Today I came up short of the finish on a day when most made it back, which was disastrous to my score. It was actually a pretty good day, but we overcooked the leg up to the north and then the day shut down very hard at the end. Alas!
With an earlier starting day, we finally had the prospects of flying a long, 3.5 hour task. Club Class was first today, so we launched quite early. The AAT task consisted of two areas, though the better conditions were to the northeast in the second area. The goal was to maximize the good conditions there and make it back before things started falling apart at the end of the day.
JP and I had a good start. We found a good early climb and got into a controlling position over the group. We stayed together, stayed fast and were having an excellent day. Going into the second sector, we found nice streeting and were driving hard with the good pilots. However, time was ticking and we were now flying somewhat over time. No one in the group wanted to turn, and when they finally did, we were projected to come back around 20 minutes over.
This is not a wholly irrational choice. Sometimes it is inevitable that the conditions will weaken at the end and the gaggle will reform, so it works out well to have cashed in on extra distance beforehand when merging in with the group later. Further, it is nice to run down the group on the run back. However, what we did not anticipate was how strongly the day cycled down at the end. While there were initially cumulus clouds, the day dried out on the way back and the day rapidly decayed. The thermals weakened from 2-3 m/s to 1, to 0.5 and we started floundering with a small group. This was unexpected as the days lasted quite long here, on days that started quite a bit later too.
Many others started struggling as well of those that did not make it back somewhat earlier when the conditions were still working ok. We worked with other gliders to go home and I was within 1000ft of making final glide. At one point I gained 600ft on JP, so I went out ahead with a couple other gliders to report back the final climb.
Heading into the final climb, I floundered around in 0-0.5 m/s. Nothing was really working at 6:15pm and finally I saw a wisp just a little off course. That got me a weak climb for a bit, but then it started petering out. The gaggle behind me managed to find something on course that cycled into 1 m/s. JP merged in with the group. I deviated back to this climb, though it did not materialize. The gaggle made the glide home and I kept searching and searching, to no avail. The day simply went kaput.
I made a pattern and landed in an enormous cut wheat field, along with G Dale from the British team. With that marked the end of any prospect of doing well at this contest, as losing 400 points is just brutal. But hey, I have been to many a contest before and it’s just how things roll in soaring. This place has been especially brutal in terms of getting on glide at the end of the day. The conditions in the vicinity of Montlucon are weaker than in other parts of the task area, so getting a solid glide back home is really tough.
Thanks to Donat and Holden for retrieving me today. On a funnier note, I sent the most apt butt-texted emojis regarding my predicament. Everyone got a big laugh out of it!
In terms of how JP and I flew today, we actually were pretty content in relation to the lessons learned the preceding day. We managed to stay together very nicely and had a very good flight. The big strategic lesson here was that when the voice in the back of your head is telling you “It’s time to turn!,” you should listen to it. Flying with the group is really important here, but there are times when the group makes bad decisions. There’s a difference between giving up a couple minutes to stay with the group by making a deviation you don’t like, or sitting in a weaker thermal than you would otherwise take, or a strategic decision that ultimately can decide the contest. Secondly, when starting toward the back end of the group, it is wiser to come back on time, or even risk coming back a little early.
In any case, we’re looking forward to good soaring conditions today. We will keep giving it our best and maximize our scores and keep having a blast flying among the best pilots in the world!
Thanks to my friends at Aero Club Albatross, who have given me all the resources, mentoring, and opportunities to grow as a recently aged-out junior pilot. Thanks to the many people who support me and the US Team to make flying at a WGC possible.
See the daily scores here.