Thursday, December 22, 2005

Getting Some: Two Days Trying, Two Days Flying

This time of year we have to be ready for anything. Pilots with good weather information and flexible schedules will see some interesting flights this time of year. Traditionally our best XC flights are made in this season. But there are also a lot of days where it's just not quite working right anywhere. That doesn't stop us from going out to try our luck anyway. And after a few days of delaying our gratification by parawaiting, the days when we do get flights seem all the sweeter.

Last Saturday many of us (including Greg) gathered at Makapuu hoping for a repeat performance of the previous day's sea breeze soaring (scored by certain sneaky scoundrels), but the day was cursed by a pronounced southwesterliness that just wouldn't go away. That didn't stop us from hanging out and hoping, all day. At the end of the day we decided to chase that southwest tendency all the way around past Mariners to Koko Head, desperate enough to risk electrocution or at least arrest in our quest for air. But it seemed too light to even bother hiking, just a sea breeze tease, so instead Bob gave us a nice tour of China Walls and Spitting Cave and we called it a day.

A few days later, I called Greg to come out to Kahana to help me welcome the tradewinds back, but by the time we got there it had picked up from an average of 13 to a solid average of 16 (as measured by iWindSurf). We hung out for over an hour, beachcombing and eating lunch, but it never backed off. It might have been possible to launch, and park ourselves in the air low and out front, but we weren't quite that desperate.

So after a rare two days in a row of unrequited parawaiting, yesterday dawned with light winds and a stratospheric cloudbase. I could hear the angels singing. Chopper Dave predicted on the Chatterbox that it would be a day long remembered in XC legend. Oh man, that got me drooling. Of course, it's easy to predict an epic day when you can't make it out there yourself. After lunch I headed out there to meet Don, thinking about how far downrange we would go. Kaneohe District Park? Hygienic? Kahana? Actually, as I passed Kahana it seemed totally flyable there - I wondered if we should consider the safe bet of a good XC flight there, but it didn't seem worth the risk of passing up a potential XC trip from Makapuu under clouds as high as the moon. On the way I called Greg, who like me had already suffered through two days of delayed gratification, and convinced him to blow off his work and come out to make history with us. He was dubious, but he managed to bribe Sue to let him come out and join us.

We launched Crazy's in a pretty stiff breeze, and shot up to almost three grand without breaking a sweat, but it really seemed too strong to leave the ridge. Not that it didn't seem possible to go downrange, but it was strong enough that we'd have had to be super careful the whole time to ride the outer edge of the huge lift band. And I always worry that on a strong day like that, the rotor behind Olomana or Ohulehule will be far-reaching and fearsome. We landed after a couple of hours up, joining the hang glider pilots at the golfcourse LZ: Cockroach Bay Links. I entertained the hangies with a demonstration of a goalpost landing, stumbling back towards the highway in a strong cycle, and hooking the speed limit sign with a line. Turns out Mike Benson made it to Kaaawa and back, and Leo and others all went far as well. Arrghh - hearing that really made me wish I had been flying one of those floppy little hang gliders that Dave and Ray have. We met students Scrappy Claude and Jeff McStalker at the LZ, and then when Bob showed up we hustled back up for another quick flight from Crazy's in even stronger wind than before. Five minutes was enough for me this time. I knew when I was beat. But I entertained Jeff with another goalpost landing, kicking the windsock pole and almost snaring it as I came barreling in. Note to self: got to stop landing on poles. Greg had another note for me: if it looks like this again tomorrow, please don't call him.

So the next day, the clouds were indeed high again, although nothing like the day before - they were grazing the top of Konahuanui. And it seemed lighter than the day before, but my reading of the forecast made me think it would be a good day for Kahana, or at least a safer bet for an XC trip, so after my chores in town I headed that way. I saw that Pete was already there with a visiting pilot from Japan. From the beach it really seemed super light, like maybe I should have been at Makapuu, but I watched Pete launch and scratch his way up, followed shortly after by Ukisu-san. What the heck - I like the light days best anyway. But it was so light I didn't think it was quite worth calling out any reinforcements - I don't need a bunch of bomb-outs on my conscience, especially one performed by Grumpy Greg. Don had thought he might come out but he had a small window and decided to pass. And I knew Bob was leaving for the Big Island today.

So I hiked up by myself and hucked off, and raced around in a cavalier fashion like I didn't need to work for it, finally bombing ignominiously into the bushes below low launch. I lugged my gear back up to the top to salvage the day with another attempt, waiting for any breath of wind to relieve the stillness, and finally got a cycle that seemed like it would hold me up. Even then I was pretty sure I was doomed for a sledder, but I persevered and milked the thermals like I meant it this time. With great relief, I soon joined Pete and Ukisu-san above Puu Piei, at around 2300 feet, about where cloudbase was by that time. The air at Kahana was light and thermic, and the thermals were hard edged and narrow. Pete didn't wait for a committee decision but headed downrange right away, followed soon after by Ukisu-san and me.

At the next ridge we got our butts handed to us as we came in low over the dirt spot. That spot consistently bakes off the meanest thermals on the Kahana XC tour. We all shot up and down over the Punaluu ridge like yo-yos for a while, trying to hang on to those monsters but mostly falling out of them into the very turbulent air sinking all around them. Finally Pete made it to the back to peek over the top of Sacred Falls, while me and Ukisu-san spiralled up into the clouds together over the front. Pete then headed out and around Sacred Falls to the next ridge, and I finally made it back to where he had been, but by now the clouds were looking ominous and a lot lower, so I didn't stay back there long. Ukisu-san and I followed Pete in for a landing at Hauula Beach Park and enjoyed some hard-earned refreshments while we watched the clouds develop into multiple squalls and showers. The bus never showed up, so in desperation we stuck our thumbs out, but in vain. Finally Pete showed some leg and managed to attract the driver of a pickup truck for a ride back to Kahana. The driver turned out to be a nice local tree trimmer who I know from my neighborhood.

After I got back home I heard that Don and Bob had flown Makapuu after all. They launched Crazy's for a nice sweet flight mostly over Makapuu Beach, buzzing the tourists and throwing their wings around in the strong lift there to make the most of their small windows of opportunity. Also Greg called me after I had landed, to hear what he had missed, and I tried hard to resist gloating about my nice day flying - but not that hard.

Looks like tradewinds are back for a while. See you all out there soon!

1 comment:

Anonymous said...

Yeah, baby!