Late shift

The classic weather scenario for flying at Wellfleet is to get there when a nor’easter is approaching, and to take advantage of the winds before the precipitation starts. Chatter started late in the week about the prospects for Sunday, which was looking as good as you can hope for in January: ENE winds at about the right velocity, low tide in the afternoon, high tide not that high anyway (quarter moon), unseasonably warm, and it was a weekend, to boot. Okay, so the Patriots were also playing for the AFC Championship (home game, not too far away, in fact), and while that might have been a priority for some, I’d much rather participate in an activity than watch other people on TV.

I tend to not trust the forecast until it’s about time to go, but I did load up my glider the night before, so I was ready to head to the Cape in the morning. The way I was reading the forecast, I didn’t need to be in a big hurry to get there, because the wind was going to start out pretty cross and light, and I didn’t think we’d be flying until early afternoon, at least, so I rolled in at 10:30 AM. There were some pilots who had arrived as early as 7:15, I think, and even a while after that it was reportedly blowing from the SW. By the time I got there, it was pretty much N, and wasn’t even strong enough for the PG pilots to kite their wings. But it was pretty comfortable — I had seen 50F on the thermometer in my car shortly before reaching White Crest.

Often when I pull in, there are already wings in there air, but today, nobody was flying, and the picture below was all that was going on. I was haranguing the PG pilots, saying, “You’re doing it wrong! You have to point the wing that way, or none of us get to fly!”. (As if the wind responded to them, rather than the other way around.) There were already about 10 hang gliders set up, so I set about leisurely putting mine together as well. I thought about going for a trail run, but then I got a text from my old friend George saying he was on his way to watch the proceedings, so I stayed put so I could hang out with him.

The forecast said that the wind would clock around to the ENE, and right about the time that George got there, the direction abruptly changed, and a couple of PGs took to the air. When they managed to stick, all the rest of them made a stampede for the edge, and soon the sky was full of bagwings. Those of us with lawn darts had to wait around a bit longer, because there wasn’t yet enough velocity to keep us up. But as predicted, the wind speed built rapidly, and before too long a couple of PGs got blown back and landed in the bushes, and one almost got dragged across the parking lot. Perfect. There was really only about a 30 minute window when conditions were right for them.

A couple of the HG pilots were at Wellfleet for the first time, so we figured it was best to help them launch before it got too strong, and we queued them up while the PGs were still flying. (One of the more experienced pilots had gone out to launch a couple of times, but backed off because it seemed too light.) Launching at the beach isn’t really that hard, but it can be intimidating if you haven’t done it before, especially if you’ve watched a bunch of YouTube videos of people blowing it (because after all, those are the most interesting ones). Dave F was first, and after spending a while getting a feel for the ground handling and listening to advice from a half-dozen people (some of whom probably contradicted each other), he had a good launch, turned a little late… and sledded to the beach. We jogged down to give him a hand, and he asked what he had done wrong. Nothing, I told him, other than making it hard for himself to carry the glider back up the beach after landing by turning it away from the wind, and… WTF is that stench?! His other mistake was stopping right next to the rotting seal carcass (I took a picture, but I’ll spare you).

I think Mike A was next, and he got the same kibitzing treatment as Dave, but having had the opportunity to watch a launch, he was able to catch the lift band and soar, and he was followed by Dave on a second try, and he succeeded as well. I helped wire off a few other pilots, then went across the street to get my wing. By this point it was after 2 PM, and I decided to not bother with fussy details like hooking up my radio, I just suited up and had my friends assist me in getting back across the road. Straight in, wind felt good, I could control the glider easily, and people were soaring: no reason to futz around, I just took off immediately.

thanks for the awesome picture, Nancy!

Kind of a standard flight plan, I headed north as far as Newcomb Hollow, then flew back past launch and headed down to Nauset.

There were a few other wings ahead of me, and I was gaining on most of them, while maintaining more altitude, at least for a while. When we were approaching Marconi beach, I glanced away for a moment, and when I looked back, one of the gliders appeared to be on the ground, on top. Hmm, that’s unusual, but it looked like he was moving around. I saw that Jon was on his way back, so I continued on, figuring that he’d look to see if the pilot was okay, and when I was heading back from the lighthouse, I checked in on him as well. By that point he had started to break his glider down, and he gave me a thumbs up. I pointed toward Marconi Beach, in case he didn’t realize that that was the closest parking lot. He did in fact carry his gear over there, and hitchhiked back to launch.

The eastern shore of Cape Cod is constantly eroding, and has been for a very long time. Houses like this:

are in peril, and before long (a few years? a decade?) will be condemned and will fall off the cliff if they aren’t demolished first. That’s why this blew my mind:

It appears to be new construction, just a few yards from the crumbling sandy bluff. What is somebody thinking? They must be paying cash, because I can’t imagine any bank would lend money for a project like that. I can’t even understand how the town would issue them a building permit.

Anyway, shortly after that, I encountered a lesser disaster:

Another unplanned top landing, though this one resulted in some bent aluminum (but no injury). The beach can seem like a casual place to fly, but it does sometimes feel a need to show us who’s boss. I continued north to Newcomb Hollow again, when John B was hanging out really high up. I thought about trying to make the crossing, and in preparation got as much altitude as I could manage, about 370 feet, but not as high as John. Jon A showed up and went for it, and it looked like it was close, but he made it across. I made three tentative attempts at it, but the wind was getting pretty strong, and every time, it felt like I was really sinking fast. In my mind, I was getting about halfway before turning around, but the GPS track shows that I was really getting barely farther than the parking lot. I was also not really in the mood to land out and have to deal with getting back to my car. As it turned out, Ross and Stacy had been up to Highland Light and back, and Jon made it up there, but on the way back, he just fell out of the sky trying to cross Ballston Beach.


I was flying the Ultrasport, because I had (correctly) anticipated strong winds, and I was glad to have the higher performance, although I never pulled the VG past 1/2, because it’s so hard to pull on that glider (compared to my U2). As I got the last of my airtime for the day, I spent some time just hovering in place, pointing straight out toward the water, and to move forward took quite a bit of bar pressure. When I’d had enough, I flew back to White Crest, used the low section of the bluff to escape from the lift, wrangled my way through the bumpy air down near the sand, and had a reasonably decent landing pretty close to the parking lot.

John B

Mark G

Usually there’s a dead spot at the base of the bluff, but the wind was picking up enough that Mark’s glider was sliding up the slope as he was breaking it down. I took my harness up first and brought my car over close to launch, then Kevin helped me carry my glider up the ramp. It was blowing so hard (somebody said 35 mph) that we had trouble putting it on my roof rack as we were getting mercilessly sandblasted. A good time to be done, as darkness was also approaching, and it started raining soon after I started homeward. I made it to Nancy’s house in time to catch most of the second half of the football game that I passed within about four miles of on the way (Patriots are heading for the Super Bowl). And so 2017 begins.

flights:1, airtime: 1:30


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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