Now that’s more like it: a genuine flying day – the first since Sunday – with launches, cumulus clouds, racing and scores. To be sure, it was a 100% outlanding day in both classes, with glider trailers clogging the roads of southwestern Lithuania. But it was a huge improvement over grid-squatting and staring at unsoarable skies.
With the help of Captain Fernando Silva’s detailed weather forecasting, Daniel, J.P. and Noah got it right today. We had a good airmass that required only moderate heating to make cumulus clouds and lift. We also had a rather long (252-km) task, substantial westerly winds, and a prediction of uncertain quantities of mid- and high-level cloud arriving by mid-afternoon. The decision was to go early, aiming to stay ahead of the crowd and the declining weather.
The three US Team pilots flew as a tight & cooperative group, and were indeed able to stay ahead of the substantial gaggle that coalesced behind them (which on tracking displays looked as if it was too large to be efficient). They got in and out of the northwestern turnpoint just ahead of troublesome cloud cover that slowed the big gaggle. Their run southeast went smoothly and put them ahead of all but one of the other early starters. Conditions were obviously declining as they approached the southeast turnpoint, but they rounded this and started on the 54-km leg to home. It was clearly not going to happen – cloud cover to the north was now 100% and lift was dying. In an area of small, lumpy fields they chose a good one and all landed safely in it. The result was second, third and fourth place – on a day that was difficult for many.
The retrieve was a full-team mission, involving all crews plus me and Fernando. It took just over an hour to reach the field, and some careful driving to negotiate the lumpy entrance road. We were all pleased with the quality of this cut hayfield, quite a bit better than anything we’d seen in the last 20 minutes of our drive. Also impressive was the quantity and persistence of the large biting flies residing there: it’s hard to withhold a measure of respect for creatures that can begin carving a small chunk out of your arm within 3 seconds of opening the car door.
Our armada of 3 vehicles containing 8 team members stopped for dinner at a very agreeable restaurant not far from the outlanding field. The parking lot was clearly not laid out with 30-ft trailers in mind, but hungry glider folks can usually make short work of such difficulties and we were soon enjoying local dishes (I can recommend the cold beet soup, aka borscht). Despite this delay, we beat many crews home – some of which later told tales of unfriendly farmers, muddy fields, and other struggles. I’ve heard of no damage worse than one tailskid knocked off; if this holds up as the full report of damage my hat’s off to the skill of the 70 pilots here.
This contest is receiving some attention from local media, which has had at least one unexpected benefit. During a retrieve from an outlanding earlier this year, one local pilot managed to drop his sunglasses in the field. The farmer later found these, but had no information about the pilot or where he was from. In the recent TV coverage he spotted the plane that had visited his field, and so made the 100-km drive to Pociunai to return the sunglasses. (As is true nearly everywhere, in Lithuania unfriendly farmers are very much the exception, not the rule.)