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XC Files- The Millenium Summer Report

Here's hoping you all had a great flying summer. After a week XC in Oregon at the Lakeview fly-in with the Marshall crew, I headed back to Zimbabwe for 6 weeks. My first flight there was at "the Dyke" a ridge which runs diagonally across most of the country, scene of my first soaring flights. Cruising around at cloudbase 6000ft over the ridge put an interesting perspective on all those fun sled-rides we used to charge up and down the hill for! The need to topland prevented XC on a day which looked good for well over a hundred km's. An evening Tandem in the legendary ridge soar was a nice intro to the African sky for my girlfriend.

Next up was the Zimbabwe Paragliding Championships, delayed in April by bad weather. The gods were smiling- I finally get to go to the Nat's after missing it in my first two years. Held in the Honde Valley and at World's View in Zimbabwe's Eastern Highlands, this comp offers come of the most stunning scenery and a social atmosphere second to none. Both sites are on the edge of the Nyanga escarpment, Honde facing into the prevailing Easterly, and World's View a convergence, lee side site facing West. Both are incredibly beautiful and kick-ass sites, particularly World's View. It's only a matter of commitment and "bums in harnesses" before a huge convergence XC is made running East from here. 200-300 "plus" kilometers is definitely in the offing, but Zim seems to be one of the few countries with less active pilots than there are sites!
The escarpment, particularly at World's View, offers great flights in many directions, and also creates the convergence for which World's View is well known.

The comp had the usual mix of Zimbabwean and South African pilots, with two Americans and a New Zealander as well. The Zim Nationals this year were a CIVL Category 2 comp, and counted for points in the South African league, so quite a few of the SA pilots made the trip up, including South African number 1 and 2, Anton Naude and Johan Kritzinger. The inimitable Stefan Juncker, who is a professional clown and entertainer kept us entertained with nightly routines that had the pilots and local Selborne Club bar stalwarts in stitches. Zimbabwe's pioneering PG pilots, Barry Hunt and Andy Roberts, once again organised a great comp despite the fuel shortages which threatened to doom the event.
Most competitors camped in the big Selborne Club campsite, were well fed by the club, and generally set about having a great social time.

The First day:
As always happens in comps, the practise day was epic, with pilots reportedly flying all the way down the valley in the convergence. Morning of the first day we woke to low clouds scudding over the campsite. Not a promising start, but perseverance was rewarded as conditions looked marginally better on launch. An ambitious goal was set with 1 turn point on a spur in the valley, leaving us a hard slog into winddown the valley. The convergence of the day before never materialised. Window opened and most made the First TP, thereafter we were stopped in our tracks by a strong valley wind which put almost everyone down within a few kms of each other. The Race 2000 software awarded a "whopping" 124 points to the day, which left me in First place by a margin of 5 points!
The Second Day:
We woke to more clouds, marginally higher than yesterday, and a longer task was set- several turnpoints in the area around and in front of take-off {Samanga School-Big Rock-Samanga Store} required tactical decisions and staying high for the long final transition to goal across the valley at Samupinga School. I got downed in the big blue hole on the leg to goal, 3 km's short. Battling a strong headwind again, most of the field landed nearby, with Neil Terry in first as part of a later group crossing the valley and getting closer to goal, landing around 2 km's short.
The Third Day:
Some overnight rain left the day looking unpromising, as the task committee set a provisional race to goal at St. Matthias school up the valley. Weak, overcast conditions necessitated a cut off point, and it was announced that the task would only be validated if any pilot got past the constriction at the top of the valley. Pilots were hesitant to take off, as the first gaggle scratched at the big rock. The gaggle eventually grew as the window passed by. I nursed light lift to a little above the rock twice, and on the third attempt, with the course line completely shaded and very unpromising, made a run over the back and down towards the granite domes the end of the valley. Clearing a spur which had stopped several pilots from plunging over the rim and further down the course, I headed towards a small conical hillto the north of the valley constriction. Connecting with some very light, broken puffs above a waterfall, I drifted towards the mouth of the constriction, as pilots were getting deck left and right in the fields below. The air grew rougher and I went into circling search mode, suspecting that even with widespread shade, some lift might be coming of a small spur facing into the strong valley wind at the mouth of the constriction. As luck would have it, I connected with a very small, powerful core about the size of a dinner table, which I battled with, each circle making small net gains as I rodeod up into the constriction. It was climb or forget about it, so I clung hard to the core, as each windward thermalling leg saw me slipping backwards up through the head of the valley. Going downwind I was really motoring, but the core, although broken, felt like it had the staying power to lift me safely through. It disappeared shortly afterwards, and I dove through to land up against the hillside past the constriction. An epic walkout was made easier knowing we would preserve our record of 100% validated tasks. The pilots who had remained on the hill believing that the day would not be valid, were quite pissed though!!! Only a 291 point day with no-one in goal again, but I'll settle for two Firsts in three days anyday...
The Fourth Day
The prevailing easterly and low clouds meant that once again we were flying Honde and not the more potent World's View. Still, a significantly higher base and sunnier conditions meant that for once, the valley was in the sun. A task was set, with three Tp's and then goal. {Samanga School- Store- Business Center- Samupinga School} The task would send us out into the bottome of the valley and then a run back across the valley to our 2nd day goal at Samupinga. Hopes were high. Conditions off launch were great. After getting the first two turnpoints and returning to the hill for more high, I worked the widespread lift to base before pushing out into the valley. Jumping clouds and preserving precious height until the third turnpoint, the same blue hole in the bottom of the valley downed everyone who got this far. Falling out of the sky at the third turnpoint, I turned and ran for goal. Aiming at a small rocky outcrop in the sun, I was able to work light bubbles in the valley wind for an extra kilometer or so, never more than 100 ft above the ground! 4 km's short of goal, got me third place on the day. Two pilots came along later and went slightly further, with Neil Terry about 3 km's short, and Karel so determined to max his glide that he crashed against a house and collapsed a wall on the startled inhabitants!! Four days, with no-one in goal. It was time for a little World's View to solve this problem...
The Fifth Day
Much activity early in the morning, as it looked like World's View would be a possibility. Arriving at World's View {just in time to rescue a novice pilot who had fallen 300 ft down the rocky face on the mountain and miraculously survived} the conditions looked strong and good for a task. A straight race to goal out across the flats was announced, 24km's in a straight line. Climbing above launch was amazing, looking down on the clouds on the humid side of the convergence, pilots had 8-9 m/s {1600-1800 fpm} climbs hoisting them to over 3200 meters. {approx. 11 000 ft} Big clusters of gliders were soon negotiating their way over the flats. Some unlucky pilots headed for a massive granite dome on the course line only to discover that it was inexplicably not working at all. The day saw three competitors into goal, with John Meijer in First. The 1000 point day rocketed him to the top of the leader board, well deserved after some previously unrewarded bold flying. My 5th on the day {1 km short of goal} saw me hold on to second place heading into the final day. Flying wise, this was my off day, and I returned excited at the great task but disappointed at the way my climbing skills had been so out of tune.
The Last Day
I entered the last day needing to beat the first placed John Meijer, and to make goal, to win. Anton, Johan, and Barry and others also loomed close behind. Conditions at World's View were once again, strong, and a 32 km run north along the escarpment was called. I resolved to try and sneak away first and stay out front, solo flying, and the tactic worked. A big climb off take-off and the jump north across the gap to Rukotso was amazing. The feeling of freedom was profound- just one lonely glider against that expanse of sky and rock. Never getting low, i was playing it safe and high, as I kept an eye on the gaggle some kilometers back. Repeated climbs to 10000 and 11000 ft, and jumps across the great gaps in the escarpment. Two gliders from behind made a "suicide glide" across the flats, opting for the flatland route to goal as I climbed ever higher, taking the safer mountain route. Letting them go, knowing that neither was a threat to first place, I climbed again to 11 000 ft under a rocketing cloud before making my final glide. This turned out to be insanely conservative as the bouyant glide to goal meant spiralling down over 3000 ft above the goal line. It was lifting all the way down to the ground. Pilots streamed across the line, as over half the field made goal, including the Tandem piloted by Kiwi Mark Bailey.

The Top Five Overall were,

  1. 1./ Matthew Carter {Apco Bagheera}
  2. 2./ John Meijer {Airwave XXX}
  3. 3./ Anton Naude {Freex FX}
  4. 4./ Barry Hunt {Apco Bagheera}
  5. 5./Johan Kritzinger {Windtech Quarx}

Nice big silver trophy-it helps me fit all that dining hall food on one plate!!!

First in Sports Class was Zimbabwe's Charlie Snook on an Apco Allegra.

Thanks to one and all for a fantastic, fun and safe comp. No reserves thrown, no accidents among competitors, I didn't even see anyone get whacked around that much. Zim is a beautiful place to fly- the walkouts are a fantastic part of the whole experience. Too bad such a beautiful country is being so badly screwed by an evil elite.

#1./The day after the comp, MIchelle and I flew Tandem at Honde. Rocketed up to base which was around 1100m over. Headed out to the Mtarazi falls which are visible to the right of the carabiner.

#2./Looking back at Chingamwe and the Airwave Tandem with John Meijer and Naomi Folb on board. Take off and Big Rock at left, Selborne club in the distance.

#3./Same shot from further out over the valley. The only two gliders in the sky were the two tandems. Yeeha!

#4./Heading over to Mtarazi Falls, {visible in center} the highest in Zimbabwe at 2000ft high. This was an epic day, flying over to Inyangani and NW over the Nyanga plateau would have been a cakewalk.

#5./ Heading out over the valley towards Mozambique. Ruda airfield down below and the fingers in the background.

#6./The Rock fingers with pilot and passenger feet for proof! We cruised around towards the fingers then spiralled down to the airfield. It was still lifting 100 ft off the deck.

#8./John and Naomi coming in. That Duplex is a beautiful wing.

#9./Excitement comes to Hauna.

#10./Me on tow at Sunnyside this last Saturday, courtesy of Barry and Andy. My one chance to bugger off XC on the trip so I took it. Blue skies and weak, very broken climbs and a low inversion at 850 meters agl. kept things slow. Found two climbs which broke through the inversion violently, and hit the ceiling at 1500 meters agl. Got to the Dyke where the lift was actually stingier than on the flats, drifted another ten km's or so over the back of the dyke towards the Kariba road. Beautiful flying over all the farms and lakes. Crossed over the dyke about 10-15 k's south of our old stomping ground at home hill. 41 km's on a rather poor day for Zim. It has MASSIVE untapped distance potential.

#11./Toplanding the Tandem at the Dyke.

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