Thursday, 7 September 2017

World Cup Brazil - Task 4

The tasks get longer as the conditions improve.  We were set a course of nearly one hundred kilometers which turned out to be exactly right because conditions seem to shut down fairly quickly.

The task was set to give some variety of choice.  This did very little to separate the field as the mass gaggle decorated every thermal around the course like some giant tree with colourful flowers.  One or two pilots did their own thing and were rewarded accordingly.  A US pilot, Kody 'the Bean' Mittanck, was one of these who flew the course solo crossing the line first in just under three hours.  Kody ended up in fifth place behind a group of Brazils' best pilots with Erico Oliveira in the lead.

It was commonplace to see 5+ on the averager as all thermals were going to the top like high speed elevators.  

The field did stretch out a little from the halfway point.  I was lucky enough to snag the six up with a small posse just before the second turnpoint to the west which put us in front for a good half hour or so.  We could not convert the advantage completely but the result was satisfactory with lead-out points helping a bit.

We are expecting the best conditions yet for day five, so lets see what happens.

Image may contain: sky

Wednesday, 6 September 2017

Brazil World Cup - Task 3 - Firefighting

What a glorious day!  A better forecast and light winds allowed a slightly longer task of 87 km.  The launch was a bit stressful because the wind switched just as most pilots were kitted up and waiting to launch which saw a mass waddle to the south launch.  Felix managed to launch west but tumbled down the slope requiring assistance from the rescue crew.

The start was a less demanding as was the run south to the first turnpoint.  With base at 2,800m and strong climbs showing 5m/s on the averager I thought it was a milk run.  The first sign of trouble was heralded by the shade to the west from a fire near the second turnpoint which wreaked havoc on the field.  Scattered as marbles on a floor it was every man for himself.  My group got hoisted up on the fire in the end but we had no answer for the korean pilot, Kim Hyeong Joo, who took eight minutes out of us which translates into a discard for most.

The koreans are on fire, but their unusual names continue to cause confusion:

Khobi: So who won?
Andre: Joo won
Khobi: Which jew?
Andre: Joo is not a jew
Khobi: say what?
Andre: I said Kim Joo is no jew
Khobi: You're an idiot!

Image may contain: sky, nature and outdoor

Tuesday, 5 September 2017

World Cup Brazil - Task 2

We woke to thrashing trees tormented by a nagging north wind.  There is wind most mornings just not as strong.  Some people saw forecasts that suggested increasing wind to 50km/h but we went up anyway.  The organisers confidently set a task despite the howling breeze citing a favourable forecast.  It was to be a 75 km downwind dash with a couple of kinks along the way.

The wind dropped on cue and the race was on!  It was total dog-show at the start with a hundred pilots struggling to stay in front of the ridge.  The last two minutes were crazy with undecided pilots caught between cycles flying in all directions avoiding one-another like a three dimensional Asteroids game.

Diversion: How many of you remember Asteroids?  I was the Asteroid king in junior school spending every afternoon at the local cafe until closing time in '79 to the disgust of my mother.  Catch this dorky review of Asteroids on YouTube if you want to understand why I can fly paragliders.

Where was I? Ah yes, the race.... After sorting out the start we got more or less organised along the course line and romped our way around at a moderate to middling pace.  We all arrived at goal more or less together.  This has become the standard at high-end comps .  The bulk of the field clusters up and cruises behind one or two markers in a sloping wedge formation taking very little risk feeding off the leaders.  It is an effective tactic, but a failed strategy when the conditions get weak or very good at opposite ends of the spectrum.

In the end the first sixty pilots were separated by ten minutes and almost the entire field got to goal.  This means the day was really social as you had company all the way.  It was especially pleasant given the collaborative mood of the competitors.  This might have had something to do with the stern warning delivered by Ulrich at the task briefing after complaints of unruly behaviour in the air on day one.

Image may contain: mountain, outdoor and nature

Monday, 4 September 2017

World Cup Brazil - Task 1 - Pipped by a Point

There was a carnival atmosphere on launch with no less than two mega-watt sound systems blasting out an eclectic mix of music to send the pilots off the mountain in pursuit of glory for an ambitious 83km task.

Image may contain: mountain, sky, outdoor and nature

You will understand the task perfectly if ever you have tried to cut solid metal with a cheap hacksaw blade:  It goes really well until about half-way through and then it becomes progressively more difficult as the blade loses teeth until it breaks or you run out of steam.

We failed to complete the task, but not for lack of trying.  The wind and dying heat of the day was too much for our equipment taking the edge off of our 'blades' agonisingly close to goal.

Most of the field landed between 10-20km from goal.

A korean pilot, Chigwon Won, took it from me by a single point landing less than five kilometers from goal.  Pretty cool name for a task winner even though it led to some confusion:

Khobi: So who won?
Andre: Chig-won Won won
Khobi: Say what?
Andre: Chig-won Won won
Khobi: Do you mean Chig won?
Andre: Nooo... Chig-won Won won!
Khobi: You're an idiot!

Racing aside, it was a glorious day of flying in a beautiful place.

Follow world cup site progress here
Follow local FB coverage here
Catch the video here.

Image may contain: pool, sky, house, tree and outdoor
Grande Hotel Prata (home for the week and headquarters)

World Cup - Pico do Gavio, Aguas da Prata, Brasil - Practice days

It has been a long year of very little competition flying on account of my early departure from the world championships in Italy.  For those of you wondering: I left Feltre after the first task on account of my mother who ended up in ICU for a month.  To cut a long story short, mom survived against all odds albeit with a few more battle scars.  The life force runs strong in the Rainsford genes.

We are in Aguas da Prata to fly Pico do Gaviao which quite possibly has the most impressive launch setup of any site I have visited anywhere in the world.  There are launch areas for any wind direction with a coffee shop, cooled water fountain, serviced ablutions, ample shade, and souvenir shop with easy chairs and mobile phone charge lockers.  Auguas da Prata is located in the state of Sao Paulo some 200km+ north of Sao Paulo.  The population is around eight thousand which makes for a fairly quaint atmosphere when combined with brazilian hospitality.

Two days of practice in sublime conditions with cloudbase above three thousand meters eased us into the friendly environment of tree clad rolling hills.  It is drier this time of year and the expectation is that we will fly every day.  This is in stark contrast to our previous visit to the area some years ago when we sat in the rain in Pocos do Caldas for ten days.

photo: Stephan Kruger (South Africa)

Monday, 6 March 2017

Boomerang 11 - The "Bomb" (to quote my surf mates.)

The love of flying has inspired passionate expression for centuries.  It seems just about everybody who was or is anybody had something to say of the topic.  Poets, philosophers, authors, statesmen, theologians, and artists have all weighed in at some point.  We have heard everything from the profound expression of longing and addiction by Da Vinci to the wry wit of Douglas Adams.  For many, flying has been the metaphorical vehicle of choice transporting feelings of love and expressions of discovery, freedom, wonderment, and spiritual awakening.  

Even Coco Chanel had something to say about it:   
“If you were born without wings, do nothing to prevent them from growing.”
― Coco Chanel

We all have our favorite quotes and, though many are over-used, the aerial prose persists.  In some instances, the contribution by literary giants, such as Richard Bach, will remain part of the flying lexicon for eternity.  Jonathan Livingston Seagull attracts aviators in a literal latching as flame bound moths.  That the novella has nothing to do with actual flight does little to deter us as we identify closely with both the journey and the medium in a classic emotional double-bind.  

The power of the flying metaphor is witnessed by the fact that Bach’s creation spent thirty-eight weeks at the top of the New York Times Best Seller List in the seventies. 
It is no wonder then, that we feel the connection so strongly when the Seagull suggests that flying ‘… is an unlimited idea of freedom’ and that ‘You have the freedom to be yourself, your true self, here and now, and nothing can stand in your way.’

It is with this emotional bond in mind that I want to share a recent flight with you.  After fifteen years of World Cup charging I feel I have found my way back to this idea of unlimited freedom.  Saturday encompassed the feeling as the forces of nature collaborated to deliver a flight that re-ignited the passion and renewed the sense of wonderment and the love of flying that drew me to the sport in the first place. 

The day started out fairly nondescript which tempered my expectations paving the way for surprise.  An earlier than usual start to the day was signaled by the abundance and variety of raptors and swifts playing around at launch and cruising past at all altitudes.  By the time I had launched and hooked into the first house thermal a cloud-street was forming to mark the Magaliesberg mountain range to the west with random cumulus popping in the valley to the north. 

What followed was a veritable symphony of flying.  It felt as though I had all the vultures from the colonies that mark the route to the west for company as I bounced along under the thermic highway.  

I ventured north after an hour only to find myself surrounded by several dozen storks at the next climb which went deep into the white room until my senses demanded a giggling exit from the white cliffs that marked the towering cloud. 

The storks continued climbing for several hundred feet as I glimpsed them exit the tops of the clouds before heading off in tight formation.  Flying above layers of cloud is an experience that I doubt will ever become passé for me in free flight.  It is as though time slows and the proximity to the clouds renders the environment as hyper-dimensional after the relative flattening of the world below due to altitude. 

The swifts were in constant attendance as they buzzed the lift bands swerving around my lumbering presence as though I was a slalom buoy in their chaotic race-course in the sky. 

Another hour later and I reached the apex of what had turned into a triangle after another three or four raptor species which included a rare sighting of a sparrow hawk in full stoop lower down.  

It was also the first time I had black crows for company to cloud-base which was a surprisingly noisy interlude.

The leg home to complete the triangle included a glide of almost twenty kilometers downwind completing nearly eighty kilometers of sheer and utter effortless solo bliss.  I have had many amazing flying experiences, but seldom have I been so completely absorbed and seamlessly integrated with the environment and my wing.

Perhaps it is no co-incidence then that this flight was completed on a borrowed Boomerang 11 prototype from the Super Final.  I can’t thank Gin Gliders (in the form of Michael, Claudine, and Tim) enough for sending the glider to me to try at short notice.  This incredible wing was the product of a comprehensive team effort as far as I can ascertain.  The part I find hard to believe is they all seem to think they can improve on it before it goes into production.  

That will be something to behold.

* all pictures scraped off of google images

Wednesday, 12 October 2016

World Cup La Reunion - Last Task

The last day had a low base and southerly wind after a day of wind and rain.  This implied a run to the south after a little bit of back and forward in front of launch before a over the plateau to goal.  As before there was a load of scratching over and around gullies, houses, and power lines: just much lower than before.  We visited the bridge around Trois Basin a few times battling into wind before scratching downwind over the plateau behind st Gilles. 

The goal was in the sugar cane fields north east of st Paul close to the Dos D'Agne gorge that is used for the Le Maïdo volcano flight.  

It was a bit of a crowd pleaser compared to the previous three tasks so the comp ended with a fair number of pilots in fine humour after more than fifty made goal.

Prize-giving was festival where the locals pulled out all the stops providing heaps of food and entertainment.

I don't recall when last I had this much fun at a comp.  The local people are friendly and kind in a way that you simply don't see many places.  In particular a shout out to Sébastien Coupy and Mathias Ioualalen who were the most gracious dinner hosts imaginable.

Friday, 7 October 2016

World Cup La Reunion Task 3,4, & 5

The third day was another turd day for most with only two making goal and another three going more than forty kilometers.  The rest of us could not get around the 'corner' as we have dubbed it.  The reality of La Reunion and paragliding lies in the lee (so-to-speak).  In short, we can fly in benign thermic conditions because we are sheltered from the prevailing wind by the towering mass of the island which tops out at over 3,000m at the Piton des Neiges volcano.  The other volcano, Piton de la Fournaise, is still active and the last eruption was last year in June.
Image result for la reunion volcano eruption

So the prevailing wind is Easterly, and we fly in the lee on the west side of the island.  The localised low pressure results in cloud and wind which curls around the northern and southern points of the island toward st Leu which is why we fly from that area.  The only problem is that the stronger the prevailing wind, the more intense the low pressure of the lee which in turn increases the southerly air flow.  So when you send the entire field south of st Leu beyond Entre-Deux, most land before they are 10km from launch as they slide down the shoulder from Le Tevelave to Piton Saint-Leu trying to get around the 'corner'.  

I managed to get around and back on the fourth task which just happened to be a thousand point day, but mostly people are a little tired of pushing full bar over power lines and houses.  
It came as no surprise to me, therefore, that level three calls were made when we were asked to do it again yesterday.  You could see the wind shadow as a northerly whipped white horses out of the sea before we had even launched and the southerly backflow was very much in evidence.  The task committee had no choice but to send us south again.  It was too much to ask,  Several pilots called it dangerous by the third time we had to punch toward the corner in a fretful back and forth multi-point task.  We had flown less than and hour, so the task was not valid.  There was some grumbling from people who were in strong positions needing points, but mostly everyone accepted it and flew out to sea over the reef.  A couple of lucky pilots spotted a huge manta on the reef.

Image result for la reunion manta ray

The picture below is of a Tropic bird.  These exquisite creatures mark all forms of lift on the island and have saved us daily by showing the way.  I had a close encounter on the fourth day on my return from the south just before the 'corner'.   One of these delicate birds crashed into my lines, bounced off, and tumbled below squawking indignantly as it recovered and flew off apparently unscathed.

Today, Friday, is a rest day on account of rain and wind.

Monday, 3 October 2016

World Cup La Reunion Task 2

Captain's Log: It has been three full days since our arrival in this strange place.  Six foot perfection thunders through at four waves every five minutes in the undulating precision of a rhythmically righteous metronome.  That makes more than six hundred un-ridden waves from sunrise to sunset at one of the best breaks in this hemisphere.  

Paragliding generally works better when there is terrestrial heating taking place.  Today was not one of those days.  There was no-sun, no-lift, and no-magical thermals on offer and yet we remained aloft for hours.  A handful of mythical humans with Helium in their veins kicked bushes around half of the course with the rest of the field landing after 10-15 km or so of a 63 km task.  

The picture shows the pilots who managed to gain some handsome height for the day.

(photo: KJ Bowden)

On happier days:

Sunday, 2 October 2016

World Cup La Reunion Task 1

st Leu: It seems absurd to go to a tropical island where you look out at one of the best left point breaks in the world from your breakfast table.  It is crazy to watch line after line double overhead perfection chasing through from dawn... unridden!!  In a previous life this was Nirvana.  As a student I fantasised about this wave: Warm water on my front-side as a goofy footer.  So here I am, thirty years later, with the place to myself.  The only problem is I have no board and surfing is more-or-less banned on account of sharks and I'm here to fly paragliders. It was with more than a little reluctance that I dragged myself away from watching a handful of locals ripping this peeling point perfection to go and compete in a paragliding competition.  

I was completely preoccupied with the surf which was visible all day from the air.  Imagine my surprise, therefore, as I stumbled into goal in the lead after 70km of to-and-fro.  I decided to treat the day as a ridge run.  Not really the best strategy after telling my compatriots to stay high, but there you have it.

We are seven South Africans at this event and it is shaping up to be a blast.  The entire team made goal and we are in third position as a nation!

pics to follow

World Cup - st Andre les Alpes, France - Task 4 - Stopped and General impressions

It was as though they were willing me to win creating another ridge-run similar to the first day.. just shorter and more definite on a day where the organisers did not even want to go up the mountain which invited some hind-sight critique.  

You see, the task was stopped due to thunderstorm development over st Andre seven minutes before the one hour five minute minimum task validation time!  This was right about where three of us pulled away from the field by a few hundred meters.  I do not normally subscribe to the "could've, would've, should've, but didn't" school of life... my castle for the seven minutes that would have validated the task! Dream-on loser!  

Anyway, I walked away with an epic task win and thirteenth place overall in a place that delivered some of the finest conditions I have ever played around in.  This is better than a poke in the eye with a sharp stick I guess.

Yes, everyone wants to know about the Zeno, Enzo 3, and Boomerang 'Next'.

So here's a reality check.  
Fact: Luc designed and flew the Zeno onto the podium.  

Conclusion 1: the glider must be amazing
Conclusion 2: the pilot must be amazing
Conclusion 3: the combination is amazing
Conclusion 4: the guy lives there, he should have won on a Mantra
Conclusion 5: the conditions favour the pilot and the glider
Conclusion 6: let's have a look at the data

I chose 2, 4 & 6 in order to validate 1, 3 & 5.  The reason being that the glider looks fairly straight forward and stubby compared to the higher aspect of the E2 & B10.  It reminded me of the IP6 when Luc was fooling around with it on launch.  So, if it has benign flight characteristics it would be good in st Andre that required some attention to stay inflated at speed for hours at a time.

The data?  It is hard to compare glide performance in a place like st Andre given that you are being spiked by potent thermals all the time and there is nothing to say on the ridge except that technique obscures glider performance completely.

The third task does give us a better chance of comparison.  The glide to goal was into the flats from around sixteen kilometers out with a cross/headwind.  The following guys were in front together so I compared them from the end of the lifty section after the last climb at about 14km out for each:

Position # Pilot Glider Glide Speed Distance
2 12 Honorin HAMARD Ozone EnZo 2         7.6           52.6 14.2
2 37 Maxime PINOT Ozone EnZo 2         6.9           52.6 14.6
4 16 Felix FERNANDES Ozone EnZo 2         7.1           52.9 14.0
6 18 Torsten SIEGEL Gin Boomerang 10         7.6           51.0 13.9
7 11 Luc ARMANT Ozone Zeno         6.8           51.1 13.8

This one is interesting because, from what I can see on the tracks, Honorin & Maxime flew side by side as did Torsten and Luc.

If we were to conclude anything, it seems that:
1. There is something very wrong with Maxime's glider (did I mention he won the comp?)
2. There is something very right with Torsten and Honorin's gliders
3. the Zeno is up to a full point behind the Enzo and Boom 10 on glide

We would have to interview the pilots concerned to find out if this is anywhere near the truth.  
The data also suggest that two of the guys on the podium got there with inferior glide. HAH!

The conclusions that can be drawn resemble the routine of an acro pilot on LSD.  It is clearly pointless doing comparisons without dozens of samples if at all.

More to the point: Fly the damn glider and stop worrying about performance!

A simple logic check: what are the chances a low aspect glider will outperform the current crop of performance wings on glide?  There appears to be no giant leap forward in technology or construction advantages or we would have heard about it.  The much vaunted hundred-and-plenty-cell technology is slow out the blocks with the biggest gains being that of projected price point!  I'm told you can optimise a wing for a point somewhere on the Polar curve, but it seems unlikely that the Zeno would take down the E2 or B10 on glide through the entire speed range.  

Whatever the case, we are waiting with baited breath to see what we will fly at the super final and the worlds next year.  It also appears that the manufacturers may be playing cat and mouse with none wanting to release an inferior wing, so we wait until somebody pulls the trigger.  

In the mean-time we can amuse ourselves by speculating and spreading ill-conceived rumours.  Have you heard about:
- Piezo-electric lines, rods and fabric that tension the whole structure dynamically in flight reducing weight and improving efficiency of new air-foils and even harvesting power from movement?
- giant one-piece 3D wing manufacturing machines
- assisted in-flight wing trim 

It seems we have a lot to look forward to ;)

World Cup - st Andre les Alpes, France - Task 3 - Wow, Wow, and Wow!

Once in a while you get a day that is just about the flying and you sort of forget you're in a competition and rather soak up the experience because you just know it is rare and remarkable.  Most world cup events, excluding Chelan, have at least one highlight that everyone raves about and remembers.  The second task was in that league, so the third task was a gift.

The bulk of the field took the safe route over the Coup west onto the plateau toward Digne before heading north into the complicated confluence of valleys from La Brusquet to Barles and Authon.  It was in this area that we felt like cloudbase kings floating around in our airborne thrones.  Someone won but it didn't seem to matter as we excited the mountains into the flats for a twenty kilometer glide to the west.

Wednesday, 7 September 2016

World Cup - st Andre les Alpes, France - Task 2 - 115km Out and Return (OMG)

Some explaining is required for the civilians out there:  a para-glider typically flies at between 40-60 km/h with a glide ratio of between 6 and 10.  To fly 100 km is a big deal when you're learning and this is generally achieved in your first three years.  One hundred kilometers out and return is worth 200 km downwind (epic by any measure) and and a 100 km triangle is worth about 250 km by most accounts (more than a personal best for many).  Such is the quality of the flying in st Andre that more than eighty pilots completed a 115 km triangle in just over three and a half hours with the hot-to-trot Bulgarian ace, Yassen Savov, handing out flying lessons on a scintillating day that encapsulated everything one would hope for in a sporting contest.

Absolutely bloody marvelous just about covers it in the absence of more convenient vulgar expletives.

That the first fifty pilots were separated by fifteen minutes is no longer surprising such is the quality of the field.  Did we have fun? HELL YES!!!  What with cloud-base close to three thousand meters and climbs in excess of 5m/s over terrain to write home about, I don't think we need much more than this.

Seldom have I seen fortunes change as often as today.  The start was glorious but quickly deteriorated into a bit of a dog-show for those who were sloppy about managing altitude to begin with.  It was almost comical to observe dozens of competitors being spanked in the lee of the western bowl simply because we were not paying attention to the local met.  I was one of those dumb-ass pilots, but managed to fix it after forty or so kilometers.  The rest of the day involved picking a line and applying as much speed as possible with some interesting terrain oriented interludes to spice things up every now and then.

All in all a more mellow day with moderate demands on the nervous system with two minor events in my case:

We expect to fly another three days... wish you were here.

World Cup - st Andre les Alpes, France - Task 1

A little task was set in the relative shelter of the st Andre flying bowl.  The idea was to protect us from the fresh north west wind.  The entire field managed to launch at least an hour before the race started as the wind at launch intensified.  It is not often the case in world cup task setting that you are challenged to think for yourself.  Today was different and there were three schools of thought: west, middle, and east.

I chose the westerly route along with a handful of die-hard comrades as it offered a ridge-run but with a distance penalty.  This route necessitated flying out of the relative shelter of the st Andre bowl with the application of copious doses of the speed bar not just once, but three and a half times:

Our group started with about twenty on the first run and ended with four.  The reason is best explained by my heart monitor:

We were rewarded with a winning margin of about five minutes after slightly more than two hours for eighty kilometers.

It is not often that I am given the chance to race a ridge, so this task was a gift tailored to my narrow skill-set serving up the win by a second from Michel Guillemot and Uli Prinz.  Many thanks to the task committee!

Tuesday, 6 September 2016

World Cup - st Andre les Alpes, France

Paragliding World Cup France: st Andre les Alpes

Of all the places I love in travel, the south of France is high up on my list.  The reasons are many and the pictures tell the story a thousand times better than words.

Arriving over the Cote d'Azure to land at Nice is the closest you'll get to feeling like the people in those old Peter Stuyvesant cigarette adverts.  The descent into Nice offers an uninterrupted view of the multitude of marinas sporting luxury motor-yachts and statuesque Provencal homes along the hundred kilometers of the French Riviera before touching down mere meters from the edge of the sea.  

It has been nearly a decade since I was in this very special part of the world.  I was part of a fairly large group of South Africans attending a British Open competition in 2007 which was truly memorable both from a sporting and a tourist point of view.

The first two days of this world cup were blown out so Russel and I did a bucket-list dash down to saint Tropez, Cannes, and Nice.  You have to see it to believe it!  For my South African friends: imagine the strip from Sea-Point to Camps bay in high season with the beaches packed and nowhere to park.  The only difference being that the French version carries on for one hundred and fifteen kilometers uninterrupted!  According to the Côte d'Azur Economic Development Agency, each year the Riviera hosts fifty percent of the world's super-yacht fleet, with ninety percent of all super-yachts visiting the region's coast at least once in their lifetime (trust wikipedia to know that).

On our way to view the show-case of opulent excess, we stumbled upon a medieval festival en-route in the mountain village of Comps-sur-Artuby which completed an unlikely contrast of old and new France in a one day road-trip.  The attention to detail was astonishing as the community populated the medieval encampment in full period costume replete with weapons and artifacts faithfully re-created to the historic standard.


As if that were not enough, the second day of competition was also cancelled, so we toured closer to home exploring the Gorges du Verdon and the historic town of Castellane not far from Saint-Julien-du-Verdon where we are staying.  The village is situated on one of the numerous freshwater lakes in the area which has been great for my open water swimming aspirations.

st. Julien (temporary home in France)

The Gorges du Verdon is spectacular in every respect: