Friday, March 07, 2014

Day 6

Only a 120ish km task for Day 6, but the gliders did it much faster than the drivers (some anyway).  Goal was out on a beautiful plateau where Rudy Gotes' father has a Dragonfly airstrip.  Generally an awesome place for goal and the pilots really loved the flight (I think they're starting to get used to the turbulence and really enjoy themselves).  But, the drive to goal wasn't the best for some of us.  Trudy and Alaina and I set off immediately after launch ended and found ourselves wandering a bit with no GPS and no 3G signal for using the iPhone maps.  Although we were going the right way (one of the "right ways", but the not same way most people went), people along the way giving us directions kept saying "cuidado"....hmm.....should we be worried?  I would have to guess that we ended up driving through some cartel areas.  But it was no problem - three gringas aren't out for any trouble ;-).  

Anyway, we made it there after 4 hours of driving only to find everyone already landed and nearly packed up.  The drive took us through (over, I should say) some beautiful landscape, where we nearly got to cloudbase at 13,000 ft at one point.  We stayed at goal just long enough to download all the tracklogs and email them off to Hector the scorekeeper, then jumped back in the car for another 3 hours of driving.  What a day!!

Zippy won the day moving him into 2nd overall.  Young Rory Duncan made his first international goal - I would have loved to have been there to see it!  Wish I had more to say about the flying yesterday, but here are a few pictures anyway.  

Here's the volcano from the high plains to the south.  The air was fresh and thin up there and the little rental car was huffing and puffing the whole way over the pass. 

Today is the last task and it should be a good one.  Zac is about 250 points behind Christian for first place - still doable ;-).  Before the comp started, I predicted that Christian would win it and Zippy and Paris would take 2nd and 3rd (or vice versa).  We'll see how it plays out today.

Thursday, March 06, 2014

Day 5

Another rough and rowdy day at the pre-worlds ;-).  They set a relatively short (94km) task back to the Piano landing field again.  Lots in goal and most happy as things tended to smooth out a bit once they got away from the start.  Pedro won the day having taken the second start when most took the first.  We had some fun landings in the goal field.  Gordon try to assault a cow - the poor cow only narrowly escaped.

Have you ever seen a hotter launch director?

Tuesday, March 04, 2014

Day 4

Today the sky looked like it must have a been classic Valle de Bravo sky - gorgeous puffy white clouds on a deep blue background.  They set a somewhat shorter task - 120km, but just 98 optimized.  It was a bit of a figure eight staying somewhat close to home with goal at the Piano.  

I heard a whole lot less grumbling about turbulence and lack of landings today at goal which goes to show that the conditions can be super nice here!  Paris remembered that he is a top pilot and won the day with at least another 35 in goal behind him.  Great party at the goal field and plenty of happy pilots including all the girls - Sasha, Francoise and Corinna all made it in.  Kathleen is still resting up from her incident, otherwise, I'm sure she would have been there as well.  Speaking of girls, they've made a special "light pilot" rule that allows them a special set up place so they don't get all tired out carrying their gliders out to launch - they need to conserve their energy for the actual flight.  I'm happy they don't require a weigh in before getting this special treatment or I surely wouldn't qualify.  Apparently, not all the light pilots are happy with this.  

Scoring Day 2 - Possible Protest

So, in the end the organizers decided to score Day 2 - the day that there were two goals.  They scored the task by creating an “end of speed section” 6km out from the “goals”.  At 6 kilometers out from either of the goals, no pilot could have seen the goal line and all pilots necessarily must have been flying their instruments to the edge of the cylinder.  So, no one is advantaged or disadvantaged this way because every pilot who got within 6km of goal also made one of the 2 goals.  Since no one could have seen the goal line from 6km out, no one can claim that they flew for the actual line and then had to divert to get into the coordinates (or vice versa).  All times will be totally accurate minus the 6km end of speed section flight time (which doesn’t count anyway so long as the pilot still made goal). Maybe I’m missing something, but this seems quite fair to me.  

Davis told me this morning that Jonny (and I think possibly Corinna too) will be protesting.  That’s unfortunate really because I do believe this is a totally fair outcome and I hate to see a good solid task wasted.  I have yet to speak with anyone who is able to present an argument as to why it isn’t totally fair to every pilot.  I do realize that it isn’t following the rules to the letter of the law, but when it is 100% fair to everyone, I believe the letter of the law should be flexible.  Just my two cents.  If someone has a good argument as to why this isn’t 100% fair to every single pilot, I would love to hear it - honestly!

Day 3

Well I didn't go up to launch yesterday - had to catch up on some work.  But, I drove out to goal to see the action and download tracklogs for those in goal.  What a great spot!  Although I didn't see any of the course, the goal itself was awesome - a huge green grassy field.  There were power lines on the far side, but they were so gigantic that you couldn't possibly miss them and they were on the far side of the goal field anyway, meaning you didn't have to fly over them.

It was another fun finish because we got to watch them come by the goal field on the way to the last turnpoint.  That's always nice because you have an idea of what order they might be coming in - that is if they're not too high to see.  We watched poor Paris groveling for what seemed like ages trying to get to the last turnpoint.  Talking to him at the goal field after, he said it was the most stupid mistake he had ever made in the competition - he went on final forgetting about the last turnpoint.....doh!!  After leaving a nice strong climb 2000 ft below cloudbase to go on final, he discovered his mistake and had to spend the rest of the flight trying to make up for it.  What a bummer for Paris.

There were several others that came and landed at the goal field without having made the last turnpoint. Some said it was just too rough and landings were too scarce to go for the last one.  Funny thing is that when we download tracklogs at goal, we're asking pilots to rate the safety for the day a 1, 2, or 3 (the same system the PG's use) - 1 being safe, 2 being iffy and 3 being totally unsafe.  Yesterday at goal, out of about 20 forms, there were only three 3's.  It seems that most people are finding it very turbulent, but not necessarily unsafe.  I suppose those pilots that crashed yesterday would probably have a different opinion.  There was one broken hand by a Brit pilot and one broken jaw by a Korean pilot...apparently also many broken uprights.  Like Day 1 (the only other day was at goal for the landings), most landings there were just fine.  The only bad one we saw was Franz Herman who had a bit of a rough one, but I'm not even sure he broke an upright.

Suan seems to be having a really good time here ;-)

(Yo y mis Federales ;-)

Sunday, March 02, 2014

Day 2 - One Task, Two Goals

Oops.....a bit of a problem with today's task.  They called a 120km dogleg out to the city of Toluca with goal at around 7000ft.  At the briefing there was a bit a whining from Jonny about using a goal line rather than a cylinder.  But, because there had been so many changes in the task all morning between the forecast changing and the safety committee being unsatisfied, it was getting late and I think they just didn't want to deal with more discussion about task changes.  And, the truth is, there wasn't time for much discussion anyway.  By the time that topic was finished, Gordon started to complain that the task was too long and it was too late and it "must" be shortened.  

Well, Gordon was wrong, it wasn't too late or too long because probably 40 people were in goal - or should I say goals.  It seems that the goal line was in one place and the coordinates were just over 2km away.  So, many came to the goal line where there was a giant party, free chorizo tacos, lots of spectators, autograph signing and even a little day prize giving.  Easy to see why they wanted the goal line where it was, but a serious disappointment for the guys that missed the party and went to the coordinates.  

They're trying to figure out what to do now and I don't feel for the's a major bummer. My guess is the fairest solution is to set an end of speed section way out before goal - far enough out that pilots couldn't have been flying for the visual goal and then score from there, so long as the pilots also made it to either of the actual goals.  I suppose it's pretty likely that they will have to cancel the day though because I sure no everyone will agree to that.  

Otherwise, I'm hearing a lot of talk about the turbulence.  Sounds like it's really rocking and rolling out there.  I overheard young Rory Duncan on the phone to someone back home saying "well, the glider seems pretty stable because I haven't been upside down yet."  ;-)

Day 1

The first task went quite well with only a few of the normal first day glitches.  They ordered up nice easy launching conditions to start things off, although I do think a few pilots might need to be reminded of the altitude at take off and the need to run a little longer than usual, despite the nice breeze coming up the face.  I'm surprised at how much space there is for setting up behind launch.  Last time I was here was nearly 15 years ago and they've done so much clearing in the trees behind - it's great.  75 gliders seem to fit without too much trouble.

They called a task coming back to the Piano goal field which is right out in front of launch.  I'm told they call it the Piano because you could launch a piano and still make it to the field.  It seems quite a nice size from up on launch.  I've heard some grumbling about it being too small, but no one hates a postage stamp more than me and it seems just fine.  In fact, the goal landings were pretty much normal despite the height of the field - just a few of the normal nose overs, but nothing notable.

I guess 125km is all it takes for Christian Ciech to start the domination.  Filippo told me a while back that he had won something like 17 of the last 20 tasks he's flown.  At the Flytec Americus Cup last year, he won every single task of the regular comp and all three tasks of the Race of Champions.  I wonder if he'll do the same here.  Day one he came it (quite high) a solid 20 minutes ahead of anyone else.  I talked to him after landing and he said that the day win was totally unexpected, that he was way behind the lead gaggle for the first half of the flight and was quite surprised to find himself first into goal with no one else in sight.  His Italian teammates weren't far behind - young Florian, Suan and my favorite Pippo were among the first 5, with Mario Alonzi in 3rd.  In the end there were heaps more into goal and everyone seemed pretty pleased with day 1.  

Team America got Zippy and Paris into goal, but Mitch, Matt Larry and James were a bit short.  Poor Greg Dinauer has been sick for two days and I haven't even seen him once since I've been here.  Hope he's feeling better soon.

At goal:

Saturday, March 01, 2014

Valle de Bravo Pre-Worlds

Last minute I decided to pop down to the pre-worlds in Valle de Bravo.  I haven't been down here for about 15 years, but I remember it being a beautiful place full of lovely, warm people.  Nothing has changed....maybe it's even more beautiful than I remember.

The organizers prepared a fantastic parade and opening ceremonies for yesterday. Although none of that pomp and circumstance is required for the pre-worlds, it was kind of cool that they did it anyway. The town certainly loves our sport and they all came out say hello last night.

The best part was the traditional dancers that put on an amazing show!

Tuesday, February 18, 2014

Land of the Komodo

My younger brother Mathew has a higher IQ than the rest of the family combined. Growing up with all these extra brain cells, he would go through stages being totally obsessed with one thing or another, usually related to the natural sciences.  Before the geology stage, he was so into reptiles and amphibians - I mean, the whole world revolved around lizards, snakes, geckos, skinks, you name it, if it slithered, he loved it.  Somehow from that came my obsession with someday seeing the Komodo Dragons.  I have my own list of strange obsessions that include these giant lizards, the Panama Canal, the pyramids, Macchu Picchu, the Great Wall of China, the Serengeti, etc., etc.  Some I’ve seen and others I will see at some point.  

Last week, thanks to an expiring Australian visa, I had to leave Oz for the CIVL Plenary meeting 10 days early.  What to do, what to do??  When I realized how close I would be to the Komodo Islands, I knew what I had to do.  Sadly, Matt couldn’t come, so I had to do it on my own.  

Getting to where the dragons live takes a bit of island hopping.  I flew from Sydney to Bali, then took a flight on a prop plane to the smallish town of Labuon Bajo on the island of Flores.  From there, there are only boats to get to the Komodo Islands.  I took the two and a half hour boat trip to the island of Rinca (pronounced like Rincha) and the Komodo National Park.

The tour people warn you that there is no guarantee that you will see any dragons, much less any “in the wild.”  What I read online is that it’s pretty common to see them hanging around the camp (the small visitor’s center at the national park) because they smell the people food and hang around there.  But, of course, I wanted to see one in the wild.  The funny thing is that there is nothing the least bit “tame” or less wild about the dragons around camp, but somehow it seems cooler to see them away from camp, out in the bush.  Really funny thing is that the most active one we saw - the one that actually started moving toward us and had our guide shuffling us away as quickly as he could, was actually at the camp.  The guide carries a long forked stick to stop an attacking dragon…but he admitted that sometimes the stick isn’t enough and that both he and his boss have been attacked (the boss was sitting in the office when the dragon came in for some lunch and it took several rangers to save him).  Lucky for me, I knew I could outrun at least one other person taking the tour, so I figured I would probably be alright.  

Day one we went for a three hour hike around the island and never saw a single one out there.  Kind of disappointing, but hard to complain when we did get to see water buffalos and monkeys and it was just a beautiful hike anyway.  But, I couldn’t stand the thought of coming all that way and not seeing any in the wild, so I took my chances on trying again for a second day.  Good move!  This time we saw several in the wild, including one digging up the nest of a mama bush turkey and devouring her poor eggs.  From the relative safety of a tree about 3 meters away (I was later told by the guide that there are often vipers and cobras in the trees…doh!) we watched for 20 minutes while the poor bush turkey mama tried desperately to fill dirt into the hole the dragon was digging, covering his back with dirt and leaves and sticks, but not slowing him down a bit.  Once he emerged from the hole having finished his appetizer, our guide thought it best to leave him on his own so that we didn’t risk becoming the main course.

Not long after that, we came upon a baby dragon - about 3 years old.  He was about a meter long and didn’t look nearly as intimidating, so we moved in a bit closer.  Apparently, it takes some years before the dragons have the bacteria in their saliva that can infect and bring down a 500 kilo water buffalo.  Of course, that meter long baby still has razor sharp teeth and would be happy to take a chunk out of your flesh if you got too close.

We were also lucky to see a very small baby dragon back at camp, hiding in the bathrooms (very happy I didn’t need to use one!).  The Komodo are cannibals and will happily eat the babies….even the mother will eat her own if she’s hungry.  So, the babies’ only defense against being a meal for the relatives is to hide.  He was not much more than a foot long or so.  

I can’t think of anyone I would have rather spent those days in the Komodo Islands with than Mathew (Mattias is very close second though ;-). Really missed you Mathew!