Thursday, June 30, 2011

Soaring at Saruba

Mt. Saruba is a 400 meter hill on the seacoast in Nagasaki Prefecture, Kyushu, Japan. Under the right conditions, it is possible to enjoy a day of unlimited ridge-soaring on perfect, smooth sea wind. After three or four abortive attempts we finally lucked out on such a day: June 13, 2007, with 20km/h wind and a rather low cloud-deck. Psychedelic soaring among drifting clouds on Saruba led to coastal cliff soaring after traversing the 3km or so to nearby Aino. The scale is small, but the flying is fun!

Tuesday, June 07, 2011

Aoshima, Miyazaki


"Visitors to this area often cock up the landing; if you are not careful, you’ll break your legs getting dragged across the rocks below or slammed against the seawall." These were the words of warning our impromptu host Mr. T. offered as we set up our gliders to launch from the merely 50m high takeoff in Aoshima, Miyazaki Prefecture. The Pacific Ocean sparkled blue before us, its lazy waves rhythmically lapping the wide, washboard-textured shoals. We were mesmerized by the scenery, reluctant to accept Mr. T’s words of warning. He’s just trying to intimidate us, I thought as I launched lackadaisically into a steady 5m/s wind. Moments later, I was in my element, flying effortlessly through the smooth air, dancing with birds as they soared next to my glider, tempting me to move closer to the mountain slope. Back and forth along the ridge I flew, past the sprawling sightseeing visitor center to the end of the sea bluffs and back, Mr. T’s cautions now but a faint memory.

Time slipped by quickly and a rainbow assortment of gliders filled the air crisscrossing back and forth along the coastline. The wind grew stronger ever so gradually and flying out over the sea, I started to notice little white caps forming on the water. As if on cue, Mr. T’s rough voice cackled on the radio, urging flyers to consider landing before the wind got the upper hand. Oh, Mr. T, all caution, no games, I sighed as I snapped back to reality. As a guest at this area, and since it’s my very first flight here, I suppose I should hurry and get my butt safely on the ground, rather than risk Mr. T’s wrath, I thought as I made a quick U-turn.

Carried along by the growing wind, I reached the takeoff area, and prepared to make a top landing. No such luck: what had been effortless so far today now seemed impossible. A standing wave of wind lifted me over the coastal bluff and would not release me to make a landing. Every time I dropped low and neared the hill, I would invariably get picked up again like a feather. This wasn't the happy ending I imagined. As I buzzed the takeoff in yet another attempt, so close and yet so far, I thought I saw Mr. T. knowingly shake his head in dismay. Twenty minutes went by this way, and slowly all the other gliders successfully landed. I started to panic a bit, a lone glider left in the sky hopelessly circling around. If I could just land safely, I will never make this mistake again!

As if by luck, I was finally released from the firm grip of the wind. Dropping low while I had the chance, I cruised into the narrow landing area at the base of the hill, landing lightly on my feet. There was relief on the faces around me even as courage returned to mine with terra firma underfoot. That wasn’t so bad, was it?

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