Wednesday, 6 June 2012

2012 British Paragliding Open in Meduno, Italy

Waiting for race start - Photo: Olivier Montel
I've just returned from competing in the British Paragliding Open in Meduno in Northern Italy where I managed to come 6th out of 112 pilots. To be fair pilot numbers were down due to a lot of the big guns not showing up, so it was somewhat easier to get a good result. I'm not complaining however, as it allowed me to get the good PWC qualification letter that I wanted. I also had my new wing to fly, a Niviuk IcePeak-6 which is an EN-D competition 2-liner. I'd only put a couple of evening flights on it at my local hill and being my first 2-liner I was quite excited to try it out racing with the other notable hot ship, the EnZo from Ozone.

This competition followed the recent trend as the weather was yet again marginal making the job exceptionally difficult for the task & safety committees, but we did manage to get a valid competition by getting three tasks in.

On the first few days of the competition the US Aviano Air Base allowed us to enter their airspace so we took advantage of this by setting a 54km race out towards Aviano and back. I had a really bad start, really bad - low and late. I'm not sure how I managed to put myself in such a bad place at the beginning of the race but I managed it in style. My only strategy now was to fly fast and try hard to catch the leaders way out in front. Nearly the whole field took the mountain ridge line, but to me this route looked quite tricky as it wasn't a classic linear ridge like in say Slovenia or St Hillaire. It resembled the ridge in Bir with lots of perpendicular spurs to cross and with a headwind it would have made the air turbulent and messy. With nice fluffy clouds forming in the flats I decided that would be the best option so along with two other pilots we flew the flats fast, spinning up to cloud base when we needed to. This strategy was working wonderfully until near Aviano when a huge area went in to shade and we were forced to scuttle for the ridge. About this time a pilot had an accident and the task was stopped to allow safe access to the rescue helicopter (he is recovering well).
Task Board - Photo: Olivier Montel
The task was still scored and I managed 15th, not bad for such an appalling start. However, one of the best bits of the day was waiting for the retrieve! I chose a village to land in that had some sort of festival going on, I could hear music and see lots of parked cars and people out and about. I was joined by other pilots and we gate-crashed the party. It turns out that on this day each year the residents of the village have an open day where they supply wine and food for each other and the villagers go from house to house eating and drinking as they go. One particular nice bunch were the Italian Alpini who invited us in to their trophy laden hut and cracked a couple of bottles of wine together with a feast of bread, cheese and anchovies - what a result!
Photo: Olivier Montel
The next two tasks you could only describe as short, technical and racy (fish bowl racing), but they were still fun. Unusually for me consistency meant that at the end of the competition I managed 6th overall and 4th Brit. I learned a couple of lessons: Don't always assume that the goal turn point altitude is the same as the goal field as in this competition the goal was the castle, a good fifty meters above the landing field. This really messed up my already conservative final glide calculations and I easily lost 5 places with this mistake on one task. The next mistake is not to have your speed bar set up correctly as it is quite embarrassing to have intermediate gliders overtake you on full bar; this was soon rectified! Finally, don't drink spirits, evil stuff ..
Yours truly trying to catch a matching Icepeak-6 - Photo: Andy Smart
The Niviuk Icepeak-6 is without doubt the best glider I've flown, it's certainly the fastest and best performing but it also turns nicely too and is great at banking up in tight choppy climbs. I can't wait to fly it in the Belgian Open in Annecy in a couple of weeks.

Tuesday, 15 May 2012

A Paltry 100km flight from Leckhampton

Well what a weekend it was! We had a couple of good days of good weather and everybody was out making the most of it. On Saturday we had a northerly wind and good thermals predicted, the northern pilots mainly chose Long Mountain as a launch point, whereas the southerners chose Leckhampton. I managed a 103km flight which is a pretty mediocre result compared to what others did, in fact not even in the top 20! See here for the flights logged that day, in total 6000km were flown by 80 pilots which has got to be some sort of record in itself. Kai Coleman did a fantastic flight of 243km and Simon Twiss managed the coast at Weymouth for 150+km. The next day on the Sunday we had strong southwest wind and Kirsty Cameron took off from the hill behind my house (Milk Hill) and flew to near the Norfolk coast taking the open distance women's record to 233km from Helen Gant's record of 166km set the day before, amazing. I was an hour too late and found it too windy for me to climb out safely.

The North-South cup is this weekend but to be honest the weather forecast looks pants ..

Monday, 7 May 2012

Respite from the Rain

The spring weather has been atrocious in the southern half of the UK this year and flying opportunities have been few and far between. Yesterday we did have a respite from the never ending rain and I managed a nice little 50km flight from the Malverns.

On glide with Steve Ham crossing the River Wye
A quick climb out from launch to base just after 11am saw a good 20+ gliders start their XCs together and several gaggles quickly formed. There was quite a lot of cloud and huge areas were in shade which meant conditions were quite fickle and difficult in places. Our gaggle chose a more northerly line towards what looked like a better looking sky. It was below freezing at cloud base and we got snowed on; I was uncontrollably shivering I was so cold (an important lesson to wear warmer clothes). Several low saves later we landed in the same field full of lovely ancient oak trees. The other main gaggle went further to the south towards overcast and murky conditions, they managed Abergavenny and beyond so did better than us ... We also could have done better but I'm not sure I could have handled the cold for much longer.

My new Icepeak-6 wing arrives soon - I can't wait.