Gemona 2022 Sports Trophy

2nd Sports Trophy Gemona 2022

report by David Willis

Last year I competed in the 1st British Sports Trophy. It was a good, well-run event but Covid meant far fewer than normal entries – so this year was going to be far more exciting, with a great weather forecast and 84 entries, exactly half being Brits, and of those 42 Brits a good contingent of ‘Cheesers’ from my own Southern Club- an enthusiastic bunch of mostly fairly new pilots, with a can-do attitude to flying, and life in general!

My original plan to fly in to Trieste on Friday – the nearest and most convenient airport, got scuppered by a not-so-Easy airline, and so I flew to Venice on Saturday morning. Thanks to the super-efficient Italian railways I arrived in Gemona early afternoon, at a cost of 15 Euros!  Then a short walk to The SiSi, a friendly family-run hotel, where a few of us had booked – there are several hotels close to the station on the outskirts of Gemona, another popular one is the large, ahem, Hotel Willy!   The Competition HQ is at the small village of Bordano, a 10-minute drive away, where the huge landing field is – many people camp here on the side of the landing field. There are excellent wash and shower facilities, so great if you drive over.  But if not, I prefer the comfort of Gemona which is lovely to walk into in the evenings with its range of restaurants and bars. Lifts to and from Gemona were provided by Comp HQ in the mornings and evenings, so not having your own transport isn’t at all essential.

The first task on Sunday was canceled due to bad weather, but we went up to the launch, and a good many of us flew down to Bordano before the weather got too bad.  In fact it was a nice orientation flight, that accustomed us to the launch site, and the sheer enormity of the Alps as they rear out of the flatlands that lead south to the Adriatic Sea- sometimes just about visible in the far distance.  The main Mount Cuarnan launch site is about a 45-minute drive up from Bordano, through Gemona, and up through thick forest. As the trees open out, the launch is on the side of a little plateau facing directly South. Because of the steep and rough road on the last bit, only the sturdier vans can drive the final section – so they ferry those in the other vans up that final section. But increasingly during the week many of us chose to walk the last bit up through the forest and wild-flower meadows and just have our gliders taken up in the vans, this took 20 minutes or so and was a lovely way to warm up before flying.

Monday dawned with clear blue skies and light winds, and with much eager anticipation, the task committee set an exciting 77 km course.  The vans left Bordano as usual at 9.45 and soon we were at launch collecting our packed lunches, and trackers, and uploading the task waypoints. For the first time, I was using only my phone to navigate with, which meant I could avoid inputting everything manually and just scan a QR code – why did I never do this before !!

Probably like many, I always hate the wait before take-off, fiddling with all sorts of bits and pieces and wondering what I’ve forgotten..  The launch had been thoughtfully strimmed and has clear areas, but is strewn with boulders, it’s often windy and gusty, so I was relieved to get a clean take off. Then 45 minutes or so of trying to get high, keep high, out of the cloud, close to the cloud, into the cloud ! out again, out front, back out, and so on..  – until it’s quite a relief when the clock final counts down, by which time I’m inevitably too low and too far back !  But it’s a splendid sight to see the multi-coloured fleet of wings parading out to the South under blue and white sky, and over the dark green forest.  It’s at that point that I really noticed how much forest there is – with virtually no landing options at all..  Admittedly you’re high but it was best to look South – to where the flatlands start !

The first turn point was over Tarcento, about 10 km south of launch.  In every task a turnpoint would be around here, and the technique became well practiced for me- it was essential to get a decent thermal over the first little ridge before the flatlands and well worth spending some extra time getting height before venturing out. But then commit with speed bar to the turn point and straight back to the foothills, and hopefully a recovery thermal.  The next turn point was (and again usually was) 10 km or so the other side of the main river valley towards the West. As you go back North towards the take-off, the valley narrows, so the valley crossing gets shorter – plus you get higher. So most pilots went that way, although the leaders generally headed off West earlier and took the risk of arriving the other side lower.

Crossing the main Tagliamento river valley, which had to be done three times on that first task, was a beautiful part of the task. Once you’ve left the mountains there’s not that much you can do apart from keep on target and admire the breathtaking panorama North and South – and down, sometimes over the lovely old town of Gemona with its narrow streets and beautiful castle tower.  Then as you approach the mountain on the other side of the crossing, usually in desperate need of height, you have to engage maximum concentration again:  Off with the speed bar, take a wrap, and prepare for the escalator – if – you’ve picked the right spot to connect with!  The strength of the lift could generally be judged by the extent the trees were moving, and sometimes it was frighteningly strong and not for the faint hearted. Often it was best to not get in too close, but usually, as you get higher it mellowed slightly, and then once you‘re above the ridge your heart rate could begin to return to something like normal!  The day became more difficult with some top-cloud, and in the end only 14 people made it to goal. Many of us bombed by the little foothills I mentioned before,  South of launch, at about 50 km distance done.  It was a great day though and a great introduction to the flying potential of the region.

The second task on Tuesday was shorter, at 47.5 km.  Again a cats cradle of the main valley, but with a first turnpoint along a higher ridge 10 km to the West of Bordano, the ridge was quite feisty; it needed full attention and a few of us took collapses. After tagging the turnpoint I remember getting high above the ridge and pushing South with fellow Cheeser James Chancellor to a lovely thermal – from that we were able to recross the main valley, back to Tarcento, South of Launch, and then to the notorious Factory final turnpoint – this is a huge steelworks type industrial complex out in the flatlands, which – usually..  generates thermals.  The trouble being that often by the time you get there you have about 30 seconds to find the thermal !  Luckily on that day I was lucky and timed it right. It’s then down-wind back to Bordano, and you aften don’t need as much height as you’d think. Another great day, and just over half made it to goal – including a good few Cheesers!

Another good forecast for Wednesday, and a 76 km race to goal.  This time the first turnpoint was to the East of launch, 10 km or so along the Stol ridge behind take-off, going to within a couple of kilometers of the Slovenian border – and back. So far we hadn’t been tasked to get on top of this mighty ridge, so there was some trepidation in Cheeser circles!  Soon after take-off the whole fleet was climbing the ridge on a picture-postcard day of brilliant blue sky and small white clouds. We were not disappointed – the panorama to the North was breath-taking: a simply stunning view of the main Alpine chain.  To the East the massive Stol Ridge continues all the way to the Tolmin valley in Slovenia.  The lift was perfect as we headed East, and we were a chain of 80-odd colourful corks bobbing along under little clouds over the massive rock ridge. Halfway along the ridge is a deep gorge to cross, in front of me was Cheeser, James Wong, on his Rook 3, and I saw him take a big collapse out of the blue – thankfully he recovered it well, and I braced myself for whatever air had hit him – luckily it had gone..  Coming back along the ridge was more difficult being slightly into wind, so the gorge meant a big loss in height and a difficult climb back on to the top of the ridge. After some more cats cradling, turnpoint 4 was on the very western end of that same Stol ridge, by this time it had become windier, and ‘the elevator’ to ascend to the top was fearsome – I finally made it the top, where two mighty vultures were serenely circling with their geometrically perfect precision, and their air of complete indifference. As always I felt incredibly privileged to join them – and relieved.  Over half of us made goal, including my good friend and fellow Cheeser James Dobson – his first ever Goal – a few drinks were drunk that night !

The 4th task on Thursday was a shorter 40 km course due to a forecast of rain later on, and was mainly out front, South of launch.  By now more of us beginning to learn where the thermals were, and I think the whole field was flying better. It was a tricky day weather-wise, with some pilots reporting light rain later on – the organizers, Brett and Luigi, did very well, holding their nerve and allowing the competition to safely continue. 53 pilots made goal for another satisfying day’s competition.

Unfortunately, due to more flight disruption, I had to leave the next day on Friday, and miss the last two days flying – plus the Saturday night Party !  However, I know that the last two days did not disappoint, and that the whole comp was a great success. The tasks were well thought out and well briefed by Brett, Luigi (the Gemona Club President and our Competition host), and Stan Radzikowski – who also won many of the tasks, coming 2nd overall. The logistics – transport, trackers, scoring, lunches and retrieves worked perfectly, and above all I thought there was a great atmosphere about the Comp. The non-British entrants included a great international mix including the many Polish, who are great competitors (Marcin Wirski won the Comp), and great company.

One thing I did particularly notice and like, was that being a ‘Sports’ competition, meant that there was no great differentiation between the gliders and pilots: We were all more or less flying and competing together, and the tasks could be set for the capability of sports gliders, rather than in the Open competitions where most of the gliders are two liners. So in the Open comps flying an EN C glider you can feel rather like a second class citizen, with most of your competitors disappearing at the beginning of the task never to be seen again !

Finally I must mention the Cavazzo lake:  A five minute drive West from the landing field, we drove over most afternoons after flying for the most refreshing swim in one of the most beautiful locations I’ve ever visited – not to be missed, and perfect post-flying and pre-pizza – See you next year !

David Willis