Saturday, June 28, 2014

Competition Day 3

WGC2014 – Räyskälä, Finland
27 June   (Third actual competition day)
by John Good

This morning offered the most promising sky we’ve yet seen: nearly clear (which in Finland means crystal clear), with some high clouds receding to the southeast.  It looked as if it could be the start of a classic soaring day (a species rather rare in Finland this year). 


But it didn’t really work out that way.  By launch time cumulus clouds filled the sky and several were towering to heights that portended problems.  All pilots found some good (occasionally excellent) lift, but all had to pick their way around rain showers, wet areas, and spreadout cloud.  A memorable radio transmission from Garret Willat to Sean Franke illustrates some of the complexities of flying in these conditions: “Maybe we should try to stay above the freezing level, so we can fly in snow rather than rain” (the point being that dry snow readily slides off wings and thus doesn’t degrade glide performance as much as rain).

Some very good speeds were recorded, especially in Standard class.  This apparently involved running a shelf of cloud close to a line of towering cumulus clouds.  Such a shelf can offer terrific lift, but also severe gusts, lightning and possibly dangerous hail. Today, it worked well for those whose timing allowed them to find it in the right state of development.   

The more conservative approach was to detour away from the approaching rain.  This was the strategy employed by the Finnish pilots, who tend to be very savvy about the vagaries of Räyskälä weather (some of them are professional meteorologists).  The US Team followed their lead, but it didn’t prove to be the right way to bet today.  Three of our pilots got home, though not with impressive speeds.  Phil Gaisford wasn’t able to climb away from 1200’ in rain, and landed in a good field.  Heinz and Karen flew through extensive rain and eventually had to use the “iron thermal” (their glider’s sustainer engine) to get home.

Continuing the theme of things that are different in Finland, I’ll mention towropes.  In the US these are typically polypropylene of 3/8” or 5/16” diameter, generally held to have a breaking strength around 1200 lbs.  Here at Räyskälä, the material is the same, but the diameter is around an inch, yielding a rope that would serve to moor a fair-sized cruise ship – I’d be surprised if the strength when new is less than 15,000 lbs.  (A mechanical weak link at both ends protects towplane and glider in case of problems.)  A towrope like this weighs a good 20 pounds or so, which yields an evident “sag” in level flight.  

The Finnish language is a major curiosity for visitors.  It has an interesting and not unpleasant sound, but bears no detectable relationship to any other language.  (Linguists are said to discern similarities with Hungarian, but native speakers of these two languages apparently don’t see any.)  For most visitors, this makes problems: Finnish words have nothing in common with any word you can recognize – indeed, if you find any connection at all, it’s probably because the word is one that Finnish has borrowed from another language (e.g. “kahvi” is that drink you enjoy with breakfast).

An example of the possible confusion came during a broadcast of one of the World Cup games: early in the second half the Finnish announcers were frequently heard to refer to “Ooksi Ooksi” which sounded as if it might be the name of one of the players (later on, his brother “Cocksi Ooksi” was apparently on the field).  But no – this was the score: Ooksi was actualy “yksi” (one) and Cocksi was “kaksi” (two).  (The first five numbers are: yksi, kaksi, kolme, nelja, viisi.)

To be fair, Finnish pronunciation is regular and reasonably familiar – an English-speaking visitor can say place names without much embarrassment after only a little practice (try that in Polish – or better yet, don’t, if you wish to avoid confusing both Poles and English speakers).  A helpful rule is that the accent invariably goes on the first syllable.  The sounds don’t precisely match, as we guessed from a sign on a Rayskala water tap that said “Do not trink”.

Smoking seems to be tolerably common but declining in popularity.  Just a few years ago rules changed such that smoking is no longer allowed in restaurants and public buildings – so the sight of smokers huddled outdoors is as commonplace as in the US.  Finland smokers unfortunately seem to share the view of those elsewhere, that “the world is my ashtray”: cigarette butts are a common form of litter in a country that is otherwise notably spic and span. I haven’t checked the price of cigarettes, but I expect it is quite high: Finland is not shy about taxing what are perceived as vices (the cost of beer here is evidence of this).

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