The end of October has long been a big time for flying on Cape Cod. There’s an annual fly-in at the Seascape Motel, where pilots stay for a week or so, flying from the back lawn of the motel on southwest days, or driving to the ocean side to fly Wellfleet on easterly days. I’ve stayed at the Seascape only once, shortly before I started this blog, and although the wind direction was good, it was too strong for this novice pilot on a Falcon. (And there was the detail that I had left my harness bag sitting on the living room floor at home…) This year was no exception, there were quite a few pilots staying on the Cape. On Saturday, reports were that conditions were light, but a few HG pilots (and more PG pilots) managed to so some soaring. The forecast looked favorable for Sunday morning, and Jon sent a text message asking if I’d be interested in carpooling down. I had some things going on Saturday which meant that I wouldn’t be able to leave until morning, and it looked like a day when an early start was going to be essential, as the winds were supposed to be strong and building all day, plus a tall tide would be coming in. This was largely due to the approach of Hurricane Sandy. Good conditions for flying Wellfleet often precede storms, and this one was due to arrive at full moon, which meant that the already wide tide swing would be increased by a storm surge. There wouldn’t be much beach to land on by midday, so being ready to launch at dawn was the plan.
I was only able to get about two hours of sleep Saturday night before I had to leave to drive to Jon’s house, and I wasn’t a very helpful traveling companion, sleeping in the passenger’s seat most of the way down. Jon woke me up about a mile before we got to White Crest Beach, and although it was still dark out, I could see the trees really whipping around. We got out of the car and got sandblasted walking across the parking lot to the small huddle of pilots who were standing around and not setting up their gliders. Somebody broke out a wind gauge and we saw that it was blowing about 25, gusting to 35. Too many Beauforts for my taste. As dawn neared, more and more cars pulled in; at one point I counted 25 gliders on roof racks, and a few more arrived after that.
Well, not the first time I’ve gone down to the Cape and not flown. We all chatted about the conditions, and as the sky started to brighten, I walked down to the beach with some H2s to look at the condition of the sand shelf, to see what the ground-level breeze was like, and to discuss the landmarks and landing options of the site. Despite the gale that was blowing a few pilots did start putting their wings together. Keith B was the first one ready (not surprising), and we had six or seven people holding onto the wires of his Sport 2 155 (and he’s not a small guy). As he took to the air, I watched him getting buffeted around and was still in no hurry to follow him, especially since I’m a lot lighter and my Mark IV has an additional 15 sq ft of sail. It was a little surprising when the next one up was Jimmy D. He’s not much heavier than I am (or maybe lighter), and had brought a Falcon 195. A big single-surface wing didn’t seem like a great choice to me, but with adequate skill, a lot of surprising things can be accomplished. He immediately started making passes over launch, then some touch-and-goes, and after not too long, he toplanded. Had enough? No, he just wanted to make sure that his buddies had help getting launched. We pointed out that there were a couple of dozen available wire crew people standing around, and he took off again.
I’d estimate that eventually about half of the pilots flew. Some of the newer ones wisely decided to stay on the ground, as did some of the more experienced ones, but all indications were that those who did fly found the conditions to be fine. The lesson to take away from this is that in this kind of circumstance, you might as well go ahead and set up. Worst case, you just pack the glider away again. The wind did abate somewhat from the strong conditions at dawn (I think I’ve seen this happen before), even though it did match the forecast of steadily strengthening from that point as the day went on. Had I been set up, I think I would have decided that it was manageable and I would have flown, but by the time that became the case, I had waited too long. I also hadn’t really gotten enough sleep the night before, so flying would have been a questionable move, and I was also not that excited by the rain showers that kept popping up (we got some fairly steady rain on the drive home, but I’m not sure if that happened at the beach).
After a couple of hours of standing around and talking, interspersed with occasionally helping a pilot launch, Jon and I decided to hit the road. On the way out, we drove north along the coast, taking a tour of the notable spots including the Beachcomber restaurant at Cahoon Hollow and the “gaps” at Newcomb Hollow and Ballston Beach, before turning around and heading home.
Hurricane Sandy did arrive the following day, with enough vigor that my place of work in central Massachusetts closed down early, and NYC and New Jersey were hit very hard, though I don’t know how the Cape fared. The slope up from White Crest Beach to the parking lot was in pretty good shape before the storm, but there may be a sand cliff again in the aftermath. Of worse news for pilots is the fact that, after several years where it was anticipated, the Seascape has been sold. I had wondered whether the new proprietor would still let us fly there, but it’s actually getting turned into house lots. In the past there were several places on that side of the Cape to launch from, but at this point they may all be gone. I have hopes that we’ll find a spot that we can use, but that may be a challenge.