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Day 2 - Getting the Hang of This Place

NOTE: For the non-pilots, I'm going to post a blog tomorrow about how this sailplane-racing thing works; to try to demystify it.

So today was a  bit better than yesterday, for everyone.  The task was basically to run out to the Marble Mountains (to the west), then go south along them for ~35 miles, then head back northeast for 50 miles, and finally make a south-north "lap" of the main line of mountains along the western edge of the Shasta Valley (~35 miles each direction), for a nominal distance of 185 miles and a minimum time of at least 3.5 hours (most of us ended up in the air for 4.5+ hours, due to slow starts).  For those that know the area the task was Gunsight,Quartz,Carter,R-Ranch,China,Restaurant-Exit,Siskiyou. Being a "MAT" type task, we had to fly within 1 mile of each turnpoint; but it also allowed us to return home at any point and still get scored for a "complete" task.  Most people ended up completing the assigned turnpoints (and even adding a few extras on); but it was nice to have the flexibility in case things went to hell.  I completed the task and had some leftover time so I took one final good climb and shot down to Grenada before turning for home - making it across the finish only 15 seconds over the minimum time (a little closer than I would have preferred; but it worked out).

The day was forecasted to start suddenly and die early, so I tried to get up and out quickly.  This turned out to be a bad decision as the day actually developed late and got better and better as some high cirrus moved out in the late afternoon hours (it had been forecasted to sit overhead all day).  In fact, after trying to get launched early we ended up holding the launch as the lift was slow to develop and people weren't getting very high on Craggy Peak at the outset. In the beginning it was blue lift (no clouds); then by about 2pm wispy cloudbases started around 9000' and slowly worked their way up to 11000' later on, with most of us flying between 8000' and 10500' as we cruised north and south across the high peaks and mountain ridges.  I saw 11200' twice (and went on oxygen after I hit 10000' the first time, to be safe).  Sadly, I also scratched around some weaker thermals and dawdled in some ridge-induced lift/turbulence too much.  I'd hit a big pulse of lift and then waste 1-2 turns (30-60 seconds) searching for the lift or deciding that I couldn't stay in it all the way around.  Meanwhile, people near me would be working slightly-weaker-but-more-consistent-lift and would gain altitude and/or distance on me...  Its a key lesson to remember: Trying to find your own thermal near a gaggle is rarely better than using the gaggle as a marker and diving straight for that lift!  I only outclimbed people twice by going for my own lift; and several times I wasted precious seconds searching, only to decide to head for a gaggle that had finished their climb and headed out (no longer marking the lift I was hoping to use) - d'oh!

During the flight, I was always 1000' below and a mile or two behind SN (Steve Northcraft); and it showed as he beat me on the scoresheet.  Chris Young also had a decent flight, but had to grind up in the start cylinder and took some lengthy detours to stay with the clouds on his northbound run from Carter to R-Ranch - which cost him some time/speed.  I improved upon my Tuesday finish - albeit slightly - by finishing in 6th instead of 7th.  

Overall I'm in 5th place (not counting our Aussie guest-pilot who had a mediocre day but is a superb pilot). Indeed, I have learned that 2 of the top 3 pilots in my class are representing the USA at the next World Championships (in Argentina).  The third pilot? Yeah, he's an alternate for the World Championships.  The Aussie, Allan Barnes, is a very likeable chap who I believe has represented his country at the world championships in the past.  And then there's Steve Northcraft - who's helped mentor me in this sport and has at least 20 more years of flying under his belt than I do.  Talk about a stacked deck! As for myself?  This is my 7th contest, ever; and  I've only been soaring for 5 years... Hopefully that means I have a lot of room left for improvement; because there's definitely a gap between what those guys are capable of and what I can pull off - for now.

Here are the Flights (click on the "i" to the right, to view details)

Here are the Scores

Tomorrow (Thursday) should be interesting:  Some forecast models are showing great conditions, others are showing high winds and wave lift that will kill thermals and make it impossible to fly.  Should be a heck of a day if they throw us into the air, one way or another!  

Seven Days of competition remain - I'm looking forward to seeing what I can do as I get "dialed in" to this soaring site, and all the tricks involved in flying Montague... With the various ridges and convergences and shifty wind-patterns, she's a wily animal unto herself! 

--Noel / Glider "Papa-Mike"

P.S. I got some video of the flight; but editing it will have to wait until later - the flying is keeping me pretty busy!

Posted: 6/28/2012 By: Noel Wade

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