heard everything from the profound expression of longing and addiction by Da Vinci to the wry wit of Douglas Adams.  For many, flying has been the metaphorical vehicle of choice transporting feelings of love and expressions of discovery, freedom, wonderment, and spiritual awakening.  

Even Coco Chanel had something to say about it:   
“If you were born without wings, do nothing to prevent them from growing.”
― Coco Chanel

We all have our favorite quotes and, though many are over-used, the aerial prose persists.  In some instances, the contribution by literary giants, such as Richard Bach, will remain part of the flying lexicon for eternity.  Jonathan Livingston Seagull attracts aviators in a literal latching as flame bound moths.  That the novella has nothing to do with actual flight does little to deter us as we identify closely with both the journey and the medium in a classic emotional double-bind.  

The power of the flying metaphor is witnessed by the fact that Bach’s creation spent thirty-eight weeks at the top of the New York Times Best Seller List in the seventies. 
It is no wonder then, that we feel the connection so strongly when the Seagull suggests that flying ‘… is an unlimited idea of freedom’ and that ‘You have the freedom to be yourself, your true self, here and now, and nothing can stand in your way.’

It is with this emotional bond in mind that I want to share a recent flight with you.  After fifteen years of World Cup charging I feel I have found my way back to this idea of unlimited freedom.  Saturday encompassed the feeling as the forces of nature collaborated to deliver a flight that re-ignited the passion and renewed the sense of wonderment and the love of flying that drew me to the sport in the first place. 

The day started out fairly nondescript which tempered my expectations paving the way for surprise.  An earlier than usual start to the day was signaled by the abundance and variety of raptors and swifts playing around at launch and cruising past at all altitudes.  By the time I had launched and hooked into the first house thermal a cloud-street was forming to mark the Magaliesberg mountain range to the west with random cumulus popping in the valley to the north. 

What followed was a veritable symphony of flying.  It felt as though I had all the vultures from the colonies that mark the route to the west for company as I bounced along under the thermic highway.  

I ventured north after an hour only to find myself surrounded by several dozen storks at the next climb which went deep into the white room until my senses demanded a giggling exit from the white cliffs that marked the towering cloud. 

The storks continued climbing for several hundred feet as I glimpsed them exit the tops of the clouds before heading off in tight formation.  Flying above layers of cloud is an experience that I doubt will ever become passé for me in free flight.  It is as though time slows and the proximity to the clouds renders the environment as hyper-dimensional after the relative flattening of the world below due to altitude. 

The swifts were in constant attendance as they buzzed the lift bands swerving around my lumbering presence as though I was a slalom buoy in their chaotic race-course in the sky. 

Another hour later and I reached the apex of what had turned into a triangle after another three or four raptor species which included a rare sighting of a sparrow hawk in full stoop lower down.  

It was also the first time I had black crows for company to cloud-base which was a surprisingly noisy interlude.

The leg home to complete the triangle included a glide of almost twenty kilometers downwind completing nearly eighty kilometers of sheer and utter effortless solo bliss.  I have had many amazing flying experiences, but seldom have I been so completely absorbed and seamlessly integrated with the environment and my wing.

Perhaps it is no co-incidence then that this flight was completed on a borrowed Boomerang 11 prototype from the Super Final.  I can’t thank Gin Gliders (in the form of Michael, Claudine, and Tim) enough for sending the glider to me to try at short notice.  This incredible wing was the product of a comprehensive team effort as far as I can ascertain.  The part I find hard to believe is they all seem to think they can improve on it before it goes into production.  

That will be something to behold.

* all pictures scraped off of google images