After the terrible weather for EP week we were really looking forward to CP week as a chance to really get into the flying enough to be confident to go out without an instructor in future.
Half the people on the course the first week had to go back to work, so we gained some new friends for this week. So first things first, we set back off to the hillock for a test run to see what everyone could remember as some of them hadn’t done it in a couple of years.
Everyone successfully launched and landed so we returned to town for a more thorough briefing on the week and what we should expect to achieve.
Next up, we went to a different site that had 1800ft height difference between launch and landing. Compared to our little hill this seemed like quite an intimidating step-up!
EP’s main aim was to get us hooked on flying and CPs aim is to make you safe in the air, so now we had our feet off the ground, we had some manoevers and methods to learn to make sure we could get around safely and considerately as well as knowing when it is a good time to call it.
For our first task off El Bosque, we tried Big Ears and Speedbar. Big ears is where you make your glider smaller so that you can descend faster, for example if the weather turns and you need to land quickly. Speed bar gives you more forward penetration for example if the wind picks up so you are struggling to make headway.
A new feeling was having other people at the launch site watching how you do. As we were quite late to arrive we had a lesser audience than I was initially anxious about, but as we had the team helping us with our forward launching it actually all went according to plan.
The atmosphere that day was really cool, up until then we had had the field all to ourselves, so suddenly being at a public site made it quite a different experience. As paragliding is still quite a small sport, everyone is really friendly and the local travelling landing bar was there to provide snacks and drinks to those who had finished for the day.
The next day we went to a private site near Ronda that was still quite busy with all the schools taking off there. It was less high than El Bosque but the launch was similarly intimidating as there was a steep drop off. Without a wind sock I had got a bit confused about the wind direction on this flight, which combined with not having my radio loud enough meant I overshot the landing point (a track running perpendicular to the wind) by quite a way. Being early in the morning too, the crop in the field was particularly dewy and I got soaked up to my waist as I waded back.
The thermals got a bit strong for our ability a bit earlier than hoped so unfortunately I only got 1 flight, before we tried El Bosque again. Unfortunately here the wind direction wasn’t working, causing those that took off to hit quite a lot of sink shortly after take off, we waited around hoping that it would turn, but it wasn’t to be. Jack, one of our instructors was being examined by the BHPA so it was definitely better that we didn’t go rather than going in unsuitable conditions as he was really good and we didn’t want him to fail.
On Tuesday (are you keeping up?), we headed to a site near Cañete la Real, but after the first 2 had such a bumpy ride down and the wind speed picked up it again was too thermic to launch at our level so we packed away and tried the mountain behind Algodonales, hoping that the wind would swing westerly, dropping the thermals and giving us a smooth evening flight. The view from up there over the reservoir were amazing, and at the view point only 400m from the launch it was so peaceful I could hear the wind moving through the wings of the passing swallows. The wind didn’t turn however, so we headed back to El Bosque, which amazingly we had all to ourselves and most of us managed to squeeze in 2 flights in the restitution air. I was the last one to fly that evening, as just as I launched the wind turned katabatic, so instead of the mountain creating lifting air, it all started sinking. On launch I wound up going through the olive trees, but came out unscathed for stunning sunset views.
We started getting worried that the forecast was staring to look too windy to fly for the rest of the week, but the guys at FlySpain knew all the best spots to go to, so the next day we ran away from the wind and headed to Lucena. There was a single hill in the middle of quite a large plain with a monastery on top and just a little ridge line. As we had left at 6.30am, we were the first to arrive, but clearly this was the spot to come to as a few hours later the other paragliding school in Algodonales showed up. We got the best of the weather though as it was all too windy by about 3pm.
This was our first time soaring a ridge line and it was amazing being able to stay up in the air for ages before going to the landing unaided. We managed to get 4 flights in each and ticked off the sections for flying with others, recovering from an asymetric tuck and spot landings. This day definitely saved our bacon as we wouldn’t have completed our CP otherwise.
See my video rounding up the trip below:
Time has a way of getting away from you while out there. Often it would be 3 or 4pm before we had lunch so it felt like it was only 12 and we would be so keen to continue despite a number of 12 hour days.
For the last 2 days we finally completed all the theory and exams as well as doing the ground handling. It would probably have been better to do ground handling at the beginning of the week, but given the forecast I’m glad we flew when we could as it was way too windy to fly on the last two days. On the last day while we were practising in a nice flat field, someone did end up coming in to land there, who had been blown about 10km downwind from the launch site. The airspeed was less than the windspeed though so he basically landed moving backwards, and was a great example of a situation in which he should never have taken off.
Of those 2 ground handling sessions, I found the first one really hard as I think I was over thinking it and getting myself confused. This also meant I was over-piloting and pulling too hard on the brakes, making fall out of the sky a bit which meant I got pulled around quite a lot. After this the instructors did another demo showing htat actually you don’t need to pull hard to get it going the right way, but just moving in the right direction and holding the brake on for longer did the trick. The wind then died so we couldn’t practise that, but I kept this in mind for the second session and suddenly it all became more intuitive if I just felt what I needed to do rather than thinking about it too hard.
It was reiterated at the end of the week that it is important to stay current and that ground handling is as important as flying skills, with most accidents being within 10 mins of launch, and ultimately the thing that is most likely to hurt you is the ground.
The first stop on my drive around Europe is going to be Dune du Pilat, so I plan to do a whole bunch of ground handling to get used to my kit before I try flying. I also plan to practise my slope and top landings here in a nice soft sandy environment before I make a fool of myself elsewhere. Stay tuned for more posts about my progress in future.