Tuesday, January 12, 2010


Was it just me, or was today just about as tasty as it gets at Makapuu (and points downrange)? Of course, I feel terrible when I think of all those hard working, responsible pilots who couldn't just take a last minute sick day, as well as those pathetic souls who had to forgo a proper downrange flight because they had to pick up their kids from school.

The forecast hadn't made it sound like today would be anything special - light trades turning very light and southeasterly, or light and variable. I was secretly relieved, because I knew I had morning phone conferences with clients, and afternoon school pickups, which left me with only a brief window to fly, assuming some quick opportunity presented itself.

But the day dawned sunny, cold and still, with a low dewpoint that promised us a high cloudbase, and the light trades turned out to be more of a postfrontal northerly flow. The unimpressive forecast had barely hinted at the super stellar XC day we ended up with. Mad Dog and Jim got out there first, sounding the klaxons on the chatterbox and launching from Manics to blaze downrange. I quickly wrapped up my phone calls and shot out of the house to grab a quick flight before I had to pick up the kids.

As I rounded Kualoa, I caught my first glimpse of the stratospheric clouds along the range, and I got the usual sick churning feeling of anticipation in my gut, mixed with the desperate desire to somehow find a way to shirk my kid pickup duty. I went so far as to call Dorothy, and innocently mentioned that it was the most epic day ever, and that the guys were all already halfway to the moon. I didn't outright beg for mercy. But I know she's heard that "most epic day ever" line more than a few times before, and she was not moved to cancel her afternoon appointments just so I could fly longer. So I knew I would have to steel myself for a quick jaunt to Green Walls and back, just a taste of the day's conditions, a tantalizing morsel of the real feast. Sometimes life is just hard that way, I guess.

As I neared Makapuu, Mad Dog and Jim had been airborne almost an hour, and were already rounding Puu Konahuanui and the Pali lookout. My heroes! I was cheering them on and hoping to follow at least part way. I checked the radio, and Bill's wife answered to say all the guys were at "Maniacs" launch. There I found Maui Doug, Chopper Dave, SF Bill, Oregon Peter, and Thom sorting their gear behind the wall.

Oregon visitor Peter is a self-described low-hour P2, and has been staying with his wife out in my neck of the woods. He has been patiently following me around over the past week to watch us launch at some of our sketchier advanced sites, Tantalus, Diamond Head, etc. So today he probably thought Manics looked pretty benign, although I was a bit worried about him launching there. Thom graciously agreed to help him launch while I jumped the line from the parking lot to maximize my limited airtime.

I followed Mad Dog and Jim only as far as Green Walls, and man, was it working nicely back there. A sparse layer of clouds was hovering high overhead, and the whole range was revealed in all its unabashed crenelated green gorgeousness, although the more distant areas were still modestly cloaked in a gauzy haze of sea mist. Those distant areas would have to remain unexplored by me today, but I spent a lot of time just gazing around and taking it all in, and felt exceedingly privileged to be doing so. I didn't even take any pictures - although I hoped someone else would.

Maui Doug (flying Sub Steve's U-Turn) and Thom joined me back there, as did Peter from Oregon in his blue Ozone. I have to admit that I was both impressed and horrified that a visiting low-hour P2 was flying downrange in the potentially big air at Green Walls, with few good LZ options below, but I held my tongue and didn't transmit anything to harsh his buzz. He seemed to be doing okay anyway. The air turned out to be pretty nice and workable, with actual thermals we could turn in, along with some sinky parts that kept us on our toes.

At one point Maui Doug got super low at the end of Green Walls, and limped back towards Puu O Kona as low as I've ever seen anyone back there, passing the reservoir and preparing to land at one of the farms at the foot of the cliffs. I could see his wing's shadow on the fields, and it was drawing quite near to him. But then he started to turn, slow careful circles, and I watched as he began to undertake the lowest of all low saves: slowly, foolishly, incredibly, patiently, impossibly, he pulled himself back up into the air to avoid what should have been a certain landing. I think he earned his thermal merit badge with that one feat.

Meanwhile, over the radio we could hear the exciting play by play adventure taking place downrange, as Mad Dog and Jim battled to stay up in the light and elusive thermals past the H3, fighting to extend their mission. Eventually Mad Dog made it as far as Kualoa Beach park, and Jim landed at Hygienics. One other person made it that far today: Jorge had arrived at Makapuu shortly after I had, and flew a quick tandem, before changing into his superhero solo gear to shoot downrange like a bullet in pursuit of Mad Dog and Jim. I heard he made it to Puu Ohulehule (the pyramid) but turned back to land at Hygienics.

Thom and low-hour P2 Peter ventured a ways past the end of Green Walls but didn't find enough lift there to work with, so they soon scrambled back. I returned to Makapuu with Maui Doug and found Bonnie aloft in her pretty new wing, Harvey buzzing the hang gliders on launch, Chopper Dave landing at the LZ, and Reaper tandem with student John "Duck" Mallard, as well as a few other pilots: someone else in a Cobra, and another blue Ozone.

I landed at Manics and realized I still had a half hour before I had to go, so I took off for one more quick one, up to Cactus for a touch and go to say "Hi" to Jayson and Natalie and Lee, and then back to Manics for a landing…or not, as I misjudged my approach and sunk out to the beach in the now super light conditions. Oh, the horror. I was utterly ashamed. The lifeguards were not amused, and they looked thirsty too. But I had to scram to grab the kids! Thankfully, Thom again bailed me out, and agreed to pay the fine for me - I know it's not supposed to work that way, but I couldn't think of a better solution at the time. Thanks again Thom, I owe you big time!

I talked to Thom over the phone and told him how worried I had been to see Peter following him to Green Walls and beyond, and he said, no, there were two blue Ozones, and it was SF Bill, a more experienced visiting pilot, that had been back there with us. I was so relieved to hear that - suddenly everything made sense. I had been confused because at one point I thought I heard Peter greet me on the radio when I was with the blue Ozone at Green Walls. Whew!

Peter called me himself soon after that, to thank me for the wonderful flying day, and he said how great it had been to fly with me at Green Walls with Thom. So it really was him back there after all! All I can say is, low-hour P2 must mean something different in Oregon. He certainly had no trouble launching Manics or thermaling his way out over the boogaland past Green Walls and back. He said it was more likely ignorance than ability, but either way he enjoyed a spectacular first flight in Hawaii.

Peter was marveling at the great conditions we have here, until I explained that today was a once a year kind of day. It was surely the nicest day we've had since Doug left last year. Maybe Obama felt bad about shutting us down for the holidays, and somehow arranged with the big guy upstairs (Dad?) to throw us a bone. Or maybe it's just the good karma of having so many nice visitors in town. I don't mean to be greedy, but I do hope we get a few more days like this soon, so everyone will have the chance to fill their plates.

Jim took some great pictures, which I've linked in at the top here. And Bonnie's pics are below. If anyone else took any good ones let me know and I'll include them as well.


Waianae Jim said...

Thanks for the great write up Alex. As you may have noticed in my pics - there weren't any after Greenwalls until I was gliding in to land at Hygienics. The light thermic conditions just didn't provide much time for pictures, besides that Mad Dog was way down range ahead of me so there was not real subject (not counting the exceptional scenery. )I had a couple of low saves at the H3 above Haiku Stairs and behind Valley of the Temples where I got lucky enough to get back up enough to continue my journey. Some day I'll work up the courage keep trying to follow Mad Dog further, he dusted me.

Thom said...

Great Write up again Alex, where do you find the time.

I was at home loading rocks out of my truck not even looking at Windlines, believe it or not, then got a call from Maui Doug, "its on at MPU 2 wings in the air" I dropped my rocks and ran to MPU for a great flight. Thanks Doug

It was Bill that was with me low low at Green Walls, Peter was high up maybe with you. I think we had more visitors and Hangies than local pg pilots.

LZ was crowded. Lets Do it Again.

See you later TODAY hehehe !!!

Thom said...

Oh we had some first up in the airs too !!!!

John "Duck" Mallard w/Reaper

H3-Brent w/Jorge

More new pilots to join the monkeys,
Congrats on your first tandem flights now it is just Sky-alis for you guys.

Mad Dog said...

Wainaie & I left so early (10am)the Therms were few & far apart, it was a day so early to never leave lift so boating in Zero's was a plus till a cloud formed above that you could reach. Fun flying the clouds as a true thermal day, Jim had a stellar performance as it wasn't till 1 pm that it was kicking off good but still only under the clouds collecting all the therms & on the Lee side of the ridges that come out of the Koolau's toward the ocean. Patience paid off. Great flying with ya 1I, it was a test but worth taking.

Anonymous said...

Sounds awesome!!

I wish I would be there, too :(


Unknown said...

Thank you Alex for your great writeup. Low hour Peter from Oregon definitely got lucky on Teusday, both to be in on the deal and to get away with a long hi flight in a wonderful place with great people. I'm glad that my name is already set and won't incorporate my water skiing landing this afternoon. What a mess! I hope to join you tommorrow, however.

MauiDoug said...

Great recap of the day! Thanks for hanging out up above me Alex. I just kept on trying to fly underneath you for most of the trip back there. It sure felt good to get back to a decent altitude again.