Despite working most of the Easter weekend, I was able to gab a few hours and head down to Wolfgat Nature Reserve, on the shore of False Bay near Cape Town. Here, when the southerly winds blow against the dunes and low sea cliffs, one can enjoy hours of simple, smooth soaring. Equipped with my beloved Gradient XC3 glider, a lightweight Sup’Air harness and my GoPro, I took my turn cavorting over the cliffs and doing wingovers above the waves with the playful gulls. Magic. Watch in HD if you can.
The video was shot on GoPro and then, as an experiment, I downloaded the footage wirelessly and edited the entire thing on my iPad. It’s a bit of a rough cut but amazes me that the technology has advanced to the stage where this is possible. It also makes converting your fun footage into something shareable while traveling a serious option. Impressive.
The music is by an artist specializing in ‘Chillstep’ (relaxed melodic dubstep) that I am really enjoying at the moment, called Blackmill. Check out his stuff on iTunes and elsewhere online. Kudos.
A strong sou’westerly dropping to moderate in the late afternoon had me take a chance and walk up Lion’s Head with my paraglider. The Gradient XC3 is quick, and can thus tolerate a bit more wind than the average glider, but until I saw some tandem pilots sitting at the lower launch I wasn’t sure if I was going to be completely alone or not. Fortunately, Stephan on his very quick Ozone Enzo launched just after I arrived, and showed the wind strength was acceptable…
I launched the XC3 ahead of some tandems getting ready and climbed immediately. Stephan on the Enzo had flown far out to the south, almost over the sea, losing very little height and penetrating slowly into the wind. I cut into the smooth fast lift on the SW face and rocket up to the top of Lion’s Head, where I found my ground speed into wind was less than a walking pace. The XC3 has a great response to speed-bar, however, so I was safe to climb steadily above the peak. The air was cold and beautifully smooth. Judging from the clouds and wind direction at this level (around 650m ASL) it looked too southerly to fly Table Mountain and the Twelve Apostles, but I always get itchy wings when over Lion’s Head, so I gave it a try. The sink was potent in the last section of the crossing, and I arrived at the bottom of the cliffs near Kloof Corner. I could see the Enzo back at Lion’s Head; Stephan was biding his time and seeing if I got thrashed. It was certainly turbulent, with southerly flow wrapping around the cliffs from Fountain Ravine, but I worked the lifting patches and played the little flows until just below the top. There I found some southerly coming over the mountain, which made Sexy Lexi (the XC) very unhappy… she tried a few times to climb back into her bag. Deciding that the moment was not optimal, I flew out parallel to the Apostles to see if there was a band of lift to be found. Far below, the Enzo had made the jump, arriving with no more height but perhaps slightly further into the ravine than I did. Stephan also climbed steadily, but soon also made the decision to skedaddle back to Lion’s Head and the razor-thin Enzo writhed unhappily above his head.
My efforts to find a lift band along the Apostles failed miserably, so I tucked into a south-facing ravine to try scratch back up. Nothing! With the contour path approaching fast I turned and went on glide towards Camp’s Bay, thinking it was soon to be over. The great glide of the XC3 still surprises me, however, and turning downwind with some speed-bar added soon had me back at Lion’s Head, albeit below takeoff. Here the crisp handling and speed of the glider came into use, and I scratched back up again. I spent the next hour in cycles of climbing high, enjoying long periods of smooth hands-off contemplation flying out and practicing spirals and wingovers – I’m still getting used to this on an EN D glider! Finally, it was time to watch the sunset from the air, crank a spiral and land at the Glen for a well-earned libation. Here’s to 2013!
Avid blog-readers who have already realised that I will likely name my future children after paraglider brands will also know that I’ve recently completely refreshed my stable. The wonderful and capable Swing Mistral 4 that has served me since 2006 went into hibernation last year when I acquired a MacPara Eden 4 for paramotoring, which (embarrassingly) outperformed the former glider in unpowered flight as well – no doubt due to a 5-year advantage in newer technology. The Eden is a great wing, and deserves its accolades as an ideal single wing for flying with and without power, but over the course of a year of paramotoring I came to realise that (like in free flying) I love long cross-countries and exploration, and the reflex paramotor wing technology has proven itself to be ideal for fast, stable, efficient flying. I began to research PPG wings, and test-fly everything I could. My desires: a wing capable of good top speeds (65km/h or more), which is still easy enough to launch that I can get away at altitude (5000’) carrying a full fuel load, DSLR camera and emergency supplies, and is fuel efficient. If possible, I wanted a wing that can be flown free (without motor) on occasion, so that I only have to take one wing on trips where packing space is an issue.
UPDATED: This time of the year (late August through to October) is one of the best for soaring flights along the Cape Peninsula and surrounding mountains. As the frontal systems make their march to the south for the summer, the cold fronts lessen in intensity, with more more moderate prefrontal north-westerlies and lingering postfrontal conditions. The air is cold and moist but the sun begins to reappear, leading to beautifully smooth soaring interspersed with the promise of good instability and thermal flying. It is certainly the ‘high’ season for the Cape pilot’s classic route: Signal Hill/Lion’s Head across to Table Mountain, southerly along the Twelve Apostles, and then back for sundowners or onwards into the lesser-flown for the brave (and those with dedicated retrieve drivers!). For many years this route was more frequented by the hang-glider pilots with their better glide and speed range (the NW can exhibit a strong wind gradient as one climbs), but as paraglider technology has improved it is now achievable by pilots on almost any wing. Come along on a tour, illustrated with my photos from today…