There was once a bushranger in Australia by the name of Ned Kelly. He was their Billy the Kid, a fellow who got in trouble with the law by robbing banks and the like. When his gang killed a sheriff, the public stopped supporting him and the law came crashing down on him. When he was caught, he was tried and sentenced to hanging.
When he was led onto the gallows and asked if he had any final words, he said, “Such is life.”
I’ve thought about that expression many times since learning about it four years ago at my first Junior Worlds. It often crosses my mind when things don’t work out as expected in soaring.
Today was a tough day for the US Team. We had mixed results, with Noah and JP coming up short of the airport on the final leg. I made it home with a good performance. Michael Marshall was several points from winning the day in Standards.
Our expectations were somewhat low in the morning. The ground was wet from rain the previous day, but the airmass was quite good. The organizers were optimistic calling a 340 km task taking us right up to the Danube. We adjusted our expectations and were open to a drag race.
When we launched, we were happy to see that the conditions were steadily improving in the start area. We waited for a while to let our class go and started at 1:30. This ended up working out nearly optimally. The folks that won the day were in a group close behind.
We were on fire. 160 km/h in good air, driving as hard as we could. We were rewarded with good lift by hooking right along a little shower. Several 4-5 knot thermals and we ran down a lot of the early starters on the first leg! Approaching the first turn, we were up ten minutes.
The second leg was on hyper-drive. 7 knot thermals, 170 km/h in between the lift. Harder, faster, harder, faster. We were driving on the east bank of the Danube River, charging along in the good lift, trying to get as far along the course before it started cycling down.
Approaching the second turn, I started sputtering. I couldn’t connect with a bubble as well as JP and Noah. I let them lead out and took several more turns and worked like mad to get reconnected with them. After the second turn, again I dropped off the bottom side of the bubble.
I watched them 400 meters above, leaving the thermal. No way I can stay with them. I left as the lift started tapering off.
From this point on, I was riding the back-side of the cycle. The more I tried to catch up, the worse I made the separation between us. I let out a yell in frustration.
Finally down at 850 meters well off course, I decided that it would be really stupid to land out here. And I shifted down, accepted a 2.8 knot climb to cloudbase. I was totally washed out. JP and Noah were smoking along, 20km ahead of me. But they reported that things were not going well at the third turn. I deviated, found a solid 4.5 knotter to cloudbase. Much better now… let’s see how much I can catch up.
Things were starting to clamp down on the third leg, but there was still some solid lift out there. I was finding good bubbles lower and was staying in the best lift, chipping my teammates’ lead. Finally I saw them 150 meters higher, hitting their final thermal maybe a km further.
As I joined in, they reported that that they were in trouble. The next two clouds did not work and they are in the blue and the air is disturbingly smooth.
I took that thermal all the way to the top to a MC 3.3, 100 meter final glide.
Noah and JP kept sinking and sinking. A .5 knot thermal in the blue which petered out after 100 meters. No joy over the infrastructure and towns. The air was just totally dead.
I glid out, finding worse than neutral air. My glide slowly got worse and worse. I duly reported this to Michael who was going to go through similar air soon. He tanked up accordingly and had a very efficient glide as a result.
By the time I rounded the steering turn, all of my extra margin on the glide evaporated. I hit the finish at minimum sink and made a straight-in, landing with the seven knot tailwind.
Noah and JP reported that they landed at Szatymaz Airport, a gliderport right under the steering turn.
As Ned Kelly said, “Such is life.”
We were all disappointed with the result. Even though my score was among the best for the contest, I felt I was disconnected with the day. I didn’t feel like I was flying well. And we are all bummed that Noah and JP couldn’t get home. It didn’t look like they were taking a massive gamble or anything like that. There were several clouds to try and the sun was baking on the ground. The odds of finding a 1-2 knot thermals somewhere, somehow in that sky felt nearly assured. But they flipped tails on every single attempt. Soaring can be that way.
The retrieves went smoothly and they were back in no-time. The US Team hosted a movie-night at the main hangar. We played the Sunship Game and a good group of folks came by to watch.
I think that the Bee Gees, George Moffat and Gleb Derujinsky were never as loud as they were in that hangar with their enormous speakers. When I went outside for a moment, you could hear them and all the movie’s sound effects emanating from the whole metal frame!
It is always a blast watching that movie, especially at a competition. It captures so much of what makes the sport and competition flying so beautiful and exciting.
See my flight here.
See our scores here.
Thanks to our supporters back home who have given us the opportunity to represent the US at a World Competition!