Thursday, July 3, 2008

Day 2-3 - 3 July 2008

Good Evening Race Fans:

Well, we’ve got ourselves a race going here in Northern California. We’ve gotten in three out of the first three days and are looking at flyable weather the rest of the next 7 days. The CD, Gary Kemp, told us today that he would evaluate the need for a rest day based on the look in our eyes.” Might we have a 10 day contest?

The weather forecast for the foreseeable future… Incredibly smoky soaring conditions with a chance of spatial disorientation. Seriously, last night’s social and this morning’s pilots meeting were filled with tales of spatial disorientation, incipient spins, and just flat out scary conditions. Only the very professional conduct and very high skills of all the pilots so far has prevented anything other than concern over the situation. We are all here to race and that’s what we intend to do.

With a major fire burning just to our west at Happy Camp, it looks like the western part of the local task area (Scott Valley area and ‘The Marbles’ mountain range) will remain problematic. The days are dawning with flecks of ash on my truck’s hood, somewhat clear skies, but then rapidly going to smokier and smokier conditions as the task opens up about 2:30 pm and then getting worse as the afternoon goes on.

For a pilot like me flying his first contest here (and in a new-to-me glider to boot), it’s been like trying to race/navigate in a foggy phone booth when going even a little bit west into the start area (Gunsite Start). This is a terribly technical place to fly fast in and it is super difficult when you can’t see the clouds and terrain more than 2-4 miles ahead of you. Especially in a 30/1 glider like the Sparrowhawk, if you want to make a big jump into a new soaring area over these wide valleys, you need to have some visual assurance that there is lift working where you are going before you make a major strategic move.

The visibilty to the east of the airport (Butte Valley area) have been better. However, this better visibility has not prevented many a pilot from either landing out or being caught very low and having to laboriously dig oneself out of deep trouble in this eastern part of the tasking area.

We’ve got a cooling period for today and tomorrow (July 4th) with highs going from the mid 90’s to 90 to a forecast high of only 83 here in Yreka tomorrow. The temps should begin to cook back into the mid to upper 90’s by Sunday and Next Monday. Odds are this will improve the soaring – but also stoke the fires.

Steve Northcraft (SN) has won the first two days and is really showing his knowledge of the site gained by racing here over many years. Day Three results are not up yet, and all results are going to be tweaked a little bit as the handicaps have not been adjusted for over/underweight competitors.

I’ll just give you a little feeling for how I’ve seen the days play out:

Day One 3 hour MAT, Gunsite Start, China Start TP, Medicine Lake…
This is an odd contest in that the center of the start cylinder we are using (Gunsite Start) is about a 17 mile “commute” (in the words of one pilot) from the Siskiyou County airport.

The release area is on top of Craggy Ridge. There you can expect to get to between 6-8+ thousand MSL before the start opens. It is then up to you to pick your way over to the start cylinder and then get up over the higher mountains and ridges to the west of Yreka.

The release area seems to have very pronounced cycling and it is not uncommon to have to hang out on the ridgetop for quite some time before getting enough height to get over into the start cylinder. So far this initial climb and transition has been pretty kind to me in the little yellow glider.

The pattern that held true on this day has held true the next two days: Everyone out of the cylinder in good shape at the top of the cyclinder (10,000 feet Msl for this contest so far), pretty decent runs to the China Start TP on the ridges at China Mtn., then get a good climb here to set you up for the rest of the day. Then the decisions…

This day (and the next) a LOOOONG glide across the Shasta Valley in the lee of the mighty giant Mt. Shasta (14,000+feet msl) ensued, hope to hook into a climb at Deer Mtn or Whaleback Mtn, and then off to the next (and last) mandatory TP. This day saw altitudes of up to 12-13K being achieved at China, then glide over into the Lee of Mt. Shasta where a lee side thermal and or weak wave enabled most people to tank up, then a long flat glide into the Medicine lake Tp. Medicine Lake TP is at about 7300 feet Msl and saw many competitors get too low for comfort over unlandable terrain. But it was the last mandatory Tp and there was no option but to go for it. Most dug out a decent thermal just short of Medicine Lake and then were able to get going north onto a relatively good shear line.

I followed the crowd and put my head down in my 11 meter ship and was going along doing my thing when I got caught a little low when the Butter Valley are “cycled” off. For about 40 minutes I searched and searched and searched… and then landed out at Butte Valley airport. Not the most auspicious start to a contest! An easy aerotow back home and I was home for a grand total of 300-ish points. How good is the Sparrowhawk’s handicap???

Day 2, 3 hour minimum MAT, China Start TP, Three Sheds TP…

This day saw pretty much the same thing as Day 1 saw. This time there was a fair amount of high level wave/rotor/rotor induced thermals happening. Most had an easy run to China Start TP, then the long glide to three sheds began for most of us.

I was able to get a good run across the valley and yet still found myself low at three sheds looking for a thermal. Eventually I dug out a one knotter that got better with each ascending thousand feet, eventually ending up as a good 9 knotter on the averager in the last thousand feet of the climb. From there I just played out the lift lines and had a good flight of about 150 miles (raw).

I should mention here that I am flying Greg Cole’s personal Sparrowhawk. In the keeping with my new theory of keeping it simple. I elected not to install my instruments in the plane. Can anyone offer me any hints on how to use Winpilot more effectively???

All I know is that my entire flight was spent doing battle with Winpilot and the Ipaq. So much so that I missed the Three Sheds TP by about .85 of a mile. Ooops! So what was a 924 point, 6th place day ended up a 813 point day for 13th place. I’m starting to feel a little more comfortable with the task area. But it sure would be nice to see the area at least once while I am here.

Day 3, 3 hour minimum MAT, China Start TP first turn.

This day began smoky and only got worse as the day went on. In keeping with my new outlook on contest score sheets (As per Uli Schwenk, multiple time German national team member, who does not look at them), I do not know any of the results since I, too, am not looking at them this contest.

I had a really great flight going on while keeping relatively close in until I ran out of Turnpoints sitting over the home field at 4,000 feet agl. Argghhhh! I should have probably extended a little bit more into the western mountains. BUT, with the smoke, being as bad as it is, the commitment to go for the next mtn range west without being able to see what was going on there would have been a huge gamble. I think I put about 140 miles in the box and we’ll see how that scores

Remember that portable FAA control tower the fire bomber operation requested a few days ago? Well, it showed up while we were out on Task today. So for about 20 minutes this afternoon, the Siskiyou Country airport was a little bit like ORD at rush hour. For me, this was one of only a handful of times I’ve ever had to talk to a tower. And this time it was under the pressure of a contest finish. Fun. There were many looks of utter amazement on the faces of the pilots at tonights social hour.

Stay tuned for more news on the wackiness of the 2008 Sports Class Nationals.

See Ya,

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