Monday, February 23, 2009

True North

The northerly conditions over the last few days at Kahana have been very challenging for many, and very rewarding for a lucky few. Starting with a strong and squally warm-up flight midweek, followed by an afternoon of parawaiting and kitesurfing on Friday, we finished with a full weekend of flying in the most northerly winds we've ever harnessed to our purpose.

The forecasters have been calling them trades, but the direction has been far more north than we typically expect from tradewinds. Not that there's anything wrong with that - we like it north at Kahana so we can cross the bay more easily. Of course, when we say "north" in reference to flying at Kahana, we don't really mean due north, we mean any direction north of the usual easterly tradewind direction - what most laypersons would call northeast. Due north is not generally a direction we can launch in. But by the last day, we actually were launching and flying in winds that were pretty close to due north, so we might have to revise our thinking on that. Some of our more persnickety local pilots have started a movement to promote accuracy in our directional terminology, so that pilots will only say north when they really mean due north. We wish those activists the best of luck - they have our full support.

On the other hand, we've known for a while that the Punaluu wind sensor seems to read too northerly by about 20 degrees compared to what we observe - we're hoping the sensor folks can help us calibrate it on their next visit, which should be very soon. So when the sensor shows 0 degrees, that's probably closer to 20 degrees in reality. But then again, we also have to factor in magnetic declination: when we are talking about north, there's true north (the one on the maps) and magnetic north (what your compass shows you), which vary by about 9 degrees here in Hawaii. The sensors are all supposed to be adjusted to take the magnetic declination into account and reference true north. So if a compass reads 9 degrees the sensor should read read zero. In that case maybe our sensor is only off by 11 degrees.

We've also noticed that the norther it blows the colder we feel both on the ground and in the air. It's like that wind was carried straight down from Alaska. I had to break out my balaclava and gloves on the last two flying days just in order to remain in the air for more than a few minutes. Brrrr!

Another feature of the "north" days we've noticed is a strange bumpy quality to the air with lift happening in odd places, often out over the ocean. Sometimes it feels like convergence, sometimes just like chunky thermals. My theory is that the coldness of the surface air keeps it from mixing as well as the warmer stuff - kind of like chilled butter. And Jeff cooked up a reasonable theory about the north direction sweeping thermals up and over from the Punaluu side where there's some nice land mass to heat up, compared to the short stretch of land to the east.

The wind had been so cross from the "north" these last few days that we often found ourselves inflating our wings towards the rhino horn and then trying to ride the wavy airflow up and around the front of the ridge, with varying degrees of success. There were many decisions made to hike down (as well as some decisions not to hike up), and also many valiant efforts to launch that resulted in quick rides to the beach. In any case, it was great to see so many local pilots out there over the last few days: Jeff, Jim, Don, Chopper Dave (for the first time at Kahana in over a year), Berndt, Reaper, Brazilian Ray, Thom, Marc and Jeffe Ray. And old-timer BJ stopped by today out of the blue, riding his Harley.

In addition to a host of intrepid local pilots, we had four visitors flying (or checking out the flying) with us this weekend: Breckenridge John, his brother Bernie from Ohio, Morgan from Santa Barbara, and instructor Chuck Smith from Sun Valley, Idaho. John is recovering from a debilatating accident six months ago in Colorado, and this weekend was his first chance to fly again. What a great place to get back on the horse! He managed something like four bay crossings in two days of flying. Chuck Smith crossed the bay Sunday and got higher (and farther back) than I've ever see anyone get over Puu Manamana, the summit of the ridge behind Kaaawa. I'm guessing he was close to five grand there. I got close to three grand on the frontside, but he was specked out far above and behind me. I can't wait to see the pictures he took. As we've seen so many times, these mainland mountain pilots just don't suffer from our ridge-soaring preconceptions. But also keep in mind Chuck has been flying for 100 years so that gives him some experience to draw upon.

Thom came out Sunday for his second full day of hiking and parawaiting, and by the end of the afternoon he was rewarded with a window of smooth and easy launchable conditions. Don and Reaper collaborated to help him score his first ever soaring flight in perfect "north" conditions. Way to go, Thom! Maybe we'll see a story about that milestone flight.

Thanks to Don and Thom for the Coconut Porter Soda today. Thanks to John's wife Alison and their sons for keeping Amelia entertained at the beach while I flew today. Thanks to visitor Morgan for loaning me his extra radio battery. I need to get it back to him before I leave town Monday afternoon!

1 comment:

Anonymous said...

Sounds like a great time (and place).
PS- Actually Chuck has been flying 110 years!