There was chatter on the internet about the Sunday forecast looking good for Wellfleet, and when I mentioned that I might be going, Nancy said she’d be interested in coming along. Nancy has approximately zero interest in hang gliding, but the weekend had some potential to be appealing for her. She’s a big lighthouse fan, and there are a few she hasn’t seen yet. I was also planning to stay Saturday night with my friend George, which opened up the opportunity for her to sleep later than me, so that I could head up to get ready to fly by myself, and she and George could come to the beach later.
With an 11:20 AM high tide, the plan was to fly early. I woke up at 5, and was at White Crest by 5:45 and started setting up behind the building across the street using a headlamp when it was still fairly dark. When I was about ready, I went over to the beach side lot to chat with Jon A, Dave F, and Mark G, who had arrived a little later and were starting to set up. The wind was just about straight in, and there was plenty of it; at one point I measured 30 at the top of the bluff. There was some concern that it might be too much, and the forecast showed it continuing to build through the morning.
If conditions were really great, I was figuring that the more experienced pilots would help the newer ones launch, then we’d join them, having less need for ground crew. There had even been discussion of formation flying to the lighthouses. But with the concern that it might be too strong for some, Jon decided to go first. Since I was ready, I said I’d be right behind him, unless anybody else wanted to go and needed wire help. Jon opted to launch from a little way down the ramp, where the wind was a little lighter, and was soon on his way. Mark decided it was worth a try, and Scott B had arrived in the meantime, so we still had three pilots to assist Mark. Dave decided to wait and hope that conditions would get more civilized, and Scott wasn’t set up yet, so I went and got my wing.
We had additional assistance from a wuffo, who I put on my nose wires, and I went down to the same spot where Jon and Mark had launched from. I had a no-problem takeoff, and headed north. Having started a little low, it was a bit of work to get up, and I was at or slightly below the lip of the bluff for a while, where I found the air rather chunky, and I wasn’t having a lot of fun. Once I got up to Cahoon Hollow, I was able to get more altitude, and the air smoothed out. I had to fiddle with my cords for a while to get zipped (the ski gloves I was wearing didn’t make things easy), and I turned around just before reaching Doane’s Bog Pond.
Scott had asked for a signal to indicate how I felt about the air, and when I flew over launch, I gave a noncommittal gesture that kind of turned into a thumbs-down. But that was right around when I started to think that it wasn’t entirely the air that was the issue. I got a weird, slightly familiar sensation that I had experienced once before, as the glider decided to speed up on its own and go into kind of a dive. I had to push out on the control bar to keep it under control, which is not something that you usually do when flying at the beach. I glanced up to see if the nosecone was in place, and it was — more on that later.
It’s one thing to be dealing with an issue like this when you have a couple of thousand feet of altitude, but it’s a bit alarming when you have dozens of feet. I really didn’t want to be struggling with control like this somewhere that might result in a very long walk back, so instead of heading for a lighthouse, I made a quick decision to get it down immediately. Sometimes it’s difficult to lose altitude at the beach, but not in this case, the glider sank right through the lift band. Normally on final you pull in for a lot of speed, but I was actually pushing out to keep myself from cratering into the sand. I didn’t figure it was going to end well, and I did what I could to flare, but being mushed, it was hard to keep the wing level. I succeeded in protecting the pilot, and kept the glider out of the drink, so the loss of a downtube was a minor inconvenience.
Notice something in that picture: the nosecone is off. When I first landed, it was still attached at the bottom, but the velcro on the top surface had come loose and it was dangling. Because the previous time I experienced this problem was when the nosecone was missing entirely, I suspect that it had come loose, and despite the airflow that you might expect would keep it in place, it was letting enough air in to cause problems with the airfoil. Indeed, testing it out as I was breaking down the glider showed that the velcro was not sticking very well at all. I’ll have to investigate whether it’s clogged with sand or fluff or something, or if it just needs to be replaced.
Dave carried my harness and helmet up, Scott helped me get the glider back to the parking lot (thanks, guys!), and George and Nancy arrived shortly after. No more flying for me with a broken downtube, so I packed up and we headed out. Dave and Scott did both fly later, as did John B, who arrived as we were leaving. At least one of the pilots made it to both lighthouses, so it was a great day. Since we had plenty of time left, Nancy and I made the most of the day, stopping by to visit some relatives on the way home.
And we did still see two lighthouses.
flights: 1, airtime: 0:10