Worth the trip

I’ve been watching the coastal forecast closely for the last couple of months, hoping for a chance to do some winter beach flying, but whenever we’ve had east winds, it has been in stormy conditions. I recently found out about another site, on the inside of Cape Cod, where it’s possible to fly in westerly winds. Saturday looked like a possibility for that, but the forecast late Friday night showed it to be a bit cross and very gusty, so everybody decided to skip it. When I looked at the forecast on Saturday morning, though, it looked perfect, but it was too late because by the time I got there the tide would be in. Oh well. Sunday still held promise, though.

The forecast looked pretty good for the whole weekend at Ellenville, and Dan G. and Doug H. had headed down there on Saturday. The plan was for me to meet Captain Matt pretty early on Sunday and head down there together, hoping to be set up and ready somewhere around noon. Unfortunately, he called me at 6 AM saying that he had been up sick all night (probably some kind of food poisoning), and wouldn’t be able to make it. He had talked to Dan, who said that on Saturday the winds were light and cross until about 3 PM, when he and Doug went out as wind dummies and managed to hang on for only about 25 minutes, but that a little later some other people launched into better air and were able to get up.

I had already loaded the glider on the car and charged all of my batteries, so I decided to go ahead with the trip, even though I’d be doing it solo. I made pretty good time on the drive, and arrived at about 10:45. Dan and Doug were there, hanging out at Tony’s, along with Lightning Hopkins and Sharon, and a few other people. I got signed in, and we hung around there for a while — I kept looking out the window, and the windsocks were looking kind of cross from the north. Eventually a couple of people went out to their cars, and I asked Lightning what he thought, and he said it was probably a good time to head up. We loaded my glider on Doug’s truck and I rode up with him and Dan.

Up at launch, I unloaded my glider and started setting it up right away. Somebody made a comment to the effect that I seemed eager to get going, and I said that I’d rather be ready if conditions looked good for launching rather than scrambling to get my glider put together. While we were setting up, a small plane flew over, at maybe 1000 feet AGL. Somebody wondered aloud if it might be Jimmy D. A few minutes later, the same plane buzzed launch at I’d say no more than 200 feet over. Definitely Jimmy D., everyone agreed. Once I had things set, I wandered over to the launch slope, where Lindsey was talked to Dan and Doug, briefing them on information specific to the site. He asked if we had flown in winds like this before, and we all said yes. Then he asked if we had flown in wind like this at Ellenville, and we all said no.


That’s Dan and Doug. They were also set up, and there were a couple of other gliders assembled or partially assembled, but basically everybody was either standing around or sitting in cars, looking at the windsocks and at each other. There were mutterings about it feeling really strong, and how this might be one of the days when you could get trapped too far back, or there might be wave coming off the Catskills which would make it turbulent. People were rhetorically asking each other, “Do you want to go first and try it?”, and some were talking about packing up and leaving; Lightning hadn’t taken his ATOS off the van and was just saying, “What’s your hurry?”. Now, I’m not one to second-guess experienced pilots with local knowledge when they’re suggesting that it could be dangerous out there. Although it felt like the kind of wind conditions that are about ideal at the sites I frequent, I was also aware that the last forecast I had seen for winds aloft showed 29 kts at 3000 feet up at Albany. So, we sat there and waited.

Another car pulled up, and Jimmy D. got out and immediately asked “What are you people doing on the ground?”. He had landed his plane at the airport and driven up to launch, and said that it was perfectly fine up in the air, and that if his glider were assembled, he’d launch right then. People started quizzing him about the specifics of the conditions he had encountered in his plane. I had met him once before, and he seems like the kind of guy who might joke around some, but it was clear that he was being sincere. Now, I’m not one to second-guess an experienced pilot with local knowledge when he’s suggesting that it’s time to launch, so I climbed into my harness and carried my glider out front. As long as it wasn’t expected to be hazardous out there, I was happy to go, even if I sledded, and I didn’t mind being the wind dummy. Because I hadn’t flown since November, I wasn’t going to be too picky, although since this trip required a lot of driving, I planned on keeping my glider in the air as long as practical.

I had a full wire crew, but they didn’t have to do much, since it was blowing straight in, very steady with no gusts, probably about 10 mph. I stood there for a couple of minutes because it looked a little cross based on the streamer on my nose wire, but after consulting the windsock and the other nearby streamers, I realized that it was just turbulence coming off of Doug, who was on my nose. Launch went easy, and after a trip down to the second knob and back, I was several hundred feet over. It still took a while for anybody else to join me, I guess in part because some weren’t set up yet, and in part because others were less concerned about the wind than the low temperature. It wasn’t too bad, really, ranging between 33F and 36F (1C to 2C). I was dressed just fine for it, with long underwear and light running pants, a T-shirt, fleece sweater, and light jacket, plus a neoprene face mask, neoprene socks, kayaking gloves, and bar mitts. I had hand warmers with me, but I never even thought about taking them out. The cold did keep me from getting many decent pictures, though.

It wasn’t too long before I caught a strong thermal right over launch, and cored it up to 3000 feet (1700 over). Around that time the next couple of gliders launched, which made things look like this:

I count two gliders in the air, twelve more being set up, two still in bags, and five still on cars. Most of those eventually flew, save for a few that never came off the cars (Lightning among them, I assume he just felt that the day didn’t have enough XC potential to be worth setting up). Before long, there were gliders all over the sky, and you really had to keep your eyes open for traffic. I mostly stayed in the fishbowl, with its plentiful lift and easy glide to the LZ, bopping around at between 2000 and 3000 feet. Later on, I did go for a little excursion up the ridge, as far as the north end of the golf course and back. Looked like everybody who came up was able to fly for as long as they wanted to, most presumably giving up when they got too cold.

Eventually gliders started sprouting in the LZ, and the sky got less crowded. The shadows were getting long across the field, and when I did a circle and saw nobody else up by the ridge, I figured it was time for me to head in as well. I carefully pulled the bar waaaay in, paying attention in order to not get into PIOs, and really got the wind noise going (as much as you can do that with a MkIV, anyway). I got to the LZ with about 1200 feet of altitude and a lot of airspeed. So… well, there’s this thing I had read about, and that I had visualized a bunch, and this seemed like a fine time and place to try it. I let the bar out fairly quickly, and when I felt the glider start its steep climb, I swung my body over to the right… YEAH! Wang! I’m not sure, but I think I probably got it past 90 degrees. That worked so well that I did two more, burning off a chunk of my excess altitude. I suspect they would be considered somewhat sloppy, especially the last one, and I got more of the roller-coaster feel than I think I should have, but for a first try, I’m pretty happy with them.

Now all I had left to do was do a sweet no-step landing in front of the crowd, and my day would be perfect. I set up a little high, but the field is long and the spots for breakdown next to the road were occupied until way down the field anyway, so it was okay. I came in with lots of speed, and… the place I was heading for was a frozen puddle. I had envisioned that landing on ice could be pretty cool, that it would be possible to do kind of a “Southside slide”, but realized that this was not a good plan on ice that had clumps of grass sticking up through it. On top of that, I had been in the air long enough that my arms were beat and everything felt heavvvvy. So, I did what I could, but given the weak flare and the poor traction, I wound up landing on my knees and dropped the control bar on the ground. No harm done, but not as elegant as I would have liked.

While breaking down, I got to meet some people who I knew only by reputation, including the “real” J.J., and the famous Paul Voight (Ryan’s dad). Some people were going out to dinner, but I got packed up as efficiently as I could and hit the road home, because I had a long drive yet to go. After having been first to launch, I was the last to land, and wound up having spent just over three hours in the air, my second longest flight ever (I did 4:20 a year and a half ago on my Falcon, but that was in the summer when the sun sets late). Not bad for February! Worth the trip? Absolutely!

flights: 1, airtime: 3:02

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About cleversky

Hang glider pilot in New England since 2004. Also an avid orienteer, and an embedded systems firmware engineer. And some other outdoor stuff.
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