If you were born in November and live in New England, you don’t often get a chance to fly on your birthday. And it had been about 20 months since I had been able to get to the beach on a day when the winds were to my liking, so my beach glider, the venerable Vision Mark IV, had been sitting in its bag for a long time. I had a lot of things going on during the weekend, but starting several days out I had been eyeing the forecast. High tide at 2 PM, but the forecast for the morning looked like it might work. Internet chatter started up, with those who were going to be busy telling the rest of us that we were being overly optimistic, because the predicted wind was too cross from the north. As far as I was concerned, it didn’t matter – Saturday was my birthday, and I was going to go to the beach whether or not I was going to get a chance to get airborne.
I didn’t take too insane an approach to this. I just loaded up my car the night before and set the alarm for 5 AM, and headed out the door in the morning for the 2½ hour drive. I had also sent an email to my friend George, who I’ve known since second grade, and who lives on Cape Cod. Around the time I was passing near his house, my phone rang, and he asked where I was. He said he’d meet me at White Crest Beach after he ran a couple of errands, and I told him I’d leave my spare radio on the hood of my car so he could give a holler if I was already in the air. When I arrived at launch, there were already two gliders in the air and a couple more setting up in the parking lot. I took a quick look at the streamers on launch and saw that it was in fact pretty cross, but the velocity felt good, so I started setting up right away. Art showed up a couple of minutes later; he, PK, and Russ K had all driven down from Vermont the night before. They tried setting up across the street in what would normally be the lee of the little building, but the wind was so cross that it didn’t work, so Russ joined me in my unconventional spot on the west side of the north end of the east parking lot.
When I was halfway through setting up, Keith launched, and had no trouble getting up and disappearing to the north. As soon as I could get everything together, I turned my wing around and crab-walked my way toward launch. There was another pilot ready, and as soon as he was in the air, the wire crew came over and helped me over the sand berm at the edge of the pavement (looked like somebody maybe plowed the sand off of the parking lot after Hurricane Sandy passed by). The breeze was very comfortable, so I dismissed the nose wire, picked up the glider, and let it fly off my shoulders. It was very easy to control in a basically neutral lift position, so I cleared the side wires, pulled in a bit to get the wing moving forward, and strolled off into the air.
The reality of the crosswind became very evident as soon as I launched. I was necessarily headed north, but I wasn’t particularly making any progress. It was about the slowest going I’ve ever experienced, though staying up didn’t seem to be a problem. I slowly crawled past Cahoon Hollow and up to Doane’s Bog Pond, where I decided that it wasn’t even clear that I’d be able to jump that small gap (although others were up beyond it). Rather than sink out so soon, I turned around, and…
Whoa! Hold onto your hat, pal!
I knew what to expect, and the downwind definitely delivered. The inching along had been replaced by a screaming tailwind run. I made sure to take precautions, in particular, to pull in immediately after turning downwind to make sure I had enough maneuvering airspeed (because groundspeed can be deceiving), and likewise just before making a turn back upwind. Over the course of an hour and a half, my groundspeed as tracked by my GPS looked like this:
On my second trip north, a call came on the radio from George, who was at launch. I flew back and waved to him, and he took some pictures of me flying. Here he is, flanked by my shadow and a cruiser containing a police officer who was reportedly also having fun taking pictures of the gliders. In the back is George’s white pickup, and my “new” car, which I got back in the summer, but hadn’t taken to a flying site prior to this.
Because of the crosswind, crossing the gaps in the bluff was not easy. I got across Doane’s Bog Pond once, but I also saw two pilots on the beach who had sunk out there. After almost an hour and a half, I decided to get a little adventurous. I knew there was no chance of crossing the gap at Newcomb Hollow, so I instead ventured a little bit south of launch, despite the fact that the coast curves around and the wind would be even more cross the further I went in that direction. I turned around at Marconi Station and started fighting my way back upwind, but the lift was harder to come by, and it occurred to me that I was getting too low and was going to be on the ground soon. I reached for the cord to unzip my harness, and couldn’t find it. That’s never happened to me before. I normally deal with unzipping when I’m still hundreds of feet off the ground, and have time to fiddle with it, but in this case I had only seconds. I grabbed the zipper pull itself and got partway unzipped, then I was able to spread my knees and get it down far enough to get my feet out, but by then I was too short on time to be able to rock upright, so I just kept on flying and did a reasonably graceful belly landing (not too difficult with that strong headwind).
At that point I could have just packed up the glider and carried it up to the parking lot at Cahoon Hollow, then walked back to get my car, but I found that the wind was the ideal speed and direction to walk with a glider — it was up off my shoulders, and even taking some of my weight via the harness, while I flew it from the control bar and walked along. I was having so much fun that I decided to walk it the whole mile back to launch. George came down to the beach, met me partway, and walked back with me, which gave us a chance to chat and catch up.
Although I try to take pictures when I go flying, I don’t have all that many pictures of myself in the air, and in particular not many with my beach glider. My friend ARt was flying with a camera on his keel, and sent me this great shot of me on my 51st birthday.
flights: 1, airtime: 1:26