Wednesday, 10 July 2013

Tuesday 9th July 2013
Thunderstorms and Mayhem

A bit of a late start after last night’s impromptu beach party. Finishing yesterday’s blog and then nipping down to the local shop for our breakfast, I then roused the troops. Remind me not to knock on Neil’s window again to wake him up – the sight that was revealed as he drew back the curtain… ok, moving on.

A quick baguette and croissant breakfast and we were off to briefing. The car park looked ominously empty. Having experienced briefing times changing frequently during the day, many pilots are now guesstimating when the right briefing time is, drifting in sometime after 9am. This morning was no exception but with most pilots arriving before 9.30 a weather briefing was held, with a site to be announced later. So, much the same as yesterday with storms forecast for later in the day. The delay in leaving gave me a chance to introduce Richard Hunt’s Tracker which received immediate interest from some pilots. 

A picture book alpine view from Semnoz take off
Off to Semnoz again, and this time the organisers had some route maps printed, avoiding any “route barree” but also taking us through the heavy traffic of Annecy outskirts. By 11 o’clock we were up at launch being met by our friends from yesterday. Looking around the sky, there were obvious signs of over development with towering cumulus popping up in every direction, coupled with the fact that the gliders were being rigged in cloud. In amongst the mumblings and grumblings of pilots worried about the conditions and the beat of reggae music pumping out from the portable sound system, a briefing was called. Still no air-horn (suggested by quite a few pilots), so in amongst a few yells, whistles and general mayhem, everyone gathered around the task board. The reggae music was turned off.

Clouds building
The task set was mainly a ridge run with multiple legs along the ridge before pushing out to the flatlands and then back to Doussard via Duignt Castle. A start time had not been set and would be announced at the next briefing, giving the organisers a chance to assess the weather. More pilot mumblings and grumblings, this time about the proximity of gliders racing along the ridge in different directions. All the classes launching from Semnoz were flying the same route, up until the last section with the Rigids flying back to Doussard. A few of us made some safety suggestions to the organisers in time for the next briefing including reminding pilots of airlaw (right is right, glider with hill on left should turn right away from the hill etc).  

AIR Pilot Walter Geppert inspects Neils wing
Meanwhile Andy and I went to have a chat with Walter Geppert, one of the development pilots for A.I.R ATOS and to take some pictures of his wing. Neil had been complaining for quite a few months that his ATOS VR was not flying well after a dealer had made some unannounced tweaks during a routine service. When we explained that the trailing edge on Neils glider was at least 2cm higher in some places along the wing, Walter just brushed aside my protests, saying “Zats impozeeball!” We then led him over to Neil’s glider. Wing inspection, followed by silence.  “Oh, I feel zorry for you. Zat is not right”. We have a problem, Houston. Time for Neil to take it up with the dealer again, and luckily the founder of A.I.R. is coming to the comp tomorrow.

Team GB - Chocks away!

Andy launches
Bomber launches

Bomber "scratching" at ridge height
A final briefing and the launch window was set to open at 1420 for half an hour, with the start gate at 1450.  More noise from some pilots about the safety of the task. Ignoring all the chat Andy was soon buckled up and ready to launch. Having watched a gaggle of Class 2 wings struggling below take off, we knew it was going to be tough. “Release!” Andy was away, with Luke then Neil following quickly. It became immediately clear how difficult the conditions were. Scratching below ridge height just to the right of take-off, Neil and 

Say "cheese"!
Luke were fighting for survival. Luke had been struggling below ridge height for some time near take off: “I need to concentrate now and listen to every beep of my vario”. OK guys, lets keep our radio transmissions to a minimum. Neil too was fighting to stay up and having spotted some rising smoke from a fire out in the valley opted to go see if he could find something better out there. 

Meanwhile Andy had glided out to the next ridge on the way to the start cylinder. He too was getting drilled to the ground. 1000’ above ground… 800’…  600’… With pilots landing around him, Andy then found a core that took him all the way back up above ridge height. “Andy to Ben – just doing TP1 and 2 (Revard) – on my way to TP3 (Quintal). That-a-boy, Andy. With conditions the way they were, British pilots used to flying in very weak conditions can do very well by exploiting every last drop of lift. Today was turning out to be a prime example, with Andy “Buzz Lightyear” Hollidge flying superbly. Could this be his day?

Fred answering concerns

As all this was going on, launch was becoming quite an excitable place. While all the rigids were flying, there was still a large number of flex pilots waiting to take off from the Womens and French Open. With the end of the launch window rapidly approaching, soon there was a stream of pilots launching in to a more buoyant sky as the sun came on to the ridge once more. 

Francoise, current leader of the Womens championship, immediately took a climb to the left of take off, just about keeping below the base of the cloud while other gliders joining her climb did disappear in to the haze. Not very clever , especially after all the specific warnings at briefing.

Corinna waits at launch
5…, 4…, 3…, 2… minutes to the close of window. Kath was not harnessed up so obviously was not going to make it, but Corinna was on launch ready to go, waiting for what she thought was the best time to launch. With several frustrated pilots behind here, the pressure on her to either launch or move to the side was growing. 30 seconds to go, and Corinna was picking up her glider which was not looking well balanced. Spectators were becoming nervous – I felt sorry for her parents who were watching from close by. “5 seconds to close…”

Not the most orthodox of take offs
What happened next turned most people’s stomach. Corinna lifted the glider and instead of doing a committed run down the ramp towards the trees, seemed to almost walk and then jump off the ramp. As the glider stalled and a wing tip dropped, she was inches away from cart wheeling the glider in to the ground, probably with very serious consequences. The watching crowd either gasped or were shocked in to silence. 

I don’t know how, but amazingly Corinna managed to retrieve the situation, get the glider flying, and clear the trees. A universal sigh of relief from everyone followed, including from poor old Mr and Mrs Schweigershausen who had witnessed it all.

Looking down the ridge towards Annecy
Excitement over it was time to concentrate on finding my team. With Andy now making his way back over launch, and no messages from Luke and Neil getting low, I decided to drive down towards the landing field at Gruffy. As soon as I set off a text came through from Neil with his landing coordinates. Stopping to programme the GPS, Corinnas parents pulled in behind me as they wanted some help to find the field and to let me know the task had been stopped. 

Gliding out to the valley

Not wanting to rely on third hand information, I requested confirmation over the safety channel. No reply, so I phoned through to the safety officer on the landing report phone number. Am I pilot reporting in? No, I am the British team leader. What is the situation with the task. I have heard it is stopped. Yes, it is a stop. Can I confirm that the task is a stop, stop, stop? Yes, it is a stop, stop, stop.

The message could not have been clearer.

“Ben to Team GB, the task is a stop, stop, stop. Please make yourselves safe and land”.

Crossing the gap in the ridge
Neil had landed some ten kilometres up the valley towards the start gate. Driving to his coordinates I passed Tim from AIR dergging by the side of the road and offered to pick him up on the way back. Arriving at Neil’s landing place his harness was already all packed away and the glider nearly de-rigged. The boys are learning! Land, text, pack harness and instruments, de-rig. No dithering or “faffing”. If every pilot takes an extra 45 minutes to derig, then a huge chunk of time is added on to the end of the day. Being a member of the Babs retrieve when I fly competitions, that procedure was drilled in to me from day one.

With Andy and Luke back at Douusard, I drove back, picking up two rigid pilots (including Tim) and a flex I jokingly said that the price of the retrieve was ten beers Our foreign counterparts were extremely grateful for the lift, especially when Bomber opened up the centre console, which doubles up as a fridge, and produced a beer for everyone. Stopping in Saint Jorioz to get some supplies, Tim and his flying buddy returned to the vehicle and donated a pack of beer to Team GB. Nice touch chaps.

Flying the same task, apart from the final (yellow) leg
And then the curve ball came. Big time. Speaking both French and German I overheard Tim say that it was only Class 1 that had been stopped. What? Yes, apparently it was only the Womens and the French Open that had been stopped, and not the Class 5 Rigids. “For f***** sake. I was f******** told it was stopped. You are f******* joking, right?” I almost went in to the back of the car in front.  Surely not. The different classes of glider had been flying the same route for most of the task. How could you stop one on safety grounds, but not the other? With all these thoughts running through my head, I was already planning an official protest, and wondering how on I earth I was going to tell Andy.

Leaving Neil to sort the vehicle out I went to find Andy in the Doussard Hall. You can imagine the look on his face when I told him. He was absolutely deflated. Together we went to find Yves, one of the organisers, who arranged an immediate meeting between myself, Andy, Claudia (FAI) and Fred (in charge at launch). I made it very clear that I did not want to cause any unnecessary upset to the competition and rather than file an official protest, would rather find a mutually acceptable solution, one which would reward Andy appropriately and fairly for his flying. After all, everyone was trying their best to run the competition well, and there is no point in throwing one’s toys out of the proverbial pram. Lessons learned for next years Worlds though... 

Back at the camp site, and after a culinary delight served up by Luke, we went through some GoPro footage and photos. A message pinged through on Facebook chat from one of the organisers. A decision had been made on what to do about Andy’s flight. Yes, go on. Huddled around the computer we waited for the verdict...  Andy was to be rewarded with an extra 20km on his flight – having taken his height at the time of the “stop”, a generous glide angle of 15:1 had been used to calculate a nominal distance. Well, until we can see for ourselves what that means in relation to the other pilots, then we wont know whether it is fair or not.   I suspect that we will never get a satisfactory answer – could Andy have caught up and overtaken the lead gaggle? Flying as well as he had been, anything was possible…

Roll on tomorrow.

1 comment:

  1. Unbelievable!! How can they be that bad at communicating with the teams? You were very restrained.