I'm writing this from my home in Columbus, Ohio on Sunday night, after dropping my trailer off at M&H for its annual 'spiff up'. We did get a day in on Saturday, and it was another weak, blue day, but fun! CD Erik Mann called a "long MAT" that was originally set at 2.5 hours, but was backed off to 2 hours because we weren't able to get decent climbs until well after 1pm (and by 'decent', I mean anything over 3000'' agl). The "long MAT" format is a good match for weak blue conditions, for two very good reasons:
- Turnpoint radius is 1 mile, and all gliders have to do the same turnpoints in the same order, so there is much more opportunity for cooperative flying. Properly designed, the task is 'one-way', with little/no possibility of opposite-direction traffic.
- The design of the task is such that it is almost impossible to accomplish all turnpoints in the minimum time, and no turnpoint is very far from the home field. Pilots can decide how many or how few turnpoints they wish to achieve before returning home, and as long as they meet the minimum distance requirement, they will receive 'speed' points (of course, returning under minimum time will cause the calculated speed to be reduced).
By gate opening time, we were all barely getting above 3500' msl, but off we went into the blue. Out on course thermals seemed to be reasonably plentiful, although weak. There were a few good 3-4 kt average climbs to above 4000' msl, but most were more like 1-2 kt to 3500' msl or below. For once I managed to fly with a group for more than 30 seconds, and was able to spot other gaggles down track. I arrived at the second (upwind) turnpoint with a small group, but low. There was a nice gaggle just on the near (downwind) side of the 1-mile circle, so I thought I'd be clever and go into the circle first, and then climb with the gaggle afterwards. As luck would have it though, I couldn't find the thermal underneath the gaggle, although the other gliders were only a couple hundred feet above me - rats! Fortunately, as I was wandering around trying to figure out what to do, I stumbled into another core, and this one turned out to be my best climb of the day. It's a wonderful feeling when you have found a new strong thermal near an established gaggle, and see that you are out climbing them - a LOT! ;-). I kept waiting for someone in the other gaggle to notice, and finally Mike Smith (XM) did. When he peeled off and came over, it was like he was pulling a string of about 6 gliders along with him, as they all unwound from their gaggle and wound up into my "gaggle of one".
At the end of the day, almost all the gliders that actually got out on course made it around, at least enough for speed points. I had the pleasure (and education) of flying with day winner Baud Litt (LBL) most of the day, and was just able to keep up with his standard class LS-8 in my 15 meter class Ventus 2bx. The last turnpoint that we both achieved was 03 Biglerville, about 18 miles north (downwind) of Fairfield. At this point Baud and I both had gotten into the turnpoint circle, but we weren't quite at final glide altitude. We were both climbing in about 1.5-2 kt and I was watching Baud to see when he is going to leave, because he knows the area a lot better than I do. Baud seemed content to continue climbing in a weakening thermal, even after we were (slightly) above final glide, and it occured to me that he must know something about this last leg that was giving him cause for worry. Finally I had about 400' of margin over the 1-mile finish altitude at MC 3.0 and left, even though Baud was still climbing. For the first 10 miles or so, the glide went very nicely, even adding some margin. This encouraged me to speed up a bit (mistake!) until I noticed that my margin was decreasing faster than could be accounted for by the increased speed. Slowing up helped some, but didn't stop or reverse the margin degradation. Finally I wound up crossing the finish circle just 50' above the minimum altitude at about 45 kt - whew! Turns out Biglerville and the line from there to the airport is a known trouble area when winds are out of the south, and I was fortunate to make it back with any margin at all! As a side note; having a 1-mile radius finish with a minimum altitude of 1200' msl (about 600' agl), and a 'landout floor' at 1000' msl made what could have been a very hairy final glide into a non-event for both Baud and myself. We knew we had to have enough altitude to meet those minimums before we started, and even if I hadn't been successful in crossing above the minimum height, I was still plenty high enough to make it safely to the airport - thank you Rules Committee!