Sunday, July 24, 2011

Both Ways

Sometimes it's nice to go both ways. Turns out it's all about that third leg. I know plenty of other guys have done it over the years, but I've never quite been able to pull it off. Until yesterday. Amid all the excitement and carnage happening at Kahana, I pulled off one of my dream flights from way back when I started flying: an upwind leg to Kualoa, followed by a downwind leg past Kahana, Punaluu and Sacred Falls, to the hill in Hauula behind my house, and returning for an upwind leg back to Kahana.

That last leg is the tricky part - I've flown the first two legs of that flight a few times, without bothering to try and get back. And I've been downrange and back to Kahana a couple times. But going both ways in a single flight takes a certain combination of conditions and commitment!

I had spent the morning out on the water with Dorothy and the kids, and Dorothy's cousin and husband, with a family flotilla of kayaks and a stand up board. We were on a mission to bid farewell to Dorothy's uncle and scatter his ashes at the mouth of the bay. Her mainland relatives were super stoked to see so many gliders launching and flying as we paddled out. They said it looked like an aerial honor guard. I counted twenty pilots over the course of the day, and maybe ten airborne at the busiest period. Thanks to Jim and Bill for taking some pictures of our ceremony!

As we started back towards shore, I noticed Allan passing right over our heads, apparently returning from an unsuccesful attempt to cross the bay. He looked way too low to be trying to head back to launch, but that's where he was headed. I saw him stop short of the north ridge and make a couple of high banking turns, and after that he was really low, too low to make the LZ, but he headed that way all the same, and we watched in suspense as he skimmed lower and lower, finally splashing down into the surf along the tree line.

A few reminders for everyone about bay crossing: there's nowhere to land over there, so you have to leave enough altitude to get back, either to the launch ridge or to the LZ. How much is enough? It depends on the conditions, and the wing you're flying, and the line you take. The best plan on any given day is to make progressively longer forays out over the water from the Kahana ridge, always leaving more than enough to get back, until you find yourself actually making it over and into lift on the far side. It's better to make numerous tries than one committed push that might take you too low.

If you do make the mistake of getting yourself too low over there, head straight for the LZ, just a bit wide of the shoreline on the far side. You can always land on the beach near the fishpond if you can't make the LZ. On the other hand, if you try to head back to the launch ridge, but you find you are too low to get back up or to topland, you may have already given up your chance to make the LZ. In that case it would be best to make an emergency upwind landing on any soft place you can find on the ridge, even if it means taking some time to extricate your gear from the trees. Then you can hike back up and relaunch. You and your gear are generally better off taking your chances with the trees than with the water.

Moments after Allan got his gear dragged onto the beach, just after my family made it to shore, I saw Mike Five-0 catch a tree on landing at the far side of the keyhole. What a lot of excitement in a short period of time! I was thinking of going up in a tandem with Dorothy's cousin's husband, but he was worn out from the paddling, so I ran up with my solo wing. I could see Bill across the bay, fighting to find a way up and around to Kaaawa.

It wasn't especially north (around 60 degrees), which explains why Bill had to struggle so mightily to get up and out from above the Crouching Lion. I was lucky enough to get a super high start at Kahana to allow me to boat right over and above the venturi. Bill and I frolicked for a long time above Kaaawa and Kualoa. I gazed longingly at Puu Ohulehule but she was soaked in clouds - I'm still waiting for a day with higher cloudbase for that mission.

While we were over there, we could hear Scrappy talking his brother Steve through a spiral. We could hear Scrappy giving Steve instructions, and then we heard Scrappy's voice rising frantically saying "opposite brake" over and over. Later I heard that Steve had managed to exit the spiral, but too low to make the LZ, and he'd splashed down a ways out from the beach, and had to be ferried in by some guys on stand up boards. A reminder to everyone about spirals: when you're a new pilot, you can't do a spiral too shallow, only too deep. You need to practice spirals very gradually - just like bay crossing.

Bill and I returned to Kahana to see Duck in the air, miraculously resurrected from his sickbed by the restorative powers of his new wing. I was still chomping at the bit to go somewhere, so I dashed straight over to Punaluu. I was already considering whether it might be possible to complete the legendary double out and back mission. And I was pleased to see Duck and Bill following me to Punaluu. They dove into the back of the Punaluu ridge, under lowish clouds, but I went straight to the ridge at Hauula past Sacred Falls. We could see a big nasty line of squalls aimed at Hauula, so it seemed like a good idea to try and head back rather than continue on. Duck headed straight for Chings Store, and Bill made an attempt at returning to Kahana, but he wasn't quite high enough to clear the corner.

By this time, conditions had strengthened a bit, and it was pretty brisk and lifty for the return leg. I didn't really start out as high as I thought I'd need to before making the final valley crossing from the Punaluu ridge - I was not even at cloudbase. I probably should have got a bit higher, because I ended up coming in lower at the back corner of Kahana than I've ever tried, kicking trees and almost landing on the bunker in the jungle down there. People at Kahana noticed me, and asked who was the pilot sinking out to the cattle fields.

As I finally pulled around into some smooth lift on the north face, I breathed a tremendous sigh of relief, and as I flew over the north launch ridge I could see Thom and Sharky on mid launch and some folks on upper launch there. I did some celebratory wingovers, toplanded next to Thom and Sharky, and then relaunched and flew down to the LZ for refreshments.

This 14 mile round trip flight was not really a triangle, although it involved two turnpoints roughly equidistant from launch. I guess it's more of a double out and back. A three legged round trip of the mountainous half of the Koolauloa region. I can't wait to add a few more turnpoints to that trip: Puu Ohulehule, Waiahole, Kahuku...

Thanks to Bill and Duck for the great company! Thanks to Reaper, Jeff and Frosty for the beverages, and to Thom for the help bringing the kayaks back to my house!


Thom said...

Congrats Alex,
Your comp brain must be kicking in making you try harder flights.

Next is a trip over to Ka'ena Point.

allanc said...

Great to hear that you had the upwid/downwind crossing. It sounds like you have been safely and confidently using your experience to fly new routes and make them. Glad to be flying with you Alex.

Alex said...

Thanks, guys. I just added a few more details of the day's adventures that I left out in my haste to get something posted in time for coffee. Hope it's helpful or at least entertaining.

JK said...

Very nice, Alex. You have returned from OR an even more capable XC pilot!

Thom said...

Now that is a recap of the day.

Check and make sure that it was Five-O that caught the tree at the end of the beach, We had to dig Sharky out of the same tree.

All was good this day but the next at MPU was another story that may hae to come from Scooter, when his paw is up for some typing.