Today we once again had a TAT with a 3:30 minimum. Turnpoints were Hamilton (30 miles) to the north, then back south to Moursund (25 miles) then west to Mason (20 miles) and a short run east to Llano. I appreciated the task as the north/south of the first two legs was more or less crosswind, then a downwind run to the last cylinder with only a short headwind run at the end.
I once again started first. Frank Paynter said this morning in his winning speech that the best strategy is to start out the upwind side of the cylinder at max height. Well I was 500 below max height but right on the east side of the cylinder. Not bad, I thought. The run up to the Hamilton Cylinder was not too bad although the cu field was sort of forming as I flew along so I didn’t have a lot of clouds. As a result I was fairly low for most of the run but always able to find a good thermal when I needed it. One nice side effect of this low-ish run was the wind was more southerly down low so my speed was good.
As if I had really planned this out I got a great climb just into the Hamilton cylinder and was now up high were the wind was more cross. If only I could stay up here, I thought, I could keep the speed up back to the south. So, I pretty much did! I did get low once near Burnet but found a great core, once again marked by vultures, and then continued towards Marble Falls. I went into the Moursund cylinder a little ways as I wanted to maximize my time spend on that downwind run to make my speed really unbeatable. As I went into the turnpoint I was averaging around 42 mph raw, 64 handicapped.
Turning downwind was a blast. Every cloud was working and I mostly just pulled up in the lift. I did stop for a booming thermal straight south of Llano that took me to 9900 feet. For a while the averager was showing 9 knots!! One problem with this great speed, though was that I entered the last cylinder with 30 minutes remaining but was only 11 miles from Llano. No worries, I would just run about another 10 miles in, get good and high again as I had many times that day and have a straight glide back to Llano.
Well I made it the next 10 miles in the cylinder but the climb never came. Oh well there were still plenty of clouds so I would just start working my back. It became obvious right away that I was now going to be way over time but I wasn’t sweating it. For the last 3 days I have many times been low and flown right into a 5 knot thermal. Well it seemed that the 5 knot thermals were done for the day. Occasionally I would find 3 knots but sometimes 2 was all I could do. I kept trending lower and lower, taking a short climb then gliding a few miles. I was slowly closing the gap on the airport but the trend was not in the right direction. I started to hear a lot of other pilots on the radio calling their finishes.
The last 4 miles into the airport are pretty rough and I was over a nice looking pasture at about 2000 AGL. Off over the trees I went, hoping for something up. I got about a mile or so and still nothing. My only option for landing was the pasture behind me. The few fields west of town were out of range to the south and the one other pasture I had seen from a distance was full of cows. So back around I went. As I turned west I see TA, Frank Paynter, heading in for his finish. The PowerFlarm tells me he is 600 feet above me. Right after he calls his 4 miles I tell him I’m likely landing out. No lucky saves here, I am on downwind. Frank calls back asking me to confirm landing out and by then I am on base leg.
The pasture was nice enough with a few power lines that were easily avoidable and some slope but the Cherokee and I came to a complete stop no worse for the wear. I made a quick call to Frank and whoever was listening that we were OK and then started gathering info for the retrieve desk. That process went very smoothly and Leah and Dean showed up after not too long of a wait. I found the only pasture in Texas that isn’t padlocked shut. No gate into the driveway and the gate into pasture from the house was open! We were out of there in about a half an hour and made it to supper with the group from Houston. Lots of fun!
Frank once again won the day, handily whipping the rest of the field. I guess all those contests flown this year have paid off. Too bad he didn’t stick with his first day landout tradition…:)
All in all I was very happy with my flight. I flew right around 160 miles and besides not finishing it was statistically fantastic. My circling percentage on task was 31%, as low as I can recall in the Cherokee. Even with the struggling for the last hour trying to work into the wind my average speed on task was 40 mph. Up until turning back into the wind I was averaging 45. Not bad for an old wooden glider!
That is all from me tonight. Back in the ring for another round tomorrow.