Monday, January 26, 2015
A slight promise of flyable conditions drew a passel of us out to Dillingham last Saturday, but we arrived to find rain building out from the southeast. The clever Californicans decided to hike to the albatross nesting area at the point, while the not so clever locals hiked up as soon as the drizzle stopped. We had Brian egging us on from his perch high above the knob, scoping out new climbing routes.
As we'd feared, the cycles abated to almost nothing, and Berndt and Jonathan were lucky to get out after a few attempts. JJ set up next, and we saw his wing come up and then fall down in an unnatural manner. Turns out he'd slipped off the little cliff behind launch while trying to pull up. But he was okay! Whew. He tried a few more times, and with Bill's help, he got out of there and joined the growing crowd below.
Bill was alone up there. By now the cycles were not just dead, they were wafting down the mountain, blowing offshore. There was no question that Bill would have to hike down. But no one told him that. He tried to pull up a few times, and we could see his wing facing up the hill into the valley. Was he really going to try to launch that way? Then we saw his wing come up and pitch down the hill in a very unnatural fashion. Oh no! But he soon came on the radio to assure us that he was okay. He'd pitched head first off the little cliff behind launch, denting his helmet but breaking no bones. Whew! We urged him to hike down, but he said he'd try one last time.
So one last time, he pulled up his wing, facing into the valley, and then he ran it off like a demon. He was up! He turned out from the valley to zoom down and land right in front of us, skimming the grass for a smooth touchdown. We watched his wing flutter down behind him in the offshore flow. Yikes! I guess all's well that ends well. Six crazy pilots happy to be down safe on the muddy landing strip! Meanwhile we heard Harvey and the holdout Californican BobP had waited all day, in a paragliding duck blind apparently, and at the end of the day they scored a sunset lighthouse flight in northwest conditions at Makapuu.
On Sunday, with absolutely no chasing or hunting required, scores of pilots flew long leisurely flights in truly perfect sea breeze conditions at Makapuu, as chronicled by Thom. I have to think that's the reward we got for our previous day of sacrifice!
On Monday, we got light southeasterly flow and sea breezes. The hunt was on. A bunch of us raced out to Nanakuli only to find the flow at the shore raging strong, and the clouds roiling like a nest of angry cobras. Guess that southeasterly flow wasn't quite as light as the forecast had suggested. So what's hungry pack of dogs to do? Drive to the opposite corner of the island! We figured Koko Crater might work if the southeast flow was that strong.
Meanwhile we heard that a couple of intrepid hunters had bagged a brief roller coaster of a flight at Kahana, ending in a roller coaster landing at Punaluu, with one getting slightly bedraggled in a surf landing. Those southeast conditions can be pretty interesting at Kahana!
When we arrived at Koko Crater to check it out, the southeast flow turned out to be not strong enough. It was light enough that the sea breeze turned it south. So it looked like we were down to the last resort. Frank and Jetflap have showed us that it can work at Koko Head in a southerly sea breeze. But checking from the LZ, it seemed too light and still too southeast there. We retired for a late lunch at Greek Marina, and after that everyone bailed except for me, JK and Scrappy. And somehow I convinced them that it was looking better up there, so we ran up for a last ditch attempt to save the day.
So we were concerned about our chances to avoid the dreaded hike down. Scrappy and JK conferred over their smart phones and soaring tools to calculate the necessary glide. At a mile away from 600 feet, we'd need 9:1 in still air. I texted Frank to get his experienced verdict, and he texted back, from the safety of his couch at home: you can make it if you go straight from launch to the LZ.
Scrappy's video of JK landing is worth blowing up HD and full size.
On Tuesday, I woke up and started my coffee, then brushed my teeth. As I leaned over to spit, my back went out. Maybe it was all that hunting the last few days. I knew I wouldn't be chasing much of anything on this day. I stayed in bed all day and took ibuprofen, wondering what kind of day I might be missing. Turns out it was a super easterly sea breeze. The tandem daredevils were making it work out of Cactus, in their usual super determined way, even though the flow was converging up both sides of the ridge. I talked Larry out of a flight all by himself at Kahana with the clouds drifting offshore and the sensor spiking above 120 degrees. I guess he hadn't heard about the previous day's roller coaster splashdown!
I spent Wednesday recuperating. For me that meant hiking and climbing all around the ranch here, to test out how bad I'd strained my back. I heard that some intrepid air hunters stalked conditions to Diamond Head, but the southerly flow and sea breeze didn't quite come together.
On Thursday, it looked like we might get some nice light southwest flow to fly Kaena Point. We decided to drive from the Dillingham side this time. We met a truckload of skydivers headed out with their speed wings. I hoped that didn't mean it would be too strong for our regular size wings. We drove out to the point in Duck's amazing truck, and hiked around the corner to check conditions. It seemed pretty darn strong. Probably the most wind we've felt down there. Duck hiked up to the low launch and reported 15-20. Hmmm. Not exactly what we were hoping for. We figured discretion trumped valor today, and we retreated back the way we'd come.
But we weren't ready to quit yet. It seemed like it might be strong and south enough for Diamond Head. So we drove to the opposite corner of the island, meeting a few other guys out there. But it was just a bit too light. We had a theory that as soon as the sun sank low enough the thermal block would stop keeping the wind away. Or maybe that was just an excuse to hang out and take in the natural beauty of the area. Which was abundant. Anyway, we waited until the sun dropped into the ocean, but the wind never turned on, so we threw in the towel, hoping for better chances back at the same spot the next day.
This first video shows Jorge working hard to get down for a top landing in the pumping flow. He had to do some serious flapping to degrade his glide, practically stalling his wing at the end to force it down. Don't try that at home!
This next video is Jorge's second launch, from the west facing slot where we all took off. Jorge, Jeff, Dave and I were the only ones lucky enough to be there for the flyable windows. Dave's was super short but exciting, right in front of a huge downpour. Also great to see Frank and Jeff and Brent out there.
This last video is Jorge's second top landing. This time he set it up perfectly and needed no flapping at all. My favorite approach! I was narrating for the nice Australian family behind me. Thanks to that dude who was so intently checking out the surfers for making room.
I'm sure there are other interesting stories to be told, or pictures or videos, from this past week of hunting. I look forward to reading about them in the comments! And let's hope we get some easier weeks for chasing it, in the remaining winter months. For the sake of our cars and tires and fuel bills if nothing else!
Posted by Alex at 1:30 AM