Wings Over Whidbey

Today was a great day flying at Whidbey once the winds died down just a tad from their more forceful morning gusts.  I arrived around 12:30 in the afternoon to find that there were maybe 25 pilots either scattered about the launch area, else huddled in masses for warmth.  Believing that it would take a while for the winds to calm, I went for a hike to the North towards lake Pondilla and back.  When I returned, it was closer to flying conditions, but still quite strong for me.

At one point while trying to kite, I asked Jim Martin for some pointers with launching in the higher winds, as he had been up and down with several flights already that day.  Despite some comments that he was a rather large fellow flying on a smaller “girls” wing, the truth is that he was flying while the rest of us mostly stood around and watched.  Jim helped me out by suggesting I not even hold the brakes, but instead just use the D’s as sparingly as possible, and that I keep my butt on the ground longer rather than standing up when the wind pulls me forward.  My first attempt in the higher winds was less than admirable, and he said that I might do better if I were blindfolded and just felt the wing rather than looking at it.  I was not sure if that was a commentary on my poor performance, or if he was about to go Obe-Wan-Kenobe on me by pulling a visor over my head.

Fortunately it didn’t come to that, and his advice and coaching was highly valuable and quickly put to use on my next try.  I got the wing over head by staying on my butt as long as I could, allowing my tush to be dragged rather than standing up with the pull of the wing.  Then, still kiting from my keister, a gust came that took me to my feet and then airborne.  Thanks to Jim’s coaching, I was able to remain in the reverse position rather than being twisted forwards like so often happened before with me.

Whereas I might have merely kited for a while before going over the edge of the cliff with the tide in so far, Jim then pushed me forward through the air, into the lift-band and at long last I was airborne again for my first flight of the year.  This is only significant because just one week earlier I made a hike up Tiger mountain with my wing later in the day over a snow and ice covered trail because I was so desperate for a flight.  But by the time I got up top, the still-air experienced by those who flew earlier had turned katabatic, forcing me to hike back down again over snow and ice covered trails and in the dark.  So I was definitely ready for this flight on Whidbey. 

Once airborne, staying aloft was quite easy and I made multiple trips up and down the coastline, making sure to keep myself up and away from the top of the ridge despite my discomfort with flying over the ocean.  I had learned the importance of doing so during a previous trip to Whidbey last year when I managed to get a little too high and got blown backwards well over the trees.  In that flight, I was extremely lucky to have sunk low enough with big-ears and penetrated forward enough to have narrowly escaped landing atop one of Whidbey’s very tall and pointy trees.

No, this flight was far more mundane by comparison with the exception of when one pilot whose name shall go unmentioned wanted to fly with our wingtips way too close for my comfort and kept following me to the South as I tried to move away.  Other than that, I was airborne for probably 45 minutes of pure joy up until it was time to land.  However, between the rotor on the south end of the field, many people milling around, some gliders spread out in piles, and many others over people’s head as they continued kiting,  my approach on final was more like a three-dimensional game of Tetris than a runway. 

Fourteen winds laid out for launch.
Image © 2007, Dan A. Nelson

And once on the ground, the trick was to find a wind-sheltered spot that wasn’t covered in poop where I could fold the glider.  Fortunately, most of the poop was surrounded by circles of rocks, making the piles easier to see.  What I don’t understand is why dogs that have been trained to poop inside those tiny circles can’t learn to go directly into a plastic bag, but that’s another story that’s probably been visited more than once already.

So was it worth the almost two hour drive both ways for just 45 minutes of flying today?  Well, when you factor in the time spent with so many of my fellow pilots, landing right around the time that the sun set to the west with a barely visible sliver of the moon on the east, learning a few things from some generous coaching, and just the chance to shake the dust from my wing, yes, it was definitely worth it.

Sunset soaring at The Fort.
Image © 2007, Dan A. Nelson

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