My plan was to fly at Tanner-Hiller on Saturday. The forecast looked good, Rhett would be there towing for the first stint of the year (third day out of three), and Nancy was interested in coming along and going for a hike. So I loaded up my stuff and we drove on down. I was scanning the sky as we approached the airport, but I didn’t see any gliders. It was supposed to be a SW day, so I looked at the NE setup area, but there was nobody there, just a few people flying RC planes near the middle of the runway. So I drove to the hangar, and Rhett was hanging out there with one pilot who was hoping somebody else would show up for him to fly with. That would be me. So I drove back up to the setup area and started setting up, and he came along in a few minutes and did likewise.
With my wing about halfway assembled, I went to the car to take out the rest of my gear so that Nancy could drive away and go for her hike. One look in the back of the car, though, and I changed my plans and packed the glider back up. What I noticed was that my big black bag was conspicuously absent, because I had left my harness back at home in the closet. I wasn’t going to do a two-hour round trip to get it, so I joined Nancy for a jaunt on the Midstate Trail. Fortunately, just as I was about to leave, Matt C showed up to fly, so it presumably wasn’t lonely in the sky. The weather turned out great that afternoon, I didn’t hear any reports on how the flights went, but the clouds looked terrific.
I had already planned to take Monday off from work to attend the funeral of an elderly relative down on Cape Cod. We were entering a weather pattern with a storm system off the coast where the wind was predicted to be NE for several days. On Sunday some paraglider pilots went to Wellfleet, even though the forecast was for enough wind that they were joking that they’d have to do tandem flights with mini-wings. One of them did have the gumption to get out there for 30 minutes with the wind blowing 21-24 mph, while the others stayed on the ground, though one stopped by Plymouth on the way home and said he was seeing 26 mph, which he described as “Not for me. Ooooo doggie.”.
But they fly paragliders, and I fly a hang glider.
The forecast for Wellfleet on Monday was 17 gusting to the mid 20s, and the rule of thumb is that you if multiply that forecast by 1.5, that’s about the windspeed you’ll see at launch as the wind accelerates up the slope, so that meant at least 25. I threw my beach glider on the car in case the forecast improved, but didn’t know if I’d even drive the extra hour to get to White Crest. On my way to the funeral, though, I got a text from Randy B who said that he heard I was thinking of flying, and hoped to meet me there. He was planning to get there around 11:30, and I told him I’d be there around 2:00 at the earliest.
I had the opportunity to spend more time with my extended family after the funeral than I had expected, so when I finally headed to the outer Cape my ETA was 3:30. Given the forecast for intimidating wind and the fact that it was raining, I likely wouldn’t have continued out there if I hadn’t gotten a second text from Randy saying that it looked perfect and he was looking for wire crew. When I pulled in, the parking lot was empty except for his car, and he was in the air.
photo by George Wright
I didn’t waste any time and just started setting up. I had called my friend George who stopped by to take some pictures and give me assistance with launching. When I was about ready, I asked George for his guess as to the windspeed, and he said 30 mph. My pocket wind gauge showed a steady 28, without much variation during the brief time that I stood there. Too much for the PG crowd, that was for sure! A couple of other cars had stopped in the meantime, and I knocked on the window of one of them and asked the people if they’d be interested in helping me launch. The guy got out and he and George helped me go through my preflight checks then carry the glider out to launch. I was glad that I had help, because it was a lot to handle as we moved out of the lee of the knoll, and as I stepped over the knee-high berm at the edge of the pavement, the glider was already lifting off my shoulders and pulling up on my leg straps.
One man on each wing, and nobody on my nose, so I had to put in some effort to keep the nose down. I had instructed them on what was going to happen, and as soon as I could get the nose down enough that they could let go of the wires, I yelled Clear and stepped off into the air. And 28 mph is fine for a hang glider. Even with inexperienced wire crew, the launch was a piece of cake. I made a few short passes in front of launch so that the people on the ground could see the glider flying, then casually hightailed it south to Nauset Light.
It’s nice flying when there’s ample wind like this, because you don’t have to be careful about maintaining altitude. Most of the time is spent well above the top of the bluff, and when there’s a minor gap, there’s always plenty of lift on the far side, and you can pretty much fly as fast as you like. There was only one moment when I thought about it a bit, when a weird little gust turned me briefly downwind, and after recovering I sank a bit in the lull behind it, but it was just a few seconds and then I was on my way again. There were people out walking despite the sketchy weather, and one of the cool things about flying at the beach is seeing people waving and having the chance to wave back.
Randy had been somewhere up north when I launched, and as I headed back from the lighthouse, I encountered him coming toward me and we passed each other. Then he turned around and surprised me by overtaking me from below, giving me a good look at his colorful new wing.
After cruising past launch I headed up to Newcomb Hollow and played around with storing up a bunch of altitude and then heading across the gap. I didn’t make any serious attempts to cross it, turning around halfway or so and making it back with adequate altitude to keep flying. I went back toward launch to see what Randy was up to, and saw him landing. It turned out he had been about ready to land when I showed up, and kept going so that we could fly together, and got a total of about three hours. He was down on the beach flying his glider with his feet on the ground, maneuvering it closer to the ramp up to the parking lot, and I flew some more between launch and Newcomb Hollow.
photo by George Wright
I didn’t have a watch or a vario, and wasn’t sure exactly how long I had been flying, but I considered my landing options. Landing at White Crest would take some mental effort to figure out how to get down, and then it’s (sort of) a long climb to get the glider back up to the parking lot. Instead, as I often do, I opted to go back up to Newcomb Hollow, where it’s easy to lose altitude in the gap. I noticed that north part of the gap had areas roped off that I assume were denoting potential nesting sites for piping plovers. The bottom dropped out on me as I got down to the sand, and I landed on my knees, then spent a few minutes swinging my arms around to warm my fingers back up (the gloves I had chosen have great grip, but aren’t overly warm, and even when it’s 50 F your hands can get cold). Easy to get my stuff up to the parking lot, and my text messages to George and Randy didn’t get through, so I just jogged the couple of miles back to where I was parked, easy peasy.
That was the last hang glider flight at Wellfleet this season. There were two days left before the summer shutdown to accommodate the plovers, and a handful of PGs did show up on the last day in less than favorable conditions (light and cross); I heard that two of them scratched out short flights.
flights: 1, airtime 1:16