Thursday, August 5, 2010

15 Meter Race


Today everything clicked. I was in the right place at the start, and saw a huge gaggle leave including all the big names. I waited a few minutes, and then it was time to go. Alas, my teammate Al was too low, but with the main gaggle gone in 2500’ cloudbases, late in the day with a long task, I couldn’t wait. The scoresheet is interesting for the start times. You’ll see how vital it was to go with that group.

I dumped all my ballast on the first glide, and was getting worried, as the clouds looked even worse and even lower and I didn’t see any gliders. Have I missed the gaggle again? Then as I got down to about 1500’, the clouds parted, and there in front of me was the entire 15 meter class, spinning around. I came in underneath them at about 1000’, and instantly connected with 4 knots. It tailed off, and I moved to a second group and again connected, this time leaving most of the first gaggle behind.

The next two legs were really pleasant. I was dry. Everyone else was carrying a full load of water. I was able to easily outclimb them, but at 70 knots with 3000’ cloudbases nobody is running away from me. It took 3 thermals to work to the top of the stack. Then, I was able to stick with a fast group of 5-10 gliders pushing forward. There were some patches of spreadout and a low moment, but otherwise we were working from cloud to cloud with good vertical development.

As we approached Szeged, I was in the position we all dream of. I’ve caught the fast gaggle, and I’m just behind and a few hundred feet higher. I’m ready to pounce and blister home on the final glide. And we’re approaching Szeged…

Except, we have two more legs to go. And everything behind Szeged is covered with thick high clouds and no cu. I floundered a bit in a thermal, then went on to a group of three gliders working under the last cloud. ….Then they turn back and go to the place I was floundering, where now there is a big gaggle.

The worlds is about changing gears, and now we changed big time. All that ground gained against the gaggle goes out the window. I turned around as well, and patiently ground up to cloudbase. Leaving again with a group of 5 at the top, we glided across the dead zone at 53.000 knots, to start connecting with weak lift on the other side. The next two legs were very slow work with a group of excellent thermal piltos, stopping for every 1 knot thermal along the way.

And then it got really bad. I ended up with a group of 5 down at about 1,000’, looking for anything. It was an interesting experience. We wound up basically parked in a bubbly zone. The thermal would surge to 1 knot or so, and we’d gain 500 feet. Then it would die, and we’d lose about 200. And on and on like this. I must have spent 45 minutes with these guys patiently grinding around. I was frustrated that there seemed to be another gaggle down course ahead of us, but I couldn’t get to it.

Eventually our thermal surged just enough to get a final glide, so I closed the vents, and set of at 53.000 knots towards home. It all worked out ok and I finished uneventfully. I expected to make it home with awful speed, but it turns out the gaggle ahead of us all landed out, so I was one of the first finishers.


It’s been a long contest and a huge learning experience. Today everything clicked, and I think I played this WGC game and all its new tactics well. There are few flights where you don’t come home with some regret for some mistake. My wife emailed and said “hey, if this contest goes on another month you might do pretty well.”  Adnan recommends a steady pace of 930 points per day, which is pretty much how it worked out except for my stupid lawn-dart on the first day.

Once again, this has been a team effort, and I owe thanks to lots of people. Dennis (captain) Adnan (crew and coach) were right there today as in the whole contest. My clearnav has been working great, and the whole clearnav team has been wonderful about answering my testy emails about small issues here and there. The support we’ve heard from home has really helped keep our spirits up and enthusiasm going. And I shouldn’t forget my mom, who took me out for glider lessons all those years ago (1972!) I don’t think we ever dreamed it would end up at a world championship.


John Cochrane