Tuesday, February 01, 2011

Kahana Bay Crossing

Since my first flight at Kahana, I’ve been intrigued by crossing the bay. I remember seeing pilots do it on that very day, and the wheels have been turning ever since, wondering how to pull it off. Yesterday, I had good tips from Scot. “Aim for the reef on half bar, then full bar and don’t head for the ridge until you see the face”, or something like that. I didn’t have my vario in sight, so I can’t tell you exactly how high I was when I started or when I got there. I was “plenty high, brah” at the start and about 100 feet above the ridge when I got to goal. The Punalu’u sensor read 53 degrees at 12 mph.

From the ridge above launch, I got to what felt like the top, and simply pointed it to the reef, then patiently waited until I flew out of the ridge lift. From there, I went full speed bar (didn’t bother with half), and was amazed at several periods of lift halfway across. Scot theorized that the reef can throw light thermals, and this must have been the case. It was actually buoyant. I don’t think I would have known I was in lift if I hadn’t had a vario with me. When it sounded, I eased off the bar to milk it, and then went back to full. There were clouds above as well, so perhaps there was an ocean thermal. I’m not sure.

In any case, I felt confident I was going to make it with altitude to spare as I approached the reef. But with my fixation on the goal at my one o’clock position, I drifted a bit right, and ended up on a course to a point just inside of the reef. I wasn’t far off the plan, but was certainly nearer to the ridge than I wanted as I crept forward. And then I stopped. It was the boundary layer, and my penetration just stopped. I sensed that sinking feeling, that “elevator down” sensation for a few long seconds.

Most of that feel-good buffer was gone now. After easing left with weight shift and waiting, I began to feel forward movement once again. And then, with the face of the ridge moving into full view, the vario began to sound. I made it! Or so I thought.

For a few minutes I admit I was chuffed, and at that moment, I should have known I was about to have some trouble. Any time a pilot feels proud of an aviation achievement, sirens should be going off. This is a time of “warning”! In my experience, moments like these regularly occur just as everything begins to fall apart, a sure sign of pending disaster.

I just assumed that after hopping across the stones to the other side, the task was accomplished. But the stone I was on was a very small one. Whether it was by misconception or optical illusion or bending, or whatever, the wind flowing over the Crouching Lion was not at right angles to the ridge as I imagined it would be. It was obtuse at best! Certainly, it was not the same flow as what’s channeled into Kahana Bay. This was noticeably more east.

As I inched right, to where the formations should channel airflow to the moon, I began to get burbles of turbulence. The ridge ahead was fouling the ridge I was on and left only a small section in clean air. I had to work that stub for 15 minutes before I had enough altitude to go full bar and drive forward to the offending ridge ahead. From there it was more of the same, and then again. Thankfully, each ridge offered more space to work the lift and with more normal flow as the terrain slowly wrapped into the easterly flow (ENE).

Finally, the spoils were in hand; Manamana Ridge, high flight above Ka’a’awa town, an easy crossing of Ka’a’awa Valley (aka Jurassic Park), Kualoa (amazing), Pyramid Peak (a dead end on this day), and bombing out trying to go back around Kualoa. But that’s another story …

If you’re planning your first Kahana Bay crossing and are looking for tips, anyone that’s done it can fill in the blanks. Hopefully they’ll pipe up and post below this story. My take would be:
  1. Take a vario to tune in to the subtle lift over open water.
  2. Shoot for the reef and hold your course as this will align you for potential lift from it and keep you clear of that wall of compression at the north end of the ridge
  3. Have a plan for when to bail and where to land if you come up short.
  4. Be ready for a series of ridge hopping once you make it over and be careful not to get too deep in the fold while scratching in side-on wind. I managed to keep out of any nasty air, but the hair on the back of my neck was standing tall. I always fly with a weight shift away from the hill, but I pushed a little more out than usual on this day.
So, yet another XC without a wind dummy, er, I mean, fellow pilot to show me the way. I hope the next time there’s a crossing there’s a gaggle, and that conditions allow something more than Pyramid Peak. I can’t blame the boyz for staying close this day though, not with the professional film crew on hand.

“Thanks for the retrieve, Scot.” He was calling within seconds after landing, and was so close he drove past the bomb-out field while we were on the phone. I didn’t even have time to rosette the wing and shed the helmet, let alone think about where I stashed my three-dollar bus fare. And “yes”, I did buy beer. It was a “first”, after all.


JK said...

Oops! This is a rookie post. The date is off (1st, not 2nd), the font is inconsistent and it takes over the page. Please, anyone who can, jump in there and edit away....

Alex said...

Great article, JK! I am pleased to welcome another talented storyteller to our fold.

The main problem with the formatting was copying and pasting from MS Word - it embeds all sorts of hidden html code. Instead, try composing directly in the blogger window, or compose in a plain text editor, and copy and paste from there.

The real achievement in your adventure was hopping back to the pyramid. Only a couple of our pilots have ever done that. Although we've heard apocryphal stories from the dawn of paragliding history of the first flyers here doing it as a milk run.

But it all starts with crossing the bay. We had a long spell of easy bay crossing days for a while and we began to take it for granted. But lately we've had few good chances, which is more typical.

There are a lot of theories to explain why we find lift out over the middle of the bay. Many times I have found myself milking lift in a narrow invisible line that seems to emanate from the crouching lion in a reflection upwards and about 30 degrees outward from the ridge.

There is no good plan for landing if you come up short - bailing soon enough to return to the ridge or make the beach is critical.

I look forward to crossing with you next time!

Thom said...

All right JK,
Thanks for the coffee read it brightened my day after hearing of Alex's injury.

I have only made the crossing a few times myself and yes alone on most of them.

I was lucky the first time over there I had no clue but Reaper was driving back to Kualoa and followed me on the high way giving me some pointers.

I went back to the Pyramid on another solo venture and suffered the same outcome when I tried to come back. I had to do a low bail out to Kualoa park which I was familiar with and very happy to reach.

Welcome to team SOL let the Synergy be with you.

MauiDoug said...

Great flight and story JK! Thanks for sharing. I saw you at cloud base over there, you were so skied out!

JK said...

Thanks for the back pats, monkeys. Sidehill, this is a cheap one-minute vid for YOU.

JK said...

Let me try that again: Vid

Duck said...

Whoohoo! That sounds like a GREAT flight! I hope to be with you on the next crossing! Great write-up...please continue to post your experiences!

Brazilian Ray said...

nice one, JK!I have a question... was this your first flight on the synergy 3?? cool! keep the miles coming and the stories rolling!!!
thanks for the write up!

Brazilian Ray

JK said...

No not the first flight, Ray. I've been "trying out" Scot's old wing after he picked up his R10. That was perhaps my 8th flight on it. I bought it right after this flight, though. It proved itself quite well, I'd say! Happy to be a part of the Sol posse!! BTW, this is the first wing I ever bought. My first one was a hand-me-down (gifted). Yes, like all pilots, I am cheap!