I was rudely awaken to a loud clanking at 3am. The vent above my head was fluttering and chattering in what sounded like hurricane-force winds around me. After tightening the latch, I easily went back to sleep, though others on the airfield were not so lucky. Piet Barber’s tent got obliterated by the gust front, with the sidewall of his tent smacking him across the face to wake him up. I pictured the scene like from a horror movie, with some shape shifting invisible demon going in and trying to suffocate you with tent padding in the middle of the night. With the rain pouring down on the field, he soon abandoned his valiant efforts to weather the storm in his humble abode. Quack Quack was seen run-skipping through the puddles to safer quarters in the clubhouse for the remainder of the night.
The airport received about an inch of rain, though the morning looked more optimistic than after our past rainy nights. The sun was shining, the wind was blowing, and it looked like the puddles were evaporating. Our task for the day was a three hour turn area task, which looked reasonably doable. We also celebrated Mitch’s birthday, bringing out the wheelchair to address his mobility limitations with advancing age.
After the meeting, Noah, David McMaster, and I retreated to the camper van for our morning huddle session. Sitting around the task, we saw several complicating factors. The first was that the soundings indicated high cloud cover should shadow the ground, preventing the essential sun from heating the earth and providing us our necessary thermals. The second was the presence of converging wind-flows just to the south of our location, which could provide a lift line of its own account. Finally, with all the rain in the local area, it should be tough going to get up and away, though further on course it was considerably drier and should provided better thermals. Content with our respective plans, we discussed general tactics and strategy, with an eye for practicing for the upcoming junior worlds. David has been very receptive to coaching and has been doing a great job in this contest!
Now that the gliders were all parked on the grid, it was time to wait for the ground to cook and the sniffers to launch and let us know how the thermals were setting up. Noah and I retreated to the clubhouse, where of course Alex Westbrook was milling about. He challenged me to a foosball match, and by golly the rascal beat me! He has been practicing, that’s for sure!
After playing several matches, he went over and picked up some of Mitch’s birthday cake and sat beside me. He looked wistfully out the windows toward the parked gliders in the sun and philosophically mused,
It’s so much better here than out there. Here we have cake… air conditioning… foosball… and cake!
Alex, I couldn’t agree more.
But then Steve Leonard in his BS-1 (one of out of 36 gliders in his collection) launched a second time and started finding some lift. I looked over at Noah, he looked back at me and nodded. So we got up and we headed over toward the grid.
On tow, we looked down and saw streams and ponds in the fields; not good. The air was buttery smooth. Further, ominous dark gray clouds were moving our way from the northwest. Upon releasing, we headed over to the clouds south of the airfield, quite a ways away from the start line. We struggled to climb and went to and fro under the clouds until we rolled into a four knotter. Looking at the wind shift on our computers, we figured we found the edge of the convergence and sure enough at cloudbase we could see the step as well. Others were struggling mightily to get connected and stay up. After some delays to opening the start line to account for the challenging conditions, Mitch finally had it and opened it anyway.
Getting to the start was a major decision to day as we had to traverse around six kilometers with no prospect of finding any thermal to get up any higher. The high clouds northwest were getting closer and closer. We figured this was not a day to linger and wait and wait, but a day to step on the gas and go. As we approached the line, we saw Karl Striedieck and Sarah Arnold, along with the Simmons had the same idea in their Arcii. We started with them, just behind, and were content to have company on the first leg.
We got lower and lower, bumping along from one cloud to another, struggling to hook into anything solid. Finally we climbed in around 1-1.5 knots, just hoping to get connected with the tops of the clouds. We proceeded in this manner to the west, methodically staying high and avoiding trouble. The Standard Class converged around us, and we were happy to be inside this cocoon of carbon fiber and fiberglass. Going into the first turn, it got bluer and bluer, though the thermals got stronger in places. We didn’t even make nomainal distance, but that’s about as far as it seemed most of the gliders would go.
Going into the second turn, we saw a nicer looking line and stepped on the gas, connecting several 2-3 knot thermals. We went about as far as we could into this second on the northern side and then flew back more-or-less on the same path toward the third sector. Now the high cloud cover was almost overhead and we were getting worried. Getting home might not be so easy if the conditions shut off soon. The clouds above us cycled down and we failed to connect with any lift under five or six clouds. I could feel the rudder starting to tap gently back and forth.
Noah, you’re getting antsy!
We started getting low, so we down-shifted hard and climbed in 1.5 knots. Looking ahead, there were some wisps that would evaporate as quickly as they would form. For a time we thought the day was going off the cliff and falling apart. The challenge now was to simply get to the edge of the sector and struggle to get home.
But then we rolled into a three knotter. Perhaps the day had some life left. And then we saw gliders on our left and ahead. Folks had a better time on this leg than we did. And when we made the edge of the sector, we found the wind had shifted around. We crossed the area of the converging wind flows! And sure enough there was some good lift to be had around here. We got into the business of climbing.
Looking toward the final leg, it looked bleak. Going into the final climb, we parked in two knots and climbed up and up. My glide computer said we could make it home, but Noah’s did not quite line up. We climbed up another several hundred feet and I showed MC 2.1 over a 500ft arrival (over the 800ft sector) and I urged Noah to go. After a little grumbling, he went for the glide.
We found sink, sink, and sink. Our margin evaporated from 500ft over to 100ft under. We headed to some scraggly cumulus along the course and bumped along, watching the needle hover just over and under, over and under the edge of the finish cylinder. At the end, we had just enough energy to pull up and bleed off our airspeed and get just up and over the finish. Think of it like a Foley flop on a high jump. We let out a huge sigh of relief.
We agreed to use Noah’s glide computer next time for the final glide calculation.
We ended up third for the day and were content with our performance. The conditions during the day felt sinister and that there were many traps that could easily get us and wreck our performance for the contest. We felt that maybe we down-shifted a little harder than we should have in several places and probably gave up around 20-30 points unnecessarily. But we were generally happy with achieving the performance we did with a risk-mitigation approach for the day.
During the evening, we had a chili cook-off contest. There were six different kinds of chili to choose from and all were wonderful. I do hope though that the vents are working well in the Duo after all those baked beans! The socializing with friends new and old is what makes contests so much fun.
On the whole, we had a very nice day. And besides, even simply making it home is always nice. It’s like having your cake and eating it too.
We thank the Harris Hill club for supporting us at this contest by letting us use their Duo Discus. This glider is an absolute marvel of performance and it has made it possible for us to compete at the highest level among the best pilots in the United States. We really appreciate all the work it takes for clubs to make these opportunities happen.
See race results here.