Thursday, December 06, 2012

Tough Job

But someone's gotta do it. Unlike the quotidian pleasure of ridge soaring, flying thermals is not easy, relaxing, or predictable. While ridge lift is ubiquitous and benevolent, thermic lift is elusive and mercurial. If ridge soaring is the cushy sinecure of free flight, thermaling is a mercenary assignment on the front lines. Most often we are thankful just to survive, hoping that one of these days we'll be rewarded with a hard earned bounty. Last weekend over a dozen eager conscripts made the slog to the west side, and while none of us hit the jackpot, we acquitted ourselves handily and relished the chance to sharpen our rusty thermal skills.

Over a dozen die hard thermal lovers chased the light southeast flow to Nanakuli for three days in a row, from Thursday to Saturday. Three consecutive west side days is a tough assignment for even the hardiest among us. We were rewarded with some classic school side thermal clinics. There were also a few fun thermic flights made at other sites.

On Thursday we were lucky to have Brad come out with us, and he was lucky that Reaper was able to spare his awesome new wing and harness. The flow was quite strong from school side, and we launched low. Poor Maui Tim was last and ended up waiting a long time for a lull. The sky started out soupy and grey and it just grew increasingly dark and low while we were up there, finally shutting down the thermal production just before the last shift could get established. Tim was the first of that last session to get off, and had to scratch like a madman to get up. Among the earlier shift, Brad flew a bold line toward Ko'olina but ended up on the beach halfway there. Duck and I followed him partway but turned back just in time to retreat and get back up at Haleakala. Most of us landed at the beach after over an hour up there, and we all enjoyed a very scenic sunset debriefing. Thanks to Duck for the feast!

On Friday, AK Jason and Allegra hiked up in the morning and reported cycles of 20 with higher gusts before they even reached the first crest of the hill. A bunch of us were already halfway there so we continued all the way out, to confirm very strong flow on the shore. It was another super dark grey day overhead. We made the best of it with a nice lunch at Spicy House, Jim's favorite local Thai place. Lake had an interesting thermic flight out at Kahana but couldn't convince anyone else to join him.

On Saturday, we had learned our lesson from the previous day, and we rushed out for a super early start, to try and get up before the sea breeze built up too strong. The sky was finally clear and blue on this day, with very few clouds at all. Woody and Bill and I got to upper launch just as the flow started to build in from the school side, and we got into the air just before it grew super strong. Many others hiked up and hiked back down because it was too strong to even get off safely from low launch.

We flew for over an hour and reached three grand a few times, but the flow was super strong from the southeast and it didn't feel safe to punch out anywhere. I finally headed out to Maili Point and then realized I might be stuck there - I needed full speed to inch my way back down the beach to McDonalds. When we landed on the beach the windspeed was 15-20 from the southwest, and we had to turn quickly and kite very carefully with only rear risers and no brakes to avoid getting dragged. After that we rushed out to join the east side crew who had been putting on their own little thermal clinic at Mariners Ridge. Thom, Woody and Bill enjoyed fun first flights in that narrow valley, with help from veterans like Frank and Don.

Thermal roll call over three days at three sites: Woody, Brad, Duck, Maui Tim, me, Maui Doug, Motorhead Paul, Thom, Don, AK Jason, Allegra, FlyStrong, Jeff, Jim, Lake, Frank.


sandy said...

Thanks for the report Alex! I was really bumming that I missed Saturday, but was under the weather. Glad you and many of the faithful gave it a shot. Forecast looks like Sunday might be similar to last Saturday (which apparently wasn't ideal, but had some virtues). I need to go pay my Nanakuli dues.

Thom said...

Thanks for the write Alex, I was going to try to scratch something together for my virgin Mariners flight. It was just a flight. I did get rough ride up to over 1900', I did see the other side, MPU, which was wierd to watch it appear from the other side.

Thanks to Ike for showing us the way and to Frank for the launch assist which left him last on the hill. Again to Ike for the frosty and pizza.

Paul Motorhead showed up at the LZ but I don't think we made it look appetizing enough to venture up.

Then the West side fliers showed up. Alex was last to launch helping two more Mariners Virgins, Woody & Flystrong, off launch first. Woody and Flystrong did some window washing or peeping as the case maybe. Alex tried to push back but it had gotten even too light for his anti-gravitational machine.

Mariners, hmmm, got it off my list and may fly it again although I am not sure why.