I got on a plane in Hawaii, and 14 hours and 2 airplanes later, arrived in Brisbane the morning of the comp, then a short taxi ride, then wait an hour, and then an hour plus bus ride to Canungra. It was 4:30am Hawaiian time when we arrived at the camp grounds, and the back seat of the bus was where I slept.
Canungra is a little country town in the green hills about an hour from the East coast of Australia. We used beechmont, the east facing launch, for 3 tasks and the west facing launch, Mt Tamborine for the first task. beechmont is a special flying site because on the best days you can take off at 7:30am and start your XC flight. There are several 300km paraglider flights from beechmont, and a few 500km hangie flights from there.
Our tasks started at 10:30ish at beechmont, and because you normally don't get very high, we had 2 elapsed time starts and a race start on the last day. Lots of Cumulus cloud, quite a bit of shade at times along the course, but still heaps of lift even under the shade.
The last day was the most memorable day for me. There was a lot of CU spread out behind launch, but the clouds were not sucking very hard, and the sweet spot was right up under them, because if you didn't hold there, the lack of well defined thermals in the mid-levels meant you would be struggling to stay up. Cloud base was probably only 1500 feet above the ground. The start cylinder was a big 8km, and so the field drifted under the cloud mass and slowly moved toward the edge of the cylinder as the start approached.
Cloudbase was quite varied, and I followed the best lift north and got up and around the edge of the main cloud bank. Now there was a big band of cloud between me and everyone else, so I had to find a sinky glide line to join them for the start or I would fly right into the cloud - not safe or legal. The line I took was sinkier than I had hoped, and I wasn't as high as many others at the start, so once again, I was behind the lead gaggle.
Back in June I started flying a competition glider and it has been an interesting transition. When I was flying a serial glider, it was quite difficult to keep up with the lead gaggle because the comp gliders had a 10% performance gain over my serial glider. I thought that once on a comp glider, things would get easier - I could keep up with the super-hero's on their super fast ships, and I could pimp off their super powers and getting to goal would be easier. Well, after 3 comps on my comp glider, I can tell you it isn't as easy as I once thought.
I found out that being in the lead gaggle on a comp glider is a double-edge sword, in many ways. The lead gaggle is always out in front, discovering by trial and error what the conditions are really like, and without gliders in front, we have less information compared to the gliders behind. We are out on course earlier in the day, and conditions can be weaker. I have been on the ground many times, after struggling with the lead gaggle, and one by one we hit the dirt, and 30 minutes later an armada of DHV2's effortlessly slides over our heads, thousands of feet above the ground.
I also found out that the lead gaggle can make weird decisions, being just as susceptible to the downsides of group-think, the lemming-effect and other strange small group dynamics. And worst of all, the combined power of the lead gaggle can't generate thermals when they need them - they don't have any super-powers after all! I found this out the hard way on the last task.
I was flying the course on my own and met up with the lead gaggle at the only tp, and we broke apart again as we pushed into a head wind and weak conditions. I flew solo to a small sunny hill, and found a thermal which was weak and drifting perpendicular to the course line. As I climbed, I watched the lead gaggle flying toward an obvious spur off of a nice little mountain. They were lower and a little in front, so I left my climb thinking there is no way they all could sink out, someone will surely find a climb and then we will all get to goal. Well, we all sunk out. One straggler on a comp glider flew by us about 10 minutes later, and then about 25 minutes later, the serial gliders came in really high with goal on glide.
That was a super lesson in downshifting when conditions deteriorate - staying up becomes the only priority. You might have to forget about the course line, you might have to turn around and fly back, you might have to ridge soar for an hour, you do whatever it takes to stay up. But for gods-sake, don't leave a climb until you have a much better climb within reach! If you stay up, at least you have options, and sooner or later something will present itself, a bird coring, a cloud forming, improving conditions, or other gliders will come along and you can help each other out.
There is so much luck and randomness in racing paragliders, but the pilot that consistently makes good decisions and the least mistakes will get the most points and with enough tasks to filter out some of the luck, win the comp.
I am now in Bright and I have never seen it this green - all the streams are full, the water restrictions have eased, and I think we might see some different flying conditions this season...
About the picture - one day driving home from goal, the bus stopped and Warren looks out the window and spotted this Koala bear chilling out in a eucalyptus tree. He didn't mind all the cameras pointing at him one bit...