Saturday, February 22, 2014

Winter Feast

A small crew just savored two consecutive days of spicy thermals, boiling up to cloudbase on opposite sides of the island. What a privilege to live in a place that offers such tasty thermal flying on top of the smoothest buttery ridge lift in the world. I’ve heard some say that we are suffering a long drought of dismal flying. I’m sorry to hear that, because for me this winter has been a feast of unusually sweet thermal flying. And it’s a meal that never seems to fill me up.

Winter here is not known for easy ridge lift. It’s rarely going to let us get away with a five minute drive to our nearest roadside launch. It’s serious head scratching, driving, hiking, hill scratching, sledding, hiking again, thermaling, and just really wanting to make it work. This season rewards the enthusiastic, the skilled, the determined, the desperate, and especially the lucky among us. I guess my luck and desperation have been extra powerful this season.

On Wednesday, Woody and I chased the forecast out to Nanakuli, hoping the sea breeze wasn't going to be too strong. The flow was coming straight up to the upper school side launch from the power plant. Woody took off first in what felt like good enough cycles, but he slowly began to sink down the ridge, to mid launch, to low launch, to the nose of the ridge. There he fought like a madman to find any kind of rising air that would save him. And he won that battle, rising up like a phoenix from the ashes. As he rose toward me in an obvious strong thermal, the cycles increased on launch, and I took off to join him in an upward spiral to cloud base.  Better to be lucky than good I guess.

It took some time and effort to figure out the drift and character of the strong snot rocket thermals, and by that time our XC options were limited by a lowering cloud base. But what a fun day dialing in that kind of strong spirited lift. Meanwhile a sizable crew were boating around in smooth light ridge lift at Makapuu, top landing Cactus under low clouds. It's amazing that you can have such different flights at different sites on the same day.

On Thursday, Joey, BC Lars and I chased the forecast to Koko Crater, hoping the southerly sea breeze wouldn't overpower the synoptic light southeasterly flow. While Mad Dog flew his toy airplane in the LZ, the three of us hiked up to upper launch, to test our chances with what would clearly be a thermic day at this easterly cauldron. I launched first and made a fruitless long search out to the blowhole and back, before returning low to make an emergency landing on the side of the hill below low launch. There were thermals, but at this height they weren't quite committed enough. I launched again from low launch, thinking I had a big cycle that would get me up and out, but it faded away and left me scratching lower and lower, finally sinking into the field below.

From there I watched Lars blow his first attempt from high launch. Then Joey launched, and he got up and away with apparent ease. That's all I needed to see. I quickly folded up and bushwhacked my way directly up the steep slope to high launch, where I helped Lars get up and away before joining both of them. This time it was a lot easier. Mad Dog later confirmed that the wind had died at the beach park during my previous two launches, and it had come back just in time for Joey's launch. Now that's a lucky guy!

We thermaled up and down the ridge, catching some monster rockets boiling up out of the crater to cloud base, heading out to search for more over the flats. There were some nice cloud streets forming. I was tempted to run downwind, thinking it might be a good day to soar the east facing ridge above Hanauma Bay, but I wasn't feeling brave enough to test that theory, nor was I sure where I'd have to land afterward. Guess I'll save that adventure for another time!

Later, TommyRD came out to try his luck at joining us up there, but didn't manage to connect with any thermals. At the end of the day, after the Koko crew had all landed, people again flew at Makapuu, in light buttery smooth ridge lift, again top landing Cactus under low clouds. And again it's amazing how two sites in such close proximity could offer such different kinds of flying.

For me, this has been a winter full of variety and adventure. All summer long I’ll be pining for a winter like this. Of course I’ll be out there in the summer, forcing myself to boat around in the easy ridge lift day after day, at the same two sites, like clockwork, avoiding the low clouds and the summer squalls and the windier days. But I’ll be dreaming of the light winds, the thermals, the high cloud base, the northerlies, the southerlies, the westerlies, the prefrontal, the postfrontal, the myriad far flung corners of the island, and some hidden gems yet to be discovered.


Thom said...

Well perhaps I should have said, 'dismal XC flying', but you always seem to find a way to scratch one out.

Have to say though it was nice to get a soft flight with a top land at cactus after Ike picked us up at the airport. I think JK got several toppers.

The HEX is lifted Sat. & Sun. looking promising. I am only good for Sunday but I think JK is out and on the chase.

Thanks for the write up, JJJ is still pretty relaxed, lets try and keep it that way with prompt stories.

Unknown said...

I am lucky. Spent an hour picking my glider from the shrubs on Koko. But learned a lot. And when lauch time came. Conditions were much better. 2 1/2 hours looking for it and finding it. Awesome.

It snowed at home.