Sunday, December 30, 2007

Becalmed

Well, we have not yet rounded Tasman Island and we have been becalmed before entering the dreaded Derwent river.

For the second time this race we have the lightweight "Drifter" head sail up. This sail was made at the Kavanagh Balloons factory from balloon cloth and is a very light weight number 1 head sail for use in under 4 knots of true breeze.

It is slowly pulling us along at about 1 knot of boat speed when we get the occasional zephyr or breeze.

With some luck we will get a sea breeze start to fill in but we will be working against the out going tide once into Storm Bay and the Derwent. The tide is due to turn in the next 1.5 hours and the few boats in out division ahead of us will cop it on the nose helping to park them for longer as we catch up....well that is the plan if you can call it that.

Yesterday afternoons predicted front arrived and turned the nice calm and rolling sea under the 15 knot Northerly to white maelstrom of wind swept waves and over 30 knots of wind from the south east. We were ready but were expecting a slightly more moderate change and as such were caught with the wrong head sail on deck. As the change came in we dropped the spinnaker and hoisted the number 1 head sail for all of 10 minutes before it became obvious we were in for more wind.

As the wind built we changed down to the number 2 with a clockwork head sail peel. Unfortunately this was still not enough and with a rushed change into full wet weather gear and safety harnesses it was back onto the foredeck to peel to the number 3.

By now it was really blowing a gale and we were in large sea and getting pounded. While three of us worked on the foredeck, the rest of the crew were working to get two reefs into the main.
A solid 14 hours of hard on the nose sailing ensued with a change back to the number 2 and then number 1 earlier this morning before it glassed out on us.

Meanwhile the tension is high as we wait for this to all unfold. Cold beer, a steak and a hot shower await us in Hobart but it is painfully far away right now.

Thursday, December 27, 2007

Mid Race

This may be my only mid race post so this is what is happening so far...

We are currently about 3 days into the race and are now screaming down the east coast of Tasmania. We have had every sort of condition so far from a fast afternoon of spinnaker runs after leaving Sydney Harbour to hard on the nose during and back to a fast 24 hours of spinnaker work.


A calm period before entering Bass Strait was followed by the most fantastic crossing of the Strait. We have switched spinnakers a few times now but have held a good 8 to 12 knots of boat speed for some 200 miles.

Currently we are well placed to win our division but it is still early days.

As I type this we are awaiting a change from the south east to head us. This will put an end to the fast trip south but the angle will work well for the final run to Tasman Island then into Storm Bay.

Yee Haaaa!

Tuesday, December 25, 2007

Sydney to Hobart race

Wow, this has really snuck up on me. It is Christmas day and I am about to walk out the door to head down to the CYC for the 2007 Rolex Sydney to Hobart yacht race.

By this time tomorrow we will be two and a half hours into the race. the start is at 1pm on Boxing Day so tonight we are having dinner as a team and staying on the yacht.

Dad and I will be part of the same team that sailed Namadgi, a 44 foot Bavaria to a PHS division win in the Sydney to Gold Coast race.

The weather is looking good for us at this time so fingers crossed for a good race this year.

Anyone interested can track the yachts on the website linked above.

Have a great Christmas and happy New Year - with some luck mine will be spent celebrating down at Constitution dock in Hobart!

Thursday, November 29, 2007

Next adventures

So I am back from Japan and have even had some sleep. Pity it probably won't be enough to get me through the next month or two.

This weekend I have got what I am expecting to be a fantastic workshop with Jordan Frisbee & Tatiana Mollmann, two of the best West Coast Swing dancers from the USA.

Check out this video from one of their recent competition wins and you might have an idea of why I am looking forward to it.



Along with a bit of dancing I am also now locked in to do the Rolex Sydney to Hobart on Namadgi.

Over the coming weeks I have some training to do and race preparation. I am a late entry for the team but after doing the Sydney to Gold Coast race a few months back I am sure I can jump back into the team and contribute.

While I am looking forward to the actual race, the party and New Years celebrations in Hobart will be just that bit more fun as one of the race crew.

Monday, November 26, 2007

Aftershocks

With the last flights flown, the results published, the balloon cleaned and ready for shipping it was time to party.

The Awards party was fun as always with good food, beer and a lot of worn out but jolly pilots and crews regaling each other with tales of what if, if only and so close...

Results wise, the event was won by Takeo Mizukami from Japan, 2nd was David Bereford from the UK and 3rd was Nick Donner, USA.

I managed to slide into 10th palce and also took my Japan Grand Prix team from 15th to 7th. I was also ranked 5th on grand prix points for the event so I am pretty happy with that.

The real party was back at the Twin ring hotel in room 336, also known as the British Embassy. A combination of embassy rules and public decency prevent me from publishing photos so words will have to suffice.

Picture a small hotel room with anywhere from 20 to 40 people drinking, talking and generally making merry. This is the Embassy. It is an institution that is hosted by an unruly bunch of officials and scoring team members.

Huge amounts of beer, rum, gin and other poisons are consumed. It is an event tradition and at the Motegi event in particular quite messy at times with the party spilling out into the hall. If you are on the third floor anywhere near the embassy, don't expect to sleep.

This year they had a mirror ball wine bottle hanging from the ceiling that had to remain spinning at all times and an alarm clock that chimed the Muslim call to prayer at the push of a button - There was much searching for mecca done during the evening but alas I am not sure if anyone ever found the correct direction.

The high lite for me was loosing Yosh to an observers room where he slept while we drank. At some time he awoke and vanished. At nearly 2am I could not find him or my van and I presumed he had taken off to our house some 30 minutes drive away for his own bed.

While I knew I could just crash on a floor at the hotel, we needed a fast getaway in the morning and it was going to get complicated.

Just after we had commandeered a car and a suitably sober driver Yosh magically appeared having just done an emergency run to the nearest 7 Eleven with a bunch of observers who had the munchies.

We made it home soon after and had a good laugh about the mess we would have been in had I driven off in the other car.

This morning I was not feeling the best and I promise never to mix beer, sake, vodka, rum and some sweet schnapps sort of thing ever again.

Sunday, November 25, 2007

Motegi is over.

As always the last day or so of a competition is total chaos combined with sleep deprivation.

Yesterday afternoon had two tasks, PDG and FIN. The PDG had a 200m radius scoring area around any selected goal.

The winds had everyone at altitude looking for speed to get to the goals. I chose a good launch site and good PDG goal but flew like an idiot and messed up both approaches ending up with 160m and about 200m. Nothing like the points I needed.

The final flight was this morning. Three markers were waiting for us at the briefing. The flight was a JDG, FON, FON. All three tasks had limited scoring areas with the final two FIN goals limited to 200m of the selected goal.

Again were were looking for speed and direction at about 3000 feet. On the way into the JDG there was a fair bit of traffic. I was the first to make an approach and ended up drifting past the target about 15m off to the east and at about 50 feet up. A particularly limp wristed throw saw me end up at 5.22m when it should have been much closer.

I then had the pleasure of watching balloon after balloon follow me in and get closer. I think I ended up in 14th place but luckily walked away with about 800 points.

The two fly on goals were the next challenge. I had picked my first one out in the valley further to the east and made the climb back to 2700 feet for a good track to it. Conditions were almost identical to yesterday in the valley with a good northerly breeze on the surface and lighter winds above that for a few hundred feet.

I lined up the intersection then flew straight down the road towards the target following Nick Donner. I watched Nick throw about 40cm and the pressure was on. It was going to be one of those mornings where the 200m scoring area was the least of the problems.

I kept a nice tight line into the goal and threw 53cm from 10 feet above ground level.

My last fly on was on the same line and after a short climb back to 1000 feet for some more speed and a kick to the left, I again followed nick down the road into the goal. This drop was 1.31m and Nick beat me again with less than 60cm.

I have heard some very good results for the last two tasks so it will be interesting to see how many points I can get.

I also know at least two people just above me in the top ten did really badly so we are sitting on the edge of our seats waiting for the final results to be posted. Fingers crossed I made it back into the top ten!

We have the awards and farewell party tonight then it is off to the airport to drop the balloon off then fly on home.

UPDATE: Final results are out. I finished in 10th place which means some cash which is always good fun and a slightly less dented ego than I had before.

Saturday, November 24, 2007

Another Utsonomia morning

First of all here is the plot from the disaster yesterday afternoon. It looks pretty but it was not at the time.

I have also found another little technical detail in the rules as a result of this flight. It seems I have got zero points for the maximum distance because I did not drop the marker at all.

Because I landed after the scoring period it is a zero rather than group B result. I should have known this and it makes sense now but it is a stupid technicality. I am not game to see how many points it cost me.

Ignore the above rubbish...I do get a group B result and have no idea what I was thinking when I wrote that. I did know what i was doing holding onto the marker and it was some one else who convinced me otherwise after the fact.

Motegi Flight 6 - PM

MXD, HWZ - Flight from nowhere to nowhere..
So, to this mornings flight. Four markers were waiting for us with the tasks being a Fly In, PDG, FON and FON.
The surface winds were from the north with upper winds from the south west and west at height. The surface winds were expected to washout by about 9am.

Most of the pack seemed to head south to do the fly in while I took a launch site to the north with an approach at low level flying down the river. It was exactly the same conditions as the key grab flight before the Worlds here last year.

I think the northern option worked best with good results for most of us who launched in the same area. The guys coming in from the south had more work to do and I don't think anyone got closer than four of us that came in from the north. I dropped about 7m and was right next to Owen Keown with Fujita probably the winner on the flight with about a meter.

For the PDG we could choose two goals. I put one to the south in case I could continue down the river and one off to the east. The southern one was not looking good so I climbed up to 5000 feet and headed off to the east.

The northerly was still flowing down the valley and I lined up on the PDG very easily. Unfortunately I did not fly it all that well and ended up with a 15m drop.

Keeping at low level and on the same track the first fly on was another easy goal flown badly fro 29.8m. The final fly on things were starting to come together and a pathetic throw buggered up a nice approach. The final result was 4.88m

I have heard some very good results for the PDG, FON, FON so we will see how it all works out.

Two more flights to go....

Motegi Flight 7 - AM
FIN, PDG, FON,FON - Flight from NW to SW and everything in between.


Friday, November 23, 2007

Hero to Zero

Some days you just have to be put back in your place.

After a good morning I had a spring in my step, my confidence was high. Life and flying were good.

This afternoon I got hit in the nuts.

The flight had two tasks, a maximum distance within a scoring area and a Hesitation waltz using any of the goals in the scoring area for the maximum distance. The scoring area for the hesitation waltz was the entire competition map and the tasks could be flown in any order.

The winds called for another hight flight - right to the 6000ft ceiling. The would take us to the east enough to drop in and use the north easterly wind on the surface to run down through the scoring area and hopefully pick off one of the hesitation waltz goals too.

After the initial climb, I was not all that happy with my position in the pack and it was time to something heroic or settle for the bottom half of the pack.

I was also concerned because I was expecting the wind on the surface to turn more to the north or even fill in from the west like the upper winds.

I lined up one of the northern most HWZ goals and made a descent to the surface. The surface winds had increased significantly and we were now doing 20km/h form the north east still. I passed my first option about 400 to the west and decided that I could do better on one of the goals further south and increase my maximum distance result too.

I climbed back to 6000 feet only to find that the upper wind had now swung to the south west and I was flying back along my surface track and not getting far enough to the east to do any good.

With time ticking down towards sunset I made a very fast descent which will no doubt have people talking. The surface winds were the same as before but now I was 300m further west and with no hope of even seeing thee scoring area or any of the goals for the hesitation waltz.

In the end I flew past my original HWZ goal at about 700m and dropped the marker on a sand bank in the river right on the end of the time limit. The maximum distance is a no result because we never made it into the scoring area to drop a marker.

Bugger eh? Well we are off to do a night glow and drink some beer to commiserate this afternoon and celebrate the memory of Masashi and the win this morning.

Utsonomia is not in Italy

This mornings flight was held out at Utsonomia. We were greeted with five markers on the table and a combination of crazed grins and head scratching from the pilots.

The tasks were to be a MND (Minimum distance), JDG, FON JDG, FON. The Minimum distance was also to be the Masashi Memorial task. I left the briefing wondering if I could get the double having won the memorial flight in Saga a few weeks back.

Conditions were perfect at the riverside launch site and the green flag was raised at 0655. Most balloons were launching by about half way through the 30 minute launch period.

A climb to about 3300ft gave a good track back over the north of the field before descending back to the river for a straight in approach. There was a fair bit of traffic around but I managed to stay clear of the masses and cruised in about 2 feet of the ground for a 44cm drop and a win on the task. Adam has kindly uploaded a video of the drop to Aunty Monkey.

The game this morning was always going to be time and fuel so I got off to the first JDG as fast as i could. I opted for a slightly higher drop to conserve time and fuel and took the 22m result knowing it would score ok. It did and was already on the notice board here as 4th place and 924 points.

I chose the first Fly on well towards the next JDG to keep me moving in that direction. Unfortunately the winds started to ease up and I ran out of time, having to drop at about 2.6km from my goal.

The bonus of this mistake was that it put me well ahead of the field towards the next JDG which I am pretty sure I have also won at 6.5km or so. The next nearest balloon would have been a km or so behind me.

The final fly on also worked out reasonably well with a last minute change of goal selection working out well and an 83m result in the last seconds of the scoring period.

I am a very happy boy and waiting to see where it moves me over all in the results.

Thursday, November 22, 2007

Fright crancelled...

The afternoon was shaping up to be a beauty with three markers on the table.

Winds were still strong and from the north/north west but we were hoping they would ease.

The planned flight was a PDG, FON and FIN with the FIN able to be flown out of sequence so you mix the order to your advantage.

Just before the start of the 1500-1600 the launch period the PDG and FON were cancelled by SMS and the launch period was reset to 1545-1600 for just the FIN task.

With all the normal crazy driving and finding launch sites we ended up wedged in a field with one American, three Brits and Mizukami San from Japan. It was going to be very tight in the windy inflation.

Just as we were all about to start the fans another message came through cancelling the flight in total. Time to pack it all up and go find a beer or three.

Results are up from the morning. My 8m on the PDG only paid 693 points, the second task was actually third place and 952 points - two pilots crept over to the other hesitation waltz goal and did well there.

An interesting thing with the scoring kicked in on the Hesitation waltz. Because there were three of us very close to goal(s) but everyone else was out near the median result, the scores jumped from my 952 down to the mid 500's almost instantly. This will really hit people hard because there are three of us that made a 400 point break on the entire field - a rare advantage to get.

The fly on was also only good for 620 points but at least it is above the median.

Motegi murder

This morning was freezing. When it is this cold you have to hug your observer...it is in the rules.

A cold and cruel wind was blowing in from the north west, making pilots and crews shiver as we waited for the green flag at the Twin Ring common launch site.

One of the cool things that has been done this year is the distribution of pi-ball data and other messages via email to our phones. It is fantastic. There is an echo of phone going off and then pilots all head down in their phones checking the latest data.

The flight for the morning was a PDG followed by a Hesitation Waltz then Fly on.

The winds were showing 30knots (60km/h) at about 1000 feet but each subsequent wind reading showed it easing to a mere 25knots :)

At about 0710, the phone went of again informing us the launch period would start at 0720.

A last minute check of the winds and we were under way. There really was not much choice to be made with the PDG. Most pilots if not all had chosen the same goal and it was getting busy around it with balloons and markers going everywhere. The approach was a little challenging with the balloon going from about 30km/h into a slow valley wind at 90 degrees to the previous direction.

Watching the balloons ahead, most were mucking up the approach so I decided to make a higher drop and just fly straight at the target. It paid off with an 8.4m drop. This looked like about 7th place when we went back to measure but we are all very close and the median will be down the road a fair way.

On the way into the PDG I had found a narrow layer of wind that would take me to the western most goal of the Hezitation Waltz. The eastern most goal did not look achievable at all and even the western one was going to be hard to get to.

As soon as I dropped the PDG marker I climbed to the exact altitude I had recorded before and then stayed in the narrow band all the way to the goal. It paid off. Many pilots looked like they were hunting for it and were slowly slipping off to the east of the goal.

Another high drop at about 40km/h had the marker slide into the base ball field where the target was. As far as I can tell it was the only marker to get in the field and be checked by the measuring team. The distance looked like about 40m but I was not really checking as I was getting buffeted by mechanical turbulence from the high winds over the mountains.

There were a few special shapes going on out there as people got whacked dropping into valleys or hitting the wind shear.

I had chosen a fly on goal well down the track and had plenty of time to line up for it. Things keept changing and in the end I had real problems getting down to the surface for the approach. Every time I descended I was in very bad turbulence and when only 200 feet of the ground over houses and power lines I was unable to drive the balloon as low as I needed. There was a lot of burning and venting going on to get through the shear but it was too late. I slipped off to the side and dropped about 160m from the FON goal.

Even the landing had more shenanigans with turbulence. I flew out into a nice open area in the hope of getting it a bit easier and still got a huge shear only 100 feet of the surface and accelerated wildly during the last part of the approach. I lined up a dirt road and did a huge drag landing in the rice paddy beside the track and ended up dragging the basket up on to the track for a very easy pack up and retrieve.

So today was pretty good. It will be interesting to see the scores because most people took much earlier fly on goals but I don't think they would have been all that easy to get to.

Fingers crossed the winds settle down for the afternoon flight.

Motegi Flight 3 - AM
PGD, HWZ, FON - Flight from NW to SE

Flight 1 & 2 tracks

Motegi Flight 1 - AM
JDG, JDG, PDG, FON - Flight from NW to SW


Detail of the two JDG goals in flight one. You can see where I went around in circles for half an hour trying to get down to the second JDG....

Motegi Flight 2 - PM
FIN, WDN - Flight from West to East.

Here you can see how I missed everything :) The kick to the north you can see at the end of my flight is what we were expecting for the entire flight but only people taking off 5 minutes later than me got :(

Wednesday, November 21, 2007

Haga hell

Flight two is done and dusted.

For the afternoon we were out in Haga where the winds are fickle and the frustration can be high. For the task we had a fly in followed by a watership down.

The game today was to time your approach to the fly in so that you did not arrive before the hare balloon that was going to launch for the watership down. Once you dropped the first marker for the fly in you then had to chase the hare balloon and drop a marker at the target laid out where they landed.

It is a fun sequence of tasks and one I have not seen for some time.

As happens in Haga the winds were shifting the whole time as we looked for a launch site. It was predicted to swing around to the west and indeed did about 15 minutes into the launch period. A quick relocation and some more pi-balls had us in a position I was happy with for the fly in.

While we were still sorting out land owner permission the hare balloon launched from the fly in goal and we briefly saw it from just over 2 km away before it dropped down onto the surface again. The race was on. We had to get airborne early enough to see where the hare landed and be able to get to his landing spot before the winds all changed again near sunset.

In 15 minutes we had everything out of the truck and were airborne. Unfortunately we were also flying south of where I wanted to be.

We passed by the Fly In goal 800m to the south then a further 400m to the south of the Hare balloon.

Looking back we could see the other balloons that took off a bit further back and only 5 minutes later got a better shift back to the left and had a clean run at both goals. I will be in the bottom few results for both of the tasks this afternoon.

Bugger.

So, that is day one. We have a welcome party with the Mayor tonight and a chance to dull the pain with quality Japanese beer so we are relaxed and ready for the morning!

A picture says so much more and as such I have also prepared some screen captures from the map showing my flights. They are on my other Tablet PC so will upload them later on when I get more time.

Motegi madness Day 1

Woohoo, we have been ankle deep in mud, sliding up and down hills - getting pushed around the sky with 40km/h wind shears in the mountains.

This is Motegi and why I love it.

The first flight of the competition was from the Twin Ring race track. Four tasks were set, JDG, JDG, PDG and FON.

The two Judge declared goals were to the south east of the common launch point. After launch we had to climb to 4500ft to get far enough over to the east to make an approach to the first goal.

There was a very fast layer of wind at about 2000ft from the east making for an interesting change in direction while in the climb or descent.

My first drop was about 230m and right on the edge of an out of bounds area.

The second JDG had people drifting around in circles in the valley. With only 1800m to cover between the goals it was too close to climb high and drop form height - the combination of speeds involved made it very difficult to achieve. I think some people did but others also lost their markers in the forest trying to do it. I took about 850m in the end as a safe result.

The PDG was again chosen prior to launch and we were given the option of choosing two goals. I got to within 400m of my first option but was at 4500ft and doing 40km/h. It was all too close to descend or drop safely. I flew onto option two but again was on the edge of the window and ended up with a high drop into a swamp area where we could not recover the marker.

The result should be estimated as it was seen by the observer. I think it is about 600m.

The final fly on task was again messed up by me with another big climb required to get over to the goal. Another muffed approach saw a drop of about 420m.

All in all not a good start but I have heard lots of other horror stories along with the rare good result.

As always in Motegi, just sit back and wait for the results....it is going to be a great week.

Tuesday, November 20, 2007

From Saga to Motegi

Saga finished all to soon. The final resultwas 8th place which was sort ofok but not really. Then it was back to Australia for a week of work before jumping back on a plane and off to the north of Japan for the Tochigi Balloon Fiesta.

I was lucky enough on the flight home to get the leg from Singapore to Sydney on the new Airbus A380. At first it was a real novelty. It felt bigger, the isles were a little wider, the seats were too. There even seemed to be a little more leg room and the in seat video screens were about twice the size you normally see in cattle class.

By half way in to the flight the entertainment had crashed twice and the seat was no more comfortable than any other.

At the Sydney end of the flight I wanted to run screaming from the airport and into the warm embrace of my bed but it seems that while the runways and aero-bridges have been upgraded, the baggage handling has not.

In moments the singe carousel was jammed with all of the priority baggage which was no doubt owned by all people held up in customs. Eventually things started to clear up but it was a full 40 minutes before I got my bag and out the door.

Anyhow, that was a week ago! Since then I have been working like crazy, kite surfing, been invited (and accepted) to do the Syney to Hobart race, dancing etc....

Now I am in Motegi, or more correctly Tochigi Prefecture and the town of Haga. The weather is decidedly cold although it should be good for flying for most of the week to come.

We had a practice flight this morning and have just had the master briefing.

The competition starts in the morning. With some luck results will be published on the website:
http://www.exem-balloon.com/tochigi2007hp/

Sunday, November 04, 2007

Saga '07 competition flight 6

The last competition flight has been flown. Today we had another mass launch for the crowd with only two tasks set.

A PDG then JDG with a 200m limited scoring area.

We had to use the upper winds to get to the JDG and speeds were in the range of 40km/h above 1000 feet. As such everything came rushing up pretty quick and the whole flight was over in 26 minutes. For some reason I did not have time to take any photos today...

I was not able to correct enough for my PDG and ended up with a 300m result after releasing the marker at 2000ft.

The approach into the JDG was from the same height and while I was trying to descend, balloons below me prevented a safe fast descent into the goal. In the end I had to release the marker from over 1000 feet and hope I had my calculations right to keep it in the limited scoring area of 200m.

I think the result was about 90 to 100m and looked like it was only one of about 25 markers close enough to get a score.

All in all it will be interesting to see if I can hang onto a top 10 spot for a little bit of prize money. If not it does not matter.

The high light for me has been winning the Masashi Kakuda Memorial Cup yesterday morning. I considered Masashi a great friend and even mentor in some ways so it is a great honour to win that flight and be the first to have my name on his trophy.

It also looks like I might be invited to join a team for the final round of the Japanese Grand Prix in Motegi in a few weeks time so that will be fun to see if I can get them some more points along the way.

This afternoon will be the key grab but already the winds are picking up so I am not hopeful for another flight. It will be time to go drinking and enjoy the company of some fellow balloon nuts from around the world!

Saturday, November 03, 2007

Saga '07, Saturday Arvo

Well, surprise, surprise. Another cancellation due to high winds.

Tonight we have the Sanyamanchi party which is basically a bit of drinking, some food stalls and chance to watch the local dance groups jump around and have fun.

I have always thought that the night was more about trying to dull the foreign pilots with plum sake one the night before the last competition flight - you never see the Japanese pilots there, they are always tucked up in bed resting.

Still no results up from this morning so the tension is growing....how did I go??? What do I have to pull out of the hat tomorrow?

I got lots of great photos during the flight this morning so they should be uploaded to flickr in a little while.

Saga '07 competition flight 5

This morning dawned calm with blue skys. Saga has turned on it's best weather for the weekend when the big crowds come to the banks of the Kase river.

Results from yesterday show that it was a missed opportunity with most people near the top messing things up. Going into today's flight I am in 11th place, 800 points from the leader and only 500 points from second place. It is very tight at the top and things will change again soon.

There was a brief moment of excitement when I saw four markers on the table - we have not flown a quad task in Saga for years. If there is one disappointment here it is the lack of tasks that are often set, when the location and weather would allow many more.

The excitement was short lived. It was still three tasks. Pilot Declared Goal, Judge Declared Goal and a Maximum Distance Double Drop. The XDD requiring the extra marker.

Sadly the opportunity for another task or two was missed - why the first marker of the XDD was not a FON I do not know, even the last one for that matter to make it five tasks from four markers. Oh well.

The PDG was also set as a memorial to Masashi Kakuda. I would love to win this task and good goal selection may have made it a reality.

The flight into the PDG got very congested with three of us fighting for position. In the end I won out and dropped closest on that goal with 2.2m. I have not heard better yet so fingers crossed for the winning result.

The JDG presented some challenge and in the end I took the safe option of dropping from height rather than trying to bomb all the way onto the surface. The winds were starting their change and I did not want to risk drifting off. The drop was 18.9m but on this task it was not good enough - scores are already up and it looks like 665 points..

The XDD was to be flown inside a box 2km wide by 1km deep. I approached the north east corner of the box and entered about 100m further south than the ideal location. It was then an almost straight flight to the diagonally opposite corner. Again, the exit point was not ideal but with the available winds it was not to bad. The best result would have been 2225m and my result will be 1770m. I think there will be a few people with no results.

Friday, November 02, 2007

Saga '07, Friday Arvo

The flight was cancelled again this afternoon due to high winds.

It is bit of a bummer because we now only have three competition flights left and with the afternoons looking like this, it probably means only 2 flights in reality.

It seems like this morning will be interesting in the results with some very mixed bags out there by the sounds of it. The "No Result" for the fly in looks to have paid 383 points as less than half the field made it in, so while still not good, it is not the end of the world.

Onto the lighter side of life...

One of the fun things about coming to Japan is the difference in culture. Saga has had a mega shopping centre open on the out skirts of town since I was here last year.

Now I have seen these before near Narita and Motegi so in it's self it is nothing new but is quite the novelty none the less. Yesterday while exploring I found a barber shop like none I have ever seen before.

For 1000 yen (about $9.30 Australian) you could get a hair cut in ten minutes. Obviously the price is very good but that was not what drew me in, it was the actual shop that was the interesting part.

This place was lit up like an operating theatre with six individually sealed glass booths with a very funky chair in the middle of the open space. On one wall was a series of shelves with a TV screen and what appeared to be a vacuum hose on a flexible arm.

At the entrance to the shop was a vending machine where you put in your 1000 yen note and get a ticket. The barber takes you to your booth and sits you down. After a few hand signals common to all hairdressers around the world we were under way.

Now the thing about this is that as a guy who mostly gets his hair cut with clippers, no matter how good the bib and how little circulation you have left from the paper towel wrapped around your neck, hair gets into everything. Enter the vacuum cleaner!

As this dude is clipping away at my locks, he is hoovering at the same time. When we are finished he gives my head a good ruffle and vacuum at the same time and hey presto, not a single sliver of hair out of place, down my neck or on my shirt.

Brilliant stuff. No need for a shower straight after, no need to change the sheets if you forget to shower before bed that night. I am sure it will never catch on back in OZ but it is a bloody great idea in my books.

Saga '07 competition flight 4

The good news first. After the first 7 tasks I am in 5th place and only 200 points from 2nd place and 600 from first. This is a good place to be.

The weather was fine again this morning. Unfortunately my flying was not. No Photos today either - it was all too busy.

The mornings flight was to be a Pilot Declared Goal, Fly In and another Pilot Declared Goal.

While only three tasks, the trick was always going to be the selection of the first and third goals as they had to be chosen before take off with the final goal being between 6 and 9 kilometers from the launch point.

The winds were generally from the north with some westerly component near the surface and even some southerly at times. It was very fluky and there was a lot of head scratching going on.

After choosing a launch site I got off to an early start with the intention being to use the higher and in theory more reliable winds to get into all the goals before it all changed. I was near the front of the pack and happy with that position.

At only 1.6km to a suitable PDG I had little time to correct and ended up at nearly 2000ft and still to far left of the goal. A quick calculation and I dropped the marker in to a rice field about 320m from the goal. Not a good result but as close as I could get from where I was.

The Fly In to the field was another limited scoring area and again I was approaching from high, sitting on about 3000ft to get a good run in. The surface winds were picking up from the south so I had to fly past the goal before descending into the lower winds and flying back to the north for the drop.

As can happen I got a little greedy and hung onto the marker in an attempt to make a correction as I was looking like being a few hundred meters from the goal again. I was also skirting the edge of the scoring area so a drop would have been risky as I was still around 1000feet up and had just watched a marker slide out of the scoring area right near me. It did not pay off as I did a big arc around the northern end of the scoring area and never made it back in. No result for that task.

It was then back up to 3000 feet again to see if I could get to the last goal that was chosen at the start of the flight. Sticking with the upper wind plan seem to pay off and I flew due south to the final PDG. Again, with a high approach and winds nearly 180 different on the surface it was hard to position the balloon exactly but eventually I got it down in more or less the right spot. As I flew towards the goal just above ground height, what little westerly had been there evaporated and I ended up 133m off to the west.

So, the last task may get some points but I don't expect much. There were lots of balloons hanging around fighting to get to something but you never know how they did until the results hit the wall. The same can be said for the first PDG. There will be some good ones but it was so fluky that you just never know.

The Fly In was may disaster for the day. I had the joy of watching balloon after balloon correct their approach after my mistake. Now I just have to hope that more than a hand full missed so I get some points.

I am off to find a decent coffee and some lunch...

Thursday, November 01, 2007

Saga '07, Thursday Arvo

Strong winds caused the cancellation of this afternoons flight. Currently it is still overcast and blowing a good 15knots at ground level.

Rumour is that the morning will be fine though.

Some more results are up from the flight this morning. Task 5 (2.25m) was good for second place and 999 points while Task 6 (3.85m) was good for 6th place and 988 points.

A few quick calculations puts me in 6th place overall and about 600 points behind the leader and only 250 points from second place.

It is looking very tight at the top as always.

Saga 2007, Competition flight 3

An overcast morning here in Saga but no threat of rain. Light winds were blowing from the west, north west taking balloons in the direction of the Saga Airport and Metabaru ATC area. As such only two tasks were called, Pilot Declared Goal and Fly On.

It took me a while to decide how I wanted to fly these tasks and ended up waiting towards the end of the launch period to watch the first balloons launch and see what they did. It paid off with a good PDG selection that was towards the maximum distance, making it easy to fly to with lots of time to work the various winds. I had a few problems identifying the intersection with so many white Hi-ace vans and people waving at balloons but got a visual fix early enough and cruised in for a 2.23m gravity drop from about 70 feet up.

Yosh can be seen here relaxing next to the marker as I am obviously making life too easy for him.

On the way in the the PDG I had selected a fly on a little further south of track based on the directions I had seen on the way into the first goal. I climbed to 600 feet expecting to be right on track but needed more right. Fortunately by 1200 ft I had found what I needed and hung in until quite close to the goal before a fast descent into the lower winds. I again had to make a slightly higher approach than I wanted but was able to steer directly over the goal for another 3.85m drop.

All in all it was a very good morning that will score at the top of the pack.

Some results were up from yesterday. Task 1 was 972 points, Task 2 was 1000 points and task 3 as expected was only 264 points. No one scored on the afternoon flight so I think we all get 500 points for that.

The good weather is set to continue. lets hope I keep nailing targets like today!

Wednesday, October 31, 2007

Saga '07 Competition flight 2

There are still no results up from this mornings flight and the results from this afternoon will have no effect on the over all results.

The afternoon flight was a fly in to the field with a limited scoring area. The winds were much the same as they are on most afternoon flights, that is from the south and tending more west with height.

As far as I can tell, no one achieved a result! Not long after I took off it became apparent that things were changing and with a large area on the approach path that had to be cleared by 500 ft, all the balloons started spearing off to the east at a much lower altitude than expected.

When I landed it was looking like all the balloons had been caught in the same way and were all going to pass to the south of the field by a long way.

So, rumour is that no one made it in and the only shift for some will be penalties if they still broke any rules - PZ infringement for example.

The highlight of the flight was taking lots of kids for a little flight when we landed. They came from everywhere and we spent about half an hour giving them little rides.

Saga '07 Competition flight 1

Saga Competition flight 1
Wednesday 31st October 2007

Three tasks were called to open the 23rd Pacific Championship this morning in Saga. As predicted the weather was fantastic with a clear sky and light surface winds. All tasks were gravity marker drops.

Task 1 was a Pilot Declared goal, Task 2 was a Fly on and the final task was a Judge Declared Goal.


The total flight distance was about 11.6km and I was in the air for 1.7 hours. The general flight direction was to the south east with most pilots flying around the 800ft mark to give them a direct track to the JDG with the intention of picking up the other two goals on the way in.

I messed up my approach slightly on the PDF and ended up with a high drop resulting in about 42m, not the opening drop I would have liked but from 500 feet and doing 18km/h it was not to bad.

The Fly on was more like what I ordered with a nice slow and low approach for a 3.4m drop. It has got to be worth some points if not very close to the winning result.

The Judge declared goal showed again why Saga winds are famous for messing with pilots heads. Most of the pack ended up struggling for enough left (Northerly) to get down to the final goal. A very light and slow surface wind started to move balloons in the right direction. In setting up to use this breeze I over shot slightly but was still in a good spot for the expected sea breeze effect as the morning went on.

Unfortunately and against my expectations, the breeze turned to more from the North and I ended up sliding off to the side by about 540m and had to watch the majority of the pack drift straight over the goal. I had expected the breeze to some more out of the south east but it was not to be.

So we are off and running, we have some points on the board and it will be a lucky dip to see where the PDG scores. If I get over 300 points for the JDG then I will be surprised.

Tuesday, October 30, 2007

Saga practice flight

The weather is going to be a boomer this week in Saga!

We just had a great practice flight in typical Saga winds. Light and variable near the surface with good speed up top.

Because our other volunteer crew are not available until tomorrow, we hijacked some spectators from Nagasaki who had come to watch the balloons. I took the guy for a flight from the main launch field then landed after my first practice goal and swapped him for his girlfriend for the next hop.

After another practice goal we landed and they both drove the van while Yosh took over and flew the balloon for half an hour. He had a great time and I think learnt a lot about where he was actually up to in his training.

I gave him a rough flight plan - fly for about half an hour and land anywhere he wanted to that was safe and not crop. It was a solo flight without actually being solo. As the morning went on we edged closer and closer to the sea and his stress levels started to climb as the light and variable winds messed with his approaches.

In the end I took over for the landing as we were starting to run out of options and I really needed the balloon for the coming week :)

Anyhow, we are all ready to compete. Master briefing is this afternoon then it is game on.

Japanese efficiency

Some quick observations from a far away land.

Japanese efficiency is not what it used to be. Even the land of the rising sun is being shackled and tamed by bureaucracy.

To anyone who has visited Japan before would be aware that they are in some ways the masters of procedure, rubber stamps and ten people doing the work of one. I honestly feel that only in India have they been surpassed in these areas. The great thing has however been that the Japanese were kept in check by a sense of honor and duty, a need to please and at the end of the day, actually make stuff happen rather than hinder it. The red tape was a mask that was always politely removed when it became obvious it was actually a problem.

It seems that unless a miracle happens in the morning, the red tape is fixed in place for the moment on one subject. Unfortunately it is one close to my heart at this minute and that is fuel tanks.

The powers to be have ruled that only Japanese manufactured and approved tanks can be filled. For me this would have been very handy to know about last week as I have now freighted three tanks of exactly the right size and capacity for my little basket to Japan only to be told I can't use them.

This is compounded by the fact that the Japanese tanks are crap. They are too small and I don't like the valve configuration. To get the same amount of fuel in my basket I will need to carry five of the little buggers and that is just physically impossible. Sigh....

So fingers crossed that after tomorrows practice flight I will know how long my duration will be with these tanks and more importantly, enough people will have problems that it is sorted out as it always would have been in the good old Japan that I have come to love over the years.

Other than that, I am here, my gear is here, my crew Yosh is here and the forecast is looking good for a week of flying.

Oh bugger...this post will now be out of date because the free Internet seems to be down at the competition HQ.

Thursday, October 25, 2007

Back from outa space

Looks like I have been a bit slack with this old blog here but the good news is I am still alive and the adventure continues.

It is that time of year again and time to head over to Japan for a bit of competition ballooning. Just for a change I am attending Saga for the pacific championship and then Motegi for the Tochigi Championship.

It will be an interesting year for two reasons. Firstly it is the year after the World Championship was held in Motegi and secondly, for Motegi at least, it will be the organising committees fist year without Masashi running the show at all.

I am left with mixed feelings about the whole thing. Had Masashi not passed away last year I may have been tempted to have a year off and put all my focus on the 2008 Worlds in Austria. These trips to Japan are expensive in time as much as anything but they do provide the only training at this level available to me. With the effort of Masahi's team in Motegi over the years, I feel it is critical to support the event and in particular show Honda that their continued support of ballooning is appreciated.

So, the end result is that I am going, I am excited and I plan to win (as always...)

My balloon is already on it's way and with some luck will be waiting for me at Fukuoka on Monday morning. My good friend Yosh will be meeting me at the airport so we can go and clear it from Customs first thing in the morning.

In other life matters since my last post, a quick update on what has been going on...

I have been going nuts with my Ceroc dancing. Not that I am a competitive bastard but I ended up doing the Ceroc Championships a few weeks back. I entered in two events, Dance with a stranger and Girls Blindfold. It was great fun! In DWAS you have no idea about the music or who you are dancing with. Every 40 seconds or so you swap dance partners and keep on dancing. The whole idea is to freestyle your way through the songs as smoothly as you can while making the most of the music and your partner.

There were two rounds of heats to get the 35+ couples down to the 6 finalists (6 guys and 6 girls that is). I made it through to the final but that was it. Still, I was very happy having never participated in a dance champs before and not really being prepared as I would have like to have been.

The girls blindfold was good fun and my dance partner Charlie and I only had a few weeks to prepare after deciding to do it. This was a little different in that you at least knew who you were dancing with and could set up some moves but you still have no idea about the music and just have to interpret it on the night. The catch is that the girl has a blindfold on so it is all about you ability to lead the girl and for the girl, her ability to follow. This is bit of a fun event and we didn't make the final but again had a hell of a lot of fun.

The next big thing is Kite Surfing. Thanks to a mate from dancing, I have been learning to Kite Surf and have just bought my first rig. Having done just about every sport with a board on my feet, I have got up to speed reasonably fast over two weekends of learning and am able to get up and going with few problems. Now I just need to finesse the kite control and practice, practice, practice. Having my own kite will help too because I won't be so worried about trashing it.

So that is it for now. I will try and get some links happening for the balloon events and will probably next talk from Singapore Airport....which reminds me!

My trip to Japan is with Singapore Airlines and is via Singapore. I am not sure about the flight out of Sydney but I know the return flight will be on the new Airbus A380. That is very cool as they only just did the first ever commercial flight with the A380 today.

Singapore/Sydney is the first route for this massive and new aircraft. As an aviation buff it would be a bit like getting onto a 747 within the first week of it entering service back in January 1970.

Tuesday, September 04, 2007

Little less talk, litte more action please...

Well there has not been much action here for a while because, in my real world there has not been much action to write about...

After all of my fun and games with the Nationals and Sailing it has been head down bum up here at work and not much else has happened.

The weather for flying has been generally poor and the few days I had allocated for some commercial flying have turned out to be windy, wet or both.

Last weekend I finally got to go and play and had two interesting flights.

Saturday we had a large corporate group from Canon to fly up in the Hunter Valley. It consisted of journos and photographers from all over the place on a junket to test out and review the new EOS40D digital SLR. It was an interesting mix of people and they were having way to much fun. The toys they were playing with were absolutely fantastic and I could hardly hear myself think while the shutters clicked away for the entire flight.

I worked out I had about $30,000 worth of cameras and lenses in the basket between the 10 passengers. I was really glad that when I pulled my camera out it was a Canon too. I might have been lynched if it was anything else.

After the flight we got to hang around while they printed out the best shots on a fancy new Pixma printer - the results were fantastic and fast for an inkjet printer spitting out high quality A3 sheets.

As much as I enjoy meeting new people on commercial flights, this group were wonderful in that they entertained themselves, had lots of interesting stories and were busy telling them to anyone who would listen.

The next flight on Sunday was interesting for different reasons.

With the visit of the great errorist* Gerorge dubbya Bush and the rest of the APEC gang, Sydney is in lock down. The entire Sydney basin has been declared a restricted zone for aviation and special flight authorisations are required.

All this has been in place for months with people expecting to operate in the area having a registered operator number and needing to file flight plans etc. The really cool bit is that on the day of your flight you need to get a special authorisation code from the defense force.

If you can't quote the flight authorisation code and registered operator number when contacted in flight, you will end up getting escorted out of the zone by and FA/18 fighter or Blackhawk helicopter.

Now I don't know the last time someone tried to escort a balloon anywhere, other than the tragic events in Belarus, but I was really hoping they would give it a go. I am annoyed enough about the waste of money and time that this little APEC party is costing us that I was ready to be martyred to show how stupid this whole situation is.

My passengers were amused at the whole concept, then a little concerned that we may get shot at and finally bitterly disappointed when we didn't see a single bit of military hardware for the entire flight. You can't win.

Next weekend will be more interesting because they APEC crowd will actually be in town so with some luck we will get a decent air show for all our tax payers dollars being spent on fortifications and dinner parties for the various world leaders.

* follow the link for a definition - language may offend but we are talking about an offensive individual.

Monday, August 06, 2007

Words of wisdom...

Just read a couple of wise words that suddenly made me realise something about someone I know, that I probably knew deep down but can only now accept as fact....And no, I have not been drinking.

"A person who is nice to you, but rude to the waiter, is not a nice person."

On a lighter note and from the same barrel of wise words;

"Never, under any circumstances, take a sleeping pill and a laxative on the same night"



Wednesday, August 01, 2007

Winners are grinners..

Back to the real world after 2 days 11 hours and 15minutes of fun.

One word to describe the race. Fun. The weather for the sail could not have been much better. We spent most of the time under spinnaker blasting along at between 7 and 9 knots with a few slow periods of lighter air that bought our average speed for the 384 mile race back to 6.5 knots. This is fast for our boat as it is a cruiser not a light weight racer.

The start with 72 boats was fantastic. We were all under spinnaker on port tack in Sydney harbour, the bright yellow Kavanagh Balloons branded kite flying along with all the big names in Australian racing. A quick gybe just after sow'n'pigs reef got us out of the heads and then a gybe back to port to head up to coast. From there until midnight we were running with the Kav kite until wind speeds got up over 30knots and we pulled it down before it broke something. Maximum boat speed was 12.2 knots on the first night.

Sunday morning and the breeze had eased slightly and the Kav kite went back up until we pulled a swift little gybe and set a bigger and lighter kite around 10am. During the day we passed a few whales and even got to see a large humpback breech a few times. No photos - too busy racing!

We held the big kite all day in lighter winds. That night the light weight kite suffered a small tear during a gybe and soon blew out leaving us with the kite torn in two pieces.

A quick drop of the damaged sail and the heavier Kav kite went back up with little fuss and we were under way.

Lighter winds on Monday morning made for a few tense moments as boats we had passed or been holding off started to creep up around us. It kept everyone focussed and made for some jovial exchanges at change of watch as to who had done a better job keeping boat speed and course. We also got to see more whales and a few dolphins.

Sunrise on Monday morning

By sunset Monday we were at Byron Bay and the winds were back up above 20knots and the boat humming along in the high 7 to 8 knot range again. We were visited by some more dolphins having a play in our bow wave.

We had calculated we needed a run rate of 5.6knots to beat UBS Wild Thing but it was all depending on the finish time for Stampede as to whether we would get 1st or 2nd.

After rounding Point Danger we gybed back to port for the line, passing behind Tartan who we had been in close contact with all day. Soon after the sea breeze flipped to the westerly and we were able to drop out kite and hoist the number 2 head sail for a reach into the finish line. In the change of direction and our timing of the gybe we ended up in front of Tartan and they followed us over the line about 200m behind and in 4th place.

For us, we had done enough to finish in first place on corrected time and in doing so had some very sporty boats behind us. Wild Thing had finished 15 hours ahead but with the performance handy cap system that put them 3 hours behind us on corrected time.

Not bad for my first big ocean race. The skipper summed it up perfectly. "We are out to have fun and winning is the best sort of fun."

We pulled into a berth at the Southport Yacht club at about 2am and could hear the party at the club going strong. A quick change from full race gear into the appropriate onshore sailing gear and we were in there drinking Bundy and Coke from jugs like the rest and best of them. A little after 4.30 am it was time to sleep for a few hours before breakfast and the presentation.

The talk at a yacht club after a race is as bad or worse than a ballooning championship. Lots of hand signals describing manoeuvres, rules and tactics. Back slapping for a job well done and commiserations over wrong decisions. The biggest difference is the drinking - I am yet to see rum and coke being sold by the jug at a balloon meet. It might get more people into ballooning if we did...

There is also the uniform. You have to look salty and wind/sun burned with the right shirt (name of your boat or a famous race is mandatory) and beer or rum in hand (a jug is good for extra or instant friends).

A great quote overheard while sitting below decks at the yacht club: "Oh thats Namadgi.....we were beaten by that? Oh no!"

Highlights for me have to be helming for about 8 hours in the race, at speed and under spinnaker. Overtaking a few boats while on the helm only to have the crew ooh and ahh at the whales! Getting the met right and seeing it all unfold more or less as I expected. Getting to share a race with dad, that was cool. Winning but I suppose that is a little obvious.

It was a great honour to sail and share in the win with Rick (Skipper), Gath (Nav), Jack, Brad Susan and dad. Thanks for having me along for the ride.


Balina nearing Sunset


Dad & Susan near North Solitary Island


Me on the helm during happy hour

Thursday, July 26, 2007

Audi Sydney to Gold Coast Race

40 hours to go until the Audi Sydney to Gold Coast yacht race.

Things have been very busy since getting back from the Nationals. Dealing with the post event depression that falls like a fog after a week of great flying has been no fun but work has made sure I didn't have time to think about it too much. Second place still stings a little but I have the bonus of at least knowing I am off to Austria in September 2008 for the Worlds without having to worry about second round invitations etc...

So this weekend it off to the Gold Coast. This will be my first ocean race with dad on Namadgi. It will be fun and an interesting way to spend time together outside of work. We have done lots of sailing together but only one race and that was with him as a guest on my regular boat, not his.

The other fun thing will be that my regular skipper, Mark Harding, is also in the race but on another Yacht, Zen. They will be a lot quicker than us and worth watching out for on the yacht tracker.

The weather is looking great with a spinnaker start in Sydney and light to moderate west to south west winds for the entire race. Just to add to the pressure, our fearless leader Rick, seems to have put dad and I in it when interviewed for the race website. You can read the article here and see what I mean....Very flattering but bloody hell, what a load of bollocks.

Not sure I will be able to update this form the deep blue sea so see you all when I get back.

Sunday, July 22, 2007

Ben Lee on Rove

Who said that Tv advertising doesn't work?

I was just watching ROVE interview Ben Lee while in New York. Ben Lee related a funny story about the cops cancelling their permit to shoot a video clip after only one take. Apparently it was something about naked skate boarders as part of the video.

He mentioned that some one had leaked the video to youtube and I did what every geek watching Tv with a laptop on their knees did - browsed straight to youtube to find it.

When I got there it had been viewed 38 times and had one comment. By the time I had watched the video and put a comment on it had been viewed 222 times and I was comment 98. A few moments later and it was over 200 comments and is still climbing.

Got to love the net for immediate action and reaction (and naked people on youtube). Anyhow, looking forward to the new album.

Bye Bye Moto...

I am back in Finland and loving it. Well a slight exageraton, not in Finland so much as Nokia land.

I love my gadgets but they have to work well or they just irritate me to the point of throwing them through the wall. In the past six years I have bounced from a Sony/Ericsson phone to a Motorolla. Both of them have been fee give always from Vodafone and both have been the worst phones I have ever had to deal with. The ads say "hello moto", I say bye bye!

In frustration I lashed out and bought a new Nokia 6300. I am in love again. It just works, the functions and buttons are where you expect to find them and it is just a little bit slimmer and younger than the phone it is replacing....

I am so shallow some times, but some things are worth upgrading.

Friday, July 20, 2007

$15 well spent??? Jury is still out.

Forgive me father, it has been six months since my last cinema outing.

Crazy stuff, my last trip to the movies was to see Blood Diamond about a week before I split with Miss T back in February. Six months! I don't know what is weirder, that I have been single for six months or I have not gone to the movies in that time?

Tonight I had the urge to get some mindless entertainment on the big screen and the plasma was not going to cut it.

I went for the most mindless thing that I could think of. The one film that I would not go to on a date or would ever expect to see with any self respecting lady. Transformers.

Yep, Transformers. A movie based on a bunch of Hasbro toys. Robots that turn into cars that turn back into robots and blow stuff/each other up.

Why did I do this? Was it $15 well spent? I am still figuring that out. Some times I was laughing out loud - always sad when sitting by yourself in a dark room full of teenagers but none the less a good gauge of value for money. Other times I was chin in hand waiting for the robots to stop shooting for a moment so something funny could be said.

The special effects were as advertised, spectacular in their mostly seamless integration with the live action. From a totally geeky perspective the texturing and lighting were amazing and there were a few moments that managed to suspend disbelief as much as huge robots blowing stuff up can do..

The movie was relentless. The action hardly paused so you could take a breath. In some ways it reminded me of the Speilberg/Cruise version of War of the Worlds with equal amounts of non stop action but a lot less fear and trauma. Speilberg was involved in this one too so what can I say.

An interesting thing out of all this is that I might have a new silver screen crush. My mate Steve did a very funny write up of movie babes a while back and I had to agree that the perfectly imperfect Keira Knightly has had my heart for some time. Tonight it was Megan Fox that sure quickened the pulse...Sorry Keira.

Anyhow, back to the point of this post...if you are a pre-pubescent, toy loving kid or feeling like a sad wannabe CG animator with nothing else on a Friday night but drool over other peoples work, then this movie is for you. If not, save your money and just google Megan Fox...

Wednesday, July 18, 2007

I've been every where man..

Time to pack all the toys away after the Nationals and clean off the laptops.

A quick look at the log file for the car computer came up with this track file for our week of competition. It may not look like we went far but those tracks in green actually total just over 926km of retrieve driving in just 6 days of competition.

A totally useless bit of information but at least explains why we seemed to be filling the car up every two days!

I will get the flight logs up soon so you can see where we flew - go on, tell me your excited?

Saturday, July 14, 2007

2007 Nationals photos

Photos from the 2007 Nationals are up on Aunty Monkey.

If you don't know about Aunty Monkey and you like balloons then get over there and sign up, otherwise if you just want to see the photos go and have a look.

We did the key grab this morning and made a fast pass just to one side of the pole. No one got it but it was great fun and nice and fast. Slept the rest of the day in preparation for a big night tonight at the Awards dinner.

UPDATE: Just found this cool slide show widget on Aunty Monkey

Friday, July 13, 2007

All over red rover..

The last flight has been cancelled due to high winds. The means that the flight this morning was it for the 2007 National Championship.

Looks like I am off to Austria in 2008!

I managed to pull in the points on Edwin and have unofficially finished in 2nd place about 230 points ahead of him. Paul pulled a few more points out on me as expected with a good morning and finished in first place.

It has been a fantastic week if not a little too short for my liking. Four days of competition is just enough to get warmed up, six days would be perfect.

Am I happy, to be honest not really. I never come to these things to come second. Losing the title after four years feels a bit sad too. We had a good number of challenges to over come and in the end to get past those and still hang in the top three should make me happy. Ask me in a weeks time I suppose.

Paul is a fantastic competitor and it was his week. Well done to him and his team - we are always pushing each other and that is half the fun, knowing we can't give each other an inch and this if we do then the game is over.

Benalla Flight 7

Friday morning, last competition day.

After the rain and wind yesterday, this was the last day in the chase. We were confirmed in third place and about 200 points behind 2nd and 683 points to first place.

With Paul and Edwin ahead of me it was going to require a special flight from me to get back those points.

Three tasks were called, pilot declared goal, fly in and fly on. The distances on the task sheet indicated that the flight was to be a fast one with just about the full stretch of the map from corner to corner likely to be needed.

The cold breeze on the back of our necks and the pilot balloons scooting over the horizon had us wondering if it was going to be possible to get off the ground, let alone get to the goals.

In the end a great launch site was found and surface wind actually eased a little. We had picked the flight perfectly and with just under 15km to run to the first goal we had lots of time to relax and get settled.

The PDG result was about 10m, the Fly in was about 6m and the final fly on was 23m. On most days a good result, but on a day when I was chasing Paul and Edwin, it was questionable if it was enough.

Paul was right there beside me the whole way so I know I had not caught him but I had no idea how Edwin went.

Thursday, July 12, 2007

Afternoon cancelled too..

No afternoon flight today. The rain had mostly stopped and with some signs of convection and instability the flight was cancelled.

It is a difficult thing. We don't want to be sent off in stupid conditions but at the same time, right now I want as many tasks as we can get. For me it was acceptable for a flight. If out for a jolly I would have considered it, for some in the competition it probably wasn't. Such is life.

Interestingly, one balloon not in the competition was seen scooting along for a flight in the distance - I suppose we will hear from them if it was a good call or not.

It looks like we have three flights left so with some luck that is still 10 more tasks but more likely to be 7 based on the trend of 3 in the morning and 1 in the afternoon. Here is hoping for 10!

The rain got us...

The flight this morning has been cancelled due to low cloud and light rain. Bummer.

Fingers are crossed that the cloud lifts enough for a flight this afternoon. We were hoping to get off to the cinema but none of the session times fit in before the afternoon briefing.

Team spirits are high but we would rather be flying at this point rather than sitting on the ground.

Rain rain go away..

Day 4 of the competition and it is raining. We are on hold right now for the morning flight and waiting to see if the light drizzle out side clears.

I am really hoping for a flight and a dozen markers as we are now in third place and 683 points behind first. Yesterday really hurt us.

Wednesday, July 11, 2007

Benalla flight 6

After the adventures this morning, it was time for another single afternoon task.

The director called for a Gordon Bennett Memorial with the Benalla airfield as the scoring area. Variable winds again made launch site choice a challenge.

We ended up with a climb to about 5500 ft to get the required direction. With a lot of leaning to the left we ended up getting the marker down about 200m from the target and inside the scoring area.

Interesting is a recurring theme here, but with about a third of the field not getting results and such a large scoring area there are people spread everywhere and the results will be well, interesting.

I am pretty sure after this mornings stuff ups I am back down the pack by a few places but the weather looks good for flying all the way through the week so there is time to catch up again.