Wednesday, January 30, 2013

Prefrontal Predilection

We are blessed with a wide variety of sites to fly as wintery fronts pass through the islands, sending our customary high pressure and faithful trade winds on vacation. Along with this blessing comes the responsibility to chase the promise of flying conditions all around our island, or to dedicate ourselves to wait all day for a particular site to turn on, if that's what it takes. This past weekend many of us chased the weather conditions with mostly positive results. Then there was that moment on the west side when the weather conditions turned around and started chasing us!

We headed to the west side in the parabus on Saturday morning, hopeful for a nice day of thermaling at Nanakuli. Like many days we've seen this season, the flow was pretty strong on the low school side launch. We got a few folks into the air to ride that strong flow, reaching three grand or so, and we played there for a while. Finally Maui Doug radioed his intentions to land, because he'd had enough of trying to make sense of that strong disorganized air. I was relieved to give up on it myself, but rather than head to the beach I took a nice boaty downwind run to Maili Point.

It soon became clear that there was another and better reason to land soon. A menacing dark shape on the horizon was moving our way. It wasn't the frontal passage, but it was a low pressure precursor: a booming storm cell growing larger as it approached the west side from the Kauai channel. I had seen the clouds offshore but I really thought they were going to stay there. Now it was growing fast and the wind was picking up on launch and on the beach, and in the air.

I was parked into the wind at two grand over Maili Point, and I didn't think I had time to push forward to the usual beach landing spot before the gust front arrived. So I turned and fled further downwind, blazing northward just offshore with a disconcertingly high ground speed. I passed the first little hump in Waianae, and then the next one, as I was slowly losing altitude and approaching Waianae Boat Harbor. I looked back over my shoulder to see the gust front on the water behind me, hot on my heels.

I came screaming over the harbor just a few hundred feet above the forest of sailboat masts. I almost repeated my watery mistake from a couple weeks ago, where I was transfixed by a high downwind groundspeed and didn't turn upwind in time. This time I turned back upwind just in time, hovering down into the increasing gusts at the high school football field just past the Boat Harbor.

Thanks to Gaza for coming to get me. I heard Frank came in for a white knuckle landing just above the power lines to make the beach, and Thom took some whacks as he hovered down in the ball field near the school. The others hiked down as the gusts increased and the rain moved closer. By the time they reached the car the first drops were coming down.

We ate lunch at Spicy House Thai Food, my new favorite restaurant near Maili Point. Then we headed back to Kaneohe in the rain and drizzle that seemed to have engulfed most of the island. But Mad Dog called to say he was at Diamond Head and it was perfect, with Harvey and Brent just about to launch. Oh boy. We dropped off Gaza and headed back over the mountain to check it out. Sure enough, those two were in the air making it look sweet for a sunset session. We jumped out of the parabus and into the air, scoring our second site of the day just in time to watch the sun make a leisurely descent into the ocean.

I knew the front wasn't scheduled to arrive until afternoon the next day, so we made plans to come back for sunrise the next morning. How often do those kinds of plans work out? This was one of those times. We got to see the sun rising out of the opposite side of the ocean, as we soared Diamond Head for the second day in a row. Tons of pilots came out to fly that day, as chronicled by Thom.

I have a predilection for prefrontal conditions. And I guess I like the postfrontal ones pretty well too! Now that the front has passed I am hoping for some Dillingham action. North Shore Brian is on launch right now at Kealia calling it good - wait for me!


sandy said...

Wow! Magical ...

Thom said...

Thanks for the write, just got to it now at 3:30 am.

The air at NAN was strong for sure I got the wack while trying to get high enough to go for the beach.

The ball field did not look like a good option with the wind howling through. But after a 60% collapse followed by some pictching, spinning and deep spiral which emptied me just above ridge height ont he dump side, yikes. I went hands up and the ball field was looking alot better if I could make it.

It was a bit bumpy going in, this is one of the times you wished you hiked down.

Good rule of thumb. If your hiking up NAN without a sweat and the wind is pushing you up the hill....turn around and fly the cooler.

Lesson Learned.

Doug said...

On a similar day I kept running thinking I could easily make Yokohama. When I got to Makua I was low and hit the Yoks side of the valley for a little bump before heading the rest of the way to the beach. As i soared up the hill I started to venture deeper into the valley. Once in the valley I found when I climbed higher the wind died and the lee caused by the high ridge on the Makaha side of the valley was allowing some BIG thermals to develop. I found one turned with little drift to 4500 and turned to glide to the drop zone.

I was really surprised to find the reduced wind speeds and big thermals in Makua Valley; a nice end to a quick downwinder.

Keep exploring