Tuesday, 23 July 2013

Lekker man, lekker!

Task 5 of the 13th FAI World Championships was a 129km race to goal via three turn points. First in was Luca Donini (ITA), followed by Petr Kostrhun (CZE) and Adrian Thomas (GBR). First lady, coming in at 67 was Klaudia Bulgakow (POL)… and another 33 pilots followed her in, seeing a total of 99 pilots make goal.

After five tasks the top five on the leaderboard are: Jeremie Lager (FRA), Charles Cazaux (FRA), Davide Cassetta (ITA), Emile van Wyk (GBR) and Julien Wirtz (FRA). Klaudia is currently leading the ladies, with Seiko and Nicole in second and third.

South African spirits were high, with four of our pilots landing in goal. Russell and Nevil tied for 39th position, each scoring 888 for the team. Our poor results on task 3 sees us ranking relatively low on the nation rankings, and looking at the current overall leaderboard, it looks as though the nation race is between France and Italy.

The overall nation/team results can be found here: http://airtribune.com/sites/default/files/team_result_20130723-2027.html
We chatted to our team pilots about their Task 5 experience…

first up was Russell Achterberg...

“Today flying west was quite beautiful but at the same time quite intimidating. There was very little merit in breaking away early without incurring risk. The day was different to other days - we were significantly higher by at least 400m; there were convergence lines all over the place, it was a nice clear day, bit bumpier than the other days, climbs were much stronger, in fact if you were in a 2m/s up thermal you were thinking of leaving for something stronger. I like it when the vario goes all the way over, and then starts wrapping back…yes, I like it a lot…

I had a fairly good run back from TP1, but to be honest, after take-off I struggled – my word for the day today was ‘STRUGGLE’ – every choice I made felt like it wasn’t quite right... so in fact I was flying from one iffy choice to another… Luckily (yes Andre… you may say there is no luck in this game….) the end results worked out fine, particularly from about half way to last TP. I seemed to make the wrong choice (again) – there was convergence almost everywhere and I found myself on NOT the right line, permanently below, trying to catch up by finding the stronger thermal, doing two or three turns more to get high and then full speed bar to catch up…

I am disappointed with my result in Task 3, and must add that the standard of flying at this event has been surprisingly high. Being the Worlds there is much more a feeling of country identity here than in the World Cup events, but still a real feeling of good will between pilots and competing countries. I think the gliders are so closely matched, nobody has the ability to use equipment to differentiate – they have to find the conditions and fly the line to make it work for them. Sometimes it is a bit of luck – a bit more than you would want… and today admittedly I was being broken, I wasn’t doing the breaking. In fact, I was hanging onto the lead gaggle with my fingernails but they kept eluding me.”

Chris van Noord:
 “Today was certainly the best day of flying thus far with stronger climbs, which took me up to 3 200m. My mistake was crossing the valley about 15km too early as on the other side we were stuck with 1.5 and 2m/s thermals, while the others were screaming up to base. I ended up about 15 minutes behind lead gaggle. My decision to cross was based on the fact that all week the mountains on the opposite side of the valley were working better, but today the main ridge definitely worked better. Mistake number 2 was trying to catch up too hard, and I ended up on the ground about 15km short of goal. I have never flown so far east before – today was really a fantastic flying day and great visibility! Caught a constant 5 up from 2000m to 3200m asl on the last leg. Of course my first choice would have been to make goal…but I did fly a wonderful 110km.”

Chris launching for Task 5
Nevil Hulett:
“Today was nice and fast - it was all about lines and if you got the right line today you could just fly straight. Happily I was often flying straight. I had about five three ups, otherwise just straight, and never low. Also, I think it’s the most speed bar I’ve been on in the most turbulent air this week.  My strongest thermal was at the pass, before I crossed to TP2. Today was hard work and busy, but such a great feeling as I was focused on watching pilots in my vicinity and trying to choose the lifty lines. Every tiny mistake you make here, you feel immediately as fifteen pilots have moved half a km away from you and you are unlikely to catch them. I had a really good run until after TP 3 when I needed one more dot to connect to goal. Sadly this dot didn’t present itself as promptly as I would have liked. I joined one thermal and then went cross course to another one, loosing about five minutes on the lead gaggle. Things could have turned out different if I had flown straight into a strong thermal instead having to search, but I can’t complain – I had lots of “dots to join” where the other people around me didn’t get them. I feel Russell and Andre’s PWC hours show, here – definitely any South African team that wants to do well needs to fly the PWC. CAT 2’s don’t cut it for the Worlds… although they do teach you what to do when you are way in the front or are isolated, at the end of the day the Worlds is all about big gaggles.”

Stef Juncker:
“I was a bit hasty on the first two days so landed early, but over these past three tasks (apart from not crossing the line on task 3) I’ve taken my time a little more and am feeling the positive and motivated vibe of the team. The fact that I’ve managed to come in about four minutes behind the fastest guy makes me feel fantastic. Also, today is the second longest task I’ve ever flown, and at the end of it I could have carried on flying I was so amped! My only complaint today was that my hands got cold and that I need winter gloves! Today was a good task – not complicated, or difficult, and the gaggles have behaved well and respectfully. It’s such a pity for the lead gaggle, as I believe ten people landed early, but at the end of the day it’s about racing.”

Proudly South African at goal, Andre still all layered up 
Andre Rainsford:
“It was lovely and clear and crisp fresh air. I was grateful that I was wearing three layers. Rambunctious climbs were the order of the day, and it is very clear that we are reaching the end of the competition as pilots are co-operating a bit better. I had a perfect start today, got the first turn point and pushed really hard to get back to cloudbase with five others. It was immediately apparent that a handful of people were in the mood for some racing which made me very very happy! We screamed back under the clouds above the mountain, enjoying the view of the launch from 2 500m asl. We carried on racing all the way to the east, to the end of the valley. When we reached the far end the valley had started popping and we made a ninety-degree course correction to follow the saddle at 3000m. I grabbed the far western turnpoint with fifteen other pilots and started the trek east along the southern low hills tagging cloud to cloud, before having to slow down in order to make the final TP in the south east which was in a big blue hole. And then… the dash back and the furious race into goal.

It didn’t feel like 130km…I remember every moment of the day in fast forward motion replay…It was almost disappointing to get to goal as it felt we could have flown another 50-100km if we wanted to. A particularly gratifying day with highlights including hopping along the clouds, high above the Sopot valley and the picturesque crossing at the saddle.”

Team briefing before the task
Jan Minnaar:
 “I think the task was perfect for the conditions, and today’s weather pattern as it developed. The team strategy in the beginning was to use the clouds and get high  - and this paid off. They had to fly faster to not get caught by the north wind. And in the van, we know now on the long tasks to retrace our steps, even though it took us on a whirlwind tour of very picturesque Bulgarian rural villages and countryside.”

A few of Team Great Britain popped by for some drinks and we grabbed the chance for a quick chat with Emile (currently lying fourth overall) and Guy Anderson.

Emile van Wyk:
“I’m currently fourth overall, but am trying not to think about that too much. I am taking every day as it comes and am trying to place in the top twenty of each task by flying as I normally do – let’s see what happens!

Today was pretty turbulent along the ridge as we raced to get the first turnpoint. On the way back it was a bit tricky – we took the middle line, I saw a few people on the back mountains, but we stuck to the flats, trying to stay on a straight line course to the far turnpoint. A couple of wispy clouds started forming and I stayed on as much speedbar as possible through the turbulent conditions. At this stage we were in the second gaggle, and just before the lead gaggle to the right who had chosen the main mountain route. We floated towards the turnpoint, snagged it, and from there a couple of glides, climbs to above 3000m, and set up for a final glide 20:1. We pushed forward and kept on pushing on whilst others took weak climbs. When we took the final climb Adrian was to my left and Guy to my right - we all came in around 3:35.”

Guy Anderson:
“I was leading out a bit at the start and decided to go down the mountain on a convergence line – it was like flying the south coast of England in a seabreeze front, so I was quite happy to be in the right spot. I let the others know that I was diving around the valley and then changed my mind, just as the north wind started coming through. I was above a wonderful big monument, dived out and back in again. Then I discovered a nice cloud building to the turnpoint, Emile followed me down this line that saw us sneaking in with the lead group. Back down the ridge, good fast climb, lots of pushing on… I saw a lot of folk went left down the smaller hills, a little off line, but I hung a right, found a nice lifty line and was fourth around the last turnpoint. We wanted to get to goal in one glide, but decided to take one climb which I left early with Adrian and Emile – it was touch and go, and three who were flying with us got the speed section but landed short. Highlights today – the spectacular monument, a stork showing us a thermal and a huge tailwind that gave us a strong downwind leg of around 80km/h.”

It seems promising that Task 6 will be another 100 plus...off to work...

Sunday, 21 July 2013

The Singing Protea

Who would have thought?!? How could anyone know?!?  Protea team pilot and eligible party bachelor of note has talents beyond that of the macho flying variety.  While hunting down Khobi in the dense Bulgarian Bushes in the team bus, we stumbled upon a hidden talent in the form of a racing tenor! 
Listen and weep at the unlikely yet sweet sound of this man's voice:

Saturday, 20 July 2013

Rising from the rural Bulgarian dust…

Spirits in the team van were a lot higher after Task 4, which saw the SA pilots delivering some very fine performances with Andre into goal in 7th position and Russell close behind in 11th. 

The subject matters covered included clouds; challenges old age may pose to competition flying; some tips on getting to goal; a brief one-on-one with Russell on his flying; and what aspiring young pilots in South Africa would need to do to get into future teams.

Andre arrives in goal no 7...no risk of riding the loser bus again today

The meet director had again raised the topic of cloud flying in the task briefing, with very clear instructions on what to do in the event of being sucked into a cloud. In a nutshell, absolutely no spiraling in a cloud (this had led to an almost mid air collision in task 3 – the pilot avoided the collision but landed under reserve – he is ok) and a clear demonstration after re-appearance that the pilot is shedding the advantage gained – a ninety degree turn off course-line and loosing your height. With a sky similar to yesterday (although a few more blue patches) reports along the task route indicated that not every one had taken this advice to heart. We enjoyed Andre’s short films from the top of each climb which included an altitude check and “I’m not in the clouds…no one in the clouds… still nobody in the clouds…and still nobody in there…” – seems the lead gaggle was playing fair! (if you haven’t read Andre’s Eureka solutions for cloud flying - http://andre-comps.blogspot.com/2013/07/world-championships-sopot-bulgaria-day_19.html)

Nevil set the world record at the age of 51 in 2008… so gammy hips certainly does not seem to present much of a challenge to qualifying for the team! Based on Nev’s maturity, we worked out that Russell, the youngest team member, probably has another two decades of service ahead of him. As long as his hearing, his shoulders and his bladder control last the distance.

So what nuggets of advice on getting to goal were shared from the combined century of experience in the team van?
  1. Stay at base.
  2. Don’t loose the gaggle.
  3. Fly the clouds streets.
  4. Keep your sense of humour.
  5. Push bar when in unwanted lift.
  6. The gaggle doesn’t always get it right.
  7. A little distraction (like filming yourself going up to cloud base) can work too.
  8. Stop and turn under the biggest cloud of the day…if you don’t you will loose time.
  9. Don’t land on course.
  10. Never eat yellow snow even if it looks like a lemon snow cone.
  11. Fly a little faster than you normally do, but know when to gear down.
  12. Don’t look at the sun through binoculars
  13. Don’t fold up your glider while still flying.
  14. Everything else you can learn but if you can’t sing, then you can’t sing.

Chris treated us to a short singing performance – and watch out ladies, if you haven’t heard his sweet tones yet…this is gonna break your heart!

Our shy tenor watches Stef coming into goal
 On Russell’s flight “I once again managed to get myself low after launch, but once I was high, and didn’t have to worry about being left behind by the lead gaggle, everything became pretty mechanical. Until the final run, when a bit of strategy, timing and decision-making came into play. I probably lost about five places by stopping to top up where in fact if I had flown straight I would have hit the lifty line going into goal sooner.”

And if you are a young South African pilot aspiring to be in the team one day…and have read this far, we hope you’ll continue reading our blog for more on this topic.

En-route to recover KJ who landed just shy of the last turnpoint
The competition so far has been very well organized and smoothly run. The meet director is an absolute gem and we wouldn't be surprised if he gets invited by many nations to run a few of their comps. 

Day 7 has dawned...it's off to work we go.

Friday, 19 July 2013

Promise, doubt, dust and glory

And so… despite dire warnings issued by Nicky, the charismatic, serious yet amicable meet director… the cloud-flying monster rears its ugly head.

The day held great promise; the start put some of the promise in doubt; the big crossing from the eastern turn point to the western turn point wreaked havoc on the field; the clouds provided good rides up to base…and far beyond for some...

The far turn point, deeply in shadow, proved to be the nemesis of nearly ¾ of the field including our podium hopeful Russell Achterberg. The fortune of the other South African pilots changed dramatically and frequently and caused much alarm (..another one down), excitement, tears (and another one down), relief, more tears (and another one bites the dusts…) and more relief in the team van…

Nevil and Stef found each other en route to the third turn point and got the low save that boosted them up, up, up…into the front of the field… and saw them romping  home within minutes of the lead. The rest of the team took the ride of shame home in the loser’s bus.

Yes... some of our team mates are still up there...

The gaggle of survivors - still needing to get TP3, climbing above Domlyan

This was World Championships at its very best and absolute worst. The inevitable protests, complaints, war stories and tales of woe are being exchanged at South Africa House currently…with the insufferably euphoric goal individuals rubbing the noses of the “losers” in the rural Bulgarian dust.

But seriously, Nevil delivered the goods on the most trying of day and we're also over-the-moon for Stef with his infectious enthusiasm, even more so as he had not had the best start to the World Champs.

Khobi, Chris and Andre are stoic in their defeat, and nothing can temper the spirit of the South African team after a round of comfort tequila.

Jan and the ladies in the van were constantly present and attentive supplying valuable information to their underperforming protégés, exhibiting the cool, calm and collected disposition one could generally label as priceless.

Team manager Jan, keeping an eye on the remaining teamsters
We suspect the results will represent a massive upheaval (yet again), putting everyone back in the game that may have had no chance at the beginning of the event.

To our friends and followers back home and abroad, thank you all your unconditional and fervent support - today was disappointing but it's not over till the fat lady sings...

If only Freddie was around to serenade us through these highs and lows with his four octave range:
‘… another one bites the dust…’
‘…we’ll keep on fighting till the end…’
‘… we are the champions my friend..’
‘… I want to ride my bicycle…’

“Hasta la vista babies!”

Andre being interviewed for World Championships TV...
 (please check our facebook page for more photographs from today!)

Thursday, 18 July 2013

Flying: 0 Food: 1

Today Team SA was on the 10h00-11h00 slot to ride up the cable way, so South Africa House got off to a slow start. We'd woken up to ominously dark skies, but as the meet director indicated, the skies opened up to a window of sunshine and clouds... 

Arriving on launch, the wind was over the back, but we were optimistic that we would fly. 

So far this week the North / North W / North East winds seem to have been the biggest challenge stopping us from launching into what looked like epic skies. However, over the past few days, when we have gone up to launch, the thermals have eventually pushed up the front of the slope making it possible to launch. 

Day 1 and day 3 yielded nice 'surprise' tasks, and we were hopeful today would also switch on. As the afternoon wore on and the 'window open' was delayed numerous times, our optimism began fading.

What's wrong with this picture?
A few wind technicians had managed to get off the launch, including South African Theunis de Bruin (on the eastern side), some tandems and Martin Scheel from Switzerland, who definitely had the flight of the day. 

With a tempting cloud street out in the valley, but a near nil chance of launching the task was cancelled and for the first time during the World Championships, the field went back down on the chair lift.

It's hard to believe it's already Thursday...(Friday...) - hopefully the weather plays ball tomorrow (and every day after that too...) and we get in a few more respectable tasks. 

One thing we have been doing very successfully in Bulgaria thus far is eating...the lunch packs the organisation gives us are fantastic, and our home cooked meals are beating restaurant food by a long shot. Tonight we (and our visitors) were treated to some delicious pasta - thank you Penny, you're certainly helping us to keep our strength up!

'ballasting up' at South Africa House

Wednesday, 17 July 2013

Slow, desperate, euphoric, easy, tricky.... and a whole lot of fun!

Sopot delivered another surprise with a 70.5km task in the valley, and a goal at Banya. After an entertaining and intimidating display of why you would not want to be caught in a whirley on launch...the day calmed down and window opened at 14h15 with a start at 15h15. 

A glider and harness gets ripped up in one of two mega-whirleys that ripped through launch
126 pilots made it to goal, including five from Team SA - well flown team! Our top two scorers of the day are Russell who came in 27th in 2:21:22 and Andre who came in 42nd in 2:23:53. 

The task was won by Stephan Morgenthaler from Switzerland in 2:18:40, with Luca Donini from Italy in second and Josh Cohn from the USA in third. First lady, and in twelfth position was Seiko Fukuoka in 2:20:33.

The task board

We asked the team to describe their day in one word:
Khobi: “Discombobulated”
Chris: “Tricky”
Stef: “Maybe”
Nev: “Reasonable”
Russell: “Recovery”
Andre: “Enigmatic”
Jan: “Frustrating”
Chrissi: “Moving”

“In a word word…discombobulated. It was doubtful whether we were even going to get off the hill. But we did, and then floated around, freezing, at cloudbase waiting for start. I took start, then the first point, and the whole field went on a massive glide with the field spread across a 45-degree angle – it was amazing that nobody landed! Once I got up from there it was a case of following the clouds.” Khobi-Jane Bowden

“In a word…tricky. After the time and mother nature’s entertainment up on launch I’m very surprised that we had such a great task. The whole field had a really good start, followed by a death glide towards turnpoint two and a completely shaded valley. Every body got pretty low and the guys who managed to get to the one sunny bit got up and away the quickest. I got stuck low…very low, maybe 50m from the ground and saw the whole field flying over my head. Until the very last pilot, Russell, joined up with me, and the two of us made up the rear. We were patient and worked our way back up to cloudbase and after that the valley opened up and the flying became easy. Russell and I flew pretty much the whole task together making up good time and ending in a pretty good position.” Chris

Spectacular spectacle for spectators...
“In a word…maybe. I was looking good, and then not so good anymore. That’s me. That’s all I want to say.” Stef

“In a word…reasonable. I was on course and in front, and then got stuck. My favourite site is having a bad year weather-wise, but this was a reasonable task.” Nevil

“In a word…recovery. Somehow I came back from the absolutely last position, no jokes, to a reasonable finish. I had a lot of catching up to do from the rear but once I was up I managed to stay up. The day was very light initially but then turned into a beautiful flying day, which was quite surprising considering how late it was. The competition field is strong as expected, but these flying conditions require decision- making and some of the choices are a gamble.” Russell

“In a word…enigmatic. With dust devils on launch ripping glider bags and shirts to cloudbase, liberated speed sleeves thermaling into the clouds, crazy tandem pilots getting ready to launch when some of the field was quietly hoping that we were on the brink of being sent home….to 150 pilots at cloudbase, on a death glide with no sun in the valley…and then 5m per second climbs… enigmatic probably doesn’t cover it. I thought today had a mix of everything you could ever have in a task. Slow, fast, desperate, euphoric, tricky, easy, hard.... But safe, very slow and a lot of fun! Andre

“In a word…frustrating – it was difficult to follow our team with the livetracking down initially, but the sight of the whole field crossing the valley was pretty awesome. And of course I’m pleased to see five of them in goal!” Jan

“In a word…moving. It was an incredible sight seeing the field silhouetted against the cloud cover as they crossed the valley… I definitely felt every so slightly envious…and was tempted to make a dent in the goal beer at this stage, which I’m glad to report did make it all the way to its destination. Goal was another highlight with the field bearing down on it like the Spanish Armada...albeit on a successful mission…” Chrissi

Team SA in goal!

Results can be found here: