The Race Against The End of the Day

Day 4 at the 18m Nationals in Nephi and Region 9 Sports Class in Nephi. The 18m pilots are not even half-way into the contest and it feels like we’ve already been here a long time.
Maybe that’s because today involved a lot of waiting – either on the ground or in the air. The Sports Class went up first and was sent on their merry way. They had a big 3 hour task to complete.
The plan for 18m was a 524 km Assigned Racing Task with fixed turnpoints at Table Mountain, Star Point, and Indian Ranch. After two thirds of the fleet was launched on Runway 17 the wind switched from south to north and that meant that those left on the ground had to move their gliders to the other end of the runway. Launching fully ballasted gliders with a tail wind at a mountain airport in the summer with density altitudes of 8000 feet or more is definitely not a good idea.
I was among those already up and flying. I escaped the gaggling crowds by taking a convergence line to the northeast where I could float along on my own. I knew the wait would be substantial and my plan was to conserve mental energy.
Eventually everyone was in the air but by then it was past 3pm and it was evident that starting out on a more than 500km task was likely to get pilots in trouble. Table Mountain was switched out for Monroe Peak, which shortened the task to about 440km. Still an ambitious plan, especially given that the cumulus clouds were projected to dissipate and give way to blue skies by about 5 to 5:30pm. Pilots had to confirm their understanding of the new task in a roll call and reprogram their flight computers in the air. I parked myself in a weak lonesome thermal so I could do the data entry without attracting the crowds.
The gate eventually opened at 15:27 and by 15:32 I had climbed back from our tag altitude of 12,000 to 17,000 feet in a 12 knot boomer and was out on course ahead of anybody else. I had had ample time to check the conditions out on course and knew where to fly. The first leg was blazing fast. I cruised at 100 kts and only stopped twice to climb back towards the clouds, being very careful to stay below 17,500 feet to avoid airspace penalties. The lift can get so strong in the west that keeping the glider down can be a real challenge. I even briefly opened my airbrakes as I was cruising through exceptionally strong lift to avoid getting sucked up to forbidden heights.
Getting in and out of turnpoint one was easy in soaring terms but a big challenge with respect to traffic. The best lift line in and out was the same and since I had started out ahead I had to avoid a lot of conflicting traffic. I deliberately flew a line that was far from ideal to stay clear of the gliders that were streaming towards Monroe Peak.
Leg two started out quite well also. My average task speed up to this point was 162 kph and the day was at its peak. Looking ahead I had to make a choice between two possible lines to TP 2. One was on the western edge of the Wasatch Plateau, the other was to the east of the plateau over the eastern desert. For a while I thought I would take the easterly line because it seemed much better defined and Skysight had predicted strong convergence east of the plateau.
However, it soon became evident that the easterly line was too far east. When a few additional clouds popped on the western edge of the plateau I decided to stay there. This had the added advantage of easy access to safe landing areas in the Manti-Ephraim valley whereas the eastern side of the plateau is a lot less hospitable.
Unfortunately the climbs along the western edge of the plateau were nowhere near as good as those along the first leg and there was also considerable sink in-between which quickly destroyed any hard-earned gains. I struggled to find a good line and my average task speed dropped below 150kph. Except for the western edge, the plateau itself was largely blue and I had to get high to safely cross. A mediocre climb near Mt Baldy got me back up to 17,000 feet and that’s where I started the transition towards Star Point.
The plateau is super scenic but from a soaring standpoint it was somewhat disappointing. As I got near Start Point I spotted a big gaggle and rushed towards it only to find that the lift averaged only 1-2 kts. Nothing kills your task speed faster than remaining stationary in a weak climb. I left to round the turnpoint and kept looking for better air. The wind was from the west and I wanted to have more altitude for the transition into the wind.
I found a line of good air that allowed me to progress westwards without dropping out of the sky. Back on the west side of the plateau the clouds were disappearing fast. I followed the ridge lines and tested the bowls but could only find 2-3 kt climbs at first. Things got a bit better as I moved further south where I found a good climb east of Manti-Ephraim. I tanked up for the next transition via the southern tip of the San Pitch Mountains which have worked for me before late in the afternoon.
Today there was not much there there, and I moved on towards the Pavani Range. Fortunately I was high enough to cross the ridges and fly on the sun-facing west side towards the last turnpoint. I was several thousand feet short of final glide and had to find another climb. I joined another glider but the lift died after the first turn. Onwards. I was getting low and the lift was getting weak so I began to dump water ballast.
Two minutes later I hooked a 6-7 kt climb south of Scipio. I quickly closed the water dump valves again and was able to climb a few thousand feet to get to final glide altitude at MC4.
I noticed other gliders taking a direct line towards Nephi but felt more comfortable taking a small detour via the foothills of the San Pitch Mountains that had been baking in the afternoon sun. I have had good success in the past stretching my final glide along the rocks.
The ridges weren’t as strong as hoped but they did enough to get me home. Which means I did win the race against the end of the day…
Once again I am astonished at the winners’ speeds of more than 100 mph (162 kph). Sean Fidler won the day ahead of John Seaborn. That is also the current standing overall. My speed of 130 kph (again!) put me in 24th place for the day and 25th overall. The stragglers among us have a private competition going where there are some exclusive prizes to win such as Strudel and Krautfleckerl. Feel free to ask me about that…
Contest Results:
The Region 9 Sports Class ended today. Congratulations to all participants and in particular to the winners.

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