Bright 321 2007 by Andy Home
Living in Wellington, many times I'm asked "Where do you normally fly?"
"Australia" is my usual reply. This season was no exception. My log book records a single 75 minute flight from our local coastal site, Paekakariki. Going further afield in New Zealand met with little success too - after ten days at the NZ Nationals in Rotorua, I'd logged up two flights at the Paeroas and one at Mount Maunganui - about three and a half hours airtime. Even terrible weather in Australia guarantees more airtime than that!
Flying options in Australia in February were the Open Distance Competition in Manilla, NSW, or the Bright 321 contest (comp site link) in Victoria. With the Worlds on in Manilla just after the Open Distance Competiton, I figured Bright would be the better option. With Manilla filling up with world class pilots, I was sure to feel inadequate competing there! A good choice in the end, as conditions in Manilla were 'strong', with one pilot gaining the world altitude without oxygen record in a thunderstorm (achieving just under 10,000m).
Having decided on my holiday and booked airfares, costs started to spiral rather faster than I can spiral on my paraglider. A slight misunderstanding about glider sizes left me with a set of new lines for my Advance Sigma 5 that didn't fit (they were for a large, and my glider was a medium large). Luckily I discovered this before flying (at the Nationals in October) and asked the dealer (Alan Hills) to send the lines back to change for the correct size. With months in hand, I didn't expect a problem, but the service department of Advance were so difficult (insisting on re-checking every line and charging for it), and slow (with several weeks still in hand, and many increasingly frantic e-mail exchanges, I was still lineless a few days before going to Australia) that I was faced with the option of using my pre-historic Firebird Flame, or part-exchanging for another wing. I slightly upgraded to a second hand Nova Aeron (I think I'll avoid Advance in future...).
Before the line saga unfolded, I had made a vague enquiry to Eva at Wings and Waves about the price of a new Competino (an all-singing- all-dancing GPS and vario device), knowing that in the near future, old GPS machines like my Garmin 12 would be obsolete, as 3-D track logs would be required. Obviously, with a big expense for the glider, I didn't want the extra cost now, and so was more than a little surprised to receive a message saying the instrument had arrived, and did I want to collect it in Australia? What a great sales strategy! Naturally I bought it. (I'm writing this at work pulling extra shifts to pay it off....).
Australia at last! Melbourne was cloudy and a disappointing 15 degrees, but by the time I reached Bright, the weather looked perfect. It was a few days before the comp started, and my partner Kris was already there, on a cross country course run by Wings and Waves. I flew with them for the next 3 days before the comp started, a good chance to get used to my new wing. My first flight was a little scary- the wing gave so much more feedback than my old Sigma! It was only later I heard everyone else talking about how rough the air was, and forgave my glider- in fact I'd had no collapses at all.
The next day I flew my own open distance towards Wangaratta via Beechworth- 52km till a beautifully marked Wedge Tail Eagle (probably working for Air Traffic Control) chased me out of the thermal and towards the ground. I think it was telling me I was in airspace (it desisted below 4500ft - the airspace ceiling as I later found out - but I'd achieved groundsuck by then).
And so to the contest. A slightly smaller field than usual was competing, due to many pilots flying in the Manilla Open Distance Competition. However, this made the whole week a little more enjoyable- less queuing for launch, less wings in overcrowded thermals waiting for the start gate to open etc.
Local pilot Barb Scott kindly offered to drive us for the competition, and with Malcolm (an Auckland pilot on parole from his family) and Fiona Macaskill (a veteran English pilot) also in the retrieve team, we entered the team event as 'Barb's Bunch'.
The first day of the competition looked promising, with blue skies and fluffy clouds forming, but was somewhat spoilt by an increasingly strong wind. This was a tailwind to the first turnpoint on Smoko Ridge, but an evil headwind towards the second and third turnpoints. I bombed out on my first attempt (the only time I've ever bombed from Mystic Mountain), and I reached the Smoko turnpoint late, only to be swept through it, and flushed towards Harrietville (the wrong way!). Most pilots decked around the second turnpoint, but the star of the day was Kris, who (on a DHV 1/2 wing) persisted and persevered for hours, getting several kilometres beyond the second turnpoint, to achieve 12th position overall (and 1st Kiwi and 1st DHV 1/2 - his one and only moment of glory! (track log)). Only three pilots made goal- Thomas Brauner (Cze), Fred Gungl (Aus) and Craig Collings (Aus but should be NZ) in that order.
The next day was canned due to wind strength. However, the third day looked very good- very light winds, blue skies, and an excellent forecast. Unfortunately, a persistently over the back breeze ruled out Mystic Mountain, so for the only time in the competition, a decision was made to hold the contest elsewhere.
We ended up driving 50km or so to Ray's Place, a site close to the Pines on the Buckland Ridge, very close to where I had landed a few days earlier on my cross country flight.
A slight problem with Ray's Place is the low elevation- less than 300m above the bomb out paddock, and therefore easy to bomb, with no quick retrieve for a re-fly. Inevitably, by the time we all got there, it wasn't early, and the first thermal cycle swept up the hill before the task was called. Unbeknown to us, this would be only one of two cycles to come up the hill before the task window closed.
With a task set 74km out over the flatland to the West, the window opened. Everyone waited, then a little puff of wind came up the hill. Someone took off- and bombed. Someone else took off, and scratched oh so sloooowly up the hill. Harmony took off, and suddenly it was a scramble to get off the hill. Soon the weak thermal (0.2m/s or so) had forty or more pilots in it. I saw a huge cloud shadowing the ground creeping slowly towards us, and found a spot where I could take off quickly. I found the thermal and scratched in it, gaining inches on every turn. Then I hit a 4m/s down, and had to turn away from the hill, kicking Koalas in the treetops, and watched the thermal neatly separate, Harmony rising up with forty or so other pilots, and me sinking with a dozen or so unfortunates.
Our whole team had bombed! Kris took the option of walking back up the hill to re-fly. 34 degree heat had me heading to a farmhouse with Malcolm and Fiona, where we failed to get a retrieve fast enough to re-fly before the window shut. However, we had a great view of thirty pilots sitting on the hill in shadow, failing to take off. A few minutes before window closing, the shadow cleared. A few brave pilots took off and sank out. Then, apparently, an over-the-back breeze came up, and at least a dozen pilots never got to take off! Perversely, five minutes after the window closed, a thermal came through, and one pilot took off and flew back to Bright in constant lift!
Later we found that most of the pilots who got away from the hill had made goal, with strong lift for most of the way. Too strong for some- Middy got sucked into a very wet cloud to 12,000ft, and had ice forming on his lines and wing (making handling interesting!). As he came down, the ice melted, ran down his lines, and drenched him.... The persistence award goes to JJ Bastion, who scratched valiantly for two hours, just failing to get the minimum 5km distance. I managed to improve my overall placing by five (to a miserable 73rd) by bombing out. Strange, that. Tomas Brauner (Cze) won the day again, with Craig in 2nd, Petra Slivova (Cze) in 6th place (and first woman as in 5 of the 6 competition tasks). First Kiwi was Middy in 7th place.
The next day (Tuesday) was another Mystic day, but the task was cancelled after a short time due to excessively turbulent conditions. I can't say I was sorry about the decision, and had quite a job trying to loose height over the landing field- a sure sign something was developing. One pilot was blown backwards into a tree trying to land (she was OK- though her glider wasn't). After landing, we watched a big blackness develop in the mountains to the East, and later in the afternoon it spread over Bright and dumped a heavy shower of rain (much to the obvious joy of the locals). A good call to can the task.
Wednesday, Thursday and Friday, the tasks were all set zigzagging around the local area (to keep pilots close by for safety- as a trough line threatened to bring more thunderstorms). True to the forecast, on all these days the tasks were stopped when the clouds started to look threatening. I had nice flights each day, of up to three hours, though due to my somewhat sedate flying speed (speed bar? What's that?), I slowly slumped down the rankings. I was rather pleased to be in position 69 after Thursday's flight, though.
Kris, on the other hand, shot downwards in the rankings so fast he nearly pulled his reserve, slumping from 12th after day one to 75th at the end of the contest.
Nikolay Shorokhov (Rus) won the day on wednesday, with Middy doing well in second place. Nikolay won again on Thursday, with Ross Johnstone in 4th place as top Kiwi. On Friday Karel Vrbensky (Cze) got to goal first, with Ross again top Kiwi in 12th place. Top woman was Keiko Hiraki (Japan) for a change.
The final day of the contest had a very dodgy weather forecast- moderate to fresh northerlies, and instability with a likelihood of thunderstorms in the afternoon. "We may as well try and get a task in as its the final day", said Karl Texler at the morning briefing.
The task committee set a 56km zigzagging task in the local valley system again, ending at Porpunkah airstrip. We took off, and gathered in wing-saturated thermals waiting for the start gate to open, wondering why the thermals had no discernable drift, and why there were no black clouds forming in the mountains. The task started, and all the top pilots seemed to generate their own tailwinds and disappeared in the distance (as usual), but unusually, the flying was beautiful - bounce-free thermals, no headwind, 8000ft cloudbase, and plenty of other gliders to mark the thermals.
At some point, I realised I was going to make it to goal (about the time I circled with a sailplane over Goldmine ridge, a beautiful experience that makes a paraglider feel a bit inadequate). Arriving at the goal was a great experience to finish up a great week of flying- no matter that well over half the field made goal (and I only managed to come 49th that day (track log)), the important thing was that I got there before Kris, who arrived 55th and last in goal for his first Australian goal experience (track log). What an unexpectedly great day it was! Karel Vrbensky (Cze) won the day, with Ross again top Kiwi in 19th place.
The final dinner and prize giving was a sit- down meal outside at the Outdoor Inn, with excellent food worthy of the high standard of organisation of the competition this year. In addition to the regular prizes were a group of novelty prizes, and I was stoked (but not too surprised) to be the recipient of the Fashion Prize for my pink camouflage shorts. The prize was a tiara. I keep winning tiaras for some reason....
For flying the top prize went to Tomas Brauner from the Czech Republic. The whole Czech team flew well, taking 3rd place (Karel Vrbensky) and 6th (Petra Slivova- who was also top woman). Second overall was Craig Collings (flying for Australia unfortunately!).
Out of the prizes, but worth a mention none the less, were the valient Kiwi pilots- with Ross Johnstone in 11th, Grant Mittendorf (Middy) 12th, Matt Senior 35th, Evan Lamberton 39th, Harmony Gaw 44th, Andy Maloney 67th, Kris Ericksen 75th, and lastly Malcolm Dawson in 85th place.