13 May 2006

São Paulo State Championship

Feeling good in goal

The São Paulo State Championship or Campeonato Paulista, a 2-day competition, started on 6 May. Most of the best Brazilian pilots are from São Paulo so this felt more like a mini Worlds or something. Plus Brazil has some solid pilots that the rest of the World hasn't heard about because they never leave Brazil. And why would they... they developed within a country with the most varied flying conditions that I know of, and are influenced/inspired by some of the best pilots in the World: Betinho Schmitz, Nenê Rotor, Andre Wolf, and the Niemeyer brothers, to name a few.

Task 1

A light blue day encouraged the task committee to call a 55km straight-line task to an airport, with an expected initial tailwind and final headwind near goal.

With the light conditions nobody wanted to launch first. I had been ready on the North (low) side for more than 10min, waiting and watching. Some of the top guys came up to me and said that we should all launch together, but nobody wanted to be first. I've watched this movie before, I thought to myself. A few minutes went by, and I was still watching, waiting, smelling... suddenly the streamers started to move in a certain way, and the air developed a familiar taste that I just couldn't resist. Before I realized what was happening, I was running along the shallow grassy slopes of Pico do Gavião. The North launch reminds me a lot of Cochrane Hill, timing is really important, so are birds. A bird appeared out front and soon I was climbing steadily, if a little slowly, above launch.

When I saw the chaos that followed on launch, as 40 pilots divided between the South and North launch, suddenly all wanted to launch on the North side and -now-, I couldn't help but laugh.

Carlinhos Niemeyer did launch behind me as he said he would and soon we were climbing together and working our way towards the startgate.

Here in Brazil, pilots fly like men... they play loud music at launch, there is only one startgate, no turn direction, and nobody bitches!

Conditions were light, but with the light tailwind, it wasn't so bad. Closer to goal things became difficult as the 10km/h tail became the same, but head.

In what should have been the last thermal, we were climbing very slowly, I was opposite Carlinhos, with Nenê and Máscara just below us. I left first with very marginal numbers and hoped for neutral air. Everyone left with me, which was perfect, because if I didn't make it, they wouldn't either. Things looked good at first but then 4km from goal I hit some sink as I glided over a large sugarcane plantation that sloped down towards a river. Carlos and I found something to stay in the air with, but Nenê and Máscara couldn't seem to stay in the super light thermal. They lost height on us very slowly... we were turning for so long, and then suddenly they both flared! Carlos and I drew more circle art in the air and limped the last 4km over the river and into the airport. We made it in, but during our near landing, a few pilots that were spectating all day passed over our heads. Our leading bonuses helped somewhat to neutralize our penalty, though.

Task 2

This time we had clouds, a good base, and decent climbs. A 75km zig-zag thing with 2 turnpoints, ending with goal at the same airport as the previous day.

I launched first again, on the North side, and nearly landed; a couple of other pilots that launched after me did, including Brazil's new hot pilot Michel Louzada. But nearly landing, is as good as not landing.

The short convergence lines were scream'n but the soft spots that we had to get through were patience challenging. Again we had a tailwind, ending with a headwind.

About 25km from goal, the clouds stopped and the there was high overcast. I had been watching the horrible plot unfold so I slowed down for a full climb at the last cloud and left gliding at max glide. The lead gaggle was about 3min ahead of me after I detoured to a dud cloud earlier, but it was not the time to try something smartass to catch up. There was one last cumulus 15km from goal, but as I glided conservatively towards it, it fell apart. Later I found out that Nenê and Máscara were also watching that same cloud.

For some time after my last climb, the air was favourable, probably due to the converging winds, and for minutes my glide angle to goal was improving. From a 19:1 it improved to a 14:1, and I knew that if this trend continued, I would have goal at around 11:1. But there is always one last challenge, right?

10km from goal the ground was deep in shade and now that I was lower, I could feel the full strength of the headwind. A gaggle of urubus formed, which I joined, and was surprised to find myself climbing. But the wind was repelling me away from goal and away from satisfaction. During these long waiting periods, trying everything and trying so hard for so long, you really start to -want- goal in a more intense way. Everytime I looked forward to that airstrip, only 10km away, I wanted it even more. It was frustrating to be so close, and yet all my experience and all my glider wasn't enough to overcome the cool wind, dressed in shade.

There were so many vultures, too many to count, possibly this was the only thermal in miles. I was drifting away from goal, but with one eye fixated on my glide ratio to goal readout, I could see that things were improving. Then... the high cloud began to break apart slightly, and hope returned. Within minutes I felt a weak surge reach through the column of air supporting me and my bird friends aloft. It didn't last long but it was enough to strengthen my position to a 13.5:1.

I pulled every last inch of VG cord, tucked my arms, held my head low, and pointed for goal. Quickly I realized that I still couldn't make it, but maybe I'd at least make it across the river. After the river, the ground rose again to goal. The downward moving headwind would rob my glide and suppress any thermal, all I could hope for was to make it across the murky river and flare on the opposite banks.

As I was gliding directly over the middle of the river... I hit a thermal. I couldn't believe it. It was light but cohesive, and despite the headwind I could feel immediately that it would get me to goal. All the tension of the last hour was released, and as I smiled and teared, I watched the horizon drop away, and bid farewell to that slow-moving muddy river, from so so low!

I can't remember if I've ever turned in lift 2km from goal before, but I have now. Left with an 8:1, which looks pretty flat from so close, and made it in semi-comfortably. As I flew over the hangar I first saw that nobody else was behind it. I had won the day, and won the meet!

I came into land on the red dirt airstrip, and only the goal marshal and a few spectators were there. It was late in the day, the strip pointed to the West, the wind was from the West, and the Sun was setting in the West. I pulled my VG on and dove down to the ground, skimming and floating along the strip. I could see the dust in the air, lit by the low sun melting into the horizon, and the tall grass along the sides, waving in the breeze. I reached down to touch the warm ground and... the moment was perfect. I was experiencing it intensely in the present, but at the same time it was already a memory... a postcard picture from Brett's life. This was one of those perfect moments... absolutely perfect. A full proud flare and I was still on the ground, surrounded by golden light and the warm breeze. I looked at my right fingertips, now stained with red dirt, and thought... this is it.

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