Wednesday, February 10, 2010

Determined to Fly . . . Destined to Swim

Well… I did it again. This time, I wasn’t blown OTB (thank God)! I couldn’t wait to fly again. Other than a dozen scooter tows in the previous two weeks and a sled ride at Koko Crater the day prior, it had been a few weeks since I had a nice flight. I was ready. I was desperate. I was determined. After work I called Reaper to see where he was headed and whether or not it was flyable. He was headed to Sandy’s to “paratow”. So, I headed that way to hang out, do a couple tows and see if anything ‘turned on’.

When I arrived, Duck, Jack, Courtney, Matt and Jessica, returning pilot Cherie, and new student Andrew were there. Reaper began towing and asked me to help Andrew learn how to kite. So I tried to show him in very little wind. He got the hang of it rather quickly.

After a couple hours, I wanted to fly and it seemed like Koko Crater would work. I asked Reaper what he thought and [typical Reaper] said, “Yeah, go hike up – take Matt with you.” Matt had never been there before, so I figured I could show him where the trail was and we could see what we thought of the conditions when we got up there. There were also 5 Japanese pilots that were ready to fly, too, so they followed us.

Once we got up there, conditions were very light, but doable. Within a minute (literally), Matt and I (facing the mountain) felt the wind in our face. Matt said, “Whoa! That was weird, I swear I just felt that in my face!” I said, “Yeah, I felt that, too.” We threw some grass up in the air, and sure enough, the wind had gone catabatic and was coming over the back of the mountain. We waited a few minutes, thinking it was rotor, or a dust devil, but it wasn’t.

After 10 minutes, we all decided to hike down. On the way down, I called Reaper on the radio and asked if he thought Makapu’u would be working since the wind direction changed, and {typical Reaper} said, “Yeah, go check it out!” So Jess kindly picked us back up, we went to Sandy’s for a quick visit – discussed going to Makapu’u, then decided to go for it. Matt was dying to fly as much as I was. Reaper said Cactus might be flyable and to go to the Lookout to check the wind speed and direction. I told the Japanese pilots we were going to go check it out.

Matt and I jumped in the RAV and headed that way. The Japanese pilots followed. We got out, walked up to Manics. It felt good. I thought to myself, ‘wow, it feels good… here’, eliminating Cactus from my options to launch. I looked at the windsock, it was coming from Kailua to the Lookout – straight in. It felt, to me (who is inexperienced and bad at that ‘game’), like it was about 8-10 mph. It seemed perfect to me. I called Reaper, told him what the windsock was doing and told him that it was about 8-10 at Manics. I confirmed that guesstimate with Matt and he agreed. I said, “I’m gonna do it. It feels perfect to me.” The Japanese pilots looked at me like I was crazy. It seemed like they couldn’t believe that was actually a launch.

So, I was the wind dummy. I had the most experience launching there, and I felt comfortable. Even though I had this weird feeling that something was going to happen, I felt comfortable launching. Needless to say, I unpacked my stuff and geared up.

My launch was epic. I tip-toed from one rock to the other, then to the next, when a large rock got in the way. I paused for a moment, then simply hopped around it, and off the mountain I went. I worked the ridge near the Lookout for a few minutes. Matt was already laid out. The Japanese pilots ready right behind him. Then, I made the decision that failed me. I realized I was above the power lines and had plenty of room to cross over, so I headed that way, towards Cactus. I shouldn’t have done that. I should have kept working the same ridge that was working. Nothing was happening after I crossed the road and power lines. I was sinking.

I decided to cross back over, near Crazyman’s. I was getting lower. I went a little further, then realized I HAD to go to the beach. So I made a left turn (way too wide) to head to the beach. By this time, I had lost a LOT of altitude. I kept thinking I was going to make it. The beach was getting closer and closer, as I was getting lower and lower. The waves were rolling in; strong. Hard. I could hear them crashing down. I still thought I was going to make it. I thought about unbuckling my harness, just in case, but didn’t think I needed to, so I didn’t. I should have.

I was slowly submerged in water, feet first, then butt and harness, then the rest of my body. My glider fell over my head above me. My first big wave came in and rolled over me, causing me to tumble all around. I felt the lines around my neck, arms and leg. Another wave came. After it went over me, I concentrated on keeping my head up and yelled for help, not knowing if anyone could hear me. (There were no lifeguards on duty, as it was 6pm – they leave at 5).

Another wave came. I was pushed in, then pulled back out by the current. When I came up this time, I could see a guy running toward me from the corner of my eye. I felt somewhat relieved (as I knew it wasn’t over yet). After another wave, he said, “Where are your buckles?” I pointed them out. My gloves (which are too big for me) were filled with sand and water and looked like a rubber glove that is blown up with air. I could not use my fingers. He got one buckle, then another wave came. He asked me again, “where are your buckles?” I pointed to them and tried to unhook, too, but the sand was jamming them. Another wave came. I was getting pounded. I held on to the guy so I wouldn’t be sent back out to sea. The wave went away and he continued to unhook me.

Finally, I was free. I got out. I walked away from my gear and a few other guys were there by this time. They were pulling my glider in. I took off my helmet and gloves and helped them pull it in. It was heavy, full of sand and water from the surf. The tide was coming in, the further we pulled it out, the closer the tide came. The guy that first arrived told me that he was a pilot, too, and that’s how he knew I needed to unhook from my gear. I asked him what kind of pilot he was, he said an airplane pilot. I couldn’t tell if they were from here, or tourists just visiting. One other guy said, “You’re lucky we were here. You wouldn’t have made it.” I said, “I know. Thank you!”

We looked up and saw Matt and one of the Japanese pilots in the air. I was concerned for them, but knew that they would be ok, and hopefully not make the same mistake I did. Matt stayed up for a little while. I tried to contact him on radio (Reaper was kind enough to give me a waterproof radio), but the sand was jamming the mic button. Matt flew over me and I waved at him to let him know that I was ok. I watched a few more of the Japanese pilots launch.

A moment later, the guys watched Matt land; I headed towards him so I could call Reaper, and I heard him ask the guys if I was ok. They replied yes, said goodbye and they were gone. I didn’t get to ask their names, offer them a tandem (with Reaper, of course), or anything. I did thank them once again, and they were gone.

I later found out that Matt didn’t even know I was in the water until I was already out. If those guys didn’t wait an extra 5 minutes before leaving, I would have been trying to untangle from the waves (and my glider) by myself. And just think, they probably hung out just to see what we were up to as they saw our gliders laid out at Manics.

I stood on the beach, soaking wet and called Reaper from Matt’s phone and said, “Well, that didn’t go so well. I went in the drink.” He didn’t exactly hear what I said so I tried telling him again, “I landed in the water.” He still didn’t hear me and thought I was talking about being thirsty or something. Frustrated, I handed Matt the phone and said, “I can’t do it, you tell him.” I walked away and went back to gathering up all my stuff. Gear was thrown everywhere: Helmet, radio harness, car key, phone, my new pilot boots, socks, hoodie, harness, and glider. I moved everything higher up from the tide, to the rocks. Matt gathered his glider and came over to help me.

We bundled up my glider and decided to wrap our straps around it to carry it easier. We were right below Crazy’s and Matt told Pete to meet us there, so we started hiking the heavy, wet, sandy glider up the steep hill. I was moaning and groaning all the way up since I was hiking up barefoot, but that was nothing compared to Matt burdening almost all of the weight of the glider. I apologized for making him hike 2 times in one day – especially having to carry all that weight. He said he needed to get back in “paraglider shape” anyway.

As we were hiking up, Jess was walking on the beach, yelling my name. Matt and I told her we had to keep going, and we continued up the hill. By this time, Reaper was pulling up to Crazy’s. I reminded him this time to get a picture of me dripping wet, soggy glider in hand.

Thank you to everyone who came to help. Mahalo to Matt for doing the hard part; to Jess for folding Matt’s glider; to Duck for carrying my heavy harness; and to Reaper for washing all my gear.

~Blub Blub
Malolo (flying fish)



Rich. said...

OMG!..., Lines around the neck, arms & leg? Another lucky break. Main thing you're all-right!
Nice to have a W/P radio - What about a hook knife? Good to hear you're back in the saddle again.
Have to call ya "Wet Okole" now

Anonymous said...

Just something to think about....if it is 8-10 mph at Manic's...and blowing straight in from Kailua as you said....the actual windspeed is probably only about 2-4 mph on the beach.

It is very, very light. It can feel perfect at Manic's because of the venturi. However, outside of the venturi nothing is working at that altitude. Cactus would be a better choice.

It can be doable....but you need to stay in the bowl until you are significantly higher than the power lines to make any moves. And if you do make a move and start losing, be ready to come straight back to the bowl where the lift is.

Try to look at the conditions more globally, and not just the wind you feel in your what does the water look like, are clouds moving and which way, etc.
The local conditions can mislead you into thinking it is something different than it really is.

But most importantly stay out of the water at any cost....especially where there are waves. Too many good pilots have drowned landing in surf...and I think you are about out of cat lives.

DaveZ said...

Glad you're OK. I've had my own taste of waves vs. paraglider, and I'll second that need for a good hook knife in a easy to reach holder.
It could save your life, or help you save somebody else's. Cheers.

JeffMc said...

This is probably the scariest story I've ever read on Wind Lines. Glad you're OK Bonbon.


Anonymous said... are by far the best writer on windlines I just wish you could try a different topic!!!


Anonymous said...

Glad you are ok! Sounds SUPER scary, yet you never seem to be phased by it--you are one tough parachic. Thanks for posting!


Bon Bon said...

Thanks for the advice and kind words everyone. Yes, I should probably write up a story with a better topic! I have yet to do that -- only the scary ones.

I got back on the horse the very next day ... launched out of Crazy's and had a nice 2 hr flight at Makapu'u with a gnarly 5G death spiral!!!

Not bad for my 60th flight! (but we'll try not to think of the infamous 18th, 25th, 38th, and 59th flights) ;)

Anonymous said...
This comment has been removed by a blog administrator.
Bon Bon said...

ok - what felt like 5g.

MauiDoug said...

Great write up Bonnie! I'm so glad that you are ok and are seeking the lessons to be learned. Your sharing and insight is really helpful, thanks so much!
Aloha, Doug

Gravity said...

Hey anonymous,
You ever been in a death spiral that almost made you pass out? Or lock out?

I would have to say after witnessing Bonnie's spiral dive that she achieved 3 to 5 G's and really worked hard to come out of it. Good thing for DHV 1 gliders. What do you fly? Or do you?

We appreciate constructive critisism here, not BS.

firedave2 said...

Glad you are okay.
Two things:
1) Why didn't you take off the gloves? Bite the tips, whatever.

2) Which leads to my big concern. You need to be able to self-rescue when you get into trouble, one day you might find yourself looking around for someone to help you and there won't be anyone there, try and have a plan.

Airspeed, Altitude and Options, don't run out of all 3.

Still love ya' though.

Anonymous said...
This comment has been removed by a blog administrator.
Alex said...

I am deleting inflammatory anonymous comments from this post (except for the first one which was not inflammatory and which really seems like good constructive advice to me). Please sign your name if you want your comments left up here, and let's keep the discussion respectful. I would hate to lock this post from further comments - I think there's plenty more good feedback we can offer. Thanks.