Monday, April 2, 2012

Flying Irish at Oceanside

Flying Irish at Oceanside
(March 17 & 18, 2012)
John Kraske

Maxwell launch is the bare area in the upper right corner of this photo.
That’s Kathy’s finger tip in the upper left corner
  Photo by Kathy Nesen shooting towards the northwest.
Saturday, March 17Weatherunderground predicted 100% chance of rain and thunderstorms for the Oregon Coast on Saturday, March 17th.  Ain’t it just like the Irish to bring the weekend in with a splash.   Sunday the forecast looked better with variable light winds early, 60% chance of rain with a southwest push picking up in the afternoon.  With the chaos of spring approaching, more often than not the weather instability produces good squall surfing[1] along the Oregon Coast.  In the past I’ve been optimistic when the forecasters predict sixty-percent chance of rain with an onshore flow, one of the numerous Tillamook County coastal sites will probably work.   

[1] Squall Surfing: A coastal approach to foot launch free flight (Hang Gliding or Paragliding) where the pilot on his/her choice of soaring vehicle launches into an on-shore flow of wind that is generated by an energy cell that forms off-shore and that flyer rides the lift generated by that off-shore energy source as it comes into contact with a relatively vertical land form such as a cliff or sand dune.

Note of caution: Normally as the cell approaches it pushes wind in front of it.  Always check your penetration and if you see white caps, land.  I often carry a yard waste bag in my harness to stuff my gear in once I’m on the deck.
The Merriam-Webster Dictionary Definitions

Squall:  n:  a sudden violent gust of wind often with rain or snow.

Surfing: vb: to ride the surf, as if on a surfboard.

While in Beaverton, I called Dave Cantrell in the morning on Saturday, early enough that I thought I might be the one to rattle him outa the sack.  Nope, he was already up.  He checked different weather web-sites, including the Oceanside beach cam.  He called back with a much more positive outlook than I had. He’d alert the Stump Town paragliding community and would be bolting for the beach asap. 

When Kathy and I arrived four wings, lead by Dave, were soaring above Oceanside, heading for Happy Camp.  Off shore to the south and west a wet gray squall seemed headed our way. I put peddle to the metal. 

We bustled into our flying gear.  It was cold and a five mph wind was teasing the launch but the approaching squall promised more velocity.   I lost my car keys and agonized about that for awhile.  We searched.  No luck.  “Oh well, I’ve got a spare.”  We laid out and hooked in.  Ain’t it just like March and Murphy’s Law to conjure up a huge squall to send us hell bent for cover. First the wind cranked up, then the rain and hail pounded down on Maxwell Mountain.  Luck of the Irish, my ass.  It was Saint Patrick’s Day, after all.  I’m not Irish and Kathy wasn’t wearing green.  We took shelter in the car where I thought I should pinch Kathy for not wearing green, thought better of it and drove to Kathy’s cabin to unload and put away the fresh produce we bought on the way in to town.

From the cabin we went for lunch at Brewing in The Wind, formerly the Anchor Inn.  We radioed Dave Cantrell encouraging him and the other pilots to join us.  Dave opted to wait on launch for another window of opportunity.  Out over the ocean it looked brighter further to the west.  Maybe it would be clearing but it was still pretty gray and wet looking. 

After lunch we drove up to launch.  Dave Cantrell, Alan Flemming and a few other Portland pilots were still waiting for that window of opportunity, and it seemed to me more was on the way; cells of virga lined the horizon like an approaching army, massing for an invasion.  The winds were straight in but just a little light as Kathy and I set up.  The wind velocity grew a wee bit, but apparently not enough to encourage anyone to launch.  Being less than optimistic and somewhat impatient, I suggested to Kathy that we could at least go for a sled ride.  We launched and were able to eke out enough lift to get above launch.  Soon more gliders were joining us.  After about a half hour of cruising back and forth Kathy wanted to do a spiral dive.  We flew out over the ocean and spiraled, landed and caught a ride back up.

The wind had picked up and this time we were much more optimistic.  Up we went.  We attempted to top land a few times but the air was so dense and the wind on launch so light we couldn’t quite get our landing gear down before flying away from launch.  Several pilots had flown down to Happy Camp.  Kathy and I opted to probe north and worked the bowl around the north of launch, back up over the highway to a point to where we could see Tillamook Bay to the east.  We tagged Cape Meares.  Out on the northwest horizon a huge squall had formed and neither of us could determine if it was moving or not, and if it was, what course it was on.  It looked big and full of energy, and I wondered if it would produce a micro-blast that might blow us back-ass-ward. We decided to play it safe and worked our way south, back towards Maxwell and farther from the dark gray ominous beast looming off-shore. We few over Short Beach cove, Lost Boy Beach cove, and Tunnel Beach on the north side of Maxwell Head.  The air was so smooth and dense we set up a top landing, beginning our final from the north side of Maxwell, cutting between a gap in the trees behind launch. Wet didn’t quite touch down, and flew away towards the Three Arches again.    We banked to the south and soared the house fronts south of launch when out of nowhere the bottom dropped out, we sank as if we were in a runaway elevator. I immediately looked up.  Our wing was still overhead and seemed to be flying, it just felt soft with no energy. We were flying but loosing altitude fast, almost as if something had mysteriously rendered our wing into a non-flying, softly falling entity.  The only thing I could figure was the squall to the north of us had dictated a severe wind shift and we were experiencing rotor.  We were beach bound, or so it seemed.  Just above Rosanna’s our ground speed confirmed the wind direction shift and our sink-factor diminished and we once again were on glide, our wing responding as it should, passing over the beach front homes, tracking fast to the south.  We flew towards Happy Camp where, if we were lucky, might be able to get some lift on the northwest facing ridge just north of Netarts.  It wasn’t there.  We scratched back towards Oceanside with the dunes face on our right, the beach and sea on our left.  It was hard going and the squall generated northwest wind just wasn’t going to let us advance.  We landed on the beach and were immediately picked off our feet by a strong gust and were dragged, laughing and kicking to the southeast, with a large wild looking creek looming in our path.  I did my best to steer the wing to prevent us from hitting any of the scattered boulders in our projected pathway. As we cut fresh tracks in the forgiving, not quite dry sand we miraculously managed to avoid the chair sized boulders.  There were many beach walkers enjoying the beach, who seemed somewhat mystified at what new sport they were witnessing.  “Sand Boarding” comes to mind, or maybe “Sand Dragging”.    Kathy wasn’t too concerned as her helmet had slipped down over her eyes, totally obstructing her vision. She missed witnessing how quickly the boulders we barely missed as sped by.  I guess she figured me to be a master of wind powered sand dragging.  God knows I’ve had lots of practice.  Kathy might have had a different opinion had she seen the boulders flying by us barely by inches.  Silly woman trusted me.  Little did she know that my laughter was a form of emotional relief from having scarcely missed slamming into a single one of the multitudes of boulders that whizzed by in our hyper-drag-race towards the raging creek. Eventually I was able to get my left hand free of the brake toggle and pull in on the right risers, wrangling all thirty-eight square meters of riotous, spinning and twisting wing to a stop just short of the creek that was raging a course to the bay.  We got Kathy unclipped and she sat on the wing.  We bagged our gear and hiked to the road.  Greg, a non pilot, picked us up along the roadside.  Greg told of us his engagement to Kathy who works at Rosanna’s.  Like Kathy and me, Greg and his Kathy would be getting married in Oceanside.  He just hadn’t popped the question yet, but he had a plan.  We told him about our Easter-bunny engagement of last Spring.  He dropped us at the launch and we all wished each other luck and wellness.  He declined my offer for a tandem ride.  “I’ll stay on the ground.” He declined and drove away.

A cold day above Oceanside Looking South towards Netarts Bay and Cape Lookout
Note the squall to the southeast of Cape Lookout
Photo by Kathy Nesen

Sunday, March 18:  We slept in until 9:30. Stiff and sore from the previous day’s dragging adventure, we managed to get up and stretch and move our aching bodies into a relative degree of functionality.  Stiff, sore and hungry, I discovered we had no olive oil or chili powder in the cabin for the veggie scramble we both craved. I slipped into my foul weather gear and booked into Netarts to the little store for supplies.  The entire coast was draped in gray and very wet looking.  No sooner had I gotten on the road and it started snowing - flakes the size of half dollars.  All the way to the store and back again it was blizzard like conditions.  It sure was pretty though. All hope of paragliding was thoroughly dashed.  The sky was thick and it looked to me like it’d be a wet Sunday; an indoor day.  The west slope of the Coast Range was all white and draped in thick gray cloud.

By two o’clock white cotton ball cummies hung over the bright blue Pacific.  By the time Kathy and I got to launch a hang glider was soaring and a few bag pilots were setting up.  The wind looked not quite straight in. A wind tail someone had put up at the southwest corner of launch was even showing a little cross from the left or south, and looked to be about six or seven miles per hour.  One bag pilot attempted to pull his wing up but his launch was stifled when his wing swung a few points to the west-northwest.  “Hmmm?” I thought, “Apparently the trees out front were funneling the ground wind to make the flow look straight in.  It obviously wasn’t.  Kathy and I set up, hooked in.  Way out on the horizon a cell was building and promised more wind to come.  I muffed a couple tries to aggressively pull up.  Apparently I’d set my tandem up in light rotor.  When I told Kathy to run and I lifted my A’s all I did was drag my wing through the gravel.  We set up on the slope.  This time, when I said, “Go!” our wing energized, came softly overhead and turned a few degrees to our right.

“Walk up hill.” I instructed Kathy.  We waltzed up under the wing as the wind increased slightly.  “Run to your right, to the rocks (meaning the Three Arches, just off-shore)!” I yelled.  Kathy dove toward the Three Arches and we soared off to our right and hit a broad strong band of lift and soon found ourselves three-hundred feet over launch with lots of options at our disposal. We could soar to the north or the south, or we could just work the lift until we got really high then work the ridges east of the town or possibly east of Maxwell. The air was thick, cold and dense. The sky was getting bluer and bluer. The off-shore cell looked like it would pass to the south of us and funnel up Netarts Bay.  It didn’t quite make it to Netarts Bay, but was deflected to the east by the southern face of Cape Lookout. Our ground speed seemed to be greater running south than it was running to the north.  We probably should have stayed to the north of launch, worked the lift band and direction our course to the north as we did on Saturday, But we decided to test our luck running towards Happy Camp and Netarts Bay.  It was pretty obvious the push was from the west-northwest giving us a pretty fast track towards Happy Camp.  Just to test this theory I tucked into the bowl above the sewage treatment plant and confirmed the wind direction and nursed out some good altitude working the northwest facing cliff face.  It was fun demonstrating for Kathy how to use the variable facing cliffs in conjunction with the wind directions.  From the sewage plant we worked our way south along the varied height and angled pine shrouded dunes.  At the mouth of Netarts Bay, where the dunes take a turn to the east the lift was gone with west by northwest wind being too cross to create lift.  We headed back to the north and the sewage plant, or maybe a landing on the beach.  At the sewage plant we gained enough altitude to be almost even with Maxwell Launch, Five-hundred feet above the beach.  We found nice smooth conditions up over the town and worked our way almost to the highest ridge back behind the homes.  I’ve ever been that deep behind the town before.  I did keep my eye on Maxwell Point as we headed in that direction thinking to stay lined up with the gap between the Three Arches and Maxwell Point, anticipating that would be the cleanest air flow should the wind clock around any more to the northwest. I was hoping to maintain enough altitude to work our way around the point to the west by northwest facing bowl on the north side of Maxwell Head.  I didn’t want anything to do with the south side of Maxwell Point. I was convinced there’d be rotor much like we’d experienced the day before when the squall driven winds from the northwest rotored the bottom out from under us as we soared just off to the south of launch.

It took us two tries, running back and forth from the sewage plant.  I almost opted to land out in front of Rosanna’s on our first attempt, but managed to pull off a low altitude save just to the north of the sewage plant, where the road into Oceanside comes to a Y.  From this point we were able to sneak around the corner and work the northwest facing ridge that borders the sewage plant to the south. We were able to get pretty high up and back over the town again.  Our second attempt to fly upwind from behind the sewage plant to Maxwell Head I opened up the trim tabs, flew out over the beach and then the surf, then tacked back towards Maxwell Head and around the western tip of the head. I was hoping the wind direction would give us some lift and we’d be able to work our way back to the launch, top land and retrieve our car.  Nope, no lift on the northwest bowl of Maxwell Head.  I reversed our track, considered landing to the north of Maxwell Head, on Tunnel Beach.  I stayed our course and ran cross wind to the south.  At the point of Maxwell Head we caught a little lift. ‘Hmmmm?’ Apparently the wind had clocked back around to the west. I set a forty-five degree angle towards the beach parking lot, banked hard to the west over Rosanna’s and touched down on the wet sand. I yelled out for Kathy to run hard forward to dry sand.  She’s the best!  We dropped the wing in the dry sand, high-fived, hugged and laughed.  What a day!

In retrospect: Regardless of the wind direction, squalls will always push wind in front of them.  It’s important to watch the pattern and travel of the squalls and time your launch with plenty of distance between you and the approaching cell.  Watch the water surface for tell-tail wind waves (whitecaps).  Give yourself ample time to land and prepare for what will be a high probability of wet.  This is when the squall has arrived.  More than likely the wind will have gone by and rain will be coming straight down. I believe that the falling rain creates friction that effects the wind like a vertical wall of energy. If there’s more than one squall cell in close proximity you could experience both wind and rain.  More often than not this is not the case.  Once the squall has passed by the prevailing wind will once again be present.  On both of these days that Kathy and I flew, the prevailing wind from the west was relatively light.  What gave us enough wind velocity was the wind being generated by the squalls forming offshore.  The larger the squall the higher the wind seemed to be.  On Saturday, when we had flown to Cape Meares the off-shore cell to the northwest was obviously what created the wind switch that rotored us and pushed us towards Happy Camp to the south.  Once the energy of that cell had dissipated – when we had flown to the north side of Maxwell Head – the light velocity prevailing westerlies kicked in again.  That’s what created the lift off the west point of Maxwell Head.  As Kathy and I set up to land over Rosanna’s there was a pilot on the beach holding a long pole with a ribbon that was showing slight cross from the west.  Once we were on the beach the same ribbon was showing straight in from the west.  These are all the elements one should consider when “Squall Surfing”.  The more powerful the squall the stronger the wind out in front of it will be.  Most likely the wind from the larger approaching squall is going to dictate the direction of the wind it is pushing.  It could come from the south, southwest, west, northwest.  I suppose we could call these variable gust factors. Be aware.

Another factor that I’ve seen newer pilots make is to not consider “air density”.  I’ve seen this time and again when flying the Oregon Coast.  It seems that pilots sit and wait for a particular velocity of wind as if one can only get above launch if the wind is 8-10 mph.  Kathy and I launched on our first flight on Saturday when the wind was only about 5 mph.  “Air Density” is a huge factor.  The colder the air, the denser the air.  Consider and a quart sized hunk of ice and compare it to a quart of boiling water. Try pushing your finger into the ice.  Doesn’t work, it’s too dense.  Don’t push your finger in the boiling water, us a stick, ya don’t wanna burn yourself.  Not a fair test? Okay push a stick into the ice and then push it into the boiling water.  That’s fair. A good analogy of density? 

 The ocean off Oregon has averaged about two degrees cooler than normal this year.  ‘Hmmmm?’  Anybody wonder how that might effect the air?

So, how else might cold air (dense air) effect us in footlaunch flight?  Think “Wind Gradient”.  It’s been my experience that the velocity as you ascend is less on a cold day than it is on a warm day.  Could it be that the more dense the air is the more resistant it is?  Could it be that friction is created by density?  


The annual Oceanside Fly-In is coming up next month. This year it’s the 28th and 29th; the last weekend of April.  It’s a whole lot of fun.  Saint Patrick’s Day weekend was forecast to be 100% chance of rain on Saturday and 60% chance of rain on Sunday. Kathy and I flew both afternoons.  When I consider the verbiage “100% chance, and 60% chance” I suppose the Weatherunderground forecasters were right after all.  It rained both days.  Not all day long though.  I’ve missed very few Oceanside Fly-Ins over the years.  I’ve flown at least one of the two days, if not both, every year I’ve attended.  It’s the longest running foot launch free flight event in the Pacific Northwest and there’s a 100% chance I’ll be there this year too.