Monday, January 25, 2010

Mt. Beauty, Australia

This entire trip to Australia had many purposes and goals. All of them, however, grew out of the notion that the eastern part of Australia is home to two of the worlds most significant hang gliding competitions; Forbes Flatlands in the beginning of January, and The Bogong Cup just a few days later.

Bogong is the state of Victoria's highest mountain, on a ridge just outside of the town of Mt. Beauty. In terms of landscape, the seven hour drive south to here from Forbes in was like passing from Flagstaff, Arizona to Burlington, Vermont in the same amount of time. In the last two hours, as you drive up into the mountains, the land turns from dry and arid to a breathtakingly lush and verdant setting.

Mt. Beauty is a ski area, for pete's sake. I didn't even known any part of Australia actually had enough snow to ski. Mind you, it's no Aspen. From what I've seen and read, I'd equate the probable skiing conditions to northern Maryland (which means minimal at best). Still, it's more than I imagined possible in Australia.

Eight days had been allotted for tasks at this meet. Unlike Forbes, which is an aerotow comp, this was a hill launch one. Each morning the site with the best angle of winds (from four or five within a range of 30 kilometers to choose from) was selected and a caravan of cars and trucks loaded with hanggliders, pilots and drivers (like me), headed up the hills to set up and launch. A task was set, once the task committee reached the top of the hill and had both internet and visual references to contemplate, and the pilots were off.

Unfortunately, the weather did not cooperate so agreeably as it had at Forbes. There we had eight straight days of flyable weather, with the ninth day and last day available cancelled, perhaps, more out of pilot exhaustion than anything else.

At Bogong, the pilots flew only two out of eight days.

As the driver for the same four Russians as I had been in Forbes (Zhenya, Yulia, Anton, and Marat), this gave me a lot of rest from my accumulated exhaustion of driving for many long and consecutive tasks at Forbes, where I would often cover three or four hundred kilometers down bad roads in the process of picking up the pilots along the way or at a distant goal, then not arrive home with them until close to midnight, unfed and too tired to do anything about it.

For the pilots, however, the imposed rest at Bogong was a rather frustrating time. They came to fly.

We amused ourselves with horseback rides, fishing trips to mountain lakes, and a number of other things that a resort area was quite ready to offer. One striking aspect I found was the ghosts of forests on several mountain tops, the sites of huge forest fires only two years back. Most of the structure of the trees had remained and, in those two years, the charred bark had fallen off to reveal sentinals of steel gray wood. From a few kilometers back in the valley, the hills looked as if covered with a silver fur. Up close, each individual sculture was hauntingly beautiful.

Of the perhaps 20 people who have made this Australian adventure such an amazing one, only a handful actually live here. The rest, now that the Bogong Cup is over, are heading back home to various countries around the world.

Originally, so was I. My three month tourist visa expires on January 31st. My request for an extension, however, as been approved. Though I've been allowed an extra three months, I do have commitments back in the States in late March, as well as many plans for April. This, then, gives me another seven weeks more to enjoy in Australia.

Friday, January 15, 2010

Down She Goes

The boat I sailed around the world on from '07-'08, Uniquely Singapore, was renamed "Cork" when sponsored by Ireland for the '09-'10 edition of the race.

She is no more. The 21.7 meter (68 ft.) yacht sank here a day ago, during the race from Western Australia to Singapore.

I 'liberated' the ship's bell from her before I was the last to leave the boat at her homeport of Gosport, England. It's bolted to the wall of my temporary home (a trailer) in Florida. I suppose I should do something significant with it now.

Tuesday, January 12, 2010

Forbes Flatlands

The Forbes Flatlands is the premier hang gliding competition in Australia. The conditions are so perfect and consistent that many days, by the time all four of my pilots had been retrieved and brought home, it was close to midnight. The next morning I'd wake up at dawn, go for a run if I had the energy (only 2/3 of the time) then head for my favorite coffee shop for good coffee and a simple breakfast, then head for the airfield for the beginning of the tasks.

That coffee shop indirectly provided me with the highlight of this week here (full of so many other good times). The daughter of the owner, Amy, took an interest in all the new people visiting her town and our activities, so I invited her to come to the airfield when she had a free day. She did and, as the events evolved, got to take a ride in a Bailey-Moyes Dragonfly with Bobby Bailey himself.

Her delight was unconcealable. Imagine if you'd never been flying at all and your first introduction to the air was in the front seat of an open cockpit ultralight, drifting along just above the tree tops with nothing around you but the warm, summer air. After they landed, Bobby told me she'd flown 90% of the flight herself.

My reward for being the mediator of her adventure was a week of the warmest smiles and energy whenever I'd come by the coffee shop and, perhaps, a life-long friend.

Such is the times I'm having here in Australia though, in truth, this has been the case for a string of countries over the last few years.

People. It's always about people.

I've neglecting having my camera at hand much of these last two weeks here so I'm relying on Ashanta's photos (except for the last one of her) in the slideshow below to give one a hint of the experience here.

Friday, January 1, 2010

Russian New Year in Australia

l. to r., Yulia, Anton, Bobby, Zhenya, Marat, myself.

I ushered in the new decade at a campground just outside Forbes with the four Russians I'll be supporting in the up-coming competition at the airfield here. Just before midnight we were were joined by Bobby Bailey, designer of the Dragonfly ultralight that makes aero-towing possible for hang gliders and, therefore, competitions at sites like Forbes: flat but so full of the kind of lift that makes flights over 200 kilometers common.

One surprise the Russians had for me was a calendar published by Aeros, a Ukrainian hang gliding manufacturer. Seems pilots in Russia and Ukraine and a few other places will be staring at my butt for the entire month of May.

The photo was taken in Solvenia last August, where I knew many of the pilots, among them Claudia Mejia (pictured) from Colombia.