posted on Sep, 14 2019 @ 02:02 AM
There I was, at 4,000 feet above the beach, climbing at 1,500 fpm, with cloudbase about 500 feet above me.
Above Makena there is a persistent convergence of airflows. From the east the tradewinds are blasting out of the Alenuihaha channel, being compressed
and accelerated between the islands of Hawaii and Maui. From the west those same tradewinds have wrapped around the mass of Haleakala and effectively
executed a 180º turn. When these air masses meet headon there is only one direction for them to go; up. This convergence of winds produces a linear
region of rapidly rising air which stretches from Ulupalakua across the Alalakeiki Channel to Kahoolawe and beyond. When those warm, moist tradewinds
are forced upward to cooler altitudes they form a line of cumulus clouds. The convergence is well marked.
Riding this area of lift, one can soar easily between the slope of the mountain and the shoreline, even venturing a mile or two offshore, while
maintaining an altitude of a mile above the ocean. Looking down from this height the exact location of the convergence can be easily seen. There is a
sharp delineation on the water. To the east of the line the ocean is a raging area of whitecaps (Alenuihaha is known as one of the most consistently
violent stretches of water anywhere), to the west the ocean is lightly ruffled.
But the convergence has many moods. It can be blissful and glassy gentle lift such that one must pay attention in order to stay up. It can be smooth
but strong enough so that one must pay attention to avoid being drawn into those cumulus clouds and becoming disoriented. It can also be so turbulent
that one will often look to the handle of the emergency parachute for a bit of reassurance, our gliders are strong but they do have their limits.
Today it was pretty smooth, but it was really strong. Too strong. In order to avoid being lifted into the clouds I had to fly to the east, out of the
lift band, in order to descend. But this meant that I had to cross again through the lift to get to the beach, the landing zone. It took four attempts
to get low enough to cross the lift band safely. This was not unusual.
What was unusual was that, as I was planning my landing approach, I saw that the convergence lay directly on the beach. The eastern end of the beach
was exposed to a strong easterly wind, the western end, a westerly. Now, with altitude, one can fly back and forth across such an interface (also
known as a wind shear). I had been doing so for an hour or so. But close to the ground it becomes an entirely different matter and there was no way I
could avoid what I knew was going to occur.
It wasn't too bad until I got down to about 500 feet, then all hell broke loose. The turbulence became severe, my glider a leaf in the wind with my
attempts at control no more than suggestions. I could see "sand devils" whipping down the beach as I began to drift offshore. A water landing in a
hang glider is an extremely dangerous event, often resulting in drowning. At this point all I wanted to do was get back to the beach. And, somehow, at
no more than 20 feet above the water I did just that. I swooped into a standup landing on the sand.
Not done. No time to relax. I saw, howling down the beach directly toward me, yet another sand devil. And I was still hooked into my glider. I shakily
fumbled with the carabiner and finally managed to get it disconnected. I immediately went to the nose of my glider and grabbed the nose wires, hoping
to gain some control of it before the gust hit. No avail. The ball of air hit me and immediately tore the kite from my grasp. I stood watching as it
tumbled in the air and finally impacted the kiawe trees which line the beach.
The glider was heavily damaged. I was unharmed. It was an excellent landing.