Monday, April 20, 2009

A Full Tank

Two dozen pilots filled their tanks with three days of flying and three evenings of barbecues this weekend. We spent two days at Makapuu chasing the downrange promise of light winds and high cloudbase, followed by a strong southwesterly day at Koko Head.

On Friday, the wind was blowing lightly from the north northwest, and cloudbase was super high, so Don and Nick headed downrange right away. I launched right behind them and tried to follow, but lift was surprisingly sparse along the ridge so I was a bit slow. Don seemed to be long gone, but I had Nick in sight ahead of me. But as he reached Ironwoods, he seemed to be sinking rapidly, and I was having trouble finding any workable lift below hang launch myself. Then I watched as he sank all the way to the ground in Waimanalo. Uh oh. I turned around and hightailed it back to Cactus. The lighthouse side was really the only part that was working nicely. Turns out Don had bombed out just before Nick.

Those guys got a ride back from Mad Dog, and I landed at the lookout, as Berndt joined us. We proceeded to stage an extended showoff session for the rest of the afternoon, taking off and toplanding a zillion times all over the lookout area, to the delight of the spectators and paparazzi. We felt like rock stars - anyway there are certainly a lot of rocks up there. Jim showed up for the late session, and Reaper stopped by for a quick flight using Jim's wing. Afterwards a lot of the guys headed over to Reaper's house for a barbecue. Nick had some video footage of some of the hot dogs buzzing the lookout, and they watched it on Reaper's TV - I can't wait to see it myself.

On Saturday, the day dawned with light winds again, a bit straighter in than on the previous day, pretty much due north, and another high cloudbase. Jorge flew around the corner in his tandem and declared it a good downrange day. Dave and Maui Jon wasted no time blazing back to Waimanalo and starting the mission. Frank and I followed, and Don was just behind us. It was an easy smooth ride to Puu O Kona and around to Greenwalls, but once around the corner there I felt some strong swirling air currents that I imagined might be coming from behind Olomana. I turned back, and Frank and Don hung out at Greenwalls for awhile but eventually joined me as I headed back to Makapuu.

After we got back, we were treated to that amazing and rare huge orographic cloudbank that sometimes forms below us on the hang launch ridge, and we soared above it in the abundant ridge lift. The real clouds were still sparse and way higher up, but this low cloudbank just formed right on the ridge and kept streaming up and over.

We heard that Dave and Jon had sunk out to St. Stephens in the northerly flow as they tried to round the Pali, and Thom kindly sped out to pick them up. Reaper was teaching new students Matt, Jessica, Jason and LeeAnn to kite at the LZ. Nick, Scrappy and Jim were flying the second shift, and Maui Jon was back in the air. It was too strong for Cactus, where Thom had done some kiting with Don, and even Manics was getting strong, so guys were heading out from Crazys at that point.

I landed and soon convinced Larry, Sharky, and Thom that if they wanted to fly, there was only one solution: the old guarantee - Tomato Patch. Berndt came along too, just to try it out, and Frank and I hiked up without gear to assist with the launches. It was a complete disaster. Berndt got out okay, but Thom blew three launch attempts and Larry blew two, and Sharky never even got to try to blow any. Don hiked up to help us get Thom untangled from the trees after his second attempt. The trail and the launch are terribly overgrown, and it's just as steep and windless up there as ever. Whose hare-brained idea was it to rediscover the horrors of Tomato Patch?

Larry said he wanted to hike back down, so I generously offered to fly his wing down for him. It was the least I could do. We hatched a plan to fool Reaper into thinking I was Larry. I launched in his wing, wearing his helmet, leaving him to hike down as he talked on the radio to Pete, pretending to be in the air and in need of advice. Reaper was telling me how to hug the hill to find lift, and initially I acted like I was listening, but eventually I headed out over the water to see what he'd say. He said okay, I guess you're coming in for a landing, so you can turn around now and come on in. (I kept going.) Larry, turn around. (I kept going.) Okay, last chance, turn around NOW. So I finally turned back with a huge and sudden brake input, and Pete said, whoa, not so much brake, so I hammered the other side, trying to mimic how a beginner might do it. Finally Pete tried to talk me into a conservative approach to the LZ, at which point I gave up the charade and began winging it over to set up a more interesting approach, and then he knew he'd been punk'd. He was a great sport about it, but I'm still going to watch my back for a while!

We saw Maui Doug, Ginny, Mad Dog, Nightshift and Sub Steve at the LZ as well. Afterwards, a bunch of us went over to Joey's house for a barbecue. He's waiting for another surgery on his ankle on Wednesday, and we did our best to provide some distraction from his troubles.

On Sunday, the wind was stronger and coming from the southwest, so Frank hiked up Koko Head to check it out, but I heard he broke a line up there or something. I hate when that happens! By the time I got there, Reaper was taking his kiting students and Thom on a tour of the Hawaii Kai kiting spots, and Berndt and Maui Jon were in the air. Scrappy and Ginny were getting ready to launch their fifth tandem of the day, but they were struggling with the strong wind at the top. I helped them get into the air from a lower spot, but it was starting to get really strong, and I opted to forgo a flight in those marginal conditions when I was still so jazzed about the previous two days of sweet flying. I hiked down with Berndt, who had just toplanded. It's pretty easy to decide to hike down in marginal conditions when you've had lots of great flying recently - it would be great if I could make similar conservative decisions even when I'm a bit more desperate to get into the air.

Afterwards a bunch of us went to Thom's house for a barbecue, and it was great to see Bob there as well.

What a full weekend. Coincidentally, when I left the house on Friday morning I had filled my car with gas as soon as I hit the road. By the time I got home on Sunday night, the empty light was flashing - three days of paradriving had depleted my gas tank. So much for a low carbon footprint. But I was just happy to have my airtime tank nice and full for a change. Thanks to all our barbecue hosts - next time we fly out at Kahana, I'll host one at my house.


Berndt said...

Awesome pics Alex. With some cropping, the "Double Brock" shot belongs on the magazine cover.

Alex said...

Berndt, you are too kind. I was actually just browsing through them myself and reliving the weekend (again). Great to see you out there three days in a row. Unfortunately I don't think any of my shots will work for the magazine cover because my camera doesn't have enough pixels. One day soon I will get another nice rig and then we'll see about cover shots.

Maui Jon said...


What a weekend. I have not been over to visit in over two months, and needed the 6 1/2 air hours I got over the weekend.

Thanks Dave for just about putting us into the trees at Saint Stevens. Man, we were spanked down like a couple of red headed stop children. Also thanks for the use of your FLX. Did my second full Helico on it, and it has got me on the way to doing lots of em...

Hopefully see all of you Oahu pilots in the air in the near future.

Jon Malmberg

Alex said...

Glad to have you as always, Jon. I think you and Dave make quite a pair. :-)

Berndt, check out the cover shot mockup I just added at the bottom of the article.

Anonymous said...

hey Alex, great story. wish i could see Reaper's face, watching his student doing wingovers.
i think that shot is awesome, caught my eye right away. i don't suppose you shot it raw, but just in case you did, you can clone the pixels, make it a better res ( ask Jorge how to do it ). try to submit it anyways, it's a great shot !
miss you guys ! cheers
Czech Peter

Sharky said...

Awesome shot Alex. Looks like a cover shot to me!

How much does Don pay you to get those pictures of him? Seems like Don gets all the great pics!

Thanks again for coming up on tomato patch to help launch. I'm still sore from that hike!


Anonymous said...

Not sure who's idea the patch was but thanks ??!
Great story again Alex. I am still picking tomatoe plants out of my stuff. Oh to anyone who wants a guarantee launch you have to bring Don, Alex & Frank with you and a WEED WACKER.


firedave said...

Thom: When you told me that you were hiking, I knew that it would be an exercise in futility. May others learn from your efforts. It probably would have been best to go to Crazy's after the lifeguards leave and have a beach landing at the worst.

As for Maui Jon and my little XC, it was a simple flight into Maunawili trying to keep our heads out of the clouds at 3500'. It was the last third of a mile rounding the corner at the Pali where I bumbled into a waterfall of sinking air, unrelenting 500fpm down. Jon didn't want to miss any of the fun and flew into it himself. We were wingtip to wingtip with the trees right below us. I was already scoping out trees to land in. Somehow, we skulked around the corner, far too low to look for lift, and tree surfed our way into the soccer field at St. Stephens. The friendly folk there, thanked us for an entertaining landing there and brought us lunch 2 minutes after landing. Thom ran a hasty and much appreciated retrieve, beer and all. I headed down to family on the beach and watch the rest of the days action from below.

Maui Jon said...

Dave... I'll follow ya anywhere in the air! Good fun and a nice exciting way to end a short XC hop!