March 14 – Day 3 at the Seniors

Another great day at the Seniors, with more good weather predicted for the rest of the week.  Today the forecast was for poor conditions to the north, but great conditions down south.  Predicted 4000-4500′ cloud bases with wind from east-northeast at around 10kt.  XC skies showed lift values in the 600-700 fpm range down in the southwest corner of the soaring are.  However, XCSkies also showed 100% cloud cover over Ocala (about 50 mile to the north) at 2pm, and 100% cloud cover as far south as Seminole at 5pm – yikes!

Anyway, CD John Good called a nice task to take advantage of the southern soaring area.  First turnpoint at 07 Chalet Suzanne with a 5 mile radius (essentially a steering turn), then further south to 26 Placid Lakes with a 25-mile radius, then due west to 22 Myakka Head with a 15-mile radius, then northeast to 32 Trask with a 5- mile radius (another steering turn), then basically 45 miles due north back to Seminole.

At launch time, we were only getting to about 3500′ msl, and climbs were not at all impressive – maybe 2 to 2.5kt.   However, over the next half hour or so, conditions steadily improved to the point where we were starting to bust the max start altitude of 4120′ msl at times.  The start gate was opened around  1:30 and within 15-20 minutes the majority of the fleet was on its way.  I had the extreme good fortune to leech off of Doug Jacobs (flying John Good’s Duo Discus) for the entire run down into the Placid Lakes cylinder, and so I was treated to a seminar on advanced racing techniques for an hour or so.  The trailing glider (that would be me) has an inherent advantage in this situation, as that pilot can observe the leader and can move one way or the other to take advantage of lift and avoid sink, and also doesn’t have to pay the centering costs for thermals.  As a result the trailing glider can usually either get ahead, or above the leading glider.  Of course this is just a wee bit harder when the lead glider is being piloted by World Champion Doug Jacobs, but I did manage to hang onto his tail for the entire 74 mile run from the start down into the Placid Lakes cylinder, and even managed to get above him at the end (I pulled into a 6.1kt average climb that Doug missed, and by the time he got back to it, I was a couple of turns above him).  This was actually an unfortunate occurrence for me, as now I had to either a) shamelessly wait at the top of the thermal for Doug to lead out again, or b) lead out myself, knowing full well that would be the end of my advanced soaring seminar.  Having at least some pride, I chose (b) , and sure enough, that was the last I saw of Doug (he would go on to win the day, while I wound up 11th)

The initial southward run past Chalet to Placid Lakes was a crosswind leg, and was a bit soft in places, especially between the start and I-4 (about 20 miles).  Most pilots took it easy during this section (except for Doug, who I was sure was going to land us out at Winter Haven).  As we got further south, conditions improved steadily, and by the time we got to the end of the first leg, conditions could only be described as ‘BOOMING!’  I decided to turn early in the Placid Lakes circle, to make my second leg line up better with the wind line, and this seemed to work well (not as well as whatever Doug did, but…).   On that leg I averaged 72 mph, 28% thermalling with a 5.1kt average, and my mean L/D for the leg was 70.  I really don’t know how I could have done that any better, but at least 10 other pilots found a way ;-).

Anyway, it was a very good day at Seminole, and I personally am very grateful that champions like DJ are willing to put up with newbies like me and show us how it is done.  I wish I was somehow able to memorize that whole experience and play it all back in detail, but hopefully some of it will stick.

After flying, my adopted parents Wolf and Frauke Elber and my ‘mentee’ John Mittell (BZ) went into Clermont to a great BBQ place called the Smokehouse, and  had an excellent dinner.  On the way there, John got me to review his flight, and I was more than a little impressed.  John had a really scorching first and second leg (very nearly beating me and DJ), and if he hadn’t fallen into a hole around Trask, he would have had a very respectable score at the end of the day.  Not bad for a first-time XC racer!

After dinner we came out of the restaurant just as the sun was setting, and John happened to notice a huge thunderstorm cloud coming in from the north.  I didn’t think much of it until John remarked that he had left his glider tied out for the night – oops!  Well, he had to take me back by the airport anyway, so we de-rigged his glider by car headlights and stowed it safely away just in case.  I always put my glider back in the box, basically because I’m a coward and psychologically incapable of leaving mine out, but I did make sure my trailer was tied down.  As I write this at 10pm, I can see by the radar plot that there’s nothing scary in the area, so I guess the emergency de-rig operation wasn’t really necessary after all – sorry John ;-).

Stay tuned, more to come tomorrow!