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Day 5 - Tension Mounts

Day 5 was originally forecasted to be mostly cloudy with showers...  And the day didn't disappoint on either count.  However, the air was unstable enough that lift was workable!  The morning started out with a fair amount of blue sky, so a 3-hour TAT task was set, with turnpoints at Chelan (20mi circle), Kramer Ranch (20mi circle), and Grand Coulee Dam (15mi circle).

The 15m ships were first to launch today, and they wasted no time in heading out on course - as overdevelopment was already underway at noon.  I launched early in the string of Sports Class ships and was let go on the ridge during a hellacious down-cycle!  I searched the ridge but found only sink - getting down to about 2500' over the canal on the west side of town.  I thought for sure that I was going to have to land, and was just setting up to do so when I ran across some lift puffing up from the school.  I cranked in a turn and held on tight as I centered the moderate lift.  After I gained a hundred feet, I was suddenly joined by 4Z.  He'd launched behind me and apparently found the same sink I had!  Luckily the lift was workable all the way to cloudbase, and we went 'round and 'round for awhile - eventually it became an over 5000' foot climb!  Not a great way to start the task; but hey, it passed the time while most of the other ships were launching...

As the start gate was opening, a number of us were circling around just below the start-cylinder height (8000').  I snuck out east to try to start from that edge of the cylinder to get more distance credit; only to notice about 5 other gliders doing the same thing... so much for originality!  I decided instead to hang around the edges of the cylinder for 5 - 10 minutes after the first few people called their start, hoping for markers down the course.  After the requisite time had passed, I found a thermal that took me out the top of the cylinder and I headed along a cloud-street towards Waterville and the south side of the first turnpoint.  It went pretty well, though I kept finding lift that was weaker than I wanted to use.  I arrived at the river's edge just north of town at about 6000' and watched as Keith ("2F") cruised on past above me in his big ASW-17.  He pulled up in some lift, then arced over to the next cloud - leaving me circling and jealous of his long wings.

The run to Banks Lake was a fast one as a few cloud-streets had really formed up and they were working like gangbusters.  I had two streets to choose from, and I took the more mature one to the north.  This ended up working OK, but the southerly street ended up going farther and although it was "younger", it proved to have more dust-devils and better clouds in the end.  Across Banks Lake there were dust devils and good clouds for the first 5 - 10 miles.  Unforunately, a sea of gray skies waited beyond that; something I didn't recognize in time to "change gears" to the proper speed and altitude.  As a result, I found myself south of Wilbur over lava fields and lakes at about 4500', struggling to find better than a 2knot climb.  I blew tons of time at this point, getting only 500' here and there and having to push on as the lift frequently weakened with altitude.  The lack of sun on the ground was a real concern, and my frustrations were high as I failed ti find lift above the few dust-devils that I tried to circle over.  I spent a long time below 6000' getting into and then back out of the turnpoint cylinder - my flight-computer continuously downgrading my achieved speed. 

I finally managed to make it back towards Banks Lake at 5500', and on the eastern shore I found a 5knot thermal that took me to cloudbase (at 8000').  The skies towards Ephrata were dark and rain-showers were scattered both west and east of the course home.  I was 1000' below glide to make it home, and I was going to be over time.  I was just entering the southern edge of the final turnpoint cylinder, so it was VERY tempting to head for the barn and simply take my lumps for being a slow-poke.  But as I was climbing up in that tall thermal, a very firm cloudstreet formed, heading to the northwest.  A couple of clouds were also forming south of the cloud-street, in the direction of home.  I realized that if I could run the cloud-street at high speed and not stop to turn, I could make some extra distance and speed by going deeper into the cylinder before heading home.  The cloudstreet was in the perfect place to extend the distance on both legs, so I took a deep breath and started my run.  Bumping along under the street at 80 knots (over 90mph), I was running into good lift.  My computer was showing my final glide altitude roughly holding steady, and I achieved a slight climb on the northbound run.  Sadly, the street was not as long as I'd hoped, so the outbound sprint was only about 5 - 7 minutes long.  Still, I had maintained my speed and I hadn't lost any altitude.  I turned and tried to run the cloudstreet back south, but it didn't work quite as well.  My computer was telling me that I needed 1000' of climb in order to make it all the way home...  Still, I knew that I needed to keep the pedal to the metal, in order to help raise my overall average speed on the day.  

Ripping home I eventually slowed to 70 knots to achieve a better glide, and I even stopped in a booming thermal for just a couple of turns.  I flew through 3 separate rain-showers on the way home, but luckily only one of them gave me any noticeable sink.  The "streaking starfield" effect of rain on the long nose/canopy of the DG-300 never ceases to mess with my head; especially while watching my altimeter wind down and my flight computer's estimates bounce between having enough altitude to make it home, and coming in too low (thus incurring a points penalty)!  Just one-tenth of a mile before the finish, I hit a sudden surge of sink and dropped below minimum finish altitude.  I panicked and pulled the glider into a nose-high turn; but the sink kept me from gaining any ground.  Luckily, a thermal was just on the other side of the sink - so I popped up 200' and crossed the finish line about 90' above the minimum...  Talk about heart palpitations!

As I landed, I reflected upon my slow leg, and the fact that the last day I flew a slow leg- which put me in 8th place on the day.  I put the glider away somewhat disappointed, but determined to keep my chin high.  I hoped that I would be able to make up whatever ground I'd lost on the final day of the contest.  I found out that Tom ("1i") had landed out at Wilbur, but everyone else had made it home.  Keith ("2F") had a rocking good flight and smoked the entire sports class - bumping him up 4 positions in the overall standings!  Brian Case also had a good flight, and I believed he finished 2nd on the day - maintaining his second place in the overall standings.  To our amazement, Tim ("4Z") had gotten low on his final glide and been forced to use his motor to get home - resulting in a big points penalty that dropped him way down in the standings, due to the high scoring of the other pilots in our class this day.  As for myself, I was stunned to learn that I'd taken 3rd place for the day; and Tim's mishap thrust me up into first place overall!  

However, it wasn't a victory I could fully celebrate for two reasons: [1] I knew that I didn't have a great flight, and my competitor's bad luck was part of my success, and [2] Brian Case is only 10 6 [scores slightly changed overnight] points behind me in the standings!  1st through 4th place are separated by a mere 143 points!!  Over in the 15m class, Stu Larimore had to leave due to a family emergency; and he will be missed.  His departure and some great flights by the top pilots put Mike Thompson and Mike Newgard into first and second place, with Steve Northcraft trailing close behind in 3rd.  

After everything was over, we held a "BBQ-part-two" on the deck - with more fine cooking on the part of Becky Newgard and her assistants.  Ephrata is just an awesome place to share flying and great camaraderie. Now it all comes down to Saturday, the final day.  Tensions and excitement are running high, as the morning has dawned bright and clear.  Best of luck to all of the pilots, its going to be an all-out charge to the finish!

--Noel

Posted: 7/3/2010 By: Noel Wade


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