Wednesday, April 17, 2013

Thermal Wonderland

The east range looked perfect and clear this morning, tempting many pilots, including me, out to Makapuu in hopes of a downrange mission. But our hopes were dashed by offshore flow and a lowering cloud base. Then I wondered if it was the kind of sea breeze day that would be good on the west range out at Dillingham. Last week we were skunked on a day like this, but today I was feeling lucky, even if I had to scout it without my usual wingmen. I headed out there and drew on all the powers of my little half nut, braving the forbidding hike and the unforgiving launch all by myself, and I was rewarded with a long flight over a magical thermal wonderland!

Woody, Maui Doug, Maui Tim and I had chased the sea breeze out to Dillingham last week. The numbers were looking good, but when we got there it was clear that the clouds were streaming offshore from the Makua side. And then we heard from speed flyer Brandon that there was no wind on launch, except for the occasional backwind cycle. So at least we saved ourselves a hike.

Today, none of my regular Dillingham wingmen were available: neither Woody nor Maui Doug nor Duck. And I assumed Gaza was working. Brian had flown earlier in the morning (like he does every morning) and he said it was good. So it seemed worth investigating. Apparently I am determined to figure that place out even if I have to go by myself! I never thought I'd want to go alone, especially to a launch as sketchy as the one at Kealia, but I found myself up there, after my fastest hike time of a half hour, brimming with confidence and extremely focused.

To my great relief, there were onshore cycles flowing on launch, but the cycles were infrequent and cross. I waited a very long time for one that seemed to flow straight in, and when I felt it, I pulled my wing up clean and loaded in a smooth motion. I turned and ran, off the cliff and up into the air, shooting upward in what turned out to be an amazing thermal. Whew, I'd survived that launch, and with style! Only then did I start to think that perhaps I'd made the right call. I started turning right away and gained five hundred feet over launch. Wow, that felt good. It didn't look like the sailplanes had enough lift to stay up long, but for a paraglider it was perfect.

Mount Ka'ala was enshrouded in a low cloud base, so I knew I wasn't going that way today. Instead I worked the thermals down to the sunny pasture launch. I was tempted to try a top landing at the pasture but it seemed a bit too cross to be safe. Also I didn't go further toward the point because I wasn't sure I'd get back in the cross flow. So I headed back to launch and then continued upwind to the ridge behind the drop zone, finding nice thermals under the fat gray cloud bank extending from Ka'ala, watching the skydivers and the sailplanes.

I thermaled back to the pasture launch one more time, and then worked my way back to think about landing. I came back to the launch ridge low, and scored a sweet low save in a spicy thermal all the way back up above launch. But I really was ready to land, so I headed out to lose altitude and aim for the grassy triangle behind the tower. It took forever to battle my way down through an endless round of thermals that just wouldn't stop firing off. I kept getting low saves that I didn't want! But I am writing this story so you know I did finally make it down.

I guess it was just another crazy day flying a wintertime site in the springtime. I just can't believe I had to do it by myself! And I can't believe I was brave enough to do it by myself! I love the sailplanes and skydivers but it would be nice to have some wingmen next time!


Thom said...

Per our conversation, I was stuck till 2:30 which exended to 3:30. Would be honored to be on the list of your wingmen, even for Kealia which I do not have any fond memeories.....Yet.

JK came by with that look in his eye and after confirmation from JetFlap, soon we were off to Makapuu. After bussing kids around we arrived at Cactus around 430.

Tried to go North but were shut down by 1500' base. I top landed in strong conditions with Nova dragging my A's, oops this is going to be an interesting re-launch. Dave hovered in and was kinda wishing he didn't as well.

Nova had gotten off just before Dave landed then I pulled up and made it to the edge. Perfect. I watched Dave from the air, he was struggling to get out. Finally he made it but was singing in a high voice that his leg straps were strangling his courage sack.

We all landed to frosty beverages from 5-0, Nova, JK and Dave. Many coolers were emptied as we were entertained by Jinju spinning poi on fire.

Oh got a call in the air from visitor Matt that he landed in Waimanalo in front of the place he had rented, sweet. I landed and told his wife where he was.

MPU Roll Call: JK, Sidehill, JetFlap, 5-0, Fireman, Nova, Visitors Co.Kevin & Matt

Thanks for the write up Alex and you are way beyond a half ball now, maybe close to that third one.

matthew calladine said...

Landed and packed up at the beach access near the house, headed for home looking foward to the reward of an ice cold brew in the fridge only to find out christina had just left on the hunt for my retrieve, phone dead I had to relay the message from the air to the lz, thanks guys for the relay,

JK said...

I just saw this. Should get on windlines more. I totally could have joined you on this! You said you were going, and I could have joined... Instead I opted for home improvement and a local flight later on (which was fun). Next time. But in a way, it was meant to be. Really happy you scored this one on your own. Now you know how it feels to pull in a glorious flight - solo. It happens to me that way more often than not. I'll do my best to be sure it doesn't happen to you again!