Thursday, 19 April 2018

World Cup Brazil 2018- Baixo Guandu - Task 3

So the good thing about coming near to last in a task is that things can only get better as in Howard Jones (have a look at the world class mullet) or the more familiar D:Ream.  And what could possibly be better than stumbling across the line into goal with a really good mate for a one-two South African win.  Top three for Russel and I, first team, and second nation thanks to a strong rearguard performance by Jon.  I had a good talk to stupid-Andre during my walk of shame yesterday among the turkeys and then we just had it all our own way today for once and it felt good.  The lead-out points gave the task to Michael Kuffer by a single point from me with Russel three points behind.

Some superb task setting gave the field all the choice in the world in a 71km dog-leg task.  The whole field was a little gun shy after the grueling survival event yesterday which resulted in a precious conservation glide at the start followed by some medium racing once we were all emboldened by the better-than-expected conditions.

The course took us over Baixo which proved to be the crux as the entire field scattered faced with the choice of multiple racing lines.  My group decided on the northerly route which felt like a touch of convergence while most followed a more direct route and others went to the south enticed by higher terrain and brighter sun.

It was a mellow day with low stress and friendly gaggles.  Khobi was into goal a little later and Andrew landed short after making ESS.  The discards are working in our favour for now shifting Russel and I up the rankings.  Now if we can just hold it together for another day...


Photo Courtesy of PWCA - Phillipe Broers

Wednesday, 18 April 2018

World Cup Brazil 2018- Baixo Guandu - Task 2

We woke to broken cloud and blue patches and a favorable forecast.  A race of 71km was set to the North on account of the fresh south easterly breeze.  It started with a bang and quickly turned into a whimper as the entire region was closed down by cloud cover.  Most of the field ended up scratching in light lift after the first glide for eternity. 



Yours truly managed to land early after scratching 100m off the deck for an eon.  I take great pride in the fact that I have never come last in a world cup task, but today was close!

To add insult to injury I had these turkeys for company as I walked the 5 km to town contemplating failure:

 

The rest of the field slogged it out dropping like flies along the course.  Some twenty pilots made goal after three and a half hours.  Khobi was the best of the South Africans followed by Jon, Russel, and Andrew who all got around 40+km down the course.

There is great optimism for the rest of the week.  Today will be a discard for most but there is little scope for errors seeing as we need four tasks to drop today seeing as 25% of your worst score is dropped for every flying day in the scoring system.  




World Cup Brazil 2018- Baixo Guandu - Day 2 & 3 Cancelled

You could call it World Cup fever.  This is when the weather turns spiteful whenever the World Cup rolls into town.  Two days of intermittent showers have grounded us.  We did not even go up the hill on Monday because:


We went  up the hill on Tuesday which was interesting because the dirt road was muddy and the driver of our van probably had rally driving experience judging by the way he was drifting around corners and gunning the motor up steep sections.  We then sat around for several hours before the rain arrived.  The day was cancelled and then a ten minute window opened up just long enough for a bunch of pilots to bomb off and get chased by the rain and wind making for interesting entertainment.

This photo was taken by Dmitry Korolev during the first task.  


This is the Rio Doce river which suffered a catastrophic environmental disaster in 2015 when a BHP Billiton tailings dam ruptured spilling a large volume of toxic sludge into the Santarem river valley.  The tailings contain extremely high concentrations of heavy metals such as arsenic, lead, and mercury.  The toxic mud reached Govenador Valadares within days where a 'State of Public Calamity' was decreed in response to the water shortage in the city.  The entire river is rendered toxic leading to water shortages with more than two hundred municipalities affected.  The spill reached the Atlantic ocean within weeks. The toxic mud is spreading across the Espírito Santo coast, where cities closed down access to beaches.  It will take decades for the heavy metal levels to return to normal and even longer for the river ecology to recover (if ever).

Those responsible will pay fines of $20 billion excluding personal liability claims and the cost of containment and rehabilitation.  Brazillian prosecutors have filed homicide charges against 21 people including top execs of the mining companies so far.

It is kind of weird to see these wide expanses of river without any people near the banks or a even single boat floating on its waters.

Sunday, 15 April 2018

World Cup Brazil 2018- Baixo Guandu - Task 1

Who would have thought a day that started doubtfully would turn out so right!  The deluge that welcomed us home in the evening before gave a cloud-base below the road on the drive through to Baixo in the morning with no fewer than three levels of cloud starting on the ground through the stratus into the cirrus.

We were trucked up the mountain at 8am to the launch site where the normal first day buzz permeated proceedings.   Many were doubtful until the sun sparkled through just in time to lift the wind technicians enough to get the racing juices flowing as one hundred and twenty pilots took to the air.

A sixty kilometer dog-leg task was set to the east for thirteen odd kilometers before a left hand turn to the north along the river past Baixo to a remote goal field guarded by a low ridge and a river crossing.

The start was sublime with conditions allowing competitors to climb up the side of the lower level clouds above launch before heading off on the course.  The pace was fast and furious with cloud-streets marking the way to the first turn-point allowing pilots to apply maximum speed to escape being sucked into the clouds.  The clouds were developing rapidly some 20km into the race in a cat and mouse game with rain chasing our progress.  My group managed to escape the rain mostly but others reported torrential rain thrashing their gliders in a cacophony of sound (imagine the sound of heavy rain on a massive plastic bag).

In the end there were fifty three pilots into goal with another twenty five making the end of speed section but landing short of goal.  I am proud to say team SA was second today flying under the Alas del Hombre  banner (The Mexican Mecca for Monarch butterflies and humans with wings).  We were sixth in the nations.  Both Russel and I were in goal quickly a minute or so behind the lead finishing in the top fifteen for maximum points.  Andrew was not far behind.  Jon and Khobi were agonizingly close landing a few kilometers short.

Michael Sigel won the day on a Boomerang 11.

'Home' Rock - photo: Red Russel Achterberg

World Cup Brazil 2018- Baixo Guandu

It has been almost ten years since my first blog post in 2008.  I did a single post during a comp in May 2008 in Poggio Bustone, Italy.  It was only later that year when Andrew and I flew in the Super final in Brazil that we wrote about the flying properly (http://andre-comps.blogspot.com.br/2008/09/).

It is therefore a sweet coincidence to be back in Brazil with Andrew on the ten year anniversary of the blog, and on Andrew's 40th birthday in the same place (almost).  The comp was supposed to be in Castelo, but they moved it to Baixo Guandu at the last minute for 'political' reasons.

Our group comprises of Khobi, Russel, Jon, Andrew, and I.  This is the same team that went to the world championships in Italy last year.  Having said that, we are at a world cup!  The standard is higher, the vibe is relaxed, and the rules are different in a social kind of way.

Brazil has always been a popular destination for world cup pilots.  Baixo Guandu is no exception with the added boost of having held the Pan American FAI champs here last week.  As a result the field is pretty potent so we're looking forward to some stiff competition.

Baixo has a similar look and feel of Castelo and the rest of Espirito Dos Santos in that: the climate is hot and steamy; the terrain is lush green with massive weathered black granite domes rising out of the vegetation randomly; and it rains intermittently in monsoon mode.

The launch site is precariously perched atop one of these domes.

The practice day was sublime with clouds to the horizon and thermals marked by raptors.

I hope to bring you a lot of flying in the next few days.  Get the app if you want to follow the action or find it here.
Image result for baixo guandu granite domes


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.

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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.

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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.

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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