Saturday, December 29, 2007

The Hazards and Solutions of Fort Ebey III

by John Kraske:
Part Three of a series. Photographs by Karen Wallman.
HAZARD: Scotch Broom (Cytisus scoparius). This pesky bush can grab your lines, put holes and tears in your wing, and scrape the living tissue off your body if you get dragged through it or land in it. Thanks to the Scottish sea captain, Captain Walter Colquhoun Grant who brought a few Scotch Broom seeds from the British Consulate in Hawaii (Sandwich Islands back then), a Mr. Wylie, to Vancouver Island in 1850. We now have this tenacious plant taking over large parcels of the park, not to mention the entire Pacific Northwest. And for those of us who suffer from allergies; thank you very much Captain Grant.
Scotch broom, waiting to sweep a wing.
SOLUTION: Our friends with their trusty bow-saw, or pruning shears. If you do get your wing or lines tangled in these horrendous demonic off-spring of that sea-going- idiot-botanist, Captain Grant, I implore you to carefully untangle. I’ve torn lines in an impatient display of frustration. I think its something to do with that adolescent brain taking over what should be a more mature fifty year old brain. Sometimes I’m a fine example of my gender.
HAZARD: There are several areas where old piles of rusted WWII barbed wire have been discarded over the cliff. These would wreak havoc on the human body and a paraglider.
SOLUTION: Know where these are before you fly. These piles of barbed wire are pretty obvious, but I would scout them out before flying. Just in case.
Barbed wire below launch.
HAZARD: The upper bench to the south of launch faces southwest. There is a not-so-visible nemesis that lurks in waiting for the unsuspecting. I call these little devils, para penetrating cacti. That’s the scientific name. The common name that I’ve overheard some of my paragliding cohorts call them is: what-are-cactus-doing-in-western-washington erosion repressors. Their two-inch spines are usually covered up by whatever the wind has blown their way; grasses, litter, dead leaves, bird feathers, one of my flying friend’s gloves. In the years I’ve been flying Whidbey these pretty little cacti have pretty much set up child-rearing across the face of the entire slope; prolific little green monsters! The species is actually called Biddle Cactus, a near relative of the Prickly-Pear Cactus. They’re very pretty when in bloom.
SOLUTION: Probably the safest bet for a side-hill bale out on this southwest facing slope would be a fresh slide area and only if the beach is covered by high tide. Use the beach if the tide is out.
HAZARD: Later in the spring, in the summer and fall there is a species of grass that dominates the launch and landing zone that seeks a nursery for its offspring. This grass has two inch spear-like spikelets that take up residency in your shoes and socks and bite at your skin as if you too soon will be growing fields of amber waves of grain. OUCH, these little mothers are really irritating and they can ruin a pair of Gore-Tex boots!
SOLUTION: I made a trip to REI and purchased some ankle high gators by OR. I prefer the spandex ones that snap at the top and hook onto your boot laces. They work wonders. Of course, in the beginning, I duct-taped plastic garbage bags over my socks and boots and that too works well, but makes a heck of a flapping racket in flight, and gives the general public a vision of you being a flying-bag-lady.
Mike never misses an opportunity for airtime.
HAZARD: Crowded conditions. It’s amazing how many pilots show up at Fort Ebey these past few years.
SOLUTION: The fact is that we all can fly there and it really doesn’t matter who was there first. It’s a state park, no one’s private property. On some days we have to share the air with RC glider pilots. Remember that their perspective of distance from the ground is different than ours is from the air. Give ‘em some room. With other paragliders, we just have to be sure to clear our turns and adhere to the ridge rules. Set up friendly dialogue with everyone. Communications can go a long way and is the key to diplomacy. I’ve had lots of really good conversations with many of the RC pilots. They all seem to be reasonable individuals. Accidents happen and it’s always a good idea to work out amicable solutions to prevent future incidents.
Our shared playground.
HAZARD: Erosion is a big problem along the shorelines of all the islands and it is a good idea to avoid all unnecessary activity on these fragile cliff faces that might encourage erosion.
Another chunk of earth, ready to drop from Fort Faultline.
SOLUTION: Each and every one of us needs to take responsibility and respect the signs that the Park authorities post. If we are respectful and responsible in our use of the park then it will be more likely that we will be able to continue flying there. If only a few of us recklessly abuse this fragile environment the whole paragliding community will lose; the paragliding at this pristine site will stop. The trail off the beach is at the south end of the launch and it’s recommended that we use that whenever we have to hike off the beach. If you are blown south and land on the spit hike the beach south to Ebey’s Landing – stay on the beach or the trails - and radio or telephone your buddies for a pick up. The time I was blown south to the spit my two friends kept flying, I didn’t have a mobile phone and my radio was dead. But I was certain they’d be coming for me. I walked all the way to Highway 20 and caught a bus back to the turnoff for Fort Ebey. The bus dropped me at Libby Road and as I began my hike for the Fort my good friends showed up in my car. It was dark and we headed for home. Make a contingency plan with your pals in case this happens to you.

Friday, December 14, 2007

December flying at Whidbey

By Iain Frew:

Hopefully a lot of the new pilots who haven’t yet managed to get out to Whidbey to fly will take the opportunity of the off season to try this site. Winds need to be just right, not too strong and not too light and it can be a little difficult to predict. But with all the weather information available on the internet these days and local pilot “El Diablo”, there’s enough info to reduce the risk of a trip out there without getting to fly. This year I’ve had 12 visits and only 1 day of not flying so not too bad a record.

Whidbey in DecemberYesterday was another great day. I got there just before 11:00 am to find only 1 other person there, Derek Baylor who learned at the ranch last year. He had been there since 8:00 am and had been kiting but not yet flown. The wind was a little light and blowing from the south. I walked up the south bench a little and could see the bald eagles soaring further down the coast. The wind was light at launch but looked to be stronger along the bluff. I got out my glider, kited it, walked up the bench and flew off. Time 11:05. I love it when you just turn up and fly. I hugged the bluff and started to rise. As I flew down the coast and got a little higher the lift got stronger. I was surprised to find myself about 450-500 feet over the bluff. Almost to cloud base! I got out to just before the point at the lagoon and turned back. Derek had unfortunately managed to put his glider into some cactus bushes on the south bench whilst walking up it and was still struggling to get it freed. I started to fly back north to the launch thinking I would be motoring but I wasn’t going much faster. Hmmm. Why was that?. I should have known, but it didn’t occur to me at the time. Anyway, time for speed bar. I noticed my speed bar had got tangled in my stirrup and wasn’t fully functional. Not a good sign. Anyway I managed to get back to the launch and decided to come down and fix the stirrup.

Got that fixed and was hoping to take off again. Derek had got his glider free by this time and was trying to kite it without luck at the south bench! Huh. That’s strange we thought. So we walked up to the crest of the slight hill in the middle of the launch zone to find the wind now coming from the NW. Ah…the wind had switched when I was in flight, thus the reason for my slow return. Doh!.

Anyway we took off north and I flew to the lighthouse and back and then up and down the coast aways a few times before landing. The wind was getting lighter and it turned off around 12:00pm. It didn’t turn back on again until 2:00pm. But it was on from then until I left at 4:00pm. “El Diablo” had come out to play too so we flew together for quite a while at one point getting a Red Tail hawk blocked off between our gliders and I’m glad the hawk took Jim’s path to escape as it flew out with the bird’s wing hitting his!.

All in all a great day. Hopefully with more notice some of you can make it out there soon. It may be back on at the weekend, looking like Sunday, although it could be a tad strong.

And if you want to know my secret, apart from linsider info from Jim, I also use MM5, Smith Island data and the fantastic weather site links available at TJ Olney’s home page..

Friday, December 7, 2007

Prez-Sez, November, 2007

Let me start off with an apology for total radio silence in November – I skipped a Prez Sez, and I was going to re-use a famous prior Prez Sez by once President Gordon Grice (back in 2004? Anyone remember it ?) but thought better of it… anyway, suffice to say I’ve been very busy with work, and other indoor pursuits – not a bad thing for this time of year and the kind of weather we’ve been experiencing… haven’t flown since Chelan ! 6 weeks and counting ! Agghghgh ! Hats off to all you brave souls that have continued to get air-time in amongst the rain, snow and gale-force winds… Brrrr !

This will also be my last Prez Sez, as we near completion of our annual Election cycle (have you VOTED yet ?) and I’ve decided not to stand as a candidate for the 2008 BOD. While the events surrounding the disruption of the 2007 BOD have been (seemingly endlessly) discussed and for the most part put behind us, I have decided not to skip this opportunity to make a final comment and some observations. There are, I believe, some incidents that ought not to go without something being said about them. Sweeping unacceptable statements and behavior under the rug isn’t an approach I support - that leads to a false sense that those actions have been excused, or at least forgotten, i.e. accepted, which by their very definition, they have not. Of course, we all have our personal perspectives on reality, but when there is clear upset and disjoint within any community, that isn’t a good thing. Moves that perpetuate that kind of unpleasant environment, through intolerance of differing approaches, false accusations and insinuations or simply disrespecting honestly earned success, ought to be called out and blocked. ‘nuff said.

Now we look to a New Year and a newly elected BOD for 2008. If you haven’t done so already – please VOTE! in the next 24 hours ! Voting closes tomorrow, Dec 8th for the NWPC 2008 BOD. Thanks to all those who have volunteered to stand for election to next year’s BOD ! Show them your support by voting, please. And don’t miss the Final Club Meeting of 2007 – Tuesday December 11th 7pm, as always at our friendly Pogachas in Issaquah, where the results will be reported and the 2008 Club Officers will be announced. (I regret that I won’t be there to congratulate them – whisked away on travel for work again next week… gotta pay the bills J !).

And now on to the really fun stuff… or as much fun as you can have without flying anyway… If you haven’t been closely following the great work that our oh-so-special para-maniac Iain “Frewsy” Frew has been doing lately, you might have missed his generous contribution to the wonderful world of para-photography (click here at your own risk !) Thank goodness this is in the “People” and not the “Manipulated” Category… Anyway, this is our annual (now 3rd !) NWPC Media Awards and Iain is running it this year, but we need LOTS of submissions to make it really worthwhile. I doubt there is a single reader without at least one picture to send in – so click here, click “new email” (near top left of your monitor somewhere) and send something in. I’m sure you could do it in the next 60 seconds ! go on - do it ! I challenge ya !

2007 NWPC Media Awards Winners will be announced and awards presented at the Annual NWPC Awards Gala ! Our wonderful Para-Divas Cheryl and Amy (and others) are engineering a fun evening for January 4th 2008 (7pm) at the Bellevue Convention Center. Invitations and details will go out soon by e-vite so save the date (another quick click on your calendar – do it now !) and join everyone for the evening. As always, there will be cool videos, para-photography, awards and music, a great meal, cash-bar and you even dress nice ! bring a date, bring three, wear a tie or your best hiking boots, just plan on being there !

See you all in 2008 at the Gala !