A more difficult day today, especially for Club Class. The forecast said very hot, very blue (except well to the southwest) and a possibility of lift shutting down around 5:30 near Lake Keepit, due to an easterly wind that could bring both marine air and smoke.
In the face of this and some decently long tasks, the right decision looked to be an early start, avoiding the chance of being caught short of home when the good conditions ended. This is just what Sarah did in Standard class: started early and joined the three Australian pilots (repositories of local knowledge) in a group of four that made good progress around the 460-km task, found good lift to over 14,000’ well southwest of home, and were able to finish about 10 minutes before the 5:30 witching hour. This smart and sensible scheme didn’t look quite so good when the troubled weather held off until around 6:45, allowing the late launchers to romp home in good conditions. Yet their scores were still decent; sometimes the smart bet doesn’t produce the best results.
Only a couple of Club Class gliders decided to go with the “start early / play it safe” scheme. All the rest delayed their starts, then discovered soaring conditions on the long task that would rarely allow good speeds. All the class struggled on the leg home from the west; most finally got home, many with disappointing speeds. Kathy put up a desperate fight, finally got the altitude she needed, and finished around 7pm, just as the easterly wind and smoke arrived. Sylvia also fought hard, but couldn’t connect with the final climb she needed and landed about 30 km from home. This is an area with good fields, but unfortunately not the best or most direct roads. She and husband Hugh are expected back around 10pm.
I have time to report a few additional animal sightings. Sylvia spotted an echidna (aka spiny anteater) near her cabin. This is not strictly an Australian specialty, as one species is found in New Guinea. But it’s a hard-to-see and decidedly unusual animal, one of only two still-extant monotremes: mammals that lay eggs (the other is the duck-billed platypus).
Near the glider clubhouse is a tree that’s home to three Tawny Frogmouths. These strange-looking birds, about 15” tall, are sometimes thought to be owls (probably due to their large heads and nocturnal habits), but are actually related to nightjars. They tolerate humans well, taking little notice of small crowds of glider pilots that occasionally swarm beneath their tree, pointing and snapping photos.
Soaring birds seem to be uncommon in the Lake Keepit area, but we have seen Whistling Kites and Wedge-Tailed Eagles. The latter are large (wingspan over 9 ft) dark and formidable birds that may occasionally dispute possession of the sky with glider pilots. Australians love diminutive names for all sorts of things – e.g. “sunnies” for sunglasses and “salties” for salt-water crocodiles (a fearsome beast) – thus the term “wedgie” has a different meaning here.