Flying Irish at
(March 17 & 18, 2012)
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 17: Weatherunderground predicted 100% chance of rain and thunderstorms for the
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
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 Oregon Coast
coastal sites will probably work. Tillamook County
 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.
, 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 Beaverton
beach cam. He called back with a much
more positive outlook than I had. He’d alert the Oceanside
paragliding community and would be bolting for the beach asap. Stump Town
When Kathy and I arrived four wings, lead by Dave, were soaring above
heading for Happy Camp. Off shore to the
south and west a wet gray squall seemed headed our way. I put peddle to the
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
. 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
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. Portland
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 . 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 Cape Meares 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. Oceanside
A cold day above Oceanside Looking South towards
Note the squall to the southeast of
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 was all white and
draped in thick gray cloud. Coast
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.
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
. 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! Tunnel Beach
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
. 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? Oregon
The ocean off
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.