Jon A. is the kind of guy who is up for adventure and not afraid to put in some effort to get it. It was his idea to head to Skinner despite the fact that it was pre-season and we’d have to hike our gear in from the gate (again). I met him there and we used my cart to drag our lightweight Falcons up the road (not bad with the two of us working together).
As we started the hike, we encountered a young couple out on a hike who asked for directions to get back to the parking lot where they had left their car. The information they had about where they had parked and what they had seen on their hike was pretty dubious, so it was hard to really help them, but we pointed down a trail that we thought might get them where they needed to go. But instead they followed us, despite the fact that they clearly were not going to be able to go down the way we were planning to. As we set up, they headed further down the ridge, with the best we could offer in the way of directions, which I didn’t think they’d be able to follow…
It was a beautiful day to be outside, though the wind was kind a little inconsistent. Much of the time the streamers were blowing straight in, although they would intermittently slack off, and there were occasional strong gusts. With just the two of us, there was some concern about the second pilot launching without wire crew, but Jon said he was okay with doing that.
A couple of women came by launch, and we figured maybe we could enlist their help. One was very nervous about heights, and didn’t want to get anywhere near the edge, and the other one was named… Tiffany. Do you really want “Tiffany” to be your wire crew? Well, parents have no way of knowing how their kids are going to turn out when they pick names; this Tiffany was a heavily tattooed park ranger who looked quite capable of giving us a hand.
I’ve been wary about this site for a while now, as the launch needs serious trimming in order to be safe — twice last year I saw pilots clip the vegetation after launching and end up in the trees — so you really want a decent amount of wind coming in to get clear of the slot. I got ready and had Jon on my right (upwind) wing, with Tiffany watching so that she could help out next. Unfortunately, while standing on launch and just trying to hold my glider down, a big gust came and lifted it despite the efforts of Jon and me to restrain it. I got picked up up off my feet, and rotated around Jon, coming to rest just below launch, facing uphill. I unhooked, and we pulled the glider back up to assess the damage. Broken downtube, and a couple of tears in the leading edge of the sail that I almost thought I might be able to patch with tape, but later decided to have it repaired properly by our local sailmaker Marilyn.
Well, so much for my flying, but Jon was still ready, so Tiffany and I took his wires and helped him off.
Turns out it wasn’t such a great day to be flying after all. Despite the apparent breeze coming straight in the slot, what we were feeling was really just eddies curling in past the trees, and the wind out in the clear was almost 90 degrees cross from the right. Jon made a right turn and stopped dead in from of us. When he did a 180, he went screaming out of sight to the left. With that kind of wind direction, there wasn’t much lift, and Jon was on the ground in just a few minutes. I packed up my glider, hiked my gear back to the road, loaded it on the cart, and wheeled it down the road. Jon packed up after landing and came up the road to lend a hand, meeting me near the ranger station.
And just as we got everything tied down on the cars and were about to leave, a police car pulled up. Uh oh… trouble? No. Remember the young couple from the first paragraph? Well, it turned out that they were parked right next to me, and after they left us they must have gotten hopelessly lost and ended up behind the ridge, where I suppose they might have called for help on a cell phone. They live in a very different kind of world than I do.
Jon made a video!