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18 Meter Nationals - DJ report

Contestants awakened on Day 4 not to the promised crash and roil of the forecasted thunderstorms, but to a beautiful sunny morning at Bermuda High. We had all gone to bed the night before thinking Saturday would be a laundry, shopping, and errands day, but a look at the Weather Channel and Dr. Jack confirmed that we might get in a racing day.

 High cirrus soon rolled in, dampening enthusiasm somewhat but 28 pilots went work rigging,watering, and taping.


Super CD Eric Mozer, fresh from his elevation to El Presidente of the IGC, recognized that the soaring window would be brief - the weather guys said that this time they were really, really serious about thunderstorms by mid afternoon; they meant it this time - and ordained an early grid.  As confirmed by the sniffer's agony trying to sustain a early launch, the weather wasn't having any part of being hurried, and boiled up sustainable lift pretty much at the usual time. When it did get going, it got going fast, in that rapid thickening and building way that makes experienced pilots think, "Uh oh". And the cirrus was getting thicker.  Canny advisors Al Tyler and Jae Walker advised a dial back on the three hour four area task so Eric shortened it to two and a half hours and opened the gate. Off we went into the gloom, thinking hard about the 120 mile minimum distance required to complete it.

As predicted, the lift was weak - a 2 1/2 knotter was good, 3 was a boomer - and topped out at 4500msl. Lift has been particularly hard to find at low altitudes all week, so everyone was determined to stay high and cautious.  By the first turn circle most pilots had decided that a load of water was a liability, and let most or all of it go. However the day was clearly soarable, and as we worked our way to the second circle and looked upwind to a line of better clouds heading toward the third, a modest degree of optimism began to break out.  Misplaced, unfortunately - the closer we got to the third circle, the uglier and darker the sky got.

Have I mentioned the wind? Just for fun, it was blowing 18-20 knots out of the west. Pilots who made the third and fourth circles - they were close together on the minimum distance track - and turned to the west for home suddenly confronted the combined effects of weak lift and strong wind. Finding a knot and a half and clinging to it for dear life produced an astonishing drift over the ground in the wrong direction. Heading out after such a climb put you pretty much back over the same point you started at the same altitude.  This could not be called progress, but those who forged ahead and were unlucky finding stronger thermals soon realized their soaring day was coming to an end in the wrong place.  Fortunately there were a number of good airports along the way to serve as temporary hosts while Bermuda High fired up an heroic tow back operation, and many had to avail themselves of that option.

The one saving grace of the day was a line of instability pointing left of course a bit, which, if it didn't permit actual productive climbs, could be worked with heart stopping, stick gripping anxiety with straight ahead, very careful flying.  Those fortunate enough to reach this line at the right time - conditions were cycling rapidly - slowly, slowly watched their flight computer's altitude deficit reading diminish until at last, they could ease it on in for a safely completed task.  And happy boys they were, all six or seven of them!

This was truly a challenging day in all respects, and its only saving grace was that the cirrus got just thick enough to suppress the thunderstorm activity. Except for that cell that hit the field late as the tow back operation was in full swing, forcing them to stand down when many were still awaiting a tow. No matter, the happy task-completed warriors divvied up the load and headed out on trailer retrieves to get everyone back home again. Day 4 was in the bag, albeit devalued. The weather ahead looks good. Life is good in South Carolina.

-DJ

Posted: 5/11/2013


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