Monday, July 23, 2007

The Hazards & Solutions of Fort Ebey II

Part Two of a series.
Story by John Kraske
Photographs by Karen Wallman.

HAZARD: This spring, 2007, I experienced a new phenomenon I hadn’t had before in my decade of flying Fort Ebey. Sunday, June 3rd was a phenomenally hot day and the Fort didn’t turn on until almost 7 p.m. when the sky clouded up and the air cooled extremely rapidly. The entire island had been heating all day long and when the air cooled that heat started percolating like a boiling pot of water on high heat. The wind started blowing in about the same time. I launched. Bad idea. Somehow I converted my butt into a giant suction cup just to stay in my harness. It wasn’t pretty and I wanted down. But, it didn’t seem to matter where I tried to lose altitude to land, the island was sending up thermal after rapid thermal, like bullets. There were a couple of other local pilots who launched and I’ll bet they just might agree. One new pilot lucked out and once on the ground let out a “yeeeee-haw!” That’s paralingo for “please pass the Charmin”.

SOLUTION: Let somebody else be the wind dummy, or don’t fly. Hot days and rapid cooling doesn’t equate to good flying conditions in my humbled opinion. Watch the water out front. If whitecaps start forming really fast there’s a good reason. All that hot air going up is going to pull cooler air from somewhere and the closest source is going to be the water in Admiralty Inlet, out in front of Fort Ebey.

A low tide day at The Fort.
HAZARD: High tides can eliminate the beach as a landing option. Several years ago one of our outstanding pilots landed in the water and I’ll bet he might be able to expound on this theory. When the tide is lapping at the base of the island and you find yourself sinking-out and you’re below the launch you have an option to get wet or land on the face of the cliff. It’s steep and there are a few hazards. [Read Part Three.]
Once I had launched when the island was in the midst of a storm front. As soon as I was flying a gust came over the back and folded the inside half of my wing which pretty much set me down hard on the face of the cliff. As soon as my feet were planted on terra-firma, vertical terra-firma at best, another gust inflated my wing and dragged me off my feet, intent on slamming me into a tangle of driftwood at the base of the cliff. I buried my breaks hoping to disable my wing and luckily fell into a patch of sandy ground just above the pile of drift logs. I was lucky.
SOLUTION: If the wind is too light or from the wrong direction, don’t launch. Also I recommend not flying during stormy conditions. You never know where the wind might come from next.

HAZARD: Lack of patience when the wind first begins to blow from the right direction and at the right velocity. When the winds here first change direction the lift will sometimes be erratic until the direction and velocity stabilizes the lift band. Not too long ago I launched immediately after the wind had changed from south to west-southwest. I was barely able to stay up and was scratching desperately close along the top of the north bench when I was gusted into the brush along the ridge top. I was slammed into the brush along the cliff face and my wing fell gently into the scrub. It took two hours of effort by two of us to extract my wing. I was wearing shorts and my legs looked like I had been dipped into a vat of angry cats. Another time a friend launched as soon as the wind had changed from southwest to west. He sank to the beach. Two of us launched just ten minutes later and were soaring high above the park while our companion folded up and hiked off the beach.

SOLUTION: Once the wind begins to come from the right direction give yourself some time and let the lift band establish itself before you launch. I hate it when I’m having to hike off the beach while my friends are flying with the eagles.