Friday, 13 September 2019

World Cup - Brazil 2019 - Pico do Gaviao, Andradas - Task Four and Five - Mind your head!

There are few things more stressful than landing prematurely during a world cup task.  Normally being too high is only of concern in the context of clouds.  We are limited to 10,000ft (3048m) ASL here in Andradas which would mostly be alright because cloudbase is not often higher than that.  Unfortunately, we have had three days in a row where 10k was not enough and task five was diabolical.  Imagine screaming along under healthy looking clouds with a safe margin under the airspace and you hit a potent line of lift thinking you're ok.  You fly a little faster as you climb inexorably to the hard limit.  Eventually you hit full speed going up at five meters per second and you get that feeling you're about to hit your head in the door-way.  Some bumped their heads and were heavily penalised.  The first two guys to goal yesterday were affected along with half a dozen others on a day where our wings were severely clipped as we were denied the normal euphoric freedom of a rare four thousand meter day with wall to wall cumulus and cloud streets.

A third day of fast racing and potent thermals around a 100km kilometer course.  You can't ask for much more from a competition site and we have every expectation of another hundred kilometer task on day six.  When asked if we would fly a bigger task our task committee veteran, Pepe Malecki, quipped: "No, we only make a short task of one hundred kilometers today".

There has been much debate among competitors about the modern trend of heavily congested gaggles at world cup.  Proposals to change the scoring and introduce mechanisms to break up the gaggle are beginning to circulate.  The main concern for organisers and the PWCA management is that of safety.  Mid-air collisions and near misses are becoming common-place and it is only a matter of time before there is a serious and regrettable incident.  Joerg Erwald has a time-based scoring proposal, the Italians are apparently looking at inserting no-fly zones at crucial points along a course line, and there is the idea of speed runs with departure bonus points instead of lead-out points.  There is also the concentric circles task style which has been tried before but poses recovery challenges.  There are those who believe the gaggle has become the most efficient mode of racing and will remain dominant irrespective of task inventions to break it up.  There is also a majority of top pilots who excel at the gaggle style with little motivation to change.

At least yesterday was refreshing as the Mexican, Manuel Quintanilla, lead a tiny band of five into goal a full thirty minutes ahead of the rest in an impressive display of flair and valour.  He receives my newly minted Lion Heart of the day.  You roared like a Kalahari Lion Manual and we all heard you!

Wednesday, 11 September 2019

World Cup - Brazil 2019 - Pico do Gaviao, Andradas - Task Three - Catch up!

Most paragliding pilots dream of flying a one hundred kilometer FAI triangle at some point in their lives.  Not many get around to it.  Well folks, if you want a hundred triangle I suggest you come to Brazil because in Andradas you get to do it with almost a hundred pilots at a time.  It was an interesting day with convergence lines and fires en route.  The height restriction is proving to be pesky with several pilots being penalised for infringements.  

The normal mass gaggle dragged itself around the course at a fair pace before slowing after the last turn-point before rushing into goal with sixty completing the task within ten minutes of the leader.   

Gilmar Couto won the day and Yael was the first woman in goal.  The overall results are compressed to the point where predicting a probable winner would be purely speculative.  Consider the first fifty pilots are separated by less than one hundred points with four potential tasks to follow.  I still think Raffael Saladini is in with a shout but there are twenty or more who could do it based on the days to come.  

As for my own performance? I managed to get 10km behind early in the day after a terrible internal debate about whether or not to fly with the gaggle.  In the end I decided to fly with the gaggle, but it took 50km to make up the 10km deficit.  I caught them with 30km to go and then it was a cruise to goal for another solid score which has put me back in the game.  It's not that I don't like to fly with the gaggle.  I actually love it and the crowded thermals don't bother me.  I just prefer to go my own way as in the classic 1977 Fleetwood Mac hit "You can go your own way".  It just doesn't pay off so I'm gonna try a little harder now that I'm warmed up.

Tuesday, 10 September 2019

World Cup - Brazil 2019 - Pico do Gaviao, Andradas - Task 1 & 2 - I said Follow the damn gaggle!

And so it was that the Olive Prophecy came to pass with two days and two tasks.

Task one was won by Chigwon Won (try say that five times quickly).  Chigwon Won won one here two years ago too (I can do this all day).  The Korean charger is leading the comp after another great performance on day two.  

Both tasks featured romps into the flat lands due to moderate wind forecast.  The first task of seventy odd kilometers started to the south over the back before a westerly leg ending to the south.  Several pilots were penalised for breaking the 10,000ft hard ceiling.  'Others' were penalised for stubborn stupidity and general uselessness as I launched ten minutes before the start after messing around with my gear and then running around on launch as the wind changed.  In some bizarre turn of fortune I hooked into a pencil of a thermal that boosted me to the top right at the edge of the start cylinder with twenty seconds to go allowing an immaculate start while my fellow competitors, who had been mincing around majestically for close to an hour, wallowed below in my wonderous wake.  That was about all I can claim on the first day as I ignored the gaggle and defiantly flew the tiger-line cursing myself every time the vultures helped me dig my way out of the holes I had dug in the excruciating solo cross country that had me slow to goal close to the bottom.

Ghigwon took it from the Brazilian ace Rafael Saladini who won here in 2017.  Raffael put in a good performance at the world championships in Macedonia too and must surely be a favorite to win along with Chigwon.  

It was another characteristic mass ensemble to goal with three quarters of the field arriving at goal within minutes of one-another after two hours.

The second task started to the west before a southeast leg followed by a southerly finish for and eighty odd kilometer task in stronger wind.  The wind forecast saw the entire field fly a huge bow north of the course line to the west for fear of drifting to far downwind of the turn-point.  It was too much to bear!  Even after the punishment of the first day, I could not bring myself to deviate so dramatically off-course.  An observer would have heard some serious rhyming curse-verses as 'we' held an intense internal debate about doing the wrong thing for the right reasons.  Imagine Smeagol trying to decide if he should kill Frodo for the ring:  

In the end I told myself 'I refuse to fly like that!' and went off on another solo mission along the course line knowing full well that my wife and friends would be tearing their hair out in frustration.  You expect another sad tale of woe? You would be wrong: after dawdling along climbing in every little bit of lift and getting stuck for fifteen minutes, I still managed to get to goal within two minutes of the lead with 100% of the lead-out points.  I wish I could say this was skill on my part, but, acknowledging that one flight a statistic doth not make, I experience the rising suspicion that something's not quite right with the top level of competition in paragliding. The French have perfected the gaggle-control approach introduced by the Swiss many years ago and they are being emulated by just about everyone else.  The result is what appears to be a form of group-think led inadvertently by the best in the business.  I have the utmost respect for the talent at the top and I believe the quality of the average world-cup pilot is the highest it has ever been.  I also think a change is in order if we think the mass procession we witness daily is not really what XC racing is all about.   

Having said all that, it was another magnificent day of flying and there is enormous joy to be found on a final glide of almost thirty kilometers with ALL your flying friends travelling at close to one hundred kilometers per hour over the ground.  One hundred pilots separated by seven minutes after two hours!

Christian Deacu from Romania took it from the two Brazillian Rafaels and Jon Pio from SA with Emma Casanova leading the women into goal.

The bad news is that Goran, our charismatic world-cup president, crashed at launch breaking his leg in the sketchy launch conditions.  We wish him a speedy recovery.  


Sunday, 8 September 2019

World Cup - Brazil 2019 - Pico do Gaviao, Andradas

Brazil has been one of my favourite world cup tour destinations over the years.  I had a look at my comp record on and I was amazed to see that this is my eighth world cup event in Brazil since 2006 in Castelo where I started this blog.  We also had a world championship in Governador Valadares in 2005 which was won by Steve Cox and Louise Crandal in a ten task festival of flying that was recently repeated in Macedonia a month or so back.  This was new territory for me given that I was not at this years' world champs having represented SA for the first time in Portugal 2003.  I was not sure how I would feel about it, but other than the absolute frustration of trying to follow a two week comp during work hours with nothing but live-tracking, I was fine if not even relieved.  The longer comps are no longer desirable in the context of the priorities of family and work commitments.

I will now focus the occasional world-cup event in short form in places that grow olives.  This rule was formulated by Andrew Smith some years back.  It turns out that if the region of your selected competition grow olives, your chances of accumulating flying time is maximised.  

Wikipedia explains it :

Olives like hot weather and sunny positions without any shade, while temperatures below −10 °C (14 °F) may injure even a mature tree. They tolerate drought well, due to their sturdy and extensive root systems.

The Olive formula: lots of sun + not much rain + dry unstable air = high cloudbase + strong thermals + many hours of flying

 I am happy to declare that we will pass many acres of Olive groves on the way to the Pico do Gaviao launch every day!

I will try write every day.  

Friday, 29 March 2019

Baixu Guandu Super FInal- March 2019 - Day 7, Task 6 - 100km (because we can)

The mornings are mercifully cooler offering brief respite from the oppressive heat of the day.  A forecast of more wind had the task committee set a large start radius enticing some to fly great distances before the start in search of some advantage.  If that sounds absurd consider any advantage, no matter how small, is priceless among this field where every second and every meter counts.  It is also the reason why we continue to see blatant cloud flying almost every day.

Where exactly you took the start yesterday didn't really seem to matter because the cloud streets determined the route after the first turn-point.  If you missed the first couple of climbs after the start glide you were pretty much screwed because you don't catch up if you were late entering the race-track that marked the first 65km.

I was with tiny group who went left of the main group at the start.  We had to spiral down to get under the cloud blocking the course and then simply followed the clouds north of the line which put us in the lead for most of the race.  I was a tad disappointed in the lead group who decided to pimp the lead-out pilots for almost 100km.  I appreciate most of them are podium hopefuls, but it becomes a little tedious when we could have crushed the middle part of the course had they worked with us a bit more.  I guess I should learn to do that more, but I got my points in the end albeit a little later to goal.  The speed for the day was around 35km/h which is fairly quick for a hundred km task.

We have two days left and the stress is showing with many really good pilots slipping down the ranking.  I am trying desperately to keep my stuff together.

The French continue to dominate taking four of the top five positions along with the top female currently.

The general consensus so far about the UP-Guru and the Flow-Spectra is that they are good, but not better than the B11 and E3.  I cannot say what the Icepeak is like as I have not flown with them much.

I can say the Gin Genie Race 4 is a great harness.  I normally have various aches and pains after six tasks in any competition, but this time I feel fresh enough for another comp next week.

Thursday, 28 March 2019

Baixu Guandu Super FInal- March 2019 - Week 1

It has been a long time since I posted something on this blog.  Many things have happened in the interim, but to cut a long story short I am inspired to write again given that we are back in BG for the Super FInal and it would be selfish not to share our experiences in this sultry wonderland.  Hot and humid the week started as temperatures were nudging close to forty degrees.

There is some or other complicated weather system that set up between opposing high and low pressure cells that have caused flooding or alternate heat waves depending on your location relative to these cells.  It took a few days for the temperatures to return to ranges that we recall during our last visit.
Image may contain: sky, outdoor and nature
Phot: Felix Rodriguez Task 7 (yes that's me right in front of the camera)

The first two days of competition were diabolical with seemingly impossible conditions grounding almost all pilots save a few magicians who somehow tunneled their way through the gloom of 8/8 cloud-cover to goal.  Things started to improve on day three with subsequent tasks returning to normal close racing.

I managed to bomb out on the first three tasks which was humbling to the point of humiliation.  I was staring last place down a short barrel.  To add to the pressure, I was put on the Gin Team for the competition.  This may sound like fun, but consider with team-mates like Michael Siegel, Torsten Siegel, and Petra Slivova, scoring for the team is already a challenge.  Between them they have won world cup events, super finals, European championships, and World championships (not to mention numerous 'other' events and world records).

I am flying my large Boomerang 11 at 120kg re-trimmed by Adam van Renssen with a Gin Genie 4 harness on loan from the Brazilian Gin dealer Luciano Tcaenco.
Image may contain: Andre Rainsford-Alberts, smiling, mountain, outdoor and nature

I will write about all things paragliding for the remainder of the competition.  In particular people want to know about the new Flow and Guru gliders.... watch this space!

Photo: KJ Bowden