Tuesday, September 30, 2008

Nanakuli Teaser

Having missed out on what I thought was an "epic" looking day on Sunday, I committed to going to Nanakuli on Monday if the light winds persisted. So, when I woke up Monday, I immediately knew where I was flying that afternoon. I could hardly believe my eyes... The entire Waianae side was crystal clear, dry, and warming up quickly. Cloud development was slower than the day before, with cumulus just barely starting to appear at 10:30am. This told me that there was no chance of over development and, if it in fact wasn't TOO stable, the thermals shouldn't kick my butt too bad. I was convinced it was going to be good.

I feverishly went about getting my work done and kept an eye on it until about 1:30, when I left the house. There had been a nice sea breeze all day that wasn't too strong, and I could see the streamers on low launch blowing pretty good from the dump-side. My only concern was the lazy, northerly drift of the clouds above; some of which were clearly coming from over the back. But, I theorized that the drift wasn't strong enough to cause rotor or anything like that, but rather some nice convergence lift at the peaks. I was ready to hike. I got a call from Doug moments later who concurred (which erased any reservations I had, knowing that Doug is the Zen Master of west-side flying). I also figured that as the day progressed and the sun moved more westward, the sea breeze would further overtake that northerly flow.

Let me pause here for a moment and stress something to you guys...and I think Doug would tell you this too... There are A LOT of days like this out here at Nanakuli - it's flyable over here a lot more days than you'd think. I've seen conditions like yesterday even when Kahana was flyable in the sea breeze, and certainly when Makapuu was a guarantee. When the trades are light enough (say, under 10-12), the speed is buffered significantly by the Koolau and again by the Waianae ranges. The hot terrain of the west-side causes a sea-breeze to develop, and suddenly you've got a potentially epic XC day out here. I've driven by Nanakuli on my way to Kahana or Makapuu numerous times just staring at those McDonald's flags blowing straight at launch...and wondering... "Why don't I just give it a try?" It's something I've given a lot of thought to lately, and something I hope to do a lot more... Giving Nanakuli a shot even when it's a no-brainer Makapuu day, where I know there's plenty of good company and beverages to be had.

Anyways... My flight....

I started my hike alone, knowing that Jim was about 30 minutes behind me. As slow as I hike, the sooner I got started the better. I got to low launch and passed out (just kidding - helluva hike in the hot sun). The cycles were coming in consistently but very cross - right up the spine. I continued my hike up to mid launch, which actually faces that direction. The cycles up there were switchy at times, but much better, even a little on the strong side. In fact, I warned Jim about the strength as he was just arriving at low launch by this time.

Jim and I started laying out about the same time. And, in true Nanakuli fashion, just as we're hooking in, we both notice the cycles start petering out - perhaps, not as bad for me as for Jim who was lower. I decided I'd go in the first even remotely launchable cycle and take my chances. I knew it would still be working if I could just get in the air. I took one light cycle to fluff out my wing, and a minute later took the next one into the air. I immediately starting going up - not an inch of sink. And it was PLEASANT. No sharp edges, no wild pitching and diving, no tip collapses, just lift...and more lift....and some more lift.... until I started getting COLD :) I look down at the vario - 4,206 and beeping. Hell yeah!

The lift was abundant and easy to stay in. I probably flew in 4 or 5 distinct thermals in all, but the distance between them was small. On the way up to cloud base, it felt like they were drifting me slowly toward the back. At cloud base, there was no discernible drift, but the air felt a little "swirly" - perhaps where the northerly flow was meeting the thermal tops (?) I felt one turn "slip" a bit like an incipient spin but it immediately "bit" back into it. Even in straight flight, my wing was yawing around on me a bit. Nothing serious, by any means - just about the only turbulence worth noting.

At that height I just looked around and realized - WOW - I could go anywhere right now. But, without a companion, I just couldn't muster up the guts to go it alone even with having Scrappy as my chase car. I deeply regret that decision, but had a great flight nonetheless - which is why I thought of it as a "Nanakuli Teaser" - just a tease, just a taste, of what can be done out here.

Unfortunately, Jim was stuck at low launch with nary a puff of wind and decided to pack it in while I was setting up to land after my all-too-short flight. I think if I had an airborne companion, I would have been more inclined to explore more and certainly to stay up longer. Next time! (today?!)


Alex said...

Jeff, I am totally impressed that you and Jim were willing to hike up and check it out on a potentially great day, even though everyone else was sold on the notion of a Makapuu downranger. And I'm even more impressed with your flight! I don't think I've ever been quite that high in Hawaii. I just checked, and I found an old article I wrote where I got just under four grand at Nanakuli over four years ago, and I'm pretty sure that's still my highest flight.

Keep up the great work. That video is really fun to watch - I found myself pausing it to peer into the background for details like cloudbase over Kaala, cloud streets over the flats, etc. And I like how you left in the bit where you started to call me on the phone.

JeffMc said...

Thanks Alex!

Oh - another good development from yesterday. I chose a new place to park in the neighborhood that worked out very well. I pulled into Ulei Loop from the opposite direction we usually do. I parked on the right side of the road before the cross street (Puakaloa St.). You can see it here: link. I chose this spot because it was next to a stone wall and well away from anyone's driveway or front door on either side of the street.

I was well prepared before I got there and was just going to grab my wing and run up the hill so as not to dilly-dally in the neihborhood. But across the street from where I parked, I met a cool guy in his front yard who enthusiastically asked "Hey man - are you gonna go fly?!" I told him "yes", introduced myself, and I asked if it was OK to park there, telling him that we don't want to be in anyone's way. He said "No problem! Go for it!". Very nice guy!

I called Jim and told him to park directly behind me, and to also say "Hi" and introduce himself. I believe Jim chatted to him and his kids before also hiking up.

When Scrappy returned me to my car, I talked to the guy again and thanked him and he said "No problem - any time, brah!"

So, it was a nice, positive experience for us in the neighborhood yesterday. Of course, we shouldn't just go park 12 cars in front of this guy's house - we should still be car pooling when possible and spreading our cars around the neighborhood.

...and of course, ALWAYS give a nice smile and wave to whomever we see. They know why we're there - as long as we show a little Aloha and stay out of people's way (and not just walk by and ignore them like we own the place) I think we'll do very well at Nanakuli.

firedave said...

Jeff, Nice flight, I am glad to hear that you are out there leading the charge. I was trying to ignore the great looking conditions, as there was no chance I could get out.
I have been out in Waianae on tradewind days and have noticed that it blows in pretty good from the southeast. I think the ridge between Waianae and Makaha would be the ticket to accessing the air on those days.
The odd air you found at 4200ft. usually means you found the top of lift, it is a good thing and is telling you it is time to go somewhere. It sounds like Jim or Scrappy could have been your "designated" driver.
Good stuff!

Doug said...

Nicly done Jeff. Now the next step is to fly either to the back of the valley or across to the pyrimid on the other side of the valley. When I get to 2800 I have never missed.

JeffMc said...

Thanks Doug! Actually, on another flight I did cross the valley to that pyramid. It was on a day that you had already gone over and were actually trying to make it back, just for fun. On that flight I didn't get quite as high - about 3700 I think. But you're right - I need to combine the two - Sky out AND go somewhere :)

Brazilian Ray said...

right on, Jeff!!! Nanakuli has great potential and should be better explored! me and Doug flew there after a makapuu morning flights at least a couple of times (once I picked him up from a XC to manoa). anything over 3 grand is pretty high and worth going for a cruise around the valley!
aloha and keep up with the good job ;)
Brazilian Ray