Light day at the coast

After several potential beach flying days this year had not panned out (too windy, or too gusty, or too cold, or too rainy…) there was email chatter about Friday or Saturday being a good day. It often takes a storm system to bring east winds to the coast here, and this one was going to make the weekend wet, but Friday was still looking good, though potentially light, only about 14-15 mph. I’ve been to Wellfleet with my Falcon on a 12 mph day and know how hard it was to soar (I failed), and although this was slated to be a bit stronger, I’d also have a smaller wing, 135 sq ft instead of 170.

Randy B. and Matt M. were also interested in skipping work to take advantage of the weather. Randy lives pretty close to me, so we were able to carpool. The wind forecast and the tide were both more favorable in the afternoon, so we were able to take our time getting there, running a couple of errands on the way, and Matt went in to work in the morning. Upon arrival, the wind was depressingly light, only 10-12 mph, so we headed off to get some lunch. On the way, we passed a car going the other way with two gliders on the roof, which turned out to be Stacy P. and Ross L., who called on the phone as soon as they saw us.

When we got back to launch, we watched a couple of paraglider pilots fiddling around, having a little trouble because the wind was a bit strong for them. This is perhaps part of why there isn’t too much conflict between PGs and HGs in this area, because we require different wind conditions. After switching to smaller wings, they did get into the air, and just as Stacy and Ross arrived, along with another couple of PG pilots, one of the bagwings went into the bushes right in front of the setup area. Fortunately there were a half-dozen of us to help extract the tangled strings from the head-high brush.


Here’s the glider I was flying (“a Thing in a Bag”) in the parking lot. The bushes right in front of it are where the PG went down (the pilot was on the other side of the bushes but the wing dropped into them). Note also a couple of precautions to keep my glider from getting too badly pummeled. If there’s enough wind to soar, there is usually buffeting behind that dune that can beat gliders up. The control bar, the end of the keel, and the wingtips grind against the asphalt, and things get worn at an alarming rate. To forestall this, I have a tennis ball stuck on the end of the keel, and milk crates to keep the tips off the ground. I’m still thinking about something (PVC pipe? carpeting?) to protect the control bar.

Matt, Randy, and I were all set up at about the same time, and the wind had picked up to about 14, still pretty marginal. Matt felt that I was entitled to go first because I had been ready slightly sooner, but I was in no hurry, so he agreed to be the wind dummy. He was using a new cocoon harness for the first time, and had to spend a little time getting things like hang height adjusted before he was ready to go. When he did launch, he turned left, but not soon enough, which put him too far out front to catch the lift. We watched him try to scratch it out, thinking he might be able to make it, while at the same time we winced as we watched him continue north without turning back, knowing that that every second in the air meant a longer distance to have to carry everything once he landed.

Next it was my turn to try. When it’s good at the beach, you can let the glider lift up off your shoulders and do a “tight-strap” launch, but that wasn’t happening. My launch wasn’t ideal in terms of pitch control, and I lost too much altitude in the first couple of seconds. I was hoping that by sneaking to the right I might be able to get to the lower section of the bluff and get above it, but I sank out before I got that far. I carried the glider back to in front of launch, then brought my harness back just in time to see Randy launch smoothly and get up over the bluff. Nice. I climbed back up to the parking lot and dealt with a couple of things, then turned to see Ross having just carried my glider up the 60-foot sand slope. Thanks! The two of us then went down to the beach and caught up with Stacy and Matt, who were carrying Matt’s gear back. We relieved them, and got Matt back to the setup area so he could try again, but it turned out that he had bent something, so he had to call it a day. The three of them had places to go, so I waved goodbye to them, and thought about whether I wanted to give it another try or just pack up and wait for Randy to land. It was already well after 3 PM by this point, and I was preoccupied with some stuff unrelated to flying that had me distracted enough that I thought maybe it would be better to stay on the ground. Although Randy was soaring easily, he has a bigger wing for the same weight, and more importantly, better skills.

After a while, I took the wind gauge out, and saw that it was blowing a bit stronger, maybe as much as 16 mph. I watched a PG get a little far back and struggle to push out to the front, and decided to give it one more try, since I knew Randy would probably fly until dusk. One of the PG guys helped me walk the wing out to launch then I stood there for a little while, occasionally picking the glider up and doing a little ground handling. Still not enough wind to lift the glider off my shoulders, but I felt comfortable enough to try. Turning left this time, I was able to get up on top, and settled in for some easy soaring.

I radioed Randy that I was in the air, and he said to come down and join him at the south lighthouse. The overcast had receded, so we had nice afternoon sun, and the wind was exactly what people talk about at this kind of site, perfectly smooth with nary a gust.


The above picture is posted in full resolution, in case you want to click to look at it in detail and see the tiny glider far off in the distance. Randy had been in the air for about an hour before I launched, and we stayed up for another hour and a half, until the sun got really low. We stayed between Nauset Light and Newcomb Hollow, neither of us wanting to risk crossing gaps to the north in such light conditions and having to walk back (though I think he could have made it easily). When he radioed that he was on the ground, I headed back to join him, ending this smooth flight with an unceremonious full-faceplant whack (soft beach sand is another benefit of this site — no harm done). Packed up with barely enough light to see and headed home — a day worth the drive.

flights: 2, airtime: 1:28

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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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