Team Dartmoor at the Interclub Competition – Round 1 2013

Well after a week of weather uncertainty, the competition organiser for The Park (Steven Lambourne) , finally decided on Friday to call the first ICL competition of 2013 as ON. As the weekend weather had looked so bad, by Friday I had lost most of my team for the meet, but Ged and I were still up for going, after all it would be poor not showing up after we had been accepted into the ICL this year. I think that if the host organiser calls the event as ON, it is good manners to show up and attend after all the advanced preparation that goes into hosting a meet. So Friday morning Ged and prepared and made our way with the Open Cirrus to meet Darren Wills and Malcolm Roberts (Team Dartmoor crew) at 'The Park' near Mere in Wiltshire. First impressions on the drive up was how big the fields were in that area, and coupled with an early (low height) crop this time of year, landing out options were looking plentiful.

We arrived in plenty of time to rig tents, rig the Cirrus and open a bottle of wine to relax in their fine club house and chat with some of the local pilots before an early night in readiness for a 10am briefing on an ever improving forecast for the following day.

One way of dealing with how to share a shared Glider is to agree weeks in advance of any weather knowledge who will fly on which day - however we had not known this strategy at the time, so even on Sat morning, Ged and I had not really agreed who would fly the shared Open Cirrus and therefore who would be the only entering pilot for this day of the ICL. Well the forecast was looking hopeful enough for a task but not good enough to get too excited, so instead of tossing a coin Ged made the call that I should take the glider that day - which I excepted NERVOUSLY.

Having completed my cross country endorsement early this year, I had only pushed the glider out from the club as far as Roadford and Burrator reservoir. So I have not yet flown a cross country, yet alone a defined task in a competition - so by the time I was sitting at briefing on Sat morning with my chart, and GPS, I was feeling a little apprehensive to say the least. However flying cross country is why I want to fly gliders, and having a competition where the tasks are set for you, and having crew ready to fetch me in case I landed out - there was never a better opportunity to give it a go than at one of these very friendly and brilliantly organised ICL meets. Here we go then, I'm entered into the Novice class of the first comp I have ever flown!

My task was a 91.7km race, with a start line (12km line) from cloudbase over The Park, with a further 3 turn points before HOPEFULLY finishing at The Park.

Start: PRK (The Park)
1. Point: BCA (Bishops Caundle - 27.2km)
1. Point: YEO (Yeovilton Reservoir - 16.1km)
2. Point: PR1 (Park Control Point E - 42.8km)
Finish: PRK (The Park)

A view of Mikes task and his trace
After putting all the points into my PDA (Glider Guider running LK8000), and marking out the task on a chart (in case the PDA failed), we DI'd the glider and waited for my turn to start. It is typical at this comps to let the Pundits go first, then the Intermediates, then finally the Novice (although if a Novice is ready and waiting, like I was, and no other higher classes are ready, then this rule is quite loose . As I am not Aerotow endorsed, Ged, Darren, and Malcolm helped me to the winch launch cue and I was ready to start - now very apprehensive.

After a beautifully smooth (Skylaunch!) winch to 1200ft, I found myself immediately in lift and I started to climb out to 2000ft QNE  - then struggled for a very determined and focused hour to get to cloudbase 5.5nm downwind. My next task was to fly back upwind to the start line to trigger my start, so all I needed to do was fly into the start sector I had programmed into the PDA and radio my start gate to control point. However when I got back into the start sector, my PDA would not trigger my task to start (I am still not not 100% sure why this happened, but I suspect this was incorrect programming of the start sector type when I entered the task on the ground). So I decided to quit the task with the PDA, set the altimeter to QNH, enter the waypoint manually into the PDA and get out the chart (as now I didn't trust the PDA) - and get started on the task. What an amazing feeling this was, I was heading away from the club on a 91km task on my first cross country, and ahead of me was a very promising looking sky! At this point I must also add how important lookout is at any time, let alone at a comp where there were gliders everywhere, and often sharing your Thermal. I didn't want to spend any time messing about with settings on the PDA, and not looking around.

The Open Cirrus rides smoothly up the wire to 1200 feet
After lots of very conservative flying and taking more thermals than I really needed, I finally made the first turn point (BCA) and rounded it (or at least I thought I had!), entered the next waypoint into the PDA, and headed towards my next turn point (YEO), checking the compass to verify what the PDA was telling me. By now the conditions were brilliant, a had just taken a rapid climb (6-8kts) to 4500 QNH (short of cloudbase as I didn't want to enter cloud), and my route to point 2 (YEO) had a great good looking sky. Although I was still high, I decided to head towards good clouds, pulling the stick back in lift and pushing in sink, and I continued this strategy all the way round turn point 2 (YEO), and back along my longest leg of 42km towards point 3. At this point I knew I was at least 42km from home, my PDA was telling me I had 300ft of spare height needed to reach point 3, so bearing in mind that it was very likely that I was going to find more lift, decided to speed up a little and extend my glides between Thermals. During this 42km leg I only stopped twice to circle, the first (2kt) thermal was not really needed and only wasted time, the 2nd was definitely needed as I was down to 2000ft (and starting to check my landing options). This second and final climb was a nice 6kt which elevated me back to 4500ft, within very easy reach of my my final point 3 and my final glide home. So unless I hit some unexpected nasty sink, I knew I was home and dry with 2000ft to spare. (during this last climb a glider arrived below me, but left the climb 2000ft before I did, obviously making the better decision in this case to race back with just enough height ahead of me).

Arriving back at point 3, I had a decision to make, to continue flying along this track for another 8km to get my silver leg of 50km, or head 5.5km back to the club and finish. By this time, I had been flying for 3 hours, the conditions were not good where I needed to go and I needed to relieve myself (after failing with the in flight plumbing), and felt jubilant that I had completed the task and my first cross country, so decided for a lower risk gentle circuit and touch down feeling very pleased with myself. (Silver legs will have to wait).
So after a quick field retrieve (thanks Darren), I had parked the glider and rushed my logger to the control point to officially enter my task into the scores. And now came the shock, as my trace appeared on the screen, I instantly knew what I had done - in all the busyness of getting to point 2, I had flown the wrong side of it, and had therefore missed it by 0.7KM - what an anti-climax! I left the room, went to my tent and decided to make tea.

After about 15 minutes Darren appeared, and told me that I was within the rules, they would allow my task, but with a penalty of 50 points - so Dartmoor Gliding would score then, excellent!

Whether or not I had made the task, I had the best gliding flight I've ever had, to be out of range of the field and flying cross country is what I set to to do when I decided to fly gliders. I had experience of this in the past in hang gliding, but always downwind dashing, not having the performance to actually fly and navigate a route of turn points over this sort of distance - which is only the start of what is possible with these beautiful flying machines.

I came last (see scores to follow), beaten by better pilots than me, that flew faster than me in Astirs and K6E's - but I don't care - this time!

So let's have a look at the old scoreboard
The next ICL is in 2 weeks in Keevil, unfortunately I can't make this one, but I'm still hoping to put a team together for it - please let me know if you can attend this. And please don't wait for forecasts of perfect conditions before you decide, you can't always read the weather as this weekend has just proved. The conditions at the The Park were excellent from a very dodgy forecast. Also I think it is only good manners when a comp is called as ON by the organisers that know the local conditions well, that we show up and have some fun with our fellow flying friends.

There are always lessons learned, mine this time are:
- Understand start gates, and how to program them into the PDA tactical flight software
- Do always make sure you have a backup if the PDA fails (as I'm glad I did in this case)
- Request that task setters set at least one 50KM leg into the Novice class (for Silver legs)
- Get my in-flight plumbing sorted out

Finally, thanks to Ged to letting me take the glider that day, the conditions turned out better than expected with most pilots making the tasks (Pundit 186km, Intermediate 142km), I'm sure he would taken good advantage of the conditions. Thanks to Darren and Malcolm for crew, and making up Team Dartmoor.

Team Dartmoor. Darren, Mike, Ged and Malcolm
Looking forward to the next one and more flying - this is addictive!

Mike Gadd

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