Tuesday, February 21, 2012

Wintry Weather, Welcome Wayfarers, and Wee Wings

Over the last ten days, someone has flown some kind of wing somewhere on the island almost every day, often during small windows of flyable conditions between bouts of typically unsettled winter weather. We've had all kinds of visitors flying with us and showing us how to make the most of these little windows. An account of some of the more interesting adventures might provide some entertainment while we wait for a more consistent weather pattern to settle in.

On a particularly tricky day, which happened to be my birthday, when the easterly tradewinds started strong and gradually lightened and veered southeasterly, the visiting Swiss pilots (one of them the PWC World Champion!) did a little internet research and figured out on their own that Koko Crater might be a good call. A few of us arrived to find them thermaling all over in their Ozone Enzo 2-line comp wings, from the crater to Makapuu and back, before they specked out and headed downwind, eventually landing near Diamond Head. Woody and DaveT and I launched after they left, but we were soon grounded by overdevelopment and rain. Also, the Canadian contingent scored a flight at Lanikai in the morning, and Fireman Dave enjoyed a solo thermal flight under the low cloudbase at Nanakuli.

On the first of the ten days, Joey generously loaned me his little 17m Niviuk Zion mini-wing, knowing he wouldn't be out flying it anytime soon. I was stoked to get a chance to fly with it on five different strong days out at Kahana. On my second day there, I was approaching the east ridge for another in a series of toplandings above upper launch, and I found myself missing the spot due to an unexpected sinky tailwind. I tried again at upper launch, and the same thing happened. I tried once more at low launch, missing again, and finally I snuck a glance at the bay, to see that it was all glassy and still.

The wind had turned super east, and the air was hideously rotory and sinky. I was pretty low already, and I felt a headwind as I pointed to the beach, so I knew I wasn't going to make it. I glanced back at the ridge and figured I could probably set it down in the steep open area of bushes just above the tree line, if I turned quickly. But on this type of wing you have to be careful about turning quickly. I found myself spiraling down fast and hard and smashing into a big umbrella tree near the trail, breaking off a fat branch, which flipped me around to land flat on my back under the tree, out of breath and with an aching head. That was definitely my hardest crash in at least a decade. (I mean, on a solo wing, of course...) But I was very lucky, and I ended up with only some road rash burns on the backs of my legs where I'd slammed into the branch. Joey's wing and harness were miraculously spared any damage at all. Whew! A very lucky and sobering adventure. Thanks again to Joey for sharing his baby with me!

Visitor Dave Turner (DaveT) from Yosemite and Owens Valley arrived just before these ten days began, and has been flying wings of all sizes all over the island, including West Kaena, Dillingham, Makapuu, Koko Crater, and Kahana. It's been great flying paragliders and mini-wings with him, and we've had some great talks about all of the new options for wing sizes and shapes these days, from mini-wings and speed-wings to hybrids. Dave has also shown off some novel and entertaining landing approaches at Kahana. Don't try that at home!

Meanwhile, the Ozone media team (Loren, Mike and Carl), showed up here to fly the new Ozone Firefly hybrid wing with their buddy Carson, and to shoot pictures and videos for promotional materials. They were lucky to have some gorgeous weather for soaring that little wing in smooth strong wind at Kahana, and I think they also got some flights at Makapuu and Dillingham. Look for some familiar scenic backdrops in their upcoming brochures, magazine ads, and videos.

North Shore Brian and Richard (Dop) both have Fireflies now, and I think we'll be seeing more of that wing before long. These guys were soaring easily on days when the Punaluu sensor showed averages anywhere from 17 to 20+ mph. I flew the demo once at Kahana, but I didn't start high enough and couldn't quite bench up from the upper north ridge launch, so it was a briefer flight than I'd hoped for. At least I found out what it takes to make it to the beach. Keep in mind that the wing is targeted to experienced speed-wing or mini-wing flyers, so it's probably not a good starter wing. The Ozone guys also showed us some very interesting landings!

After one long day of driving and waiting around for the super easterly wind to stop wrapping around the wrong way at both Makapuu and Koko Crater, it finally turned nice for a gaggle of us to fly from the Tomato Juice launch. Don launched first, followed by the two Swiss pilots, DaveT, Five-0 Mike, me, Woody, Jim and Allan. After we'd been airborne for a while, Don noticed that my car door was open and mentioned it over the radio. Sharky was in the parking area and went over to check. Turns out someone had broken a window on my car, and had stolen a lot of stuff belonging to Woody and DaveT, including cash, credit cards, camera gear, two gliders and a harness and reserve. (Somehow, once again, Joey's Zion was miraculously spared - it was the only bag left in the car.)

I realized later that I had been taking pictures of the crime as it happened, in the background of my usual aerial shots of gliders. They are a bit blurry, but you can make out the dark vehicle that pulls in next to Five-0 Mike's white truck, waits a while, then pulls next to my car and breaks in. Not sure if the other white truck was involved. At first I thought it was Allan's truck without the camper shell, but then I realized he is shown hiking up minutes before, so unless he had a driver, I don't think it was his. Missing items: Aska OneSeven (blue and white 17m hybrid wing, with repair on left tip), Gin Yeti ultralight lap mount reserve, Ozone Atak split leg harness, Gradient 22m Freestyle wing, orange white and red, and a Canon T2i DSLR camera with a high end Canon 18-200mm lens.

That's a lot of excitement for ten days. I could probably handle a little less excitement! I could certainly do without the crashes and break-ins. But I know I'm not the only one looking forward to some normal weather days when we can enjoy some typical easy soaring and cross country conditions in lighter winds.


Alex said...

Dorothy says that picture of the back of my legs is disgusting and inappropriate. If anyone else agrees I'm happy to remove it. I just thought it would give the story, I don't know, some gritty realism, or whatever. Hope no one is offended! I'm sure you all want to know that I still have massive painful scabs and I have to roll my shorts up all the time. I hear rolled up shorts are the new look...

Thom said...

Well its about dam time I get a write up.

I have to admit those legs are something else. But I agree sometimes it takes a little gore to make people stand up and notice the inherent danger of our sport.

I would love to see a write up of DaveT's or combination with the Ozone crowd explaining the differences of the new wings-Speed, Mini and Hybrids. I am sure there are articles out there but a first hand knowledge would be a good informative read. Also including a heavy warning of experience needed to fly these bad boys.

Thanks Alex and I will be looking for Chronics in Black Box, would like to but them in a different black box but reeeealllll Slllllowwwww.

Will it ever be, Time to Fly Get Your Gear and Go!!!! Or will this holding pattern of Stand-By plague us.

I think a good dose of checking your gear prior to, will be in order.