Wellfleet week


In New England, we don’t fly so much in the winter, mostly because it gets really cold, and most of our launches become difficult or impossible to access because of snow and ice. Most of the flying that we do during those months is at the beach. We could fly there all year round, but it’s allowed only from October to the middle of April due to concerns (perhaps slightly misplaced) about nesting birds on the part of government officials. Some years we really never get any days with the night kind of weather (fairly strong easterly winds without it being a storm), but this year we had a stretch in October, when it wasn’t yet finger-numbingly cold, when the conditions were pretty good.

I’m writing this a couple of months later, so I might not have the sequence of days exactly correct. I think there might have been a day or two that was on the light side that worked out okay for the PG pilots, then I think it might have been Wednesday when a bunch of HG guys headed down and had fantastic conditions — Tom L did a high speed lighthouse run with no turns at all. I liked the looks of Thursday, so I took a day off of work and made the drive, finding PGs in the air when I arrived but conditions that looked very marginal for HGs. Carlos M was setting up already, and Kit pulled in a little later, but never got motivated to take his wing out of his ultra-deluxe rooftop carrier.

12 mph wasn’t floating my boat, and not my glider, either, but Graham and Mike appeared, having set up in the western parking lot, and said it looked soarable. Graham started with a dancing, side-shuffling launch and proved that it was, and soon after Mike followed him, but was just barely hanging on as he flew out of sight. He told us later that he made it nearly all the way to Cahoon Hollow before he got into the lift band solidly enough to get above the bluff. I figured that if those two could do it, it mustn’t be impossible, so I tried the side-stepping, but I was lacking in technique for that trick, so I did a strong, straight ahead launch, and tried to turn right away, but although it almost felt like I might have caught it, I was in fact steadily sinking and was on the beach in no time. It was one of those flights where you wonder whether you ought to do a turn in order to land closer to launch, but you know that doing so means giving up and you don’t want to admit defeat. Fortunately, thanks to Mother Nature and the municipal work crew, the slope in front of launch, as well as the beach itself, have changed dramatically since last spring, such that there’s now plenty of sand to land on and a nice ramp to get back up to the parking lot. (We’ll see how long that lasts.)

I could have tried again, but I also had the option of heading back to work to put in enough time in the evening that I wouldn’t have to count it as a vacation day, and that was my choice, especially because Graham and Mike said that they had to work pretty hard to stay up while dodging PGs in the narrow lift band. But hey, I got to spend most of the day at the beach, where it was sunny and in the 60s, so there’s no complaining about that! As I was leaving, the other guys hucked Vitaly off for his first of several sledders on his first visit to Wellfleet.

Friday was also tempting enough to get some pilots out, but it turned out to be pretty cross, I can’t remember how many of them (if any) actually flew, but it was not very soarable.

For Saturday, though, the direction looked great, although the velocity looked rather vigorous. I had some files that I needed to upload to a print shop, and I set them going Friday night in hopes that I could get an early start on Saturday, but that meant that I was up late, and some of the files didn’t transfer properly, so I had to upload them again in the morning. I was also constrained on the other end, as I had a concert ticket (Ian Anderson) in Boston that night, so I’d have to pack up and hit the road in time to get to the show. When I arrived, there were HGs in the air and more setting up, but no PGs to be seen, because it was blowing hard. Standing on launch, my wind gauge was indicating around 30, gusting to 35 at times, and never getting down to 25, and you got sandblasted every time you walked across the parking lot. That’s usually the realm of top pilots on fast gliders in my opinion, although it’s a little deceptive because the air accelerates coming up the slope, and the wind away from launch is not quite that strong. I went ahead and set up, and watched some other people launch with full wire crews, but I was wary, and hesitated until nearly noon. When I did move out to launch, I was kind of thinking that this might not work out, so I eliminated complications like bringing a camera. With three people on my wires (and maybe I had one behind me just in case, I don’t remember) I let the glider float up off my shoulders, and controlling it from the base bar, I was somewhat surprised to hear “neutral” from both side wires rather than hearing that they were doing everything they could to hold me down. And the launch was smooth and simple.

And I settled in for a long flight. There were a few different radio frequencies in use, and I picked the one that Jeff C said he’d be on. He had gotten there early and already had a lot of time under his belt before I even arrived. It was nice to have somebody to chat with, and among the things we discussed was what he had brought to eat. Granola bar, sure, that makes sense. But he also brought a peach. A peach?! He said that it was what they had in the kitchen as he was running out the door, but I can’t think of many things more difficult to eat with a full-face helmet (he apparently managed). Jeff had been up north to Highland Light a couple of times, but with the wind as strong as it was, and without VG on the Vision MkIV, I couldn’t get enough lateral speed to cross the gaps. (A few other pilots who immediately headed up there after launching ended up sinking out.) I ventured partway across Newcomb Hollow but turned back before getting too low. Heading south is a different matter, as there are no gaps down there and it’s easy to stay up. So I went back and forth multiple times, watching the seals in the water, and the surfers (too rough for them), the kitesurfers (they managed better), and waving to tourists and occasionally doing steep turns to entertain them. On my big novice wing I was noticeably slower than some off the other gliders that cruised by me, but I was never at any risk of getting blown back.

I kept looking at my watch and estimating the time I needed to get to Boston and find a parking place (I ultimately used the underground parking at Boston Common, with my glider on the roof), and finally had to go ahead and land (which I did really well for a change). Even with my time constraints on both ends and my hesitation to launch, I still managed my third-longest flight ever (the other two 4+ hour flights were both at Rutland). But that’s kid stuff. As I was packing up, Jeff was still in the air, planning to fly until it was getting dark. He had to change his plans, though, because the tide was coming in and the beach was getting just a little narrower than he was comfortable with, and he put it down an hour before dusk after a ten hour flight! Mercy!

People were launching all day, including the crew that sank out up north and got a ride back for another go. Just as I was done, Vitaly went up in better conditions than Thursday for his first soaring flight.

And the concert was excellent.

Thursday flights: 1, airtime 0:01
Saturday flights: 1, airtime 4:08

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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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