Monday, 27 December 2010

A Win at the Winelands

An intimidating launch

So I came first in the serial class at the South African Winelands PrePWC in Porterville! But more satisfyingly I came 15th overall in the open class out of 120 pilots beating some seasoned competition pilots on their hot ships. I’m still somewhat amazed I did so well and am trying to figure out exactly what I did that was different to my last two competitions. It has definitely boosted my confidence somewhat which can only be a good thing. Because of some unusually bad weather we only had three tasks (63.9 km, 63.7 km, 66.8 km) but they were good ones with a little bit of ridge flying and a lot of flatland flying. This was great practice for me as I’m not so great at flying over the flats away from the consistency of the mountains.

Flying with Julian Robinson high over the flats

The launch was very small with only enough room for two gliders side-by-side, the thermals were powerful so we had to carefully time our launches to coincide with the brief lulls. While watching the R10 pilots launch I felt the usual mix of hilarity and horror that really did nothing for my confidence. Somehow I managed (with a lot of help from our meet director Rob Manzoni) to launch and once in the air I would do my ‘thank god for that’ and ‘I must do more ground handling’ mantra.

The open class winner - Paul Schmit from Belgium

Task-1: I got to goal in 11th place only 6 minutes behind the task winner Paul Schmit on his R10.2. I only took the strongest of climbs and found the elusive convergence line in the Citrusdal Valley. I was particularly pleased with my average speed for the 64km task of 31.38 km/h which is very fast for me.

Task-2: An elapsed time race where I came 14th overall. I was only a few seconds behind a bunch of other gliders but being an elapsed time race meant that I didn’t know this until the results were in as we all started at different times. If I had known that it was going to end up so close I would have tried harder to beat them. For this reason I’m not a fan of elapsed time races.

Task-3: To maintain my serial class lead all I had to do was get to goal. So I decided to fly conservatively and cruise around the course being careful. I flew like a plonker! I only just made goal in 42nd place and on several occasions I was just seconds away from decking it along the course and was even out of my pod harness with my landing gear down (my feet) only to be saved by the weakest of thermals. This was a real learning experience for me; I will from now on fly the best I can and stick with the better gaggles …

The long ridge north of launch

This was a nice way to end the 2010 flying season. In 2011 I plan to participate in another 4 FAI category-2 competitions; so let’s hope the learning process continues as well as it did in 2010.

Friday, 26 November 2010

India Again - Oct 2010.

India this year wasn't so great: We had a flying ban during the Commonwealth Games, a very unusual weather pattern with violent storms lasting several days that was even reported on the front page of India's national newspapers and to top it all a bit of Delhi belly. But for me the main problem were the crowds on Billing launch; the place to some extent is becoming a victim of its own success, so I'm not sure I'll go again until things change a bit. Being India this may take some time ...

Anyway I made this short video flying my light weight kit along the front ridge of the Dhauladhar mountain range, part of the southern Himalayan chain.

Paragliding in Bir India Oct 2010 from Colin Hawke on Vimeo.

Wednesday, 29 September 2010

Boomerang GTO

A nice promotional video of the Boomerang GTO flying in the French Alps - I've got a red one and they do seem to go very well.

Gin Boomerang Gto , shooting 2Alpes & Annecy from Jean-Mi ARA on Vimeo.

Wednesday, 8 September 2010

British Open. Saint-André-les-Alpes.

Gaggles forming after the start window opens
I've just returned from another competition, the second round of the British Open in Saint-André-les-Alpes in Southern France. This place has a rather fierce reputation and it lived up to it with ten reserve parachute rides and several crashes. I'm embarrassed to say that I was one of the unlucky pilots who threw their rescue parachute during a particularly weird day in which we had a lot of incidents. But I hasten to add there were no serious injuries.

In general I thought the competition was incredibly well run; we had six tasks (62km, 82km, 88km, 68km, 86km, 77km) during the week in which the first and last were stopped due to deteriorating conditions but still scored.

I didn't do so well in this competition as I was very inconsistent. In task one I almost made goal but it was stopped for safety reasons, task two I got drilled pushing against valley winds about half way around the course. In task three I went down on my emergency rescue parachute. Task four I did well and got to goal in reasonable time. In task-5 I took off too late when a huge area went into shade killing off all thermal activity. Finally, task 6 was stopped when I was half way around the course due to increasing winds. So in this open I only managed 104th place out of 150 pilots. This result combined with my Slovenian results meant that I was placed 26th out of 66 British pilots in the Championships which I suppose is OK for my first attempt at competitions but in reality I wanted to be in the top 20. Hopefully I will improve with more practice; the next competition I've entered is the South African open in December ...

There is no denying that this competition had way too many incidents but it is hard to work out why this is the case; was it to do with the venue, risk taking by the pilots, task setting etc? There is an interesting discussion about this on the paragliding forum here but as it stands there are no obvious answers. What I will say is that the organization was second to none. We were all issued with personal tracking devices so the position of all 150 pilots were known at all times during the race. There was a safely committee; a subset of pilots evaluating the conditions around the course on their own radio frequency. The main safety frequency was monitored at all times by a very experienced meet director. And we had a very sophisticated retrieve system which coordinated the retrieval of downed pilots throughout the course and brought them back to base. The support team was quite simply amazing.

Where I landed under my rescue parachute.

Monday, 28 June 2010

80km Declared Goal flight to Home

Approaching a lovely cloud
Light southwest winds were forecast yesterday with some good thermals predicted, so Julian Sears and myself shared a lift with Bob Johnson and his family down to Wiltshire. We went to the Pewsey Vale area just south of Marlborough, specifically to a little 60m bump of a hill called Rybury. I decided to declare a goal flight back home to my house in Princes-Risborough in Buckinghamshire, about 80km to the northeast.

But when we arrived it didn't look too promising as the sky was empty with everybody sitting around waiting for things to improve. But by midday people were able to scratch and just about stay airborne. A little later we noticed a couple of gliders climbing out and going cross country from Milk which is another little hill next to ours. I wondered if we had chosen the wrong hill again. But an hour later Bob managed to be the first to get away from Rybury soon followed by Simon Twiss. I was determined and finally managed to climb out in a very weak thermal. After a short glide towards the golf courses in Marlborough I was rewarded with my second climb. The crux of the flight was definitely at a village called Lambourn. Here I got very low, about 300m (~1000ft) above the ground; I aimed for a small 30m wooded ridge downwind of the village hoping that it might be releasing a thermal. Luckily it worked for me and I climbed out to 1729m (5669ft) back up to cloudbase in a few minutes. Drifting with the thermal I realized I was about to enter a boundary of some 5500ft (actually FL55) airspace. So I did a quick 180 degree about-turn and flew a few minutes to get some distance from it and then did a spiral dive to get me down to 5000ft so that I could safely glide on to my next destination. I flew to the west of the Harwell nuclear facility (P106 prohibited airspace) and the ring of the brand new Diamond Syncrotron and I remembered visiting the Rutherford Appleton Laboratory there back in the late 1980's whilst still at university. I flew on to Didcot Power Station where I out-climbed a couple of sailplanes to get back to cloudbase. I had a good look at Oxford and thought how nice it looks from above with the river Thames glistening in the sunshine. I carried on to the south of the Abingdon parachute drop zone and north of RAF Benson and RAF Chalgrove (where the Martin-Baker company tests ejector seats). Finally, and with all the difficult airspace out of the way, I aimed for the Chiltern Hills and home. I landed in Princes-Risborough exactly as planned, i.e. near the Bird in Hand pub for a pint, only a 5 minute walk from my front door. No car retrieve necessary, how refreshing!
Didcot Power Station

I found out later that the two pilots I saw climb out from Milk Hill were Emile Vanwyk and Richard Bungay and both were flying Boomerang GTOs like mine; they landed in Cambridgeshire for an amazing 154km. I'm sure I could have flown further but probably not as far as that though. They are both outstanding pilots; Emile & Richard took first and second place in the Serial class of the British open in Slovenia, whereas I placed in at 31 ... There is something special about flying home though. My flight can be seen here or here. Thanks for the lift Bob & Julian.

Tuesday, 15 June 2010

British Open. Slovenia June 2010

The all important task board
One of my goals for 2010 was to enter some competitions and I specifically wanted to enter the British Championships. This is a high level competition and as I essentially have no real competition experience I thought It would be a great learning experience for me. I was also keen to see if this would add a new dimension to my flying.

First I must explain how this competition is set up. The 2010 championships are made up of two separate competitions in Europe; one in Kobarid in Slovenia and the other in
Saint André-les-Alpes in France. These individual competitions are known as the British Opens and have up to 150 suitably qualified pilots of any nationality participating. They each last a week with as many daily tasks set as the weather allows. The British Championships are then just the combined results of the British pilots who do both of these open competitions. There used to be a UK round as well but this year it was dropped as historically the weather has been too unreliable to make it justifiable. So this year it started with Slovenia and it turned out to be a wonderful venue. It is a 70% tree covered and sparsely populated country with very little heavy industry and lots of mountains to fly over and fields to land in; perfect for free flying.

Green and not so rolling hills
Together with friends Tom Kane and Hugh Ginty we rented a lovely apartment just a short walk from the competition headquarters, it was the perfect place to relax after a hard days flying. We arrived a week early to get some practice in with local guides Brett Janaway of XTC Paragliding and Toby Colombé of Passion Paragliding. Although the week didn't start off great weather wise we did eventually manage some reasonable cross country flights and get a few lectures on competition flying from Toby. Importantly, it also allowed me to familiarize myself with my brand new glider, the new Gin Boomerang GTO. This is Gin gliders latest
high performance EN-D serial class wing, a real hot ship ...

Doesn't she look nice!
The competition went really well. We had great weather and managed to get in 6 cats cradle tasks in the area. High level winds meant our arena was somewhat restricted to a couple of valley systems but the tasks were of reasonable lengths (69km, 57km, 59km, 62km, 73km and 64km).

Some big clouds brewing
As I'm a competition novice my strategy was to keep it simple, not to race but just try to get to goal everyday. After two days of doing this and finding that 100+ pilots were getting to goal I decided to start racing; besides it's just so much more fun.

So in task three I went around the course at speed trying to race, amazingly I was in the first handful of serial class gliders to make goal. But as it turned out I missed the last turnpoint by a couple of hundred meters, I had inadvertently pressed the 'next waypoint' button on my GPS when trying to go to my final glide page. I got a good amount of distance and leading-out points, so I actually got the same score as if I had bimbled around the course; what a plonker!

Task four saw me get to goal pretty quickly in 37th place. Considering there were 20+ seasoned competition pilots above me mostly flying those ridiculous Ozone R10.2's I was very pleased with myself.

Task 5 was frustrating, I was racing too much, got low and ended up getting stuck for half an hour kicking trees finally making it in 60th position. Task 6 was slightly different, I had made a conservative decision to top up height between turnpoints and avoid getting low and possibly getting stuck like the day before. But it evidently wasn't needed as others jumped in front and pushed me down to 62nd place.

So some mistakes were made and only the experience of lots more competitions can help improve my performance. I certainly can't blame the glider, it's a great wing and has heaps of performance and provides a lot of feedback about the air I'm flying in - it honestly felt a bit of a handful at first but I've nicely settled in to flying it. In fact pilots who got first and second place in the serial category were flying the same wing. The overall results can be seen here and the serial class results here. I got 69th place and considering I'm new at racing paragliders I'm reasonably pleased with myself. Roll on Saint André!

Saturday, 20 February 2010

25km from Mt Bakewell, Western Australia

A video from yesterdays short 25km flight. There was just too much high level cloud to get very far; that's my excuse anyway.

Saturday, 13 February 2010

Sun, Sun and more Sun

Work has brought me to Western Australia for a two month contract with a small oil company in Perth. As I was leaving England to go to the airport snow was falling, on arrival I was greeted with 34 degrees and crystal blue skies; what a contrast! It's late summer here and the landscape is scorched, it hasn't rained in months and water restrictions are firmly in place. I know the place quite well having spent nine years in Australia, six of which were living in Perth. So the memories are being jogged out of retirement everywhere I look and after only a couple of days being here it's all starting to look a little more familiar; even my accent has a little Aussi twang returning! I met up with some local pilots who took me to one of their XC sites called Mt Bakewell, a small hill above a town called York nestled next to the Avon River. However the names are the only thing that resemble O'Blighty as in reality it's a charming little sun baked town out in the wheat belt of Western Australia.

As usual I was way too optimistic and had planned various big XC options the night before. Eric a local French expatriate, Bruce (the same Bruce I met in India recently) and Rod had all done their weather homework and thought that once the temperature reached a magic 32 degrees an inversion would break and we would all sky out. It didn't quite happen that way as nobody seemed to get much above 1300m (4265 ft) and combined with a little too much east in the wind meant that I was staying local. Eric and Rod have both managed 150+ km flights from this site so it does have potential. The launches were pretty sporty though! A reasonable meteo wind combined with strong thermals meant that it was often howling on launch and you had to pick your moment and wait for the lulls to get off safely. A lull here means that there is a big thermal sitting out front blocking the wind, so once off you often get hoofed up in a screamer (paragliding parlance for zooming skywards in a thermal). My first launch here caught me by surprise and I got off in a rather ugly fashion, but armed with this experience my second was text book. A nice day out all in all. Thanks to Bruce and Eric for making it happen.

Eric on his Aircross U4

Tuesday, 12 January 2010

Snow, Snow and more Snow

Photo: Julian Sears

Well I've been out flying a few times in the last couple of weeks. The UK has been gripped in an unusual cold snap, with lots of snow and road closures. The UK always seems to grind to a halt in two or more inches of snow. Luckily though I've got a couple of very close flying sites that allow me to do some local soaring. Granted it's not the most interesting of flying, but it's nice to do now and again in the winter and helps keep the wheels oiled so to speak. In the picture above I'm launching my Axis Venus-1 in deep snow at Chinnor Hill in Oxfordshire, it's a very pretty place normally but when snow covered it's absolutely beautiful.

I've also been flying at Dunstable Downs a few times. Jamie Adams put up a little video clip shot on his new camera, the matchbox sized Hero Gopro HD. He can be seen flying his Axis Venus-2 and I'm somewhere in there flying my red&white Venus. [Edit March 2012, Jamie removed the video].

I'll be off to Australia in February for a couple of months of work and will take my wing; it'll be shorts and tee shirt flying, hooray!