European Championships Report - July 2008

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British Team '08

The British Team 2008 L->R : Calvo (Team Manager), Craig, Alan
(Team Support), Fiona, Russell, Jaime, Mark H, Mark W

The 10th European Paraglding Championships are being held in Niš in Serbia from 30th June to 12 July 2008

Pictures from the European Championships by Mark Hayman and Calvo are in the gallery.

The official website is at



Winner: Greg Blondeau (France) 4069

17th Mark Watts 3634

26th Jamie Messenger 3494

71st Mark Hayman 2808

59th Russell Ogden 2936

85st Craig Morgan 2605

134th Fiona Macaskill 867

Nation Ranking - UK 12th

Day 1 - Mon 1st: Day cancelled due to high winds and risk of storms

The day started early with a mandatory safety briefing for all pilots at 8:00 am. The pilots then made their way to the south take off to prepare for the task.

During the briefing the wind increased and as the cloud development built, thunder was heard, the task was the cancelled.

The weather for tomorrow is forecast to improve, with a better possibilty of running a task.

Day 2 - Wed 2nd: Day cancelled due to problems with take off

Much earlier start today, Most of the Pilots were on the south Launch by 11:00 am, the forecast was for light NNW winds at all altitudes, no risk of storms and possibly a blue day, To start there were a few small cumulus which quickly died away and a strong inversion at about 2000m. The task and safety committees met and declared race to goal

The window was due to be opened at 12:30 but was delayed due to the wind coming across the take off from the west. It was opened at 12:35 with the start at 13:35 with the wind switching frequently aproximately 15 pilots including Jamie Messenger and Mark watts managed to launch then the wind starting to come over the back.

Some pilots still launched including Mark Hayman but many others failed in their attempts. The window was then suspended, the time was then 13:05 with most of the field stuck on take off. It was suggested that the pilots could be moved to the north take off, but this would have meant that they would not be able to take off before the start had opened. In the interest of sporting fairness the task was then cancelled.

The pilots then moved to the North Take off to free fly. Many of the pilots flew the task route including all the British team. The conditions proved to be weak and difficult But some pilots managed to make the goal. The organisation are working overnight to prepare the launch areas for an ordered launch, to minimise the possibility of losing another task tomorrow.

Day 3 - Thurs 3rd: 71K task

The forecast for today was very light winds from the north with a cloudbase of up to 2500m and up to 60% cloud cover by the end of the afternoon, some risk of cumulus congestus but no risk of storms.

The south launch was chosen as the best option for the day and the task committee met and set a provisional task of 82.4Km. as the pilot briefing started the wind switched to consistent 10kph or more from the north. After a lengthy deliberation the decision was taken to move to the north launch and a new task was set with a window open time of 13:15

Provisional Task results: 2 Pilots in Goal

Winner: Greg Blondeau (France) 907

24th Mark Hayman 700

52nd Jamie Messenger 423

54th Mark Watts 416

71st Craig Morgan 319

84th Russell Ogden 305

Fiona Macaskill not yet processed

Nation Ranking - UK 13th

Task report and photos by Mark Hayman

A very frustrating day!

Take off looked perfect early and we were optimistic of a good day but the usual North Wind came to spoil things just after we had the task programmed in. After half an hour the decision was made to move to the small North/West take off which meant re-packing all the kit and moving in the team bus. Lots of pilots were, by now, a little hacked off with the conditions and the tension was evident once we reassembled on the very small lower take off and were faced with an ordered (more or less) launch.

Ordered means different things for different nationalities and translates to ‘aggressive pushing’ if you are of British descent. Standing in a launch queue dressed for high altitude flight at 3pm in the blazing Southern European sun is guaranteed to stress even the most chilled out pilots and it was not pleasant for anybody.

Finally we got away on an elapsed time (due to the small launch) task of 71km. All the Brits got away except Fiona who bombed in the difficult and windy conditions. The lower take off has only 300 metres of vertical difference to the landing field and the climbs were windy and weak punishing any mistake relentlessly.

Once up and high things were fairly good but nobody wanted to start the elapsed time task meaning endless hanging about. It seemed as soon as you made a reasonable height (base was a distant dream for most in these conditions) and started the task nobody wanted to go with you. Flying on your own is a certain bomb out so there was a constant re-cycling of pilots starting on course then realising that they were on their own then coming back and climbing again etc. etc. etc.

Finally the weight of pilots became so much that the task got underway. The initial good climbs above take off petered out into weak – 1.5m/s max. – climbs once on course and we were all scrabbling for what we could get. At the first turnpoint the Brits were all pretty much together and in amongst it but with only a maximum of 300 metres above the ridge and a persistent Northerly wind component it would be easy to get it wrong on the way back to the second turnpoint.

This, unfortunately, proved to be the case as Craig Morgan found himself low and unable to remain above the ridge. He gambled on a strong climb from the Southerly slopes but found himself sliding slowly but inexorably down the hill to a dodgy landing between power lines and houses. As pilots were weeded out those of us remaining tip-toed along, often having to take 0.5 metre climbs, and tried to stay above the main line of the ridge.

Back from turnpoint two conditions were weakening by the minute and Russ Ogden, Mark Watts and Jamie Messenger slid down the North face with many other pilots. Finally it was just me going on a death glide towards goal when, surprise, I hit a 4 metre thermal from the end of the main mountain chain which rocketed about 20 pilots to 2400 metres, the highest we had been all day.

Only 30k and a 13 to 1 glide separated us from goal and the peloton set off confident we would find something, especially as we were heading for a big mountain with cut corn fields and villages at the base of it, facing the wind. It would be hard to find a better example of a thermal generator in a Dennis Pagen text book but sadly it was not to be. Normally 30 very highly skilled pilots aiming at a sure-fire location means a guaranteed thermal but this time the day had beaten us and it was not to be. A few made hopeful turns in zeros and there were some ‘do or die’ flights into shallow and questionable looking valleys but pretty much the whole field landed 10k short of goal. At the time of writing it is not clear who the winner is or, indeed, if perhaps one or two made goal. We will know in the morning.

A tricky and technical day which could almost define the term ‘war of attrition’. As I am writing this there is a real risk that the task could be lost due to protests about the launch. For the later pilots it seems that the conditions were very poor and many had to launch with a wind at 90 degrees to the launch and some ran between trees and bushes to get away. Lamentably it seems that again we seem to have a less than suitable venue for a competition of 150 pilots…

Day 4 - Fri 4th: Day cancelled due to high winds and thunderstorms

The day was cancelled because of strong winds and thunderstorms.

The weather forecast for tomorrow is not good, but there is an outside possibility of some flying.

Day 5 - Sat 5th: Day cancelled due to strong winds and possible thunderstorms

The day was cancelled because of strong winds and possible thunderstorms.

Day 6 - Sun 6th: 57K elapsed time speed run

A 57K task with 70 pilots in goal.

Mark Hayman, Jaime Messenger, Russell Ogden, Mark Watts in goal.

Pictures in the gallery and on this page by Mark Hayman and Calvo.

A fairly pleasant 57k race to goal - Reort by Mark Hayman

After a few frustrating days cancelled due to rain, wind or lack of suitable take-offs we managed to pull a task out of the bag. We arrived at the small North take-off at 10am and the wind was already blowing very strongly. The official large South facing one has been more or less abandoned after days of wind coming over the back. Most pilots resignedly left their gliders in their bags and jostled each other for space under the limited available trees, amusing themselves with the usual para-waiting standbys of gossip, taking the mickey, fiddling with kit and telling tall stories. Many of the male pilots spent happy hours ogling the scantily dressed local Serbian girls.

At midday Jean-Marc Caron (France) launched to test conditions after the wind-dummies had organised a revolt and had all refused to fly. Nobody held it against them as 30k gusts ripped through the launch. Jean-Marc demonstrated that it was flyable but it looked extremely unpleasant and certainly not the type of conditions to launch 150 varied pilots from a launch that only takes 3 gliders at a time.

More deliberations ensued amongst the task setters and safety committee and we agreed to hang on as the forecast was for a slight but significant drop in the wind around 2pm. Many were not happy and wanted to leave and go down the hill but as if by magic at 2 the wind dropped enough to make at least launching feasible. A straight race to goal using the ‘Clock Start’ method was set. This start system is halfway between elapsed time and race to goal consisting of a start every 15 minutes for 2 hours meaning the pilots could decide when to go as a function of the changing conditions of the day. This system also avoids the problem of elapsed time when nobody wants to start or be at the front.

The launch was ordered according to the finishing position on the first task and I was away fairly early into what might politely be called a ‘stiff breeze’ and impolitely a ‘bloody hurricane’. Thermals were fair ripping through above take off before getting smashed up at around 1500m – far too low to even think about leaving with an unlandable gorge for the first 10k of the route. I probably climbed and glided forwards ten times trying to get height and, with more and more taking off below, almost everybody ended up in the air when the Earth gave a great sigh of relief and released thermals from miles around at 3.15pm taking us all to cloudbase at 2500 metres together. 5 minutes remained before the next available start window which the entire field took turning the task into a race to goal for everyone except the brave few who had taken earlier start times. They would be quickly reeled in by the chasing hordes behind.

Onto the first glide all the Brits were away except Fiona who had landed in the official bomb out field and was riding up the hill for a re-fly. We had a huge first glide of 15km often topping 60km/h at trim speed with the wind behind us. For a long time there was not the slightest sniff of a thermal and the whole gaggle slid towards the lee-side South facing slopes of the main mountain spine. Once in here the climbs were weak but it never looked like you would go down unless you got low enough to get into the strong valley wind. Around 20 fell by the wayside but the majority found a climb even though for some it was very slow to get going.

A leading gaggle had pushed on a little more bravely and were rewarded with a reasonable climb from a fairly improbable place whilst the stragglers had to content themselves with whatever they could get. Mark Watts, Jamie Messenger and Craig Morgan were in amongst it with the leaders with myself and Russ Ogden a little slower after our climb had turned out to be broken and bitty. Pushing on towards the town of Pirot there were multiple routes to be had, most of which were weak and windy. The leaders made a break here having hit a good climb and went straight over the town into the strongest climb of the day. From here it was a simple glide to goal. Stefan Morgentaller is currently the fastest at 1h16 which is not bad going for 57k!

Craig Morgan unfortunately landed 20k from goal having pushed on with the leaders when his group couldn’t find a climb to take them over the large North facing mountain before the town. A few more metres and they would have been over the top and onto the generous South faces from where goal was more or less a formality. Mark and Jamie radioed in that they had gone on final glide 12k out and it was ‘very lifty’ on the way in. Russ and me were a little stuck above a mountain and on hearing this we left the weak lift we were in and made a bee-line for the town. 1k in a straight line in 4m/s lift was more than enough to get me to goal around 9 minutes behind Mark and Jamie. Russ followed in a few minutes behind me.

The timing will be tight on this task but the GAP scoring system can do all sorts of weird things when many get to goal in a time which is faster than the nominal time. With only two nominated scoring pilots (myself and Russ) in goal we are not too hopeful for the team position but at least we got some flying and some sporting competition after days of hanging about.

Goal was a lovely field with a shop selling beer across the road from it. Having been cooped up in minibuses, windy launches or hotel rooms for several days you could feel the joy and relief from everybody in goal as they tucked into beers and discussed the day’s flying. It was a lovely chance to do what we have all come here to do. Fly and race each other…

Day 7 - Mon 7th: Day cancelled due to high winds and no thermals

The day was cancelled because of strong winds and no thermals.

Day 8 - Tue 8th: 57K task race to goal

A 57K task to goal used in previous task.

Pictures in the gallery and on this page by Mark Hayman and Calvo.

Report by Calvo

At last another flying day! It seems that the days we fly are always the days that the forecasters say we won't. The weather forecast was not good with quite strong southerly wind to start with, switching to north west as a front approached. This was expected between 13:00 and 16:00. As the front arrived the forecast was for even stronger winds, followed by storms.

We all left early for the south take off to take advantage of the small window of opportunity to task. The first briefing was at 11:00 and a provisional task was set. after a short time with the wind off to the west, the pilots were moved to the small north west take off. This was a mistake as the wind was far to westerly, sometimes south westerly and after 1 hour we moved back to the south take off where the wind was more on the launch (as it had been the whole time!). After a short time the task was made official.

The task was stopped at 15:42 as the front approached, but as there was at least 50 in goal it is scored.

The Task results, so far Mark Watts 3rd place, Craig Morgan 4th place, Jamie messenger 23rd. Craig's celebration was unusual (see photo!)

Provisional Task results: 71 Pilots in Goal

Winner: Joakim Johansson (Sweden) 992

3rd Mark Watts 947

4th Craig Morgan 938

23rd Jamie Messenger 879

79th Mark Hayman 427

96th Russell Ogden 297

125th Fiona Macaskill 132

Nation Ranking - UK 14th

Flying report by Mark Watts

After the window opened, the 2 main gaggles found weak climbs from take off. Both were very busy and aggressive, not really enjoyable. Start opened at 13:45. 30 of us pushed back upwind towards take off to find a quieter climb to get in position to head down the course. We were 2Km from the start at that time with over half the field ahead of us. Neverthless, a good position to be in with other pilots highlighting both the good and bad places to be in.

The first few climbs and glides were with the previous task winner, Mads Syndergard and we caught up with leaders about 20Km down the course. The lead gaggle then joined a lone pilot who showed us the next climb which was the best climb of the day, but also the most turbulent with a lot of the field having collapses. With good altitude, it was time to push on to keep ahead of rest of the field.and I glided for about 10km to the turnpoint, passing underneath the 2 pilots that were ahead of me, who had stopped for a weak climb.

In the valley around the turnpoint were the best looking clouds of the day. The average climb rate for the day was about 2m per second, I was hoping that under these clouds I might have found a 4m climb or better to give me the jump of the gaggle. Unfortunately, this was not the case and the climbs were the same as the rest of the day.

The gaggle was always snapping at my heels, and the 2 pilots above me were always slightly ahead. These 2 pilots left on their glide to goal and as the gaggle was bearing down on me, I decided to go on glide to goal with a 12 to 1 glide showing on my instruments, But as on the previous task we had flown through lifting air on final glide to the same goal in similar conditions, I considered it a calculated risk.

I left on the glide at about half speed watching the 2 pilots ahead needing and getting little bits of lift. That made me feel better about my decision. I had to reduce to trim speed when it looked for a while that I would not make it. With Craig and the rest of the gaggle reeling me in, I crossed the line with no more than 3m to spare for a less than graceful downwind, in a heap landing. Still it got me third place, I will have that, thank you very much!

Day 9 - Wed 9th: Day cancelled due to high winds

Report from Calvo.

The weather for today was forecast border line, too strong for wind but perfect otherwise. We went to the north take of (Fakir D02) and already the wind was too strong.

The forecasters predicted that the wind may drop during the afternoon. After waiting on take off for 4 hours during which the wind proceeded to increase, at times gusting to over 15 m/sec, the task was cancelled for the day.

Day 10 - Thur 10th: 73.6K elapsed time task, started but cancelled due to high winds

Report from Calvo.

The weather forecast for today was for NNW wind, much lighter than yesterday strengthening a little in the afternoon, also 2/8 cumulus and a cloudbase of up to 2800 m.

The pilots arrived at the North launch D02 (fakir) at about 11:00 am with little or no wind in evidence. A sounding balloon was released which gave light North Westerly winds increasing slightly at altitude. The task was set with no times, while we waited for the thermal activity to start.

As the wind picked up on Launch the task committee met again and changed the task because the first task was not viable. The window was opened at 13:30 with the first start time at 14:00 and start times every 20mins after that until window close. as the field got away from take off the thermals were still weak, they soon improved to 3m/sec or better.

The leaders made the first turnpoint with no problem but as the first 2 gaggles arrived on the main ridge towards the second turnpoint it became apparent that the wind had increased way more than what had been forecast. With winds in excess of 35Kph fron the north at ridge height and above, at ground level the wind was gusting to the same strength but from the WSW. Many pilots were getting into difficulty with both the wind strength and severe turbulence.

The Meet director had no choice but to cancel the task at 15:30. Lets hope the weather men get it right tommorrow!!

Day 11 - Fri 11th: 64.3K elapsed time task

Pictures in the gallery and on this page by Mark Hayman and Calvo.

Report from Calvo.

With a weather forecast of light northerly winds to start, then moving around to the east as the day progressed. The pilots headed up to take off at 10:00. The southerly take off was chosen for some reason known only to the organisers; so one and a half hours were wasted until the decision was taken to move to the north launch. The conditions at take off were good, but light, the sky however looked classic with good cumulus forming. After much deliberation by the task committee, the window was opened for an ordered launch at 13:30

Provisional Task 6 results: 84 Pilots in Goal

Winner: Russell Ogden (GBR) 930

51st Jamie Messenger 710

61st Mark Watts 675

99th Fiona Macaskill 365

118th Mark Hayman 212

124th Craig Morgan 158

Overall Nation Ranking - UK 15th

Flying report by Russell Ogden.

The task was set out into the flats with a 63.4km elapsed time race, with 15 minute start gates. The launch queue was ordered by pilot ranking so Wagga, Jamie and Mark were able to take the first start with the hope of gaining good departure points. Craig, Fiona and myself had no choice but to take the 3rd start gate 45 minutes later, but with a good climb out from launch we were in a good position and took the start on the button.

The first group had a good run down to the 1st turnpoint but after that things changed for the worse as they entered a large blue hole on the way to the 2nd. The climbs slowed down and the lead pilots were forced into survival mode just to stay airbourne. This allowed the second group to catch them and large gaggles formed down track with several of the bolder pilots landing out.

Meanwhile, at the back, our group had an easier run with little Cu's forming on our way, clearly marking the route. I pushed on and soon caught up with the gaggle in front and cruised round the 1st turnpoint pretty easily.

I could see the pilots struggling ahead, so spent my time climbing in 1 metre/sec, which was actually relatively good as the climbs down to the second turnpoint were pretty rubbish. Craig was a little behind me and went for a clever line slightly off track, this didn't work for him and he was soon on the ground after about 33km. Mark was ahead but low and after a long desperate struggle landed at 43km.

At the front, Wagga and Jamie worked their way down to the 2nd turnppoint, but ended up low and had to once again go into survival mode just to stay in the game. Meanwhile, I cruised behind picking off the climbs I wanted and eventually found myself a 2m climb, which in the conditions was like a rocket ship! This allowed me to jump to the main gaggle at the front of the race and take my time to take the turnpoint.

My final glide was from about 11km out needing 9:1, I crossed the line with about 100m spare. Jamie and Wagga were still plugging away, but low and eventually found a decent climb that got them onto the glide slope. Jamie cruised into goal but Wagga hit some merciless sink which dropped him 600m short of the line. Fiona was heroically battling away and was soon in a postion for finals, but the sink before goal remained unforgiving and she landed 2km short.

Many pilots in goal but another bad day for the team with only one scoring pilot in goal. Bring on Mexico.

Day 12 - Sat 12th: Task 7 a 51.1K race to goal

Pictures in the gallery and on this page by Calvo.

Craig Morgan won the task in a time of 1 hour 11 minutes 9 seconds

PROVISIONAL Results Task 7

125 Pilots in Goal


Provisional Nations Overall:

Flying report by Mark Hayman

The day did not look promising when the wind woke me and Russ up at 7am, howling through the tree outside our bedroom window. Due to a power outage at headquarters there were no weather reports available, so the only option was to head up the hill and see if it was flyable the old fashioned way. By getting to take off and chucking some grass in the air to see how far it blew before landing.

On take off it looked grim, with a steady and strong easterly wind (the worst direction by far for this area), blowing at 90 degrees to the southerly facing slope. A provisional task of 51km was set around the flats to the North of Niska just in case the wind abated.

Midst much moaning and groaning from pilots the briefing got underway. We again suffered a wind dummy strike due to the strong crosswind, so young gun Michael Siegel from the Swiss team was drafted in to do the job. Surprisingly, it didn’t look too bad in front of take off as he quickly climbed into the smoother air above, reporting fairly light winds once out of the compression above the take off area. The task committee quickly reconvened and announced a race to goal starting at 14.30, with take off an hour earlier.

For pretty much the first time in the entire competition the launch conditions were pleasant on take off and the whole field were away in 25 minutes. Climbs were pretty sparse for the later pilots launching, but the majority made it to the tops of the climbs (there were no clouds) in turbulent and punchy air ready for the start. We were off and all the Brits got a pretty good start going into the first turnpoint, which got a bit lively as 150 pilots did handbrake turns at the cylinder, before heading off in the opposite direction for the next one out in the flats to the North of Nis.

Mark Watts and Craig Morgan were leading out strongly, with Jamie, myself and Russ a few hundred metres back but a little higher. At this stage the leading 20 had managed to pull out from the chasing peloton and, sensing the day was a lot better than forecast, we collectively put the pedal to the metal and pushed hard to make the break stick.

Once at the second point, another round of spectacular wingover turns put everyone on course and into wind towards the next turnpoint way out in the flats. With no clouds to mark the lift and nobody wanting to turn in anything less than a 3 metre climb it was time to knuckle down and keep your nerve as we travelled through large areas of sink and a brisk headwind.

The turnpoint was taken with Craig in the lead and myself and Mark Watts in the top ten, but the push into wind had taken its toll and our leading group were low with a hungry chasing peloton only 2km back and much higher hunting us down. Craig really had the bit between his teeth and charged on regardless, dragging the lead gaggle with him. Fortune favoured the brave and we all hit a cracking 3 metre climb halfway back to the second last turnpoint. As we all wheeled skywards you could almost hear the squeals of frustration from the chasing gaggle as we soared up and away above them, wiping out their height advantage.

Suddenly the glide calculator was giving 11 to one and we're in shout of goal with 15km to go. The final sprint was on and the last two turnpoints were quickly collected, straight lining at full speed. A last climb was needed to enable the goal glide into wind across the very sinky main valley towards Niska Banja. Craig was first away on glide needing 6 to 1 but was radioing back on the team frequency that there was very big sink and he was looking marginal to make it.

A chasing field of ten or so gliders pushed on hard with myself and Mark Watts in amongst it and giving it all we could in the rough and jumpy air. 3k out it was looking good for the chasers, but Craig was reporting he was kicking television aerials crossing the small village before the goal line. In the end he made it over the line by a metre (some people are just born lucky) to win his first Cat 1 task in 1 hour 9 minutes making an average speed of 41km/h. Well done Craig!

Me and Mark Watts came in with the top ten, 3 minutes back and Russ and Jamie were 5 minutes behind us with the main group. Making it a cracking final day for the British Team after a number of disappointments in the preceding tasks. Fiona was 7k short of goal but was happy to have got round the majority of the course.

As I am writing sitting amongst piles of pilots getting stuck into the early stages of some fairly serious hangovers, it looks as though Greg Blondeau (France) has done enough to hang onto his lead and win the Championships. As a thoroughly nice guy and all round decent chap this would be a fantastic result and France’s first ever Cat 1 winner. Hats off Greg if you’ve done it.

For the Brits we will have pulled a few places back today but it has been a tough comp for us, with some bad luck and difficult days in spite of two of the five tasks being won by British pilots. We are hoping that Mark Watts will have finished in the Top Twenty giving some consolation, but as we have all had at least one very bad day, the rest of the team will finish well down the order.

In particular the new team scoring system using nominated pilots has been very harsh on us, as we have had 3 very good scores everyday but not three nominated pilots scoring well. Not only does this system relegate two people out of the five to being, essentially, not part of the team, it also puts a great deal of pressure on those nominated as scorers to get to goal thus stifling their creative ability to take risks. You only need to look at our results from yesterday when the nominated scorers were all struggling to get team points in very difficult conditions and today when we were cut loose had nothing to lose and to see the results in practice. Pretty much every team seems to have the same opinion so let’s hope this badly thought out and unsuccessful experiment is quietly and quickly dropped in the near future.

The area is very nice to fly, the local organisation helpful, if a little inexperienced, and the local people and atmosphere second to none. The take off however is not suitable for a competition of this level and this should have been noted long beforehand. Today’s task gave us a real taste of what the area and the take off can give on a good day, but sadly, after two weeks of sitting in the wind, baking in the hot sun or sweating it out in launch queues, it has to be said that it is just not reliable enough to stage this level of competition.

In spite of this we have all had a nice time< and I think I can speak for the whole British Team when I extend my gratitude to the organisers and local people for their efforts and cooperation.