Hey, where’s the beach?!

Over three months since I last flew, and I passed up a chance to head down to Ellenville a week ago, in part because the other pilots who live near me were being weenies, but I could have gone on my own, and I didn’t, so I guess I was a weenie, too. (And I hear the day turned out pretty good down there.) So when I posted that I was thinking about going down to Wellfleet, and one of my buddies said, “Nah, it might be too light, too long a drive to take a chance…”, that cemented my decision and I got up before 4 AM to face:

Pitch darkness (the first day of Daylight Saving Time), 20 F temperature, and a 2 hour 40 minute drive to the Cape. Doesn’t that picture just look like the start of an inviting beach day?

The trick was to get there early enough to launch as soon as possible after dawn, because high tide was at 11:20 AM, and it was going to be the second-highest tide of the month. In addition, the wind looked like it would start out pretty good, but back off as the morning went on. Ross, Keith, and Timo were already starting to set up when I arrived, and I got right to it as well. The breeze was okay, certainly not overly strong, and although it was only 90 minutes after low tide, the beach was already quite narrow. We had a couple of very serious winter storms here in the past month, and the waves were pretty hungry for beach sand. The slope in front of launch had been undercut and slumped to the angle of repose (often referred to as “vertical” by people looking at it, but actually somewhere between 30 and 45 degrees — appearances can be deceptive!), and the level of the beach itself had been scoured several feet lower than usual. While we were getting ready, several PG pilots arrived, plus fellow HG pilots Ilya, Krassi, Dave P, and biwingual Jon A who had brought his Falcon.

Keith is usually the first to launch, and this was no exception. It looked like he might be getting bumped around a bit, but he headed off to the north — the opinion was that landing up at Newcomb Hollow, where the beach is wider and the climb to the parking lot shorter, was an especially good idea given the conditions. I wired Timo off a few minutes later, and he followed Keith, then returned a bit later, hollering down something that we couldn’t quite make out, but it sounded like “Keith landed OK”. Landed? Surely not so soon?

No time like the present, so I climbed into my harness, went through all of my checks, and Ross and Dave walked me out to launch. Light enough that it was easy to control the wing, just enough that I was able to float it up off my shoulders. In retrospect I suppose I should have taken that as a clue and waited for it to get a little stronger. Off I went, made a turn to the left, caught the lift and soared up over the top of the ridge… no, wait, I didn’t, oops, I’m a little low out front, gotta get up, ummm…. that’s not working, oh, look, I’m on my way to a landing, well, let’s at least do it right!

And so I was on the beach, and a couple of minutes later I watched Ilya and Jon launch and soar on by to the north. But Ilya came back right away, and set his glider down right in front of launch. I was already breaking down as fast as I could, and it turned out that he had come back because when he got a look up the beach… he couldn’t see any beach! Just waves lapping up against the toe of the slope. At this point it wasn’t even yet 8 AM, and the tide would still be coming in for another 3 1/2 hours! As soon as I got everything packed up, I walked up the beach with my harness and battens to see if I could climb the crumbling slope with them. It wasn’t easy, like crawling up a down escalator, but I made it. It didn’t seem feasible to do the same with my glider, and I was afraid I’d have to carry it two miles north to Newcomb in order to get it off the beach. But Ilya had just finished packing his lightweight Falcon, so we decided to try and carry it up together. That was a struggle, but we managed to get it far enough up to slide it sideways onto a part of the slope that hadn’t collapsed yet, and the other pilots were able to grab it. Emboldened, we fetched my wing and repeated the trick, then Ilya got his harness and we were done. Here’s what the slope in front of launch looked like:

Ross, Krassi, and Dave were sufficiently unimpressed by the prospects that they started breaking down. Meanwhile, the other hang gliders were nowhere to be seen. John G, who was flying his PG, landed and reported that they were on the ground up north. I got in the car to retrieve them, and hadn’t gone very far before I found Keith, who had walked almost the whole way back. We got Keith’s truck, because it has a bigger rack, and drove up to Newcomb Hollow. Turned out that Keith had sunk out a little before reaching Newcomb, Timo had flown up there and landed shortly after telling us that Keith was on the ground, and Jon had decked it at Doane’s Bog Pond, and in the process of carrying his stuff up to Newcomb, got his feet wet because the waves were coming all the way up.

So, the day was over. For the HGs, at least. The PGs were having a fine time in the light conditions (light for us, not so light for them!), and they didn’t mind the lack of beach so much. Ross and I decided to take a look at the conditions up and down the shore a bit. It turns out there’s really nowhere to get onto the beach in a civilized manner at this point.

At Newcomb Hollow, we have this helpful bit of advice for motorists:

Yeah, no shit. Here’s what it looks like from the other direction:

Looking south from Newcomb Hollow, there’s not much beach:

Looking north, at what is normally a major gap, there’s now enough of a shelf that it might be soarable the whole way across in the right wind conditions (click for larger version):

Down at Marconi Beach, the walkway is blocked off (I climbed over the barrier) because the stairs are gone, and the platform at the top has been completely undermined and is hanging out over space (it may not look like it in this picture, but it’s a long way down…):

There are also changes on the other side of the Cape, but those changes are not due to the weather. The Seascape Motel, which was for many years a welcoming launch site, was sold last year, and has been demolished:

Although the demolition crew did spare the launch platform, at least so far:

Gotta put a token hang glider picture in here, I guess…

flights: 1, airtime: 48 seconds


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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