Out of the 366 dates in a year, there were 85 on which I had gone flying, but none of them were in December. In the seven years since I started hang gliding, not a once had I done so in the twelfth month. But as I had occasion to be heading to Connecticut for a party and some orienteering on Saturday night, I scoped out the forecast for the sites that are in that general direction. It was looking like a NW day, but I couldn’t find any Massachusetts pilots interested in going to Skinner or the Trail, so I headed down toward Ellenville.
On I-84, I saw that I was not the only one with this idea, when I caught a glimpse of the above in my rear view mirror. Actually, I expected that there would be quite a few pilots showing up, since the SNYHGPA holiday party was that night. I exchanged some text messages with Mike A (aka $!><), and at around noon he said that the wind was honking and everybody was hanging out in the LZ. I considered punting and just heading for the orienteering party, but he said that the forecast showed that it should mellow out, so I kept on going.
When I arrived, people had headed up to launch, and I met them there, where the wind actually seemed quite fine, and I started setting up right away. About the time I was done, Crazy Johnny moved up and got a hang check. This was great — I wasn’t eager to go first, but I didn’t mind going second if the wind tech did okay. We were a little surprised that he just kind of maintained altitude, because it felt like there was enough wind to provide some good ridge lift, but he was just fiddling around. After a few minutes he started doing high-speed strafing runs over the setup area and yelling “YAAAHOOO”, and that was enough to get the rest of us who were ready to run for our gliders.
I had a camera snafu (my normal camera wasn’t working, and I forgot the memory card for the other one that I could have flown with), which is too bad, because it would have been a spectacular day for taking pictures. In addition, during my preflight I found a minor issue on my glider that I decided to address before flying, so a few other pilots launched before I was ready. It turned very cross for a bit, enough so that one of the pilots ahead of me waited on the north launch for a few minutes and then backed off. Just as he did, it straightened out again and somebody went off the northwest launch. I stepped up next and didn’t have to wait at all, just looked to see that the streamers were okay and launched.
Was there lift? You bet there was! I might not have expected much this time of year (at Utz a few weeks ago I never got more than about 300 feet over launch), but this was actually the strongest lift I encountered in all of 2011. Without even circling in lift pockets, I gained about 1500 feet in ten minutes, and by 16 minutes after launching, I was 3100 feet over. It wasn’t exactly comfortable, gentle air, we were getting bumped around a bit, but it didn’t take any work to stay up. I decided to squander some of my free altitude by cruising up the ridge a couple of miles to the north, then returned to the middle of the fishbowl and climbed up again.
There was a pretty good turnout for a chilly day, presumably due in large part to the party. I didn’t count, but I estimate that there were at least a couple of dozen wings in the air. My vario was acting a little weird when I turned it on, and it was insisting that the air temperature was 60 F — I knew better, it was actually under 40 F. Once I got in the air, it started behaving, and the lowest temperature I saw on the display was 29 F. I have good bar mitts, and was wearing a neoprene half-mask, so I wasn’t really cold.
Because I had delays in launching, and had someplace I needed to get to, I didn’t stay in the air all that long, just a little over an hour, making this my shortest ever flight at Ellenville. However, I got plenty high enough, so I have no reason to complain. It was around the time that I was considering heading for the LZ that I started hearing somebody on the radio talking about wanting a cheeseburger and a cold beer. Cold beer? I was more in the mood for hot chocolate! I watched a few pilots ahead of me land to see how things conditions looked, and it appeared that the wind was switching around a little bit. I was also concerned about the water — there were extensive wet areas evident in the LZ, and I suspected the entire thing might be damp, so I at least wanted to pick a spot that looked reasonably dry. When I got down to a few hundred feet AGL, though, my concerns changed to just getting on the ground safely. The air down there was a total washing machine, and I had my hands full just trying to get the glider to go in the right direction with the wings fairly level. It was bumpy all the way to the deck, and I managed an adequate flare on what turned out to be dry ground. Some pilots who came in after me didn’t fare so well — I saw one spectacular splashdown into a frigid puddle.
Packed up, got a ride to retrieve my car, hit the road, made it to Connecticut just in time for dinner, and went out orienteering after that — not bad at all for December!
flights: 1, airtime: 1:08