Saturday, 13 July 2013

Friday 12 July 2013

Final Day and The Big Stuff

(Uploaded via mobile - pictures to follow)

This is it, the last day, and from what we had heard it had the promise of being a big day. During breakfast it was clear that Neil was still in some considerable pain with his battered knee and arm. Dosing him up with prescription strength pain killers, we were hoping that he would be able fly.

Just before the 10am briefing I had a quick chat with Joel Favre, the local weather guru, who let on that a task was likely to initially stay near to the lake, followed by a leg East in to the massif. Not for the first time, I felt a pang of regret that I was not flying – the flying would be challenging but rewarded with spectacular views. This really is a very special area. Lakes, mountains, old city, great weather, friendly people, flying, skiing, walking, cycling… it seems to have it all.

We were not so quick off the mark to get up to La Forclaz launch so the boys missed out on their usual rigging position next to the ramp. Luckily there were only a couple of pilots in front. With words of encouragement for Neil, we got his glider up the steep path for him – at least if we got him rigged and ready to fly he could make a decision later on whether to launch or not. With the promise of amazing scenery, I was keen to get one of my boys to fly with the GoPro, but no-one was interested. There has been a lot of talk during the competition of reducing drag with pilots making every conceivable efficiency using streamlined helmets and harnesses, minimal instrumentation, and of course Buzz Lightyear’s magic bat wings. Maybe some of the other pilots would fly with it? Not a chance! Walter Geppert and Tim were fighting it out at the top of the Class 5 competition and didn’t want anything to get in the way of a win. Oh well, another time…

Walter, friendly as ever, offered some more tips to get the gliders flying well, so armed with this “secret” information I got the team around Neil’s glider to show them the set up. Unfortunately for Neil, the decision to fly or not was made for him there and then. Luke noticed that the pin on the top of the upright was bent significantly and would definitely need replacing before any flight. The upright itself was also badly damaged, leading to questions of it’s structural strength. It was a no-brainer: with Neil and his glider both in need of some TLC, he was not going to fly today.

PG failed launch (not the tandem pilot)
Just above us on the paraglider launch, things had been getting interesting. With many hang gliders opting to rig up on the artificial grass surface and be able to launch from the smooth take off, it was incredibly crowded and busy. The paragliders have been allowed to launch outside of the competition launch windows and today was as busy as ever, with flying school tuition and tandem flights happening all at once. Watching the mayhem I took a few photos for the blog. I later found out that a tandem pilot with a young girl as his passenger had been preparing to launch when some onlookers noticed he did not have his legs through the leg loops – a potentially lethal situation where a pilot can fall out of his harness. The pilot, ignoring the shouts, launched himself and his child passenger, only then to discover why people had been yelling at him. The last they saw of him at launch was him trying to get his legs in the harness. Imagine if you had been that little girl? We later learnt that he did in fact make a safe landing back at Doussard, but I would not have wanted to be in his shoes when the parents caught up with him…

Back to the hang gliding. At briefing, the task did not disappoint. Via multiple turn points, a 140km launch to landing was called, taking the pilots first North to the East side of Annecy, then West over the lake along the Semnoz ridge, then heading on a long leg East in to the massif before heading finally back to Doussard. A challenging task, but with the forecast of improving conditions as the day went on, there was every chance that Andy and Luke would be in goal.

1330, and time to launch. Not being the first in line to take off gave Luke the opportunity to watch other gliders. By coincidence, it turned out to be fortuitous that we had got up the hill a little later than normal. The gliders flying were really struggling to get up, and were slowly sinking to the valley below. As the lift improved, Andy was the first off, darting immediately to the right and finding a weak climb . Luke followed and was soon also climbing in a very weak climb. But with only a hundred feet above take off, the next sink cycle came through. For the next half and hour Luke worked hard at staying up near launch, while Andy had dived around the corner and managed to work his way up to the Wolfs Teeth. Luke was having to exploit every last bubble of lift in an increasingly busy sky.
“Luke to Ben – there are gliders turning right. It’s chaos”. Ignoring the “turn left by launch” rule, some pilots were creating potential mid-air crashes by turning right.  I called to the organisers and other support crew to contact the pilots by radio.

“Its getting bloody dangerous – they’re crazy”. As Luke was circling just out in front of launch, a glider a few feet beneath him was turning right, unaware that Luke was just above him, and potentially causing a crash. With both Luke and myself now shouting, the message finally got through and the pilot changed course.  After some considerable time, the lift started improving again. The task started and both pilots were flying.

Back down at Doussard, I dropped Neil off at competition HQ with an ice bag for his knee. Sitting in the glorious sunshine we could watch over the landing field and listen to the radio. The boys were making very good progress. Andy had already completed the first two turn points and was now starting the long leg in to the massif, while Luke was headed in the opposite direction over the lake towards Semnoz. All going well.

As the afternoon drifted by, I was starting lose radio contact with Andy but could still hear Luke clearly before he headed in to the big mountains. I suggested that he call Andy to get some advice on which route to take – all part of the Trainee/Mentor scheme which the BHGC have started. In amongst the crackles of a weak radio signal I could hear Andy describing the course he took, hopefully giving Luke a helping hand with decision making. Soon they were both out of radio contact, so all I could do was sit and wait…

Organiser takes a well earned nap...
With the top pilots probably getting close to making the final turn point their arrival in the goal field was imminent. The Doussard field is a busy place, but with the local rules in place, it can cope safely with a lot of incoming traffic. That is if everyone follows the local rules. Expecting a gaggle of hang gliders to come racing in soon, the paragliding canopies being inflated in the landing zone was not helpful. In fact, it is very dangerous. Luckily the organisers too had noticed the problem and decided to use the PA system to “name and shame” any pilot risking the lives of others by blocking the field with a canopy. “Pilot with the purple and yellow canopy. It is forbidden to inflate your canopy. Move to the side of the field”. It worked. The landing field had once again become just that: a landing field, not a place to practice inflations, pack away your canopy, or just have a good old chinwag.
Hearing that several of the leading pilots were down I was hoping that Andy and Luke had gone in to survival mode. Knowing when to “switch gears” when flying is really important  - instead of racing on expecting big climbs, a pilot can win the day by slowing up, staying high and making sure they make it in to goal. With the British weather, our pilots are used to working weak conditions.

Phone beeped with a message.
“3 gliders down in same field in the valley. N45.56.170 E006.27.783. Sorry to land out”.
Sorry to land out? He was obviously gutted, but was also concerned that there would be a potentially long retrieve. What a team player. Jumping in the truck, I was soon en route. Just past Annecy another text came through, this time from Luke who was down a few kilometres away from Andy.  The scenery driving up in to the massif was fantastic.: rugged, magnificent moutains, beautiful alpine meadows, quaint towns and villages. Very, very picturesque. I promised myself that I would come back and fly the region for myself.
Having picked up Andy and tried to console him with a beer, I programmed Luke’s position into the GPS. He was only 10km away back down the road. Or so we thought. As the distance started counting down, the direction arrow started pointing off to the West. We soon realised that he was just the other side of the mountain. There was a choice to be made: either head right down the valley to find the road to take us back up the next one, or take a more direct route and take a mountain pass over the top. Being already some way up the mountain we decided on the latter…

Turning left and driving up the hairpin road, the GPS was counting down, 5km, 4km, 3km…. it seemed to get stuck on 3 for a while before counting back up again. We were obviously headed away from him again. So, finding a smaller track signed to “La Clusaz”, we turned on a more direct track towards Luke. The GPS was counting down again. Good.  The road turned into a lane, which turned into a track which turned into what can best be described as rocky path. 

Stopping the truck, Andy and I looked at each other, both thinking the same thing. Should we or shouldn’t we? The next thing I know we are driving up the side of the mountain in full off-road mode, navigating our way up a twisty, rocky, gnarly path cut in to the mountain. Of course, it was not going to last.

 In fits of laughter I stopped the truck as the path ended in a mountain top meadow. Back down the mountain and to the valley to take the road to find Luke. If we had chosen that route to start with, we would have saved an hour, but it would not have been so much fun!

Back at base at 8.30pm in time for the end of competition party. Now nursing a headache, and that was from the music...!

1 comment:

  1. well done guys and well done Woody another excellent blog