Wednesday, May 22, 2013

A Vast Playground

HDH. Dillingham. Kaena Point. Kuaokala Ridge. Whatever we want to call it, the northwestern tip of the island is a vast playground for airsports of every flavor. Nowhere on the island do we have a chance to mix it up with so many other aviators in such a variety of conditions. Over the last two days, an adventurous couple of crews made their way out there to seek their fortunes, and many of us were rewarded for our strenuous efforts with long high flights over that spectacular peninsula.

On Sunday, seven of us braved the countless switchbacks of the Kealia trail, and five of us launched to soar for hours in a sweet moderate onshore breeze. The airflow on launch was quite challenging, a bit cross from the north and not flowing cleanly. As the airflow increased over the course of the day, it got even more challenging to pull a wing up into the airflow that was arcing over launch (and sometimes flowing back out). Sandy and Johnimo were last on launch and couldn't quite make it happen, but the rest of us managed to get ourselves plucked out of there with various degrees of sketchiness. Once up and away, the lift was abundant and we found we could venture anywhere, from the far end of the point past the headland, to the drop zone or further inland. The sailplanes were staying up easily as well, and they seemed to really enjoy flying around us and buzzing close. It is such a blast to fly with those speed demons! Roll call: Flystrong, Divot, Scrappy, Berndt, me, Sandy, Johnimo.

On Monday, three of us headed out there to find the clouds streaming over the back of Kaala in the lee of a strong sea breeze. Completely different from the previous day where the clouds were all drifting onshore from the north. Kealia and Meadows seemed likely to be too leeside to be pleasant if they would even work. But since we had Joey's awesome 4WD assault vehicle, we followed a hunch and explored launch options at the very tip of the peninsula. We found a decent grassy spot about three hundred feet above the albatross nesting area gate, and took off into the sea breeze flow that was wrapping around from the north. It was one of the sketchiest bushwhack launches I've used, but probably not the very worst. It was about as low as you could take off and hope to get up, and Woody and I managed to squeak our way around and into some decent thermic lift. Joey hit a flush cycle and couldn't quite bench back up. Conditions turned out to be super light and thermic, a bit leeside, but not horrible like the last time we tried flying those conditions out there. (On that day the thermals were downright mean and nasty, but today's thermals were merely a bit grumpy.) There were a few thermals that stood out for their buoyant cheer, however, and we rode them up high above the meadow to points between two and three grand. Woody got the highest, drifting back above Yokohama Bay before returning. We flew to Kealia to verify that the air in that direction was way more leeside and nasty, before retreating back down the point where things were more organized. A great day of research! Roll call: Woody, Joey, me. Thanks to Joey for the sweet ride out to the point in the Hummer!


Thom said...

Thanks I needed a good read before getting on a 12 hour flight to Germany. Then not sure how long to Spain. You guys keep the flights going and stories reeling cause this is going to be a long drought for Sidehill and JJ.

Alex said...

I got some nice video footage from the first day with FlyStrong and all the sailplanes, hopefully I'll find time to make something fun out of it.

firedave2 said...

Wasnt that Sunday and Monday?

Puka Wai said...

FlyStrong had a bunch of good pictures too. I know it's tough for you to keep your days straight whilst in timeless non-jobber bliss, but the first day was Sunday, not Monday.

Alex said...

Oh, yeah, not sure how I mixed those days up. I blame the cocktails. I'll edit the story to say Sunday and Monday.

sandy said...

When John and I arrived at HDH around 1:30 or so, the airport windsock was mostly limp, occasionally showing maybe 5 mph @ 0 deg. After a nice long chat with Stephanie Brendl, we started the trudge up the hill. Scrappy was still on launch, and as I recall, the streamer on the edge was pretty limp, but he managed to feel some air he liked and conjured the wing into the air where it could catch the decent flow up above and after a few less-than-graceful maneuvers it finally swung his almost very sorry derriere away from the cliff.

Once I finally was ready to launch, the airport sock was well inflated and straight perpendicular to the ridge, say about 0 deg. N. Great, maybe I'll have an easier launch! BUT, the slope of the launch and angle of greatest runway length (helpful for coaxing a deadweight wing from its nap) was about 75 deg (ENE)! AND the now more lively streamer on the edge of launch was pointing from about 280 deg (WNW)! I could see that luscious air flowing straight N up the neighboring gulch to the east. I believe the air reaching the edge of launch was the N wind turned as it split the spine to the W of launch. The human realm of launch seemed like some enclosed world of dead air. I tried many different layouts of my wing in hopes of spiriting it out of our still cell, but resigned to accept I did not possess the wizardry needed to levitate the wing to the sanctuary of wind that must surely be overhead. A forward launch may have been a good call, but still, all the various slopes of the terrain interfered with any advantageous layout.

It was certainly a lovely day on the North shore and the Kealia trail is a nicely groomed hike that provides a nice workout (especially with 50 lbs on your back!)

I would try this launch again, but I think it may be better to get there earlier before the seabreeze picks up and seal the launch under the dome.