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18 Meter National - 7T Report

Today's forecast was very promising (4kts, 6k top of lift, and SW wind of 15-20 mph at altitude with streeting likely).  However, after two days of  slightly over-enthusiastic forecasts, CD Eric Mozer, along with task advisors Al Tyler and Jerzy Szemplinski, wisely decided on a 187 mile assigned task and ditched the 221 mile idea.  This turned out to be another nearly perfect call for a national championship.

The big question at the weather briefing was...would it be blue?  By 11:30am it was clear that there were clouds to the east (the direction of the first assigned turn point) and that those clouds were already rather high and well developed for so early in the day.  Once the launch began the clouds worked as advertised and cloudbase rose up to 5-5.75k by the time the gate was opened at 1:30pm.  Several started nearly immediately.  The majority of the group began starting around 1:45 with some stragglers starting as late as 2:00pm.

The first leg (downwind) to Lumberton was strong and fast.  Speeds were reported at 140-145 kph (85-90 mph).  The cloud field was strong and the cloudbase continued to rise to over 6k along the way.  My first climb on course was nearly 6 knots average after starting out the top in the middle of the start cylinder.  90 and RF were with me but blew me away as they A) had much more water and B) just flew better.  Usually optimistic, I underestimated this day and simply loaded way too little water.  After watching 90 fly away (ASG29 with full water, 11.7 lb/ft wing loading) I "enjoyed" a lesson in how much having too little water can cost. I was in big trouble if the conditions stayed that strong or I couldn't find some way of catching back up.  Not a great way to start a task, but the day was gorgeous and I had a long way to go to find some opportunities.

After the big 6 knot climb, I could not find anything special until just a few miles short of the turn point and down near 2000 agl with Z8.  Here we found the BIG KAHUNA!  This was by far the climb of the day for me, 7.5 knots average for roughly 4000 ft. under an average looking cloud.  With a 15 mph headwind facing us on the next leg, just a few miles ahead, this was a "timely" climb to say the least.

On the second leg to Rockingham the climbs started to become harder to find, harder to center and more pulse-like.  I never really got low, but cringed as I had not seen many gliders in my area and my average speed began to plummet.  The clouds were better to the right of course but this was also the downwind side on the leg.  A 3-4 knot climb was the best I could find, with several suboptimal short climbs.  I feared others were pulling away ahead.  Nearing the 3rd turn I somehow "caught" several notable competitors, or did they catch me (care of the new "no start time reporting" rule)?

At the third turn point (Rockingham) the cloud field had all but ended with drier air moving in from the west.  The third leg to Darlington was set perfectly along this bitter end of the western edge of these last clouds.  The final leg home was going to be absolutely blue.  I needed around 3500 ft. to make final glide at this point.  Some pilots detoured to the east several miles in order to fly under better clouds but this was also well downwind.  On the direct course line to the final turn point (Darlington) the occasional wisp (very fast cycling at this point) still appeared but any lift was more broken and weakening in general.  I began having concerns about getting the 3,000 feet my computer said that I needed to finish.  The good news was that I had caught back up with RF and 90 at this point and was no longer concerned about wing loading in the rapidly weakening lift. 

At Darlington I was happy to be immediately alongside 90 although he clearly still had slightly more wing loading and began to slowly pull ahead as we set out into the blue in front of our small gaggle. We were both still roughly 1,500 - 2000 ft. below final glide with roughly 30 miles to go to the finish.  This was into an 18 knot (30 degree left of finish bearing) headwind.  Broken 1-2 knot lift had now become the most I was finding in my gentle pull ups.  Lift was also clearly streeting (lift and sink). The sink between streets was usually stronger than the lift (2-3 down).  90 had pushed ahead as I found a 2 knot climb that got me close to final glide.  I decided that I needed 500 ft. extra to be (somewhat) sure of finishing without penalty.  This required another weak climb or two and at this point I found XG circling just downwind of a large reservoir that I had feared was causing a good deal of sink as I approached from downwind.  After a couple weak and painful 1-1.5 knot climbs to 350 feet above final glide at MC 2.5, I became impatient and set off trying to fly on the wind line streets (30 degrees left) as long as possible (often gaining 300 extra feet) only to lose most of it in transition to the next street after turning back on course.  Fortunately, the strategy held my safety altitude and I was able to dive it off in the last 6 miles. I made it home ahead of the group I was flying with on the final two legs and felt good about the flight.

That was the good news.  The "other" news was that DL and YO had scorched around the track.  Dennis Linnekin turned in a 63.5 mph speed and won the day by a mile.  YO (Dave Nadler) was a few mph slower than Dennis (60.8 mph) and clearly flew very well.  I finished third with 57.3 mph.  In hindsight, it appeared that I started too late and the fastest pilots of the early starters (15 minutes or so) had the best overall conditions in a day that gradually weakened.  It appears that they did not have to deal as much with the very weak, very blue final leg, or take as many weak climbs to make a safe final glide.

Again, the assigned task was brilliantly called by CD Eric Mozer and his advisors Al Tyler and Jerzy Szemplinski.  That said, it was certainly challenging and several pilots appeared to press a little too hard on final leg and received penalties for low finishes. 

The weather looks good for the next couple days.  Then we will have to see how the weather develops.  Some rain and thunderstorms are forecast starting Tuesday.

Sean Fidler, 7T


Posted: 5/14/2016


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