08-05-19 | Day Six- A Thermal Too Far


It looks like a task-setter or two watched the Sunship Game the previous night when they implemented the tasking philosophy for the day.

Today’s task will be a speed task!

The audience gasps with nervous laughter when they realize it is a 550km plus triangle.

Well today the task was a 500km racing task all around southern Hungary, right up to the Romanian border. The effect on the contestants was the same.

The troubling features of the day included high cloud cover moving in from the west. Since the task took us across the Danube River, this could pose a serious problem early in the day. Moreover, the high cloud cover could suppress heating enough to make it really problematic to get home. As such, the contestants expected to get on course fairly promptly, though with the hope that they would have others to work with in the tricky bits early and late in the day.

On the grid, I remembered the fellow in the movie who said that the task was like signing up for an eight hour long formal ball and whimpering he didn’t want to go! I was excited; I like distance tasks. But others seemed to have this reaction.

The conditions triggered and developed early for once. There was no trouble staying up and several gaggles converged near the start area. Noah and JP launched early whereas I was in the back of the grid. This made it trickier to get connected

When our start gaggle started streaming out, we decided to go. There was a miscommunication as to which direction to go, with JP and Noah heading north toward the middle of the start line and the gaggle heading on course. I was intent on going with the group and started after them.

We separated for a while but got reconnected further on the first leg, with me three minutes ahead on the start. I was finding solid lift along my line; easily 5.5 knots. We were in perfect position behind the gaggle.

Going into the Danube river valley, we shifted down while the gaggle still kept driving along. Climbing up in 3 knots to the top of the lift made a big difference for us; it put us in a covering position on many gliders ahead, struggling low.

At one point they veered toward a cloud. The three of us looked at it and thought it wasn’t working and kept going straight. And sure enough the gaggle got burned by that one.

Lured by a gaggle, 60 seconds. Not this time.

Coming out of the turn, we limped along downwind, though managed to stay connected. Once on the other side of the river, five knots.

Now it’s time to hit the gas guys!!

We were near the front end of the whole group, charging along at MC 6. It’s time to make a break. The cirrus is moving in behind us and the gaggle is getting hammered hard. If we keep the pace up and manage to avoid falling off the back of the day, we might make it around when most won’t!

Approaching the second turn, the day started softening up. This is not good, we still have a long way to go. After getting down to 600 meters and climbing up, we found ourselves with the Slovaks and Hungarians. A good group to work with for the trouble awaiting us ahead.

The clouds started fizzling out and the lift was getting weaker and farther apart. We were working hard to still keep the pace up; every minute here will count at the end of the day.

The scenery was beautiful. It was the flattest, most open country I had ever flown over. It is just one big open expanse of fields. There are hardly any trees except right over the little towns. It was surreal; almost like a video game. Down at 2000ft, you still felt like you had all the height in the world.

Approaching the third turn, things got really tough. We shifted down and worked on finding a climb at all costs. This meant deviating along a line of clouds, which did not work. Finally we dove out toward the turn, getting lower and lower. On the outbound leg, we were struggling in 1-2 knots in the blue. Luckily we had company to work with.

We limped our way, way off course to a nice set of clouds. Bang! 4 knots!

Well established in the band again, we worked our way along the clouds, straight west. This was way off course, but this seemed the only way to make the task work. Everything else was blue.

Now we found ourselves gliding toward Szeged, getting lower and lower. Our little gaggle fanned out wide to find anything that would work.

Nothing.

When we crossed the Tisza, there were a handful of clouds ahead to work with. By this time, I looked over and saw JP and Noah 200 meters higher than me! They totally killed me on this glide.

I was in sink and sped up. And then the group found something behind me and I was too low to go back. That darn thermal was a solid 5 knotter and here I was charging off toward Szeged way freakin’ low. By the time I found a thermal, I was down to 500 meters and hanging on to 2 knots. The gaggle dropped me like a set of car keys and climbed to 2200 meters in no time.

This was very, very, very frustrating. Looking at the sky, I thought I totally blew it. These guys will surely make it back and I’m totally screwed.

I turned off the radio and worked hard at climbing up. The thermal only took me to 1200 meters and I kept going up the line to the west. My priority is to climb up, preferably to cloudbase, no matter the cost. Except that there wasn’t a thermal to be found.

Now I turned north-bound, completely desperate. I got lower and lower, heading toward Szaytmaz. Down to 500 meters, just upwind of the lakes, I found 1.5 knots.

I worked that sucker up several hundred meters until it would peter out, go upwind and do it all over again. An eternity later, I was established again in the height band.

After turning on the radio again, I reported,

“8M is not dead yet! 1700 meters. How are you guys doing?”

Noah reported trouble ahead. The day was softening up and they were getting very low at the fourth turn.

Duly noted, I continued in my quest to find one more solid climb to cloudbase. This quest took me way off course to the west. At this point, speed doesn’t matter. If I found that climb, it’ll take me home. If not, I’ll be landing out with everyone else anyway.

Alas, the day was nearly dead. JP and Noah had already landed just south of the 4th turn. The leading gaggle converged on the final thermal, sitting in .5 knots. This got me to 1200 meters and I slid out into the ether.

The air was almost perfectly smooth. This got me to the turn and some ways back on the fourth leg. I saw JP and Noah’s gliders in the fields and kept gliding along.

The fields in this area were more sparse than out east. But they were quite nice and I kept a watchful eye on my options as I slowly sank back to earth. The options dwindled in front of me. Down to 600 feet, I hooked back to a beautiful cut hay field. This field was 10/10, best field I had ever landed in. Hardly any obstacles to clear, smooth, flat, long and just perfect. It was better than most airports I had landed at.

What a feeling it was to land after having flown for 7.5 hours and having given it your all. And then to open my eyes in this paradise. The sun was setting but still gave off a warm glow.

Luke was well on his way to pick me up. John Good saw the writing on the wall a long time previously and had the crews hook up the trailers and head north. Luke arrived just before sunset and we got the glider into the trailer in no-time.

It was dark when we arrived back at the airport. And the tiedowns were almost empty. Every contestant failed to complete the task this day. A couple abandoned their effort and landed back at the airport. When we ate dinner at the local cafe, we saw trailers slowly trickling back from their adventures in Hungarian countryside.

The US team did well this day. Noah, JP and I finished high on the scoresheet thanks to having been the leading elements of the gaggle at the right time. Michael finished in the middle in what was basically a big tie in Standard class.

_______________

See my flight here.

See our scores here.

Thanks to our supporters back home who have given us the opportunity to represent our country at the Worlds!



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