Friday, July 19, 2013

Running on Empty

Eleven pilots flocked to Kahana yesterday after three days of airflow that's been too strong and too east. When we go that long between flights, our low gas warning lights start to come on. We need to refuel! A few rain systems and squalls threatened to keep us empty for another day, but some of us were desperate for that refill. We were going to make this work. And we did! Though not without a few thrills and spills along the way.

After a reasonably dry morning of kiting on the beach, a bunch of us hid behind trees at the LZ for an hour or so, dodging intermittent rain showers. Mad Dog called as he anchored his sailboat off of Kipapa island in Kanoehe Bay, and I was excited to try and fly out in that direction so we could catch a glimpse of each other. I ran up north launch just as the worst of the rain seemed to have passed, thinking I'd be in position just as the airflow returned to normal. But on my way up I could see another system lining up in the chute. Guess I was jumping the gun. I hid out under Lake's fabulous rain tarp, and about an hour after I'd started hiking, skies were really and truly clearing, and the wind filled in nicely. Not very northerly but this launch would do just fine.

I hucked off as Thom was setting up and untangling his rats nest of lines. I tried a bay crossing, but I couldn't make it work. I know the sensor was reading 79 degrees, but lately that hasn't seemed to be a problem! Maybe I just didn't start high enough, only 2,100 feet or so. But I had saved enough gas to squeak back to the hill and bench up again, this time with Thom. We played around the low clouds for a while, and finally I chose a moment that seemed right to cross again, surfing a nice cloud base this time to make it over there a little higher. This time I made it up. Thom chased me over, arriving pretty low, and he might have been able to make it work, but he opted to play it safe and head back. Unfortunately he didn't leave enough gas to get back to the hill, and he had to land.

Meanwhile McStalker, Maui Doug and Duck had hiked up to get in on the action. Later I heard that Maui Doug had run out of actual gas in his car and McStalker had rescued him on the H3 and brought him some gas. Now that's a true blue flying buddy! So they were pretty late to arrive. Around the same time, Woody was hiking up with Thor, and Thom switched to his bigger wing and was hiking up for round two. I guess it's nice to gas up two wings in a day, for those of us who have more than one!

After tagging Kualoa Beach Park (Mad Dog was long gone by this late hour), I headed back to Kahana to find the guys scratching their way up. On my way back I got a few drops of rain above Crouching Lion, and I was worried we might be in for a surprise squall. But it didn't seem to turn into anything serious. So then I made a quick trip to Punaluu and back while I waited for the other guys to get established. It was light but working everywhere, pretty buoyant air under a low cloudbase. It started to rain on me again as I was returning to Kahana, but I was committed to the return line, and thankfully once again it didn't turn into a full downpour. Once back at Kahana again, I was inclined to land. I was stoked to have completed a very unlikely damp sunset bowtie flight. But just then Duck and McStalker headed across the bay, on a beautiful buoyant wide line. The wind was showing as 68 degrees on the sensor, so we wouldn't expect it to be a simple crossing. I was only at 1,800 feet but I was compelled to follow. I figured I'd probably arrive too low and then I would happily land. As we crossed I could see huge showers drenching the back of the valley.

But man, was that air over the bay nice and lifty. Jeff and Duck arrived pretty low, and Jeff doubted his position at the last moment and bailed to the LZ, but Duck stuck it out, joined a moment later by Thom. I was above them by a bit and had no trouble slipping into the lift zone at Hidden Valley, but those two had to slug it out together in the rotor fest for a while. And they made it! We soared above Kaaawa in the last light of sunset, as rain showers fell from various spots in the cloud blanket all around us. The sunlight filtering through the squalls at Laie Point was gorgeous. At one point while we were over Kaaawa, Fireman Dave drove under us on his way to a gig at Hauula Fire Station, and he called me up to register his surprise at seeing us still up at this hour, and not even at the place he was expecting to see anyone.

Finally the three of us landed and folded up in the crepuscular dampness. Maui Doug had got up last and was making a quick play for the late bay crossing, but he didn't get much when he arrived over there, and he came back soon after. But he was super low, and I guess his gas light still wasn't working properly because he didn't have enough to make the LZ! He landed short somewhere between the Lion and the LZ. Meanwhile Harvey had launched and scratched his fill, and he brought his Boom 8 into the LZ for the last landing of the day. Despite the occasional glitches I think all of our tanks got refilled to some extent. Mine is super full, enough to last until the weekend. I hope! Here's to many more chances to refill our tanks before those warning lights come back on!

Roll call: Woody, Thor, Two Wing Thom, me, Duck, Larry Mac, Hilo Ken, Fireman Dave (yes, if you phone me while driving below you get a call-out), McStalker, Maui Doug, and Boom Boom Harvey.


Thom said...

Actually the Aspen4 that I flew first has a larger weight range than the Cayene4. I am guessing the wind was a little different each time but both wings fly differently as well.

I would have had the first crossing had I believed in my instruments and kept my heading. When I dropped out of the cloud I had plenty but was a bit behind crouching lion and had to waste my altitude pushing out.

I liked these bay crossings back when I didn't really think about them, seems like I made it more often. Now I am thinking about the lines and bar pressure, hopefully I will find the happy medium between skill and luck.

Thanks for the story, JJ is enjoying his last glass of wine before getting some rest for the next 3 days of flying.

It's Time to Fly, Get Your Gear, Fill the Tanks and Go!!

Maui Doug said...

Thanks again Jeff for the gas! Thanks for the chat box to let me know you would be driving by. My gas gauge deceived me with a quarter tank, then half way up H3 it dropped to below empty! Yikes! It actually was a blessing in disguise for OTB rotor awareness. While sitting on the H3 guard rail, l spent a long time watching some extremely nasty rotor. It was so violent and wicked!!! It made me very grateful to be sitting on that rail and not having to make the decision as to which 40 foot tall tree to land or parachutal into.

Also thanks to Thom & Duck for the ride back to the LZ from my failed attempt to get lift at the Crouching Lion. I landed downwind on the beach just past the fish pond. I landed safe but my wing got hung up on a low branch.
Thanks again guys! You are the best!!! :-)