Soggy Saturday

Jon A and I had considered flying at a small mountain site a week earlier, but when the time came to make a decision, the forecast looked too gusty. He had permission on the home front for one more flying day this year, though, so he was excited about the chance to go to Wellfleet. A post on the message board with the subject “Soggy Saturday” elicited some initial interest from a few newer pilots, who are eager for all the airtime they can get, but when it came time to make a decision, they were put off by the prospect of rain and decided to not make the trip. I had things on my schedule for Friday night that meant I wouldn’t be getting home very early, but I told Jon that I could meet at his house at 5 AM, which was what the wind and tide dictated. I loaded up my car as soon as I got home, and went right to bed.

When my alarm clock went off at 4 AM, I wasn’t very happy.  I did a quick check of the weather on my computer with hope that the forecast had deteriorated, but it still looked good.  Maybe too light.  I felt like it was way too early in the morning to be awake, but I had told Jon that I’d go.  I figured, worst case, I’d go with him, we’d decide that it was too light for hang gliders, he could fly his paraglider, and I’d just be along for the ride and keep him company.  And that’s not so bad.  When I got to his house, I didn’t see any lights on, so I sent him a text message saying I had arrived, then dozed off in the driver’s seat of my car.  After some amount of time, I heard a knock on the window – Jon had also fallen back to sleep, and my text had woken him up.  We loaded the wings on his truck and headed for the Cape.

Unlike the last time I had driven down with Jon, the trees were not rocking as we got near the site, but we attributed that to the fact that they now had no leaves.  A check with our wind gauges at White Crest Beach showed that it was blowing around 17 mph, with a noticeable cross from the right.  No reason to delay.  I started setting up my Mark IV, while Jon grabbed his PG, figuring that he’d try that first and break out his Falcon later, and try to make it a biwingual day.  There were a few other PGs kiting down on the beach, and he joined them as I set up alone – there were no other HGs there.  About the time I was ready, Jon benched his way up the hill far enough to take flight, and pretty soon he was soaring above launch.
Jon A taking to the air at Wellfleet

The wind was light enough that I didn’t need any help carrying my glider over to the gap and getting in position to launch.  I waited a few moments, not because I needed to wait for the wind, I just wanted to take some deep breaths and get my head straight.  It was also right around this time that light rain started – the first I noticed it was when I moved my glider from the spot where I had set it up, and realized that it was the only dry place on the pavement.  Launch went great, and I headed up to Cahoon Hollow before turning south toward Nauset Light, and the section of the beach where the crosswind would be more straight in.  Unfortunately, I was a little overconfident crossing the section of low dunes and houses between launch and Lecount Hollow, and when I got to the taller bluff beyond, I had bled off too much altitude, and was out of the lift band.  Maybe if I had tucked in more aggressively close to the slope I could have hung on, but it was not to be, and I set up for a clean landing.

Still early in the day, though, so there was potential for trying again.  I left the glider set up and carried it back to launch, which was trickier than last time because the wind was lighter, and I also had to back up because it was blowing in the other direction.  On the way, I noticed that the water was teeming with seals (or else there was a group of seals who were fascinated by my glider and were following me).  I tried to take some pictures of them, but the timing was tricky because they were only intermittently popping up from behind waves.  I arrived just in time to watch Jon launch his Falcon… and basically sled right down to the beach.  Well, dang!  Why didn’t that work?  He carried his glider over, and the two of us got them both up the slope to the parking lot and we evaluated the conditions and thought about what to do next.

It was still blowing 14-17, which is normally soarable.  However, it was pretty cross.  If you think about the trigonometry, a 14 mph wind coming in at 45 degrees can be treated like a 10 mph wind that’s coming straight in (the only part that’s useful for creating lift) and a 10 mph wind that’s running parallel to the beach (the part that get affects your groundspeed).  So that 14-17 mph wind was only giving us lift equivalent to 10-12 mph on a straight-in day, which is marginal at best.  We considered the continuing light rain, and took into account that the paragliders were even struggling to stay up, and decided to just pack up and hit the road.  But we had a day at the beach, and we both flew (Jon with both wings), so we considered it a success, especially for December.

And did it continue to rain on the way home.  No, not really.

It snowed.

flights: 1, airtime: 0:08


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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