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!