Tuesday, June 07, 2011

OD Cycle at Nanakuli: When Waiting Pays Off

There have been many conversations over the last year about the dismal odds of flying Nanakuli, and how it rarely seems to work. I would like to add a caveat to this by saying that when the conditions are fundamentally right to fly there, and one has some patience, one is quite likely to have great flights. My latest adventure seems to support the statement that one just needs to wait for conditions to cycle in your favor for launch, since they fluctuate throughout the day.

My latest adventure took place during a break in the thunderstorm activity associated with a low pressure system that was just sitting over Oahu. The fronts had moved away from the island, and it looked as if the whole island was under light and variable wind conditions. This was confirmed by the calm winds overnight, and winds switching to onshore sea breezes between 10 and 11 am on all sides of the island. I arrived at Nanakuli at 11 am to 5 mph SSW winds at the beach park and stalled clouds overhead.

From the park I checked the weather again: wind speeds, winds aloft, and radar. Then I gave a call to Doug Hoffman to get some ideas on how to approach a low pressure day with low cloud base, cycling between well developed and over developed clouds. With another call from Jim, I made the determination that the conditions were safe to fly in, as the winds were very light and the clouds were just hanging there.

I started my hike at 12 pm, and by the time I got to high launch, the clouds had developed to the point where there were a few sprinkles that quickly dissipated. By this point Haleakala had become shaded and the thermal cycles had dissipated to nothing. I decided to wait it out, as the development seemed to be cycling on a 1 hour interval. After an hour and a half nap at high launch, I got a call from Joey and watched as the clouds burned off above the peak, the air on the ground began to heat up, and great thermal cycles started to fill in on the dump side.

I quickly got out the glider and launched in a matter of 5 minutes, into a great large thermal that quickly took me up 500 feet above launch. I worked the dump side and eventually was situated at cloud base which was around 2,200 feet. I waited for JK, but he ended up landing at the baseball fields below. I got established and determined how high I could get. Max base was at 2,200 feet, without going into the grey clouds. I got up the courage and flew into a hole in the clouds, popping out at 2,600 feet, heading towards Waianae Valley. I followed in front of the antennas, getting some good cloud suck along the way, but without a vario it was difficult to take advantage of the ratty lift.

I eventually made it to the ridge dividing Waianae Valley from Lualualei Valley, and scratched around until I was forced to land. I picked a good spot across the road from the antenna farm and set down there, gave JK a call, and got a ride back to Nanakuli.

Overall, the cloud suck and thermals were great, and this showed me that you do not necessarily need a high cloud base day to make good XC flights out there. You just need enough lift, and you need to pick a route where you will be able to make the large gaps. I also want to thank Jim for keeping me informed of the conditions in his home town, and for offering a ride back to my car.

The challenge is there. Let's see how far we can go under the great variety of conditions that the Waianae Range has to offer. I know that I will be there anytime it is safe to be in the air, not just on high cloud base days with easy glides across the valley. Let's scratch and make ourselves better pilots. I did not get into cross country because it was easy, but because it was a challenge. It may take a few years of effort, but I think that we can figure out how to squeeze some great flights out of our westerly range.


Alex said...

Allan - nice article. Thanks for being such a frequent contributor! Next time please take a picture so we can see the flying conditions for ourselves - sometimes a picture really is worth a thousand words!

It's definitely true that you won't have good flights at Nanakuli if you don't hike up there at every chance. Sunday was a very likely day out there, and I had hopes of going there based on the forecast from the day before, but I ended up staying local to marvel at the Kahana LZ devastation and also to finish packing for my trip.

I edited your story very lightly, but overall it was pretty clear. I just have a couple questions. Did you really mean 3,600 feet? I remember on the chatterbox you had written 2,600 feet, so maybe 3,600 was a typo. If it was 3,600 feet, then that was certainly a long ride up through the clouds!

Also, when you say the ridge dividing Nanakuli Valley and Waianae Valley, you probably mean the one dividing Lualualei Valley and Waianae Valley, which would be Pahe'ehe'e Ridge.

I just looked up the ridge names because I like knowing what they are called. The ridge we launch from is Pu'u Haleakala (also sometimes referred to as Pu'u Heleakala). The ridge at Ma'ili Point is called Pu'u O Hulu. The next really tiny crescent shaped one is called Pu'u Ma'ili'ili'i, dividing Ma'ili Beach Park and Lualualei Beach Park. The next one is Pahe'ehe'e Ridge, starting at Pokai Bay and extending quite a ways back but not quite connecting with the main spine of the Waianae range. Finally the far side of Waianae Valley is Kamaile'unu Ridge. If anyone knows these ridge names better please pipe up and correct me!

MauiDoug said...

Great flight AllanC! Good to hear that your patience paid off, way to charge it! It's a big learning curve out there, thanks for sharing!

allanc said...

Alex - I did mean 2600-ft, I just changed it in the post. I always read through them again to see if I missed any gleaming errors. Thanks for the updates.

allanc said...

Alex - Got the second correction for Lualualei Valley instead of Waianae Valley. I was near where I landed last time we flew but just deeper in the valley. Was trying to work my way all the way to the back where I was sure there would be more lift. I am looking forward to flying out there with you again Alex and seeing where we can go.