Friday, 12 July 2013

Thursday 11th July 2013

You Cant Have Your Cake and Eat It.

After such a long run of bad weather in the UK, it has been nice to wake up to blue skies every morning. With a ten o’clock briefing, Team GB could get a bit of a lie in. After eight days of back to back flying, tiredness and exhaustion was starting to creep in – not surprising really. Its not just the physical demands of flying that tire you out – continual decision making, experiencing new and challenging situations, it all adds up.

Breakfasted and refreshed, we drove off to Doussard for briefing. With the weather improving it looks like today will be a good day, with the promise of tomorrow being the best day of the competition and a big task set in to the “big stuff” tomorrow. Bring it on. Yesterday one of the Aussie pilots had landed in the lake, luckily at the shore line,leading to some amusing additions to his harness today...

Walter tweaks Neil's glider

Forclaz launch. We have missed our usual rigging spot today but the boys were still very close to the ramp for a quick get away. 
Throughout the week, as pilots and support crew have got to know each other, the level of banter has increased and the atmosphere is fantastic. Its situations like this that remind me why I love the sport (apart from the sheer joy of flying, that is) - it’s like having an extended global family.

Back to business. The sky today was not looking as lively as yesterday, but there were still signs that things could overdevelop in certain areas. At briefing the task set was a complicated and challenging route back and forth over the lake and in to the smaller mountains, with a point to point distance of 140km and a goal at Doussard. 
The strengthening wind would make for a few difficult cross and upwind legs. Apparently the task was designed to really start pushing the pilots. 
On the task board, the Task Setting Committee try and calculate the actual distances taking in to account the different size of turn point radii, but this leads to a “guestimated” distance that bears no relation to what pilots see when loading the task in to their instruments. Maybe they could revert back to the standard way of doing it just as a double check for pilots.

Will the smile last...?
Launch window open and Luke is predictably pushing to get off quickly – unfortunately today there was one French pilot in front of him not in his harness, so with a polite nudge, he soon scrambled for take-off allowing Team GB to get airborne.

Andy ready to go...

Luke launches
There were good climbs along the ridge. With the start cylinder further north en route to the first turn point, most gliders tracked up towards Annecy, waiting for the 1415 start. 5 mins to start, 4.., 3…, 2…, 1…  “1415 showing on GPS. Start get open. Good Luck!”  Time to drive down. Keys? At the last minute before launch Andy had to get something out of the vehicle. Oh no.
“Andy, I think you may have the car keys…”
“Oh bugger” interjected Bomber.
“Check the back pocket of your rucksack Ben. That’s where I put them”.
Phew. No drama there then.

Right at the start, Luke was not having the best of times. Having chosen a route to get him in an optimum position to get the start cylinder and first turn point, he got drilled behind the Veryier mountain. At briefing there had been warnings that with the North East wind there could be turbulence in that area. They were not wrong.
“Luke getting low. Heading back to Plan Jeux to soar the Paragliding ridge”.
With the binoculars I could pick him out gliding in to the gaggle of paragliders. After a few beats up and down the ridge, I could see him get established in a weak but accelerating climb, soon climbing out above the ridge. Good work.

Andy in the rough air...

...and in a gaggle glide

By the time I had driven down to Doussard it was already nearly 4pm. With the big doors of the hall open, the organisers had set their desk up on the raised stage looking out over the landing field. A great office window. In the glorious sunshine it made the perfect spot to set the laptop up, radio and phone to wait for news from the team. Bomber had gone very quiet on the radio, but with no text message, I had to presume he was still flying. Luke, after his early struggle, was making good progress around the course.

With reports of some Class 5 gliders being down, today could present an opportunity for Andy to deservedly jump up the leader board a few places. Predictably, his radio messages were frequent, helpful and, in his case, marking good progress. Turn point 2, Turn Point 3, Turn Point 4. He was getting around the course.

Walter arrives
Listening out for the next update, the silhouette of Walter Geppert’s glider could be seen making a final approach in to Doussard. He had stormed the course and was first in by some considerable time margin. About fifteen minutes later only another two gliders were in. Andy was fast approaching the last turn point. For the first time this competition I had the opportunity to send an update via Facebook, giving a live progress report for Team GB.

“Just so you know, the wind in the landing field is blowing NW about 10mph, across the field”. Topping up 2km out from the last turn point, Andy, now at 3500 above the goal field, was in a position to make a glide to the turn point and then straight in to Doussard. His instrument was telling him that he would arrive at 1800’ above the goal field, but was not taking in to account the strong headwind that had set up for the last 6km run in to goal.
“Make sure you have enough to get in, Andy”. Of course he would. He wouldn’t blow it at the last minute….
A few minutes later, my heart sank.
“Ben, this Andy. 2km out. I am getting low. I am not going to make it.”
Balls. A recurring them this year.
“Andy, the ridge to the East of the landing field is in to wind. It might help you in”.
Bugger. So close yet so far. Or so I thought. An agonising wait until the radio crackled in to life again.
“Ben, think I might make it in….”

Looking to the ridge I could see a glider at about 300’ heading out towards me. It did not look like he was going to make it as he seemed to be dropping behind the trees. Come on, Andy.

And then it was clear he was going to get goal. Even if he didn’t make it in to the field we would make the finish cylinder. Whoop! Whoop! Watching the nose drop, I could see Andy pulling on speed towards me. In front of the waiting crowd he skimmed in at speed over the field with just enough height to perform a final low level 360 degree turn and land in to wind.

Bloody fantastic! The beaming smile on Andy’s face said it all! Time for a celebratory goal beer and of course Bab’s Retrieve Cake, the ultimate “get to goal” motivation!
Soon after I got a text from Neil that he was down in the pass again. Luke was still flying, and on the radio.

“I am getting low”. He sounded tired and despondent. With Andy and myself offering words of encouragement he did get in to a climb and was soon skying out above the ridge as he headed south.  The next text from Neil was worrying. Could I get some ice for his knee… Quickly on the phone to him, it was evident that he had bashed himself quite badly. It would take me a good 45 minutes to get out to him. 

Yves from the organising team arranged for one of the nearby “navette” retrieve buses to pick him up. It would be quicker. In the meantime Luke texted in to say that he was also in the pass. Again it seemed to make sense to get him on a retrieve bus. Unfortunately the trip back was not the most comfortable for him or his glide, but luckily no damage done. Back at base, Neil had his knee inspected by a paramedic. Maybe with ice and rest he can fly tomorrow.

A day of mixed fortunes. With a big task promised, it could be an interesting last day…

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