My first job at Monarca 2017 was helping to register all the pilots in the competition. I helped them verify their information on the forms was correct. Most importantly, I verified that they had insurance, they had a way to be contacted while in Mexico, and they had signed the liability waiver. It was an all-day task, and with my broken ribs, leaning over a table was more painful than hiking with a backpack or flying. By 8pm or so, we had finished most of the registrations.
The first task was a rather long first task. Hector Martin (Fink), the Meet Director, chose this longer route because there was a cold front coming our way, and it could have arrived before the end of the competition. Launch was windy, but all the take-offs were reasonably safe. I checked off pilots who were flying the task so that we could account for them later when they landed. If a pilot who launched wasn’t marked as “landed” by 5:45pm, we started a Defcon 5 search for them (try to call them, text them, email them, facebook them). If the pilot wasn’t accounted for by around 6:30, we started calling friends and other pilots to find out if anyone had seen them since the task ended.
The task was good, and there were many pilots in goal. Goal was the Santa Maria LZ, a postage-stamp sized grass field next to the lake in Valle De Bravo. If you’re not used to landing in such a tight LZ, it can be hair-raising. Despite the tight LZ, nobody in the competition landed in the water. One pilot did get his feet and just the tip of his wing wet.
I was at the LZ, checking in pilots as they landed. It was confusing sometimes– I would often check-in a pilot who landed, then check-in a bunch more, then try to checking a pilot I hadn’t seen before, only to find out that it was the same pilot with his helmet off! At the end of the task, we had 12 pilots unaccounted for. After some calling around and searching our messages and tracks, we accounted for all but one. It was gratifying when we made contact with the last pilot; To know that all pilots were safe at the end of the day was a relief.
The second task was windy at launch again. The task was a ring of concentric circles, with pilots needing to touch an inner circle, fly back out and touch an outer circle, then fly back into a smaller circle. These tasks are common in Colombia, but it was the first time I’ve seen it in Mexico. The novelty of the task is that the pilot can choose any direction to fly outward, allowing him to choose a superior flight path.
We had one reserve throw, near launch. A ratty thermal blew through a gaggle of 3 pilots, and all 3 visibly struggled to keep their wings open. One pilot couldn’t, and his wing collapsed. He spun the wing trying to recover it, and after a series of cascading collapses, he threw his reserve. He drifted back toward launch and landed in a nearby tree. I ran to help, but upon arriving, I found the pilot 30 feet up, hanging in the branches. With my broken ribs I couldn’t do much except talk English to him until rescue arrived. He suffered a dislocated shoulder, but was otherwise in great shape, mentally and physically. The Mexican tree rescue team is top notch.
At goal, we had one pilot land in the water. He was completely soaked, instruments, wing, harness and all. We had many pilots in goal again, perhaps half the field.
Big task, 100km. Nobody made it all the way to goal. The final checkpoint was into the wind, at Elefante. Pilots who reached Elefante reported massive sink, and some of the lead gaggle landed there. It’s not a nice place to land, as all the hydroelectric power from the lake originates on that side. There are many power lines.
At launch, I noticed that pilots were getting tired, and the safety checks we perform found a few anomalies– one helmet unbuckled, a speedbar line unhooked, a reserve handle half-off its velcro.
On an unrelated note, My beard is growing back, and I’m afraid it may be too late to attack it with razors. looks like I’ll be getting a beard-tan this winter!
Overcast! rare for Valle. The front is arriving, and the forecast was for strong winds. Thankfully, the wind never materialized during the approximately 75km task. Goal was in Piano, right below the launch, so I took off for a flight of my own after all the competitors had launched. I landed in time to check-in pilots who landed in goal. Despite the overcast skies, approximately half the competitors flew for a very long time and made it in goal. Everyone to whom I spoke said they enjoyed this task. Lift was weak, so victory went to the patient.
Finally, the wind from the front arrived. The thermals were tilted. The task reminded me of practically every task last year (lots of wind). There were few pilots in goal. The lakeside LZ was uncharacteristically rowdy, and the clouds on distant volcano Toluca were lenticulars. I think some pilots were sketched out by the conditions and landed early.
We had one pilot throw his reserve near launch. He was close to the terrain, so he threw right away (good decision!). He landed in a tree, hanging from his reserve, with his feet just inches from the ground. As such, he was an easy rescue.
The final task was good! wind had subsided, but the thermals were strong– at least initially; A good convergence set up over the mesa, but it dissolved in the early afternoon, leaving many pilots stranded away from goal. I flew XC to the Santa Maria LZ goal to check-in pilots. Thermals were rockets in the early afternoon! I reached the convergence and crossed it as the B- and C-rated gliders were gaggling across, so I whooped and hollered at them from the air.
We had one reserve throw, in view of goal. Weather at goal was strange, but mostly safe unless you got in the rotor of the lakeside mountains to the north. Pilot was OK, and we had contact with him. There was a report of another pilot down along Espina, but the rescue helicopter investigated it and radioed that it was a false alarm– just some coloration in the cliffs.
The lake, for the first time I’ve ever experienced, supported thermals above it! I played around in them a bit before landing. Flying is good medicine, and I’m so happy I got to finish my competition-support gig with an XC in booming conditions.