There were enough signs to satisfy a couple of optimists that the wind might blow from the right direction at the right strength for an hour or two of soaring over the coastal hills at Apollo Bay. So Bruce and I made the trek to the launch site and set up our gliders. It turned out not to be soarable at the time we flew, but it was flyable so we each had an enjoyable flight to the beach in smooth air.
(Left) Tractor transport of the gliders to the launch site via a narrow and slippery track through unspoiled temperate rainforest. It felt like I imagine it would feel driving through a cathedral. It is an environment that engenders awe and respect.
(Right) The garden-like cleared setup area is pretty much out of the wind but it offers ocean glimpses. This launch site is 800 feet above sea level. Leeches base themselves here possibly looking for a better life over the horizon in the world beyond the hill by stowing away on the body of a departing hang glider pilot. I found one on my back under my T shirt and just above my beltline, settling in for the flight ahead. I disovered him before he got the fangs in, and he was offloaded.
This is an edited video showing the main stages of the flight from picking up the glider in the setup area on the hill to unhooking from it after landing on the beach. The video has no sound and lasts 65 seconds.
The hang glider photos below are screen captures from the longer unedited version of the video, for any readers for whom the short edited video above is not sufficient.
The takeoff run under way. The wind occasionally got up to around 10 knots at an angle of 30°-45° from the line of the mown runway. But mostly it was under 5 knots. I lined up and waited for a few such cycles, then took off in a light cross wind from the left. Patient wireman Bruce was on the front wires. A longer run was required than the usual couple of steps which suffice in a wind of 10-12 knots or more blowing directly from the SE (straight up the strip). There was a bit of ground skimming after my feet left the ground.
My takeoff run was on the diagonal towards the left side of the mown strip to accommodate the light cross wind. This put me initially at low level over the long grass and scrub and I kept the nose down to achieve a safe airspeed while the sloping terrain dropped away beneath me. I was quickly in clear air and well clear of the ground.
The orange arrow identifies the point on the coast between a cyprus tree and a rock groyne where I planned to fly the base leg of my approach to land. My plan was to land on the beach either to the right or left of the groyne depending on which direction offered some headwind component at the time. I chose this spot because it offered good access to a wide grassy nature strip just across the Great Ocean Road for packing up after the flight and wasn’t far from my home. Packing up the glider on lawn is always preferable to a sandy beach. As anticipated from the cross wind on takeoff the optimal landing direction was to the north – a left turn at the arrow. This landing reference point was easily within gliding distance from the sort of altitudes normally flown when soaring in ridge lift (eg above 1000 feet above sea level). But descent after takeoff in the event of there being no lift would quickly put it out of reach for my glider, requiring a landing on a closer part of the beach further north.
In good ridge lift I would be much higher above terrain at this point. While I flew into a few bubbles of rising air the general trend was down. There was not enough lift to soar the ridge. In still air my glider descends at about 200 feet per minute. I did climb back to takeoff height (800′ above sea level) at one point but it didn’t take long for me to lose three hundred feet, at which point I turned towards my first choice of landing location. In hang glider pilot terminology, this was to be a sled ride.
The indication from close observation of the top of the cyprus trees and the water line on the beach beyond as I glided down towards that point was that I was not going to make the target area with any height to spare. That is, I was neither overshooting nor undershooting. Any sink en route would see me going to plan B (a closer landing spot), and any lift encountered en route would see me able to glide to my target with more altitude on arrival than I needed. But I glided down in smooth air with neither lift nor sink, and made it to the beach just above cyprus tree height. Good result.
Right on the required glide path for my chosen turn point for the landing. Observation from the air of the direction in which the moored boats in the harbour were swinging indicated that a landing to the north would be a landing with a negligible cross wind and a small headwind component. Any headwind component is useful on landing because it lowers groundspeed and therefore touchdown speed. Landing in nil wind or a light tail wind is not a problem, but any significant downwind component is a problem at and after touchdown.
Bisecting the angle between the groyne and the cyprus tree. I did a continuous descending left turn from this point to line up over the beach for my landing to the north. On the left of the groyne the trickle of water from Milford Creek can be seen flowing across the sand to the sea. This creek runs past my house on its way to this point.
Approach and landing. The lower right photo shows my hands off the base bar and holding on to the uprights at around shoulder height. This gives me leverage to push out as the wing approaches the stall. This raises the nose (see the increased gap between the glider nose and the horizon) which causes the wing to act like an air brake. The result is that the glider loses speed rapidly and then descends gently lowering my feet to the ground. On this occasion no step forward was required.
The end of the keel is resting on the ground. As there was very little wind, with my hands on the front wires the glider can point into wind with its nose up like this. Normally after landing into a head wind, the nose of the glider is lowered into wind after landing to avoid it blowing over backwards.
The convenient ramp between the beach where I landed and the Great Ocean road.
Crossing the busy Great Ocean Road with a fully assembled hang glider on my shoulders at this location was not an easy solo exercise, as bushes obscured my view of any traffic coming. On this occasion the problem was solved by the woman with the GO/SLOW sign at the footpath construction works. She put her traffic-stopping powers to good use and gave me easy access to cross the road at a leisurely pace while the traffic waited. The part of the ridge I took off from is under the large element of cumulus cloud in the centre of the image above the hills.
I have packed up my glider in hot and dusty stubble paddocks, in muddy fields and on sandy beaches. This location was sheer luxury.
The launch site as seen from the Great Ocean Road. Where was this cumulus cloud (and the lift that would have been under it) when I needed it?!
Bruce landed his Aeros Combat at Wild Dog Creek (where we had left his car earlier in the day). I was entirely content and relaxed after I packed up the glider, lying back on the lawn in the shade waiting to be picked up. The glide from the hill to the beach was certainly not a long flight, but the essence of the joy of hang gliding comes from the nature of the experience rather than the number of minutes airborne. Every flight is different. Every flight teaches me something. Every flight puts a smile on my face.
This video shows the full footage from approaching the cyprus tree and groyne through to landing. It lasts 53 seconds and has audio. This landing was in light wind – note the ground speed right up to the time that I flare and land.