Sunday, 7 July 2013

Saturday 6th July 2013 A good start to the competition.

Saturday 6th July 2013

A good start to the competition

This is it. Practice over and the real fun starts. There was a change of atmosphere in Team GB camp – nothing too drastic, just a sense of excitement and anticipation compared to the practice days. Neil had been busy, since before breakfast, making his glider ship-shape for the first task of the competition, while Andy made some last minute tweaks to the flying suit while discussing with Luke some of his observations of how the other pilots were flying the terrain yesterday.

After breakfast in glorious sunshine, we were off to the 10.30am briefing. With all the three classes of wing taking part in the Pre Worlds, plus the fact that the French Nationals we also taking place, it was no surprise that the car park was full to the brim. Luckily with our large 4 x 4 we could gently drive up on to the grass curb to find a place. Briefing was not quite what I expected with Raymond Caux (Safety Officer Class 5) giving a presentation on how and why we as humans can invite accidents to happen, and how we can avoid them. Launch Marshall Remi Leroulley presented a brief outline on how the launch lines were going to be managed (with the Rigids in effect having priority). Based on  the previous days experience I was not convinced that things would run as planned, especially now that we had many more pilots at launch.

With a 1pm task briefing at launch called, we made our way up to Le Col de la Forclaz without delay to ensure that the team were indeed in good slots. To make sure all parking rules were adhered to, one of the marshals was sporting a very natty helmet camera to capture any evidence. Not exactly the “stylish but understated” look… But to be fair, he was doing a grand job keeping the traffic flowing in a small and narrow cul-de-sac.

Team GB rigging

A spectator sport
Soon Andy, Neil and Luke were busying breaking open their gliders while I helped carry Kathleen’s glider to her designated rigging space.As the clock started ticking down to the briefing time, it was obvious that some pilots certainly did not want to wait “in line”.  Gliders rigged in the wrong place, and then left in the middle of the access path, was not going to help the organisers, let alone the other pilots. Oh well, glider colours logged for future reference.

And then on to a slightly delayed briefing. The task, a 155km race to goal, was more of a cat’s cradle compared to yesterday with pilots being tasked to cross the lake on two occasions before heading in to Doussard. As conditions looked and felt very weak, there was no rush to get airborne. Luke was, predictably,  first in the launch queue, waiting eagerly for any signs of increasing lift from out in front, watching the every move of the PGs scratching along the ridge or headed out over the lake. “RELEASE!”, and away he went on his first big international competition. Andy launched in to similar weak air but they were soon starting to climb out as Neil took his place on the ramp. “RELEASE!” and he too was soon up and away, followed shortly by Kathleen Rigg.

A dropped wing at takeoff

All pilots safely in the air. I waited for a further 15 minutes before heading off back down the mountain but not before seeing Kathryn O’Riordan and Jamie Sheldon launch. Luckily the gods must have been smiling on Kathyrn as the dropped wing and stall on take-off are normally punished severely. You got away with that one, Kathryn! I was also later to hear that Jamie’s instrument pod decided to fly itself down off her glider just after take off. An expensive “malfunction”.

Meanwhile the Class 5 boys seemed to be doing well. Having made their way across to theedge of the start cylinder some 4km away, the radio signal was already getting bad so I was rewarded with just snippets of information on a sporadic basis.  In fact, I lost contact with the team for some considerable time so I based myself back at the Doussard Hall, waiting for any news to come through via radio or text. With the retrieve yesterday highlighting the fact that it could become quite difficult pinpointing the exact route to take to a pilot, I spent some time trying to find a routable map of France to upload to my GPS and hopefully found a good solution - I will report back on that tomorrow once it has downloaded overnight. When the radio did spring in to life, it was with very good news. Andy had been making very fast progress around the course and was now heading back down South for the last time, crossing the lake from the Wolfs Teeth mountain to the ridge just to the West of the goal field en route down to the Bauges Col de Plain Palais turn point. Sitting by the edge of the landing fiend you could see some gliders heading along the ridge and when Andy mentioned he was approaching the aerials I could watch his wing cruising south.

As he made his way along the ridge he relayed a message to me that Luke was down somewhere between TP2 and TP3 to the south side of the lake. Having heard nothing from Neil for the entire time, I could only assume his radio was not working and was still flying, especially as I had not received any texts. Making my way back up to Saint Jorioz up the West side of the lake so that I could take the “valley” road back to Lescheraines by which time I was hoping Luke would have sent me his coordinates. For the second day in a row I was driving along part of the “Tour de France” course which comes through the area on Sunday 7th between 6am and 10am. No wonder it is such a popular event – the scenery is incredible. As I approached Lescheraines Andy did his best to relay messages but was starting to struggle to stay up. “Andy, thanks for that, but please concentrate on your flying  - its getting late and conditions switching off. Good Luck!” Hopefully he turned his radio off.

Winding my way South West I received a text from Bomber that he was also down somewhere near TP2 and sent me his coordinates. With no news from Luke I headed straight for him at a village called “Ecole” and was very relieved to be driving down a wide valley with big open grassy landing options. As per the text book in “where to land” section, Bomber was derigging right next to the road at the end of a very long stretch of a flat grass field. That’s more like it, but unfortunately he and a flex wing glider landing with him were caught by a last minute switch in wind direction leading to downwind landings. Luckily, no major harm done.

And then a very welcome text came through from Andy: “It’s beer o’clock in the goal field!”. Yes! He had managed to eek out the dying lift and complete the task. A fantastic result, especially as he must have only been one of half a dozen gliders to make it. “You f*****n star!” I texted back (sorry, excuse the language, but I was really pleased for Andy who was in effect making a comeback in to competition flying). I wish I had been there to take a picture of his goal arrival and the subsequent beaming smile.

Luke's landing strip
As I tied the glider on to the roof Bomber received a text from Luke with his coordinates – apparently our pay as you go French SIM cards need topping up and he had had difficulty getting through to me. As it happened Luke was literally less than 5km back towards Doussard and we were with him very quickly. If you could give marks out of 10 for choosing a landing field, Luke would be a star pupil. “His” field was right on the edge of a town called La Compote, with a freshly mown strip on an upslope facing in to wind, with the road at the top. Not to mention to the picture box view from his derigging area. Go to the top of the class, young man!

Picture book Alpine view
Having said that, there was obviously a sense of frustration from both Neil and Luke. When one of your team mates makes in to goal, you are of course pleased, but at the same time start questioning why you are on the ground early - the task was obviously achievable, so why am I not in goal?  While one pilot was euphoric the other two were downcast. And that’s the nature of the game, and I am sure one of the drivers behind competition flying. The “high” that Andy was no doubt experiencing is addictive, and like any addiction it comes at a price. Luke and Neil were paying that price. But who knows, tomorrow it could be the other way around or hopefully enhanced with all three pilots in goal.

The drive  back to Doussard took about 40 minutes. Andy had just finished packing up (perhaps after a few beers?). With a quick celebratory team beer we headed back to the campsite.
It was now about 10pm and getting dark. Just as I was about to get the blog written Bomber suggested a late swim in the lake. This I have to see! Enjoy the picture of Team GB relaxing by the side of Lake Annecy....

Buzz Lightyear, Skywalker and Bomber.
What a fine trio!
 Until tomorrow. I can’t wait to see what the scores are.  

1 comment:

  1. Fantastic flying Buzz, Well Done Mate this with the Kestrel kit fitted!!

    Ben your write-ups should be collated & printed in SkyWings, they make great reading