I checked the various weather reports on Saturday morning. All were calling for light winds, good thermals and high cloud base. Yes, there were supposed to be a cloud street today! It was off to Elk with Rich, Bill and I and Linda driving and Trish riding along to keep Linda company. When we got to launch our hearts sank. The wind was blowing down at the south launch. At the north launch, the wind was blowing in at 5 to 8 mph, at 11:00, not a good sign. Usually when this happens the sea breeze has already arrived and killed off most of the thermals. We set up anyway since we were here to fly and fly is what we were going to do. Our only hope now was for the day to heat up and maybe Elk Mountain would start pumping out thermals that would block the sea breeze, or at least give us a chance to get up.
Rich always takes a picture just before he hooks in to launch to make sure his camera is set up properly. That's me in the foreground and Bill in the background.
We waited longer than usual, launching at 1:00. We would have waited even longer, but the breeze was getting stronger and it did not look like the thermals were slowing it down.
Trish took this picture of us in line. Rich in front, then me, followed by Bill. When we use the north launch, Rich usually launches first, at the south launch I usually launch first. It has to do with where we prefer to set up.
.....then cruises by launch.
.....and fly's by.
Bill had a helmet mounted video camera and I was able to download his camera after the flight. Here is his launch video:
After launching, we spent a few minutes together. That is me off Rich's wing tip. After the first few minutes together, we did not spend much time close to each other until the end of the flight.
Rich headed west of the point and started to climb out. After he had climbed 500' I left the weak lift I was in and tried the same area and also found some lift. My flight instrument was showing a west wind at 16 mph. After climbing to 4,600', Rich was a couple of miles downwind of launch with no way to make it back so he headed south toward Pitney. A minute later I was in the same spot and followed. Bill was still trying to get up over Elk.
At Pitney, Rich was in some broken lift, but climbing. I could not find anything but very broken, very rough lift. I know it's bad when I find myself thermaling at 34 mph instead of my usual 27 mph. I gave up and headed down the spine toward the creek bed and the thistle field.
The arrow points to me as I contemplate getting up or landing. I was down to 1,500' before I found anything. After scratching around for a few minutes, I located a nice thermal that was mostly smooth and lifted 2,800' me to a little over 6,000'. Bill had finally climbed to 4,500' over Elk and headed our way. In the mean time, Rich was climbing past 7,000'. I was thinking "great, I will be chasing from below again".
I am in the center bottom of the picture. Even though I had climbed to 6,000', I was still over the creek bed. When I left my lift and headed south east I lost most of it. Rich was already on course line which put me even lower. Bill got stuck in the same line as me and found himself over the creek bed at 900' agl. Here is the video as he tries to climb out:
As we worked our way toward High Glade, we spotted some clouds in the distance. They were still 20 miles away, but since we very seldom get clouds to fly under, we decided to try to catch up to them. The wind was still 16 mph from the west. It made for some high ground speeds, but the thermals were very broken, and as you can imagine with those winds over the mountains, it was a little rough.
I am the little white dot in the lower center of the picture. I just could not catch a break. This near Bartlet. Rich was staying 500' above my. My break came when he left a thermal I was still working. He flew a dog leg route south over Pinnacle and then east down Rupert's Ridge. Bill was just starting to climb out of the creek bed. Rich had left Bartlet at 7,000'. I was now at 7,500' and had drifted east. I was able to cut the corner and catch up to him.
Rich was only a few hundred feet over the ridge east of Long Valley when he snapped this picture.
We were now working weak thermals about 1 mile apart over the ridge east of Long Valley. When I asked him how his lift was he replied that he was climbing slowly. I decided to work my thermal for a few more turns. When I looked back at Rich we was now going up like a rocket. I raced over to him to find 800 fpm up. He as again above me by 200'. I teased him about "climbing slowly". He said he knew I was watching him and would see that his thermal turned on. I worked my butt off and was able to climb up through him and end up 500' above, finally! I topped out at 8,600'. For the rest of the flight I was able to stay above him. In his defense, he was having trouble with his flap cord and could not get it to stay in the cleat.
The clouds were now about 15 miles away and looking better. Bill had made it up to High Glade and headed down Rupert's Ridge. Rich and I headed off in the direction of the CDF fire station at the intersection of hwys 16 and 20. We found a few thermals, nothing great but enough to get us there. The wind gust were pretty strong. As I was thermaling, I felt like I was rowing a boat. My had to move my base tube forward and back 12" just to keep the pitch level.
The sky was more clear than most days around here. Visibility was over 70 miles. This is Indian Valley Reservoir. You can see the wind lines on the lakes. There was also a couple of clouds to the north, but they were short lived. Bill cut right across the center of the lake.
Looking back northwest towards Mt. Konocti and Clear Lake.
Only about 10 miles to the clouds.
Looking north up Bear Valley. Bill crossed the middle of the valley heading east.
Rich was really low south of the CDF station, only about 1,500 agl. This may sound high to many readers, but in this area the LZ's with road access are few and far between. By the time you get that low you are committed to only one LZ and your only hope is to find a thermal near enough to climb out. I was still 2,500' above him working zero sink waiting to see if he could climb out. He found 400 fpm and started climbing. It soon turn into 800 fpm. We had a great ride to 9,000. We were very close to the Sacramento valley.
We were now only 5 miles from the clouds, and easy glide. Lake Berryessa is to the right of the picture and Capay valley to the left. Bill said he was near highway 20 where it crossed into the valley headed for Williams glider port. This was 10 miles to the north of us. If we continued to head south, the retrieve would suck so we decided to see if we could find Bill.
I am in the upper right hand side of the picture. This is looking north. Bill is somewhere 10 miles north. As we headed north, we got a very good glide and even climbed while on glide for a bit, despite the strong 20 mph crosswind. After a lot of searching, we finally spotted Bill over the valley.
That little white dot below the arrow is Bill. We were still several thousand feet above him. I turned on the speed to catch up. Rich stayed back to climb under the cloud who's shadow is in the picture. As I was on glide, I looked at my GPS and saw my ground speed was 62 mph. I decided to see if I could break 100 mph.
The best I could do was 96 mph. The glider could still go 20 or 30 mph faster, but the air was rough and I did not want to risk breaking the glider. My airspeed was 80 mph. Needless to say, I caught and passed Bill in no time.
Lots of green fields to land in, NOT. These are all rice fields and have 12" of water in them. The yellow tint is from the flowers on the rice stalks.
These are the Sutter Buttes, about 20 miles east of Williams. The Sierra Nevada range is in the distance.
As I slowly worked my way down west of the glider port, I saw that the wind on the ground was just good enough that I could land at the glider port. It was only crossing about 30 degrees to the runway. Suddenly I saw a flash of white behind and below me. It was a tandem seat sailplane, probably a Duo Discus. They were shadowing my moves, checking me out. It started to bug me because they were sinking at exactly the same rate as me. We would end up landing at the same time. They finally headed over to the east side of the runway (the normal traffic pattern for the runway). I turned downwind, so did they. (I was in a right hand pattern, they in a left). When I turned base, so did they. When I turned final, I knew I had to land in the field next to the runway, and I also noticed that I was about 3/4 of a mile too far south. I dumped the flaps, went prone and tried to get as much back into the wind as I could. As it was, I landed 200 yards from the truck. Not a fun walk in the 103 degree heat and 95% humidity (from all the rice fields).
In this picture, I am on the ground, Bill is still in the air above me and the glider is half way down the runway. The truck is in the far right side of the field. Linda managed once again to beat us to the LZ.
In this picture, I still have 50 yards to walk. After my landing, Bill followed me in making making my same pattern. He too came up short, even shorter than me.
Bill was too far away to get a good landing picture, but I did get the video of his landing from his camera:
Rich managed a nice landing, just 30 yards from the truck.
This is me, just taking off my flight clothes. I have never been too hot while flying, but have been too cold many times. For flight I wear a long sleeve T-shirt, heavy alpaca wool sweater, XC skiing jacket, long pants, gaiter and knee pads. As we broke down, Linda and Trish fished for crawdads in the canal next to the truck. They just tied a piece of salami to a string and the crawdads would grab on and not let go, even when lifted out of the water. The caught about 10 this way. They returned them all to the canal.
Altitude graph of the flight. I am in red, Rich in green and Bill in blue.
A satellite view of our tracks with the same colors as above.
On the drive home we talked about the flight. On previous flights after getting that low over the creek bed we would have bailed over to farmer Bob's field by Rich's house. Today we showed ourselves that if we really try, we can turn a crappy day into a great one. Now, that may not be possible every flight, but you never know until you try.
Vince's IGC file.
Rich's IGC file.
Bill's IGC file.
Our KML file.
Thanks for reading.