Thursday, February 22, 2007

Matty’s Wild Oz Ride

[Down Under Travelblogue from Matt Senior]

With the 2007 Paragliding World Championships being held in Manilla, many of the world’s best pilots are spending their winter flying in the Australian competitions.Photo 1 Photo 1: Conrad Kreick, Semih Sayir & Viv Williams reading the task board on the second task.

The Killarney Classic is the first of three Cat 2 comps leading up to the World Championships in March. Killarney is situated 20 kms east of Warwick in south eastern Queensland, just west of the Great Dividing Range that runs the length of Australia from north to south. Its location provides a great starting place for XC flying, as the area around launch is beautiful and rugged, while providing easy access to the vast flatlands of Australia to the immediate west.

Unfortunately for pilots, the weather this year didn’t cooperate and only one and a half tasks were flown. The first day of competition saw strong winds on launch and most of the pilots in the air finding it hard at times to penetrate the strong, gusty conditions.

Although a small handful of us managed to find some strong cores and climb out to around 10,000 feet and get on course with ground speeds of greater than 75 km/hr, the wind on launch forced the safety committee to can the day.

Day two was almost a carbon copy of day one, except nobody launched.

Day three the winds died down and the task was on. With light to moderate westerly winds in the forecast, a 75 km task to the east-south-east was set. With very few bomb-outs, most pilots managed to get on course. With the arrival of a sea breeze most pilots were on the ground before the 35 km mark; a few pilots who managed to get high and stay high did push out as far as 45 km, but nobody made goal. Seattle’s Conrad Kreick was one of the smart pilots who stayed high and finished the day in 5th place ahead of some of the best pilots in the world.

Photo 2

Photo 2: Looking east at the west launch, across the Great Divide towards Cunningham’s Gap.

Meanwhile, over-development and some wild storms kept most pilots trying to keep their tents from blowing away. The pilots were getting frustrated and the comp organizers, desperate to get another task, rallied us up to launch early to get a start on the next task before it over-developed again. With the weather charts showing incredible upper level instability it was not a matter of “if?” it would OD but “when?”.

We arrived on launch at 10am to blue skies; by 10:30am there were nice looking cumulus clouds; by 11am there were large developments all over the place and by 11:30am one cloud less than a mile to the east of launch started to release a considerable amount of rain. As this cloud was not actually on the course line and avoidable, the day was under way with most pilots getting on course under the shadows of some very dark clouds. With a nice tailwind to the first turnpoint, the first few gaggles managed to avoid the rain and reach about 25 kms from launch before a Q-nim started to release a scary amount of rain directly on the turn point.

Photo 3

Photo 3: Looking east at the north launch, just before the start of the second task as a Q-nim began dropping rain to the left of the course line.

As I was climbing well under a very dark cloud (listening to the safety committee on the radio discussing stopping the task for safety reasons), I started to experience my climb rate increase and my proximity to cloud base decrease to an uncomfortable level, right as a bolt of lightning struck the turn point and the day was stopped. At exactly that moment I began reeling in my ears until I had BIG-big-ears and full speed bar, watching the two pilots to my left disappear into the cloud and my climb rate beginning to increase along with my heart rate. With my ears in further than I have ever pulled them, I was quite amazed to experience this cloud sucking me up at 1,500 fpm. After about a minute of this, I popped out of the lift and started to sink at 1,200 fpm, relieved like never before to find sink.

With only one and a half valid days flown, Gavin Zahner from Queensland on an Ozone Mantra 2 managed to beat world number one Criegel Maurer in second and Phil Hystek in third on a Gin Boom Sport. Conrad Krieck finished a very respectable 6th overall.