Friday 5th July 2013
Opening Ceremony/Missing in Action
Blues skies, warm sunshine, and a rising cloud base. Things were already starting to shape up at breakfast for a good days flying. Donning our team t-shirts (thanks to injured British Champion Tim King for organising these) we got the flying kit ready before heading off to the Opening Ceremony.
Arriving early I had the chance to check out the electronic Swift (a Class 2 hang glider) with Manfred “Sky God” Ruhmer. I have always liked the idea of being able to fly in a relaxed sitting position, but with a €45,000 price tag it might just have to wait.
Jean Louis Debiee welcomed everyone to the Opening Ceremony and introduced several local dignitaries including the Mayoress, Councillors and CIVL officials. Mrs Mayor made a very warm and welcoming speech, telling all the pilots how important the event is to the area, something that is backed up by the amount of investment that has obviously taken place both at take-off and the landing field.
After a few more speeches, we were invited to sample a local strawberry flavoured “aperitif “ before being offered an early buffet lunch made from local produce. Nice touch, Mrs Mayor, and it was all delicious.
Right, back to the business of flying. After a short briefing in Doussard I scrambled the team to go back up to Le Col de la Forclaz so that the boys could get a good rigging spot near to the ramp.
Today was the last day of “free” positions” as tomorrow the launch queue will be based on the World Rankings before then being based on the previous days competition results. Buzz, Bomber and Skywalker all got a spot together and were soon rigged ready for the 1.30pm task briefing. At 2pm the briefing started (the timings during the practice week have been a wee bit relaxed) with a 90km “cat’s cradle” type of task set first heading north to Annecy, then south towards Chambery, back up north to Annecy, then south towards Albertville, then north in to the Doussard field. Having listened to the pilot’s concerns yesterday, the goal is now a cylinder to stop any potential conflicts.
To eliminate any possible confusion over the task and to ensure instruments are programmed correctly I have now mimicked the set-up we had in Australia whereby we have a team meeting to go through instrument set up and the task route. With Andy now up to speed on his 6030 and armed with the poster sized map marked with all the turn points and flight information that I had printed before the trip, the team was much better prepared for this task.
|..followed by Andy|
Luke, as usual, was the first to be clipped in ready to go. With a combination of youthful confidence, determination, a desire to do well, and with a bucket load of talent, Luke is definitely one to watch for the future. Keeping everyone calm at take-off, especially as the stress of a competition builds, is important so I always like to be at the launch ramp to do final checks. Executing a perfect committed launch, Luke was off and away, climbing to the right of take-off. Andy and Neil soon followed and were soon up at cloud base waiting for the 3.30pm single start gate at the edge of the start cylinder.
The launch area was soon pretty much clear of pilots so it was really nice just to be able to sit on the to ramp looking at the gorgeous view. I was joined by Jamie Shelden and Kathy O’Riordan who did not seem too keen to get flying. As we sat admiring the view I gave the count down to the start gate. Andy was high, Luke was low, and Neil had lost radio contact. Good Luck, boys! After a bit of cajoling Jamie and Kathy were soon getting their gliders off the roof and rigging, and I drove off back to the Doussard Hall, but I got held up at the security gate which only the Parpaente Schools and Tandem Pilots have keys for. Luckily there is a bar there too….
|Start Gate Open|
Back in the landing field I assumed I had time to start writing the blog, so got myself settled with laptop sitting in the glorious sunshine. Not to be. No sooner had I fired the machine up, then the radio crackled in to life. “Andy on the way to TP 3. Luke not far behind. Neil down at TP2”. I have to admit I did not expect that. Quickly getting the terrain map and road map out, I could see that Neil was about 20km from Doussard down the end of a long valley near Chambery, with only narrow windy roads leading directly to him. Right, off we go then… As I headed back up the lake and turned left down the valley, I noticed a few temporary yellow signs by the side of the road. “Etape du tour”. Great, I was driving along the route of the Tour de France which was coming through Annecy at the weekend. guaranteeing a nauseatingly twisty road all the way…
Of course 20km as the hang glider flies is nothing like as the car drives, so clocking up the kilometres on hairpin after hairpin, the fuel gauge of the Discovery was showing a healthy ¼ of a tank. A text came through from Neil with his coordinates, and a summary of damage to glider. Apparently Bomber had made a trade mark landing. After 20 minutes the valley opened up and I could see a glider by the side of the road. The colours of Luke’s Axxess glider were unmistakable. “I am just off to pick Bomber up, will get you on the way back. See you later”. Marking his position on my GPS I continued on, and on, and on, and on to find Bomber.
Driving high up through the mountain area where there were no obvious landing places, my GPS bleeped that I had indeed arrived at Bombers landing place. Really? Surely not. I turned the engine off. “Ben to Neil, are you receiving?” Radio silence. “Ben to Neil, are you receiving?” Nothing. Tooting the horn I then listened out for any sign of life. Nothing. Check GPS. Yes, definitely on the exact spot of the coordinates. Deciding that there wasn’t a landing space below I drove along the road until I found a road up to the right. So why, having had ¼ of a tank of fuel, was the fuel gauge was now showing as empty? Deal with that later. Sure enough as I drove higher there was a long-grassed meadow with a big slope and plentiful bushes – maybe just enough room to get a glider in, even if not in one piece.
And then I saw it. The sad silhouette of Neil, limping down the road. Oh well, at least he was able to walk away from his “landing”. Luckily I could drive us round the top of the meadow to get to his partially de-rigged glider. Bent upright pin, broken left lower upright, cracked base bar, cracked instruments… looking around the field he was lucky to get away with that.
I couldn’t help but feel a wee bit sorry for him. No-one likes to end a flight like this, and to smash up their glider. Time for something to cheer him up. Yes, the BABS RETRIEVE CAKE!!! As I prized the lid off and unwrapped the cake, I was almost knocked unconscious by the alcoholic fumes that ripped through my nostrils. Phoar! If that doesn’t numb his pain and put a smile on his face I don’t know what will…
Glider derigged (ok, pulled apart) and on the roof, it was time to sort out the fuel crisis. Perhaps a farmer could sell us some red diesel? Studying the map, we could see that Chambery was down the end of the valley, and with a long downhill section that meant we could probably cost the 15km there. A complete pain, but it would keep us mobile. An hour later we were driving back past Neil’s landing zone with a full tank of fuel on our way to pick Luke up. Stopping to pick up a hitching PG pilot we then picked up Luke and finally got back to the Doussard Hall at around 8.30pm.
A long day, but with valuable lessons learned. But the high point of the day? Andy “Buzz Lightyear” Hollidge screaming around the course, making it back in to goal, and with no technical issues. Oh, and he took some fantastic photographs…!
Roll on tomorrow, competition day……