Competition began today at the 34th World Gliding Championship – but it was not a day deemed especially satisfying by many.
The large area of cloud that gave us rain yesterday was supposed to be moving away to the northeast, leaving good soaring conditions for Benalla. The morning forecast spoke of 5- and 6-knot lift to as high as 7000’. But the cloud didn’t get the word, and hung around, spoiling the party. By 2:30 we still had a near-solid overcast with clouds below 3000’, and the decision was made to cancel flying for the two short-wing classes and let the big boys try a short task. This worked, yielding a devalued day completed by most Open Class pilots (and some grumbling from pilots who felt that the conditions, though certainly not great, could have supported tasks for all).
One of the themes of WGC2017 is the Open class battle between the “true” long-wingers (epitomized by the mighty EB29, with a wingspan of 29 meters / 96 ft) and the new generation of “short-wing” gliders (led by the JS-1c, with “only” 21 meters of span). Today’s relatively weak and low conditions (typically, 3 kts of lift to around 4500’) suited the superships perfectly, and the formidable German duo of Sommer and Bode responded by taking first and second.
Though we saw less of it today than was hoped, the sun is another notable difference between Australia and elsewhere. Here, summer occurs at the time when the earth is closest to the sun. Match this with naturally clear air and relatively low latitudes (Benalla, at 36.5 degrees south,is about the same distance from the Equator as Las Vegas) and you get impressively strong solar radiation – which has more than a little to do with why we’re all here for a World Gliding Championship. Aussies take sun protection very seriously, and are aghast when they see pasty-white, sun-starved Europeans arrive and parade around in skimpy costumes soaking up the rays. (Unprotected, figure on a bad sunburn after about 20 minutes of that.)
It’s also hard to get used to the idea that the sun is found to the north, it moves from right to left in the sky, and a southerly wind is the one that brings cold weather. Oh, and wind circulates counter-clockwise around a high-pressure system (here known as an anti-cyclone). These decidedly strange phenomena make driving on the left and kangaroos easy to swallow.