Bunny Hops 2006

The secret diary of a not-so novice paragliding competition pilot
by Nicole Moores




I apologise for keeping you all in the dark for the last few weeks. I bet you have all been anxiously awaiting my first instalment of Bunny Hops –the second year [yeah right!]. In defence I can only but blame my own laziness and the fact that these rounds seem awfully close to one another this year…

Before I begin my serenade of BPCup flying 2006, I want to quickly introduce those who have not read my renditions before – to me. I entered the British Paragliding Cup for the first time in 2005 to expand my flying experience, meet new people and to get to know different flying sites. As a novice with only a 100 or so hours under my belt, I aimed to tell an honest tale of what it is like to start flying competitions, and the lessons I learn every time I fly a task. All you need to enter the BPC is a pilot rating. That’s It. Yes you can fly a DHV 1-2 glider. I do! I hope to thereby encourage more people, especially those in the Wessex, to enter this magical world – to show that it is not just winning-hungry, competitive qumquats with a death-wish, flying what could easily pass for tissue paper, that could gain a hell of a lot from competition-flying.

I try not to dwell too much on the rules of competition flying and what, for instance, a start cylinder is etc, however you can read all about that on the BPC website if you’re interested in those details.

In one year only my flying skills have improved immensely, however I still make fundamental, beginner mistakes. I assume everyone who fly at some point or another make a decision that puts them on the ground, whether it be after 10km, 30 or 200 – that’s what makes this sport so frustrating, and so rewarding. We all seem to forever be learning. Within those parameters, with each flight we learn something that will allow us to stay in the air for that little while longer next time. Put 60 paragliding pilots together in a bar after a competition task comparing those mistakes, and you’ve got a pretty good sounding board. I’ve also improved on my navigation in the air, thermalling and how to use my GPS properly. It all makes me feel a lot less nervous when faced with a day that is forecast to be good. Now, I can allow myself to take off and go enjoy the flight, knowing the preparation is done and I know where I’m going and what my aim is. I have a plan...

‘Nough about that.
Right. BPCup 2006. The big difference in the run-up to the BPCup 2006, was that I actually found myself being organised. Last year, my flying gear was always in 500 different places scattered all over the house and I never seemed to be able to turn up to a round with the same amount, not to even mention the right gear – something which wound Dave (my husband) up no end. Not only that, I now seem to be able to mentally go through the checklist, which includes stuff like spare batteries for your GPS for every day you fly, pen and paper for briefings, the right airmap (yes I forgot it once last year, and only realised I didn’t have one when I got to the hill for a task!), reacquainting myself with my GPS which I haven’t used in 6 months, and mundane things such as my FAI Sporting Licence and BHPA Membership card – I’ll come back to that in a minute.

First round of the BPC 2006 was to be held in the Yorkshire Dales. It was a four-day competition and FAI Category 2 rated. That meant competitors would score towards toward their FAI World Rankings by competing which also meant that a fair few British Nationals pilots joined us for this comp – great to fly with, when you can keep up with them, or rather, when they choose to join you for a bit. To enter an FAI Cat. 2 competition one needs an FAI Sporting License. How do you obtain one? You send the BHPA a cheque for a tenner and a mugshot of yourself. It’s that easy.

Shockingly for everyone it was a beautiful morning the first morning of the comp. I put it that way, because one usually gets a few days to just catch up with yer mates before doing any real flying. That was not to be and we were sent to continue our chin-wagging a hill called Green Bell. We parked at the bottom of a huge green hill, not one of us thinking we’d have to walk up most of it! That was the second shock of the day. A 30 minute hike up a hill with three blind summits – an easy way to kill the enthusiasm of any pilot. I had forgotten how lucky we are in the south with only a few small walk-ups. Here in the Dales, paragliding involves exercise and a lot of it!

We arrived at a very tight bowl, which looked about big enough for three gliders to fly in comfortably. The wind was coming over one of the spurs and thereby making the flying quite rough with a small lift band. I was not enthused. It was also a northerly wind, and therefore absolutely freezing – like flying in mid-winter. No wonder the locals were saying that they hadn’t flown since last October! This was a day for high performance wings and perseverance. I made the decision not to fly due to the conditions, however I had forgotten that I therefore scored a round 0 for the day, as opposed to, if I had just switched on my GPS and took off once I would have scored what is called ‘minimum distance’ points. I’ll come back to scoring when I one day figure it out myself. I’ll read up on it later… Two people made it to goal that day. Most landed just outside the start cylinder on a glide down to the bottom landing.

Day two met us with another glorious sunshiny smile. The wind was still in a northerly direction and once again it looked like we were going to fly. However, turning up on launch – a drive up this time – an icy gale met our faces as we ventured out of the cars. We were very quick to all squish back into the relative warmth of the vehicles and await a rebriefing. We were at Dodd Fell, just above the village of Hawes, where we eventually spent a few hours respite for a wander and a cup of tea. We returned to the hill at 2:30pm, at which time the wind had sufficiently died down. I was determined to get into the air today for a fly, and got my kit ready whilst we waited for the task briefing. It was a 30.4km task (I think) to a place called Gargrave – almost due south from where we were. The danger was that the sea breeze would come through and spoil our flights, so everyone was keen to get going. I took off at 4pm, 30 minutes after the window opened. I did a few beats and flew straight into a strong thermal, but it also soon became clear that there was a lot more wind further up than on the ground. So, what to do in nice thermic conditions when you’re pinned? Find a good thermal, and go with it – no point in hanging around!

I climbed out with quite a few experienced guys, but was thrown off completely when they all decided to go back to the hill. The thermal was still strong and I was fairly certain it would take me all the way to cloud base. I also knew I would not be able to penetrate back to the hill in the strong wind. So I stuck with it. It soon became obvious that the sea breeze was coming in strong, and a big curtain cloud was forming down the line of our flight. It was only when I looked at my vario that I realised base was at 6500ft. No wonder I was freezing!! The curtain cloud was about 1 500 – 2000ft deep and we soon found ourselves flying through wisps as it blew across our path. It was probably one of the most amazing sights I have ever seen on any flight. We had covered the ground towards goal quite quickly, but about 10km out the lift got patchy. I was so cold that I had stopped concentrating properly, and was blindly following a fellow paraglider around. Stupidly, I ventured into the lee of a hill and was soon decked for my mistake, watching whom I thought, was the rest of the field glide off to goal. I had landed at 24.4km - 5km short!

To add to it, I had landed 2 miles from the nearest road and therefore had to walk out. I finally made it to the pub at goal and was met by 20 very happy pilots, 5 of whom had made goal. Two hours later, and several pints later, we were rescued by the retrieve bus, to compare flights over BBQ fires and lots of wine. Everyone bar 2 people left the hill that day. Certainly good fun!

Day three was a lesson in not-giving-up-when-the –day-looks-like-it-had-ended and to never-leave-a-flyable-hill-even-if-it-is-a-further-2km-walk-up-a-hill. We walked up, rather scrambled up this steep east-facing ridge called Whernside. It looked like another lovely day for XC flying, and most of us were ready to better on our flights from the previous day. However, just after we had our task briefing, the wind switched to the SW and was coming over the back. The first 40 minutes everyone just stood and watched the wind. Three thermals came through and with each, one paraglider left the hill. The rest of us were stranded. I was in a group who were contemplating walking further up the hill to take off. There was one part of the hill that was actually facing the right wind direction, but we were 1. prohibited from climbing over a ridge-length dry-stone wall and 2. there was a rule issue. Basically a 2km start cylinder had been set around take-off which meant that we HAD to take off within this area. The face into wind was apparently just outside this cylinder, and we were unsure whether the part on this side of the dry-stone wall would be sufficiently flyable to scoot over the dry-stone wall and go flying. The day was also fast becoming overcast. It looked like rain wasn’t far off.

This and the fact that I was really tired from all the walking in previous days, I decided not to go up with them and rather walk to the bottom edge of the ridge and fly down for a bottom landing. Those four who did walk up, ended up being able to just about ridge-soar their way almost to goal. I learnt a big lesson that day – stop whingeing and get to the flyable face, you never know!!!

That was the end of the flying for the Dales round. Monday greeted us with rain and low cloud. I packed my sodden tent and headed home, pleased with what I had achieved and what I had learnt.

BPC Round 2

We returned to Betws-y-coed this year relatively reluctantly as the weather forecast wasn’t great. In fact about half the field decided not to even bother turning up! Dave and I decided to go anyway, as it was still a weekend away, and since we had the van, we would certainly be dry and cosy nevertheless.

Saturday morning’s briefing at the campsite was wet. Very wet. We decided to have another look at midday at which time the clouds had certainly lifted a tad and it had stopped raining. We were sent to a coastal site akin to White Horse in as much as a coastal plain hitting a ridge, and with sufficient land in between to make it thermic. The sea breeze had pushed the muck inland and a nice breeze was blowing onto the hill. For a change, we walked down to take off.

A task was set, but it was made much more difficult by the fact that we would be skimming airspace for most of the way. This called for some serious map consultation to decide on a route along it. Entering airspace whilst flying in a competition task amounts to immediate disqualification except when it is breached whilst on a final glide to landing if a suitable, and safe landing could not be found outside it.

Conditions on launch were quite rotary as we were taking off behind a dry-stone wall. The wind had also switched around further to the south, making it more difficult to soar. Turnpoint 1 was now diagonally into wind. I was again unsure about the conditions but decided to go for a fly anyway. However, I had not brought enough water with me, and I had forgotten my lunch. I also only had 4 hours sleep the night before, all of which which made me feel tired, hungry and dehydrated. Not a good way to feel when you are trying to achieve something. Several pilots had already disappeared over the back and into the muck. After an uneventful take-off I realised that turnpoint 1 was also under cloud. Given how I was feeling I therefore decided to not try and go over back but to enjoy the sunshine. I bottom landed after about 45 minutes when it became even more windy and horrible. The task winner won with 6.9km. No one made the turnpoint, and the task scored low. However, everyone had a delightful flight and enjoyed themselves immensely.

Sunday dawned perfect and we were looking forward to another day’s flying. We were sent to The Glyders, an immense-looking face around the corner of Snowdon. We were hoping for a triangle task in the light winds, but already some amazing wave was showing all around us. After about an hour on the site, it became more overcast and the wave became more pronounced. We ended up behind another dry-stone wall hiding from the wind and the rain. In the end and the day was cancelled and we headed back to base for a pint before splitting into our various directions.

Overall BPC results are available on www.bpcup.co.uk. Currently I am 24th and top bird (which doesn’t actually account for much as there were three competing in round 1 and 1 in round 2)



Bunny Hops 2005