Wednesday, March 18, 2009

Another Day in the Mines

Seven pilots worked hard today at Kahana, mining the skies for hidden veins of glider fuel. I was joined by local pilots Jim, Ray & Thom, as well as visitors Chandler, Paul, and Big Island John. It's a tough job but somebody's got to do it - otherwise all that valuable glider fuel just goes to waste!

The visitors had all checked out Makapuu, but the northerly sea breeze was blowing too strong at Manics and too light at Crazies. I stopped to check out Kahana, which was looking perfect to me, aside from the incredibly low cloudbase enveloping the surrounding peaks down to around 1500 feet, and the fact that, well, it happened to be raining. I told the visiting pilots that it was looking perfect indeed, and I managed to convince them to forsake Makapuu for a trip to my lush and verdant corner of the island. The rain soon cleared, and I hiked up the regular ridge, launching from low launch in what I soon realized was a very cross airflow from the north, so I immediately headed around to the north ridge where it was working better.

I really love getting a head start on the flying day: launching before anyone else gets there, taking a quick tour of the sky, and then descending to buzz my pals as they trudge up the hill. I spotted John setting up on the north ridge, and I toplanded to perch for a moment next to him. I got out of his way and he launched soon afterwards, but with one wingtip completely tangled in his lines, which he was never able to clear. He made the best of it and worked his way up, but eventually he tired of the constant weightshift it took to maintain a straight heading, and headed in. I flew the ridge with Chandler and Paul, working the light lift around the rhino horn and trying to get as high as possible.

I worked my way up into the low clouds out front, and on a whim I took the opportunity to head out across the bay. I made it all the way over, but came in super low, around 750 feet, and I soon found myself milking the lightest of lift just to stay above the Crouching Lion. Finally I found a nice deposit of glider fuel rising straight up from the Lion itself, and I got just high enough to risk the return trip, from around 800 feet. I held my breath and floated back across, squeaking in to topland the north ridge again, this time next to Thom as he was preparing to launch for his first flight of the day. After Thom launched, I hustled up to the high north launch, hucked off again, and flew with Jim for a while.

Emboldened by my lucky return from Kaaawa, I decided to take a chance and head into the back to soar the summit of Puu Piei, which had been soaking in the clouds all day. The wind was still blowing northerly, although on the light side, and I was a bit anxious about running into sinkholes back there. But I had been watching the cloud vapor streaming slowly upwards at the peak all afternoon, and I figured if I could get myself to the peak then I would surely rise up just like that cloud vapor. Sure enough, it was working back there, although the lift was kind of spotty. Sometimes that glider fuel is just not as pure as we'd like, but we take what we can get.

From there I noticed some whales going nuts just outside of Punaluu, breeching and making huge splashes. I headed out over the valley to take pictures of Jim as he was landing, thinking I would land right afterwards myself. But then I spotted a trio of sneaky hikers heading up the east ridge, and I burned over there to topland at high launch to wait for them. It was Ray, Thom and John. I took one more spin, toplanded again, relaunched and then finally headed in for some cold refreshments, followed shortly afterwards by John and Ray.

Ray made the most amazing landing, shooting downwind towards the bridge and then banking hard to swing his body around just inches over the sand - I thought he was going to eat it, but then I saw him casually reach out his hand and drag his fingers through the sand, as he swung through the circle, finally standing up and landing into the wind at the last moment. Wow. We checked later and found 20 foot finger tracks.

From the beach, we watched Thom launch slowly but cleanly for his second flight of the day, in very cross conditions, and he headed out to soar for a while as the wind had started to pick up a bit. When he was ready to land, he made his way down for a perfect landing in the center of the landing zone, right next to Maile and Kalei. Our newest lift miner is working hard to learn the trade, and he's doing a great job. Keep it up, Thom!

1 comment:

Brazilian Ray said...

I am still high from that landing! the light winds allowed perfect speed on landing and all had to do was to bank and reach out. it was fun!

Nice job Thom!