Tuesday, June 17, 2014

First 'semi-official'practice day

by John Good, Crew "90"
It’s the first semi-official practice day of the 2014 World Gliding Championships for the Club, Standard and 20-Meter multiplace classes.  We are assembled in Räyskälä, a tiny town (population about 40) in southwestern Finland.  Your US Team, now all present and hard at work getting ready to fly, consists of 6 pilots in 5 gliders:

   Standard Class:  Bob Fletcher (ASW-28) and Phil Gaisford (Discus 2B)

   Club Class: Garret Willat (Hornet) and Sean Franke (Cirrus)

   20-Meter multiplace class: Heinz Weissenbuehler and Karin Schlosser (Arcus T)

Räyskälä is an interesting soaring site.  The airfield is large and very glider-friendly, comprising 4 paved runways, ample taxiways, and a vast area of grass most of which is landable.  The soil here is sandy and drains well – a point which our recent weather has thoroughly tested. We’re pretty well surrounded by lakes – I count 11 within a kilometer of the airfield (and I’ve omitted more than a dozen small ponds).  This is by no means unusual in Finland, which by some estimates is home to 100,000 lakes (eat your heart out, Minnesota). 

Räyskälä is a strong candidate for “most rural WGC site ever”.  Excepting only a small convenience store nearby, the closest shopping is about a 20-minute drive, and serious missions aim for the Prisma store in Riihimaki, about 40 minutes east of here.  (It should be noted that Prisma rewards the shopper willing to make the drive with an impressive spectacle: a store fully twice the size of a large Wal-Mart, selling pretty much anything a glider pilot - or just about anyone else - could want.)

With nothing resembling a normal motel or hotel anywhere near here, visiting pilots and crews find accommodations either in various private vacation cabins (of which the Finns seem quite fond) made available for rent, or “caravans” (camper trailers) in the large caravan park adjacent to the airfield.  This operates on a considerable scale: it is home to 140 more-or-less-permanent caravans, and is accumulating many more as people arrive for the upcoming contest. Three of these are the US Team headquarters for the duration.

Despite substantial population density, the caravan park is a good place to be.  It’s full of tall pine trees (I measured a typical one at just over 75 ft) that give shade (should the sun decide to shine) and welcome shelter from wind.  It’s kept neat as a pin – Finns clearly have an admirable trash ethic.  Amenities include bathrooms, showers, internet service (currently struggling a bit), a sauna, and a dock that extends into one of the many lakes for swimming.  There’s a washing machine available for use at no charge, but no dryer (and drying clothes by hanging them on a line has proved challenging). Also available are Finnish “cookout huts”, consisting of a roof (with a chimney) perched over a largish fire pit, and a sheltered table where cooked food can be served.  This fits well in a country whose climate isn’t always ideal for open-air cookouts.

We are a long ways north here: our latitude is nearly 61 degrees – not much south of Anchorage Alaska.  As we approach the summer solstice, the sun rises around 3:30 am (not far east of North) and sets around 11:30pm (not far west of North), giving close to 20 hours of daylight. And even the darkest part of the night is not especially dark – the sun lurks not far below the horizon.  This takes some adjustment – for example, you must take care to go to bed at a sensible hour and not wait for the normal clues of evening darkness.  And when you do, you’ll need some good sun shades on all windows.

As I’ve hinted, the past week’s weather has been less than ideal for those with an interest in motorless flight.  We’ve seen just two truly good soaring days, and only one entirely free of rain (of which a total of at least 5 inches has fallen). Temperatures have been notably cool (an overnight low of 4 degrees C [39 F] is the current record), so we’ve been glad of the jackets and warm winter hats we packed.  We seem to be receiving a steady series of cold fronts from the northwest; these include a variable dose of cloudy, rainy conditions followed by a typically short interval of good weather.

This difficult weather pattern has persisted at Räyskälä for a while now.  The Club Class national contest held here in early June had three valid days (of seven possible), during which 12 pilots managed a total of just 7 complete tasks.  We’re certainly hoping for something a bit better when this contest starts (in 6 days).

In the meantime, we’ll be hard at work on a host of tasks necessary to get ready for a World gliding contest.  I’ll talk about some of these in tomorrow’s report.

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