Don’t follow me!

When we got to the Ranch this morning, I stopped at my glider to see how it had survived the night. I found one of the ribs (second to last at the tip) had broken from the back of the spar. We sped off to Walgreens for some 5-minute epoxy. By 9:00 am I was ready to go again (if we ever went).

The weather was predicted to be better today: 40% chance of showers, mostly to the north; winds out of the SSE; cloud base at 4800; top of lift at 3500’ with lift between 200 and 400 fpm. The task was called for an out and return to Gator, 53.5 miles round trip. The first start time was moved up to 12:30 with the launch window open at 11:00. I was in the odd line, which is on the north side. The wind changed a little and they turned our line around. The even line stayed where they were. A lot of pilots grabbed up the launch carts and put their gliders on them, even though they were not ready to go. I was in my harness, helmet on, and ended up carrying my glider to my place in line. The ranch hands keep saying, "don’t get on the cart unless you are ready to go". And I thought they meant it.

I was towed up at 11:53. It turned out to be a good time to go. I pinned off early; we were in lift and I wanted to give the tow pilot a break (Rich later told me that in light lift like today, take the entire tow). I headed to the closest gaggle I could see. I worked with them for a few minutes then saw a better gaggle a mile to the south. On the way over to this second gaggle I found some good lift so I stopped to work it. I was going up at 200 fpm. Now I know what a gaggle magnet is. Within 60 seconds there were 15 more pilots in my thermal. I believe this gaggle turned out to have 40 or 50 gliders in it. I noticed we were drifting toward the turn point, which was good, but we were past 1.5 miles from the Ranch. I found out after I landed that the start circle is a 3 mile radius. I thought it was a 3 mile diameter. So, don’t follow me. I headed back to the Ranch, got low, but managed to cross the 1.5 mile radius at 12:30. I thought I had a great start. The lead gaggle was gone.

I got lower and lower. Everyone was way above me on course. I was down to 500’ AGL and finally found something. I worked this for a long time (50 fpm). At 1500’ I saw two other gliders a mile away circling. I was back to 1200’ there and with no lift. Again I spotted a glider circling. I joined it at 1000’. It turned out to be Clair Vassort. We worked together for quite some time (I talked to Clair after landing and thanked her for marking the lift for me. She said after I got up she'd followed me as well). More and more gliders joined us. The lift got better, sometimes 500 fpm. I left this gaggle behind and caught up to another one further ahead. About 2 miles from the turn point I saw the lead gliders passing me for the trip back. The lift was very good to the turn point. On my GPS I tried to keep the distance to the turn point less then .25 miles for 30 seconds to make sure I got the turn point. The scorekeeper said the software does not support Mark, Enter (creating a waypoint). I hope I got it.

Rich Sauer reported on the radio that he was 5 miles ahead of me. All the way back, gaggles would form and break up. At one point I was above both Carlos and a Swift. The Swift quickly left us behind. The cloud bases were up to 4800’ and I was climbing to 3800’ before leaving. Six miles out the clouds were close together and the ground was shaded. About 12 of us were heading for the Ranch with me about third. We started working 100 up. I thought with all the shade on the ground, we would never find enough lift to get us to goal. I spotted some raptors circling ½ mile to the west. When I got under them I was going up at 600 fpm+. The rest of the gaggle came in under me. At 3500’ my vario said I had goal.

I went on final glide. I have my final altitude set for 800’, just to be safe. My vario kept changing back and forth between making goal and not. Since I had set goal at 800’ I thought I would be fine. I kept looking for the Ranch. I thought I saw it, but 3 miles out I realized I had the wrong place. The Ranch was much closer. I stuffed the bar to my waist the last 3 miles. I crossed goal at 500’. I made it. First completed task in my first timed comp! I was ahead of all the gliders in my last gaggle. Unfortunately, we were one of the last gaggles to finish.

A note on landings. Unfortunately almost all the bad landings I saw were Atos’. One Atos C crashed into the goal post. Another Atos broke a down tube and the keel.

Several things went wrong with communications. We (Rich, Steve Rudy, and I) could not hear our driver and he could not hear us. He tried a couple of radios with no luck. After I landed he realized he'd lost his cell phone. Steve landed out (1.5 miles behind a locked gate) and had been trying to call. We got hold of him on my cell phone. By the time we arrived he had already carried his glider to the road. Someone found Bob’s cell phone and turned it in to Malcolm, so Bob has it back.

Thermaling in my first death gaggle was nice. It was like being in a tornado with lots of gliders sucked up. I noticed that most pilots make much larger turns than I would normally make in a thermal (maybe the rigid wings turn much better than the flex wings ;-). Steve mentioned the same thing. I never felt unsafe or had any close calls. I felt like today was a survival day as opposed to a race day. After my low save, I felt very uncomfortable under 2000’. The lift was really poor under 2000’. I stopped to thermal a lot just to make sure I would not sink out. Rich had similar feelings.

It started raining hard here about 6:00. My glider is getting another bath. I now have to recharge all my batteries, upload my waypoints back to my GPS, fill my water bag etc. Gotta go.


PS Rich took the second start time, so he did well.

My vario trace for the flight. (click on it for a larger version).