Monday, 8 July 2013

Sunday 7th July 2013 - Will the early bird catch the worm?

Sunday 7th July 2013

Will the early bird catch the worm?

More repairs. A pre-breakfast frenzy of activity to sort gliders out gave me the chance to drive in to the local town of Doussard to buy some top-up cards for our French mobile SIM cards. Unfortunately our original choice of Orange turned out to be a mistake due to an overly complicated procedure to top up. Perhaps SFR will be better when I can find a couple of cards to buy.

After a quick stop at the campsite to pick the team and gliders up we drove to the Doussard Hall to load up Andy's glider that was stored in the hall all night, and to listen to briefing at 10.30am. Yesterdays scores were posted by the entrance:

Task 1 Provisional results
Interestingly there seemed to be a change of atmosphere with the organisers becoming much more authoritative, especially in front of a nattering crowd.

All pilots were reminded of the "Report By" time. Apparently during the previous evening about 18 pilots did not report in by the designated time (oops) including one pilot who was injured. A large amount of stress was caused, so a penalty has now been introduced for those that break the rule.

In discussing the problem I suggested that I do a brief presentation about "Tracker", an Android app designed by a pilot for pilots who want to send their current position via text to two mobile numbers, or to Livetrack24 for live tracking purposes. It's a superb app, and currently completely free. I was also asked by the organisers  if I would like to join an advisory committee for the Worlds. A compliment indeed. 

Driving up the hill we had to stop as per normal by the security barrier that was at the start of the private track up to launch. Usually waiting for one of the Parapente school buses to open the gate, a convoy of hang gliding cars would then drive through, carefully making sure that the rigid wings over hanging the front would not get caught. So, as the barrier rose, and the car in front pulled off I accelerated towards it. BANG! Holy s**t. Had I just "gate crashed"? Please no. The next thing I hear is Luke shouting at the marshall standing next to the passenger door. The "bang" had been the marshall smashing his fist on the side of Andy's car - not a major problem if he had not been holding a radio, but as a means to ask us to stop I would suggest it was a little bit over the top. Oh well, with gate now open, we were on our way again to the summit.

Rigging was surprisingly easy, even though space is extremely limited at Col de la Forclaz. With the risk of some thunderstorms building later in the day in the big mountains the task was set to maximise the distance but without endangering pilots. Similar but shorter to yesterdays flight, a 105km via 5 turn points was set. Having our usual post-briefing team huddle around our "secret" map, we double checked instruments and went over the route that could now be visualized. Easy!

With the possibility of cloud over development Luke was keener than ever to get up and away quickly. It is great to see such confidence and enthusiasm from a young pilot, especially when the sport has desperately needed some new talent to bolster up what is a dying sport. It is not just a British problem - even in France, which is blessed with the most amazing flying sites, hang glider numbers have been dwindling. The BHGC Training Fund is all about trying to find and train pilots to increase the talent pool for Team GB selection British Hang Gliding Competitions website. Luke is a great example of someone who is benefitting greatly from the initiative. All we need now are more new pilots entering the sport at school leaving or college/university age to get them hooked on the sport - we can't keep relying on the grown up children of existing pilots.  

Will the early bird catch the worm?
"Ben, give me a hand to get my glider through". Rightio Luke, let's get you going. A perfect committed take off, followed quickly by Neil.

Bomber using all the ramp in a tail wind

As with any place where there are thermals going off, the wind can switch around temporarily as the thermal "sucks" the surrounding air to it. Just as Neil started his run the wind switched to give him a tail wind, meaning that he had to use nearly all the ramp to get enough speed for the wing to start flying.

Andy airborne off the ramp
With Andy experiencing  a similar take off, allClass 5 pilots were up and away safely. There 
was no sign off Kathleen Rigg (I later found out that she was not flying). I decided to stay up on launch for as long as possible to maintain radion contact with the boys, partly just to keep track of them, but also to keep an eye on the weather. Thunderstorms are incredibly dangerous for hang glider pilots. Normally a fair weather cumulus marks where there is useable lift, but a cumulus nimbus creates such strong updrafts and turbulence, that a pilot can literally be sucked in to the cloud and spat out at the top, normally frozen to death on a wrecked glider at 30'000. You do not want to be anywhere near them, and with the risk of storms developing I wanted to keep an eye on things.

Losing radio contact with the team, I headed off back down the mountain and based myself at the Doussard Hall, using the waiting time to download some French road map files for my GPS. Even though using maps, a GPS, and a modicum of common sense to find a pilot who has landed out, I was making sure that I had every tool available to help make the right decision about which road to take. One wrong turn down the wrong pass, and it could add hours to the retrieve.

A Cu-Nim building.
The only pilot i could hear on the radio was Andy who was, from the sounds of it making good progress. When I asked him for the positions of the other pilots, I asked him to repeat the transmission as I was sure I had misheard:
"Andy leaving TP 2 (to the East of Annecy) headed up to TP3 (North East of Annecy). Luke ahead of the lead gaggle". What? Luke, leading the way? Could this be his day? Now this is getting exciting...

Manfred Ruhmer brings the Swift in.
As the time crept on I was getting updates only from Andy who I later found out had missed the 400m radius of the  second  turn point which was based around the same place as the 3000m start gate radius. Frustrating, but at least he had recognized the error early, and was putting it right now. Rather that than complete the flight only to score minimum distance. Obviously now fired up to make up time, Andy started flying true to his nickname. "Buzz Lightyear" seemed to hit the "orbit" button and was screaming up and around the course, trying to catch back up with the lead gaggle as they headed South to TP 4.. 15km behind. 10km behind. 5km behind. Impressive stuff. Having reached TP4 Andy was now within reach of Luke. Neil was still a few kilometres behind, but still on track and with plenty of flying left in the day. Could this be a hat trick?

First Rigid Pilot in. And your name, Sir?
As the first of the rigids came screaming in to goal, Luke's voice crackled over the radio: "Crossing the lake now over to the ridge by take off". Lookin up I could see the orange striped under-surface of his Axxess gliding back towards La Forclaz. He was obviously going to track back up the ridge towards the Wolfs Teeth ridge near to where the last turnpoint was before heading back on final glide to goal. And thats where Andy played his ace. Instead of taking Luke's shorter route to the ridge, Andy took a more direct line north towards the final turn point, in effect leap frogging Luke and making up even more time. 

Bomber too was heading back up from TP4. Come on lads, bring it home! "Ben to Team GB. Well done, you are all looking good. Make sure you make it in. Don't race each other to the ground. Clouds all still looking good here. An active cell to the south but still to far away to worry about. See you in goal soon!"

After a few minutes anxiously waiting while I lost radio contact again and checked my phone for landing texts (had they bombed out at the last turn point?) Andy's voice came back on line. "Gliding to goal now at 72mph". With at least eight pilots already in the race was on to get in before anyone else. And then "Andy in goal!" Good, that's one in. "Luke on finals". You could hear the excitement in his voice! And there was the Axxess, gliding towards me at speed. Fan-bloody-tastic! As he came over the landing field you could tell it wasnt just the glider flying! Luke must have been feeling on top of the world. "Well done Luke!". "Yeehaa!" came the reply.

But what about Bomber? Still making his way North to TP5, Neil was having to eek out every last bit of lift from the long day. Fighting valiantly for another hour to stay up, he eventually lost the battle at around 7.45pm in the evening. What a shame. Leaving LUke and Andy to enjoy their goal beers and a relaxed de-rig, I drove off to find Neil. After a beautiful twenty  minute drive around the east side of the lake and up behind the ridge of Plane Jeux, I saw the welcome site of Bombers ATOS parked majestically in front of the mountain. With his harness all packed away, Bomber had wanted a picture of his glider in one piece so had delayed de-rigging. You can't argue with that!

Bomber salutes!

A good end to a good day!


  1. well Done all of you . . . Woody you had best start giving retrieve cake out in the goal field ;)

  2. Brilliant guys well done Luke wwhhhooo

  3. spot on Ben FAN-BLOODY-TASTIC !!!!!!

    Well done chaps, awesome flying

    and well done Ben, cracking reporting, this one had me on the edge of my seat, right from the headline to the "salute"

    Fly Safe