Friday, 3 October 2014

Routine plans for 2015

Just over a year ago, I posted about our routine plans for 2014, and suggested they might be a bit ambitious .... well, they indeed proved to be just that! So let's look ahead to 2015, and try to be a bit more realistic ...

First up, our routine flown to Kayak's "Ruthless Queen". This will remain our main routine next year, to be used at festivals and competition. Following our competition d├ębut this year, we received good and constructive criticism from especially Keith and Vee. We have already changed some of the routine to deal with that criticism, and have a few more ideas on how to make it a bit more interesting in places, replace a few patterns which didn't really work so well, or which we now feel are a bit 'meh'. These mostly go back to a time when we were just very happy to get from pattern A to pattern B! The new version of the "Ruthless Queen" routine is definitely going to be ready for the 2015 season; nothing too ambitious about that!

Next, the routine we have already started to use at DunstableMalmesbury, and Portsmouth: our make-it-up-as-we-go-along routine, flown to "Adiemus". What we need for that one, first of all, is to add a few more patterns to our quiver, and especially some more complex and intricate patterns. And second, the ultimate aim for that routine is to fly it with tails, so we really need to get a lot more practice flying with tails, so we get a better feel for what works and what doesn't, and for the challenges of flying patterns with something like 100' tails. We also have a rather unusual ending in mind, which we need to try out to see if it really works. Needless to say that, given the tails and lack of strict choreography, this will be a routine purely for festivals.

Finally our "Jaws" routine, flying our Fish/Shark kites to the theme music of 'Jaws'. We had hoped to have this ready for the 2014 season, but we simply didn't get that far. Partly because we shelved it when the first festivals were approaching. And partly because the weather last autumn and winter was such that we lost a lot of practice days (keep in mind that the kites have a relatively narrow wind range, so we can't always fly them). On top of that, we're not happy with the end as we have it now. As Flying Fish was essentially born with these two kites, we definitely want to have a specific routine for them, so we need to pick up the '"Jaws" routine again, and come up with a better ending. I know last year I said it would definitely be ready for 2014; this time no promises, but I hope it'll be festival-ready in 2015. And it will always be a festival routine; we don't expect to use it at competitions.

And what about the "Chariots of Fire" routine, that I mentioned about a year ago? That will definitely become our next main routine, to be used for festivals as well as competition. We really want to use that routine to get better at flying specifically to the music. We started working on it, and have practiced flying maybe the first half or so, but do not aim to do much on it in preparation for the 2015 season. Let's not be too ambitious this time, ok?

Sunday, 14 September 2014

Radio system for pair/team-flying

You're flying in a pair or team, and you're the caller. The other member(s) are of course usually behind you, and it will often be windy. So you're calling away from the other pair/team member(s), and you're calling essentially against the wind. Is it a surprise that your calls are sometimes misheard, unless you really bellow, in which case you have no voice left after a training session?

To avoid all this, we've been looking around for some sort of communication system that would allow easy transmission of the caller's commands for when we fly as Flying Fish or with L-katz. I put a call for information on our Facebook page and received several replies, one of which was from David Morley, suggesting to look into systems used for guided tours. Now if you follow our Facebook page, you'll already know we found a tour guide system (thanks, David!) that does exactly what we want and need. So here's a bit more detail now that we've flown with it a few times.

What we decided to get for Flying Fish is a Tourtalk system, sold by Sound Induction Systems. Our system consists of a transmitter with headband microphone, and a receiver with earpiece. It also comes with the necessary wires and connectors to plug in our own mp3-player, such that everyone can hear the music during practice sessions, as well as the commands over the music. Everything comes in a small sturdy case.

So how does it work in the field? An absolute treat! Commands can be heard crisp and clear, and even in 20+mph winds, no wind noise whatsoever is picked up by the wee microphone; the wind guard is really doing its job. The headband is not in the way of sunglasses, cap, and earphones when using the mp3-player (obviously, the caller needs to hear the music as well!).

Range is said to be up to 120 metres; we haven't tested this to its limits yet, but have no problems over a range of 40-50 metres, and you don't normally need more than that. The receiver allows the volume to be turned up or down, so by balancing the volume of the receiver and the mp3-player, you can quickly arrive at a situation where both music and commands are clearly heard.

Both transmitter and receiver clip onto your trouser belt and are powered by a single AA battery; we still need to find out how long one battery lasts. The system can operate on 40 different channels, so should it interfere with the PA system at a kite festival, it's easy enough to switch to another channel.

We've now used it at Portsmouth Kite Festival (if you look closely at the first picture in that blog post, you can see the microphone) and a few practice sessions. And it really does exactly what we need, while being very quick and easy to set up and operate. There has already been interest from another kite team (Fusion), but should we fly on the same field at the same time, the multi-channel feature allows several systems to operate in the same space without interference. And in case you're wondering, we still need to convince the other members of L-katz to get a few more units for the team ...

I must also say that I have been impressed by the excellent service provided by Sound Induction Systems. They replied quickly to my initial queries, and offered to send us a demo kit, at no cost to us, to try out for a weekend (an offer we gladly accepted). They've always been professional and pleasant to deal with; thanks guys!

Monday, 25 August 2014

Portsmouth Kite Festival

As always, Portsmouth Kite Festival represents the close of our festival season, but there was one big difference for us compared to last year: we were officially invited flyers! We were pretty lucky with the weather on both days in that it remained dry all weekend (I'm writing this the day after the festival, with the rain pouring down outside). On Saturday, the wind started out very light (< 3mph), but gradually increased to about 15mph as the day progressed. We warmed up with our T5 Cubans before there was anything happening in the main arena.

Our morning slot, flying both our Ruthless Queen and Adiemus routines, was flown with our T5 Taipan SULs.

And the afternoon slot on Saturday we flew with our T5 Taipan Standards.

Sunday's wind was quite variable, mostly between 1 and 8mph. We were struggling with our T5 Cubans in the morning slot (especially during the Adiemus routine, the wind dropped to almost nothing). We stayed with the Cubans, but on heavier lines, for the afternoon slot as we really needed them for those 20-30 second periods where the wind dropped to very little. In general, we're pretty pleased with our official Portsmouth debut. The Ruthless Queen routines went without any obvious errors (always little niggles, but of course, the public won't have noticed; you're your own worst critic). The Adiemus routines didn't go as well as they could, especially the first one on Sunday. I think the concept of a 'make it up as you go along' routine does work, but we really need to add more patterns to choose from over the autumn and winter. And practice flying the routine with tails!

Two other dual-line teams were on the programme: Team Spectrum flew their usual festival routines (Chi Mai on Sunday, yay!)

Cerfs-Volants Folie flew their Titanium routine, and this routine really shows off their unique and instantly-recognisable style of flying. Great to watch!

The three girls within CVF fly under a separate name: Mademoiz'ailes, and were joined by Lisa Willoughby for the weekend.

In terms of quad-line teams, the three leading UK Rev teams were present:

The Flying Squad

The Decorators

and Fusion

And with those three teams present, trying to stop them flying mega-team is impossible!

More pictures of the weekend are here, including a Vietnamese musical kite bridled for quad-line flying (!).

Picture credit of us flying: Roger Backhouse

Tuesday, 5 August 2014

Malmesbury Kite Festival

Malmesbury turned out to be a festival of two halves. On Saturday, we had persistent rain until about 1pm, and then some brighter weather with one front after another coming through. Our Flying Fish banner pole snapped in a strong gust, and another one blew over one of the organisers' marquees! The original arena schedule went out of the window at the start of the day, quickly followed by several updated versions ... We did get some flying done in the quiet spells, with, believe it or not, our T5 Cubans.

Sunday gave us a really nice sunny day, although the wind remained variable. Before our first slot, we flew our Taipan Standards, but then quickly changed over to the Taipan V1s for our main "Ruthless Queen" routine. For our second routine of the slot, to "Adiemus", we switched to our Peter Powells, but, exactly as we launched, the wind dropped, so it was back to the Taipans. Second slot of the day was Taipan Standards again for both routines.

There were no other teams present at the festival, but Dave Salmon (of Sky Symphony) flew a one-man-two-kites routine ...

... followed by Dave Green flying a one-man-three-kites routine.

Various single-line flyers were present of course, among which our fellow countrymen, the Sky-Flyers; more photos can be found here.

A highlight of the festival for us was meeting up with the Peter Powell gang, including 'the man' himself. Mark gave us the chance to fly a triple-stack of their new ultralight version; lots of fun to fly!

They then tried very hard to convince us that it would look great for Flying Fish to fly a routine with a pair of these stacks ... hm, it sure would, so maybe we'll get a pair of these ultralight stacks one day. Please don't tell anyone, especially not the Peter Powell boys, but I've already played around a bit with sail design, and Mark said he would soon be able to supply silver-coloured tails, which will look great with the sun shining on them ...

From Flying Fish, Dave Green, and the Peter Powell bunch: hello from Malmesbury!

Tuesday, 29 July 2014

Dunstable Kite Festival

We hadn't been to Dunstable Kite Festival before, though we had flown on the site during the National Championships. Good memories to go back to, in other words! Weather over the weekend was warm and sunny, especially on Saturday. Wind showed itself a bit finicky: quite strong Saturday morning, but then rapidly falling away to almost nothing; on Sunday, the wind was up and down.

Team Spectrum was present, flying their usual displays of Carl with two kites, Carl and Bryan, and then Carl with three kites. As we usually crew for them, my photos are usually 'from the other side', but I was glad to capture Carl launching his two Air Devils.

The Airheads flew both as a pair and a threesome, where Peter joined Keith and Vee. One of the pair displays turned out to be especially challenging: as the wind dropped, a huge inflatable octopus came down exactly on top of Keith and Vee .... Although I tried as much as I could to pull the tentacles away from flyers and lines, it was a bit of a losing battle!

The Flying Squad was there, of course, as Dunstable Downs is their home ground. Buoyed by the obvious home advantage, they flew a solid set of routines throughout the weekend.

And what about Flying Fish? How did we fare on our debut to Dunstable Kite Festival?

First of all, we had decided to fly two routines in our slots this weekend: our normal routine flown to Kayak's "Ruthless Queen" and a second routine, flown to "Adiemus". This second routine has a choreographed start and finish, but in-between it's mostly 'make it up as we go along', with me calling out the various patterns and moves as I see fit. It turned out that we really needed that second routine, as the PA system couldn't read our CD with "Ruthless Queen", couldn't read the back-up CD with "Ruthless Queen", and couldn't deal with a memory stick .... So we were down to just flying the "Adiemus" routine on Saturday, using our T5 Cubans, which only went so-so (the wind had dropped to almost nothing, but at least the PA system could read that CD!). As we were staying in a B&B in Dunstable, we had no opportunity to burn another CD, but Carl (of Team Spectrum) did go home for the evening and was kind enough to burn a new CD for us with "Ruthless Queen". Carl, thanks a lot, you saved our butts for Sunday, and we could fly both routines in our slots (flying T5 Cubans in the first slot, T5 SULs in the second one). Pretty happy with how the routines went (no major errors in any) and we're now officially a two-routine pair!

Mega-team, do I hear you ask? Well, of course! The Flying Squad and friends (including at some point, I think, Chris Matheson, and Marjorie Truchet from the French Now'Air team) flew a quad-line mega-team:

And for the dual-line mega-team, Flying Fish joined Barry Savell of Flame, Keith, Vee and Peter from the Airheads, Mick Burls, Carl Robertshaw, Thomas Chavinier from the French Panam'Air team, and several members from The Flying Squad (Simon Dann, Gary Tyrrell, Stephen Hoath, Andy Phelps, Steve Matchett, if I remember correctly); a truly international mega-tream! For us, the largest mega-teams we've ever flown in.

Other flyers making their appearance in the arena included Carl Robertshaw and Chris Goff. Plus, of course, many single-line kites and kiters as well; more photos can be found here. We had a great time and sincerely hope we'll be back in the coming years!

Picture credits of us flying: Carl Wright; picture credits of the dual-line mega-teams: Andy Taylor and Sharon Savell

Wednesday, 16 July 2014

Brighton Kite Festival

Our very first invitation to fly at a festival was at Brighton in 2012, and so this year we went back to Stanmer Park for the third time in a row as 'invited flyers'. Weather was mostly gorgeous sunshine, apart from a few hours of rain on Sunday morning. On Saturday, the wind started off non-existent, picked up a wee bit, and then died down to almost nothing again. Unfortunately, we had the first and last slot of the day, and really struggled with the lack of wind in those slots, but we did a reasonable job in our middle slot of the day.

There was one thing I was quite pleased with: my landing on, and subsequent re-launch from, the boundary rope just before the routine proper. I'm sure I won't be able to do this again, even if I try 100 times, but it just worked absolutely perfectly: land the kite on the rope, basically balancing it on the stand-offs, let it lean back a bit, and then take off again!

Sunday's wind was a bit stronger than Saturday's, although increasingly blustery during the day. Whereas we flew our Cubans exclusively on Saturday, on Sunday we went from Cubans to T5 SULs to Azurs in our three runs. Last routine, with the Azurs, was the best, I feel, so going out on a high!

The only other team present was Team Spectrum. Glad Carl's 'Chi Mai' routine was on the menu for Saturday! What was also impressive was Carl getting his two kites into what looked like a locked death spiral, and somehow pulling them out again just before they hit the ground in a tangled heap. Still don't know how he did it, but he pulled off the recovery of the festival!

Besides Team Spectrum and Flying Fish, Karl Longbottom was the third invited flyer, and he brought a large selection of single-liners, flown with help of all other flyers in the arena. Chris Goff also showed up (on Sunday), and flew a freestyle routine in his unique style. More photos of the festival are here.

And before I forget: we were made members of Brighton Kite Flyers as a way of saying 'thanks' for flying at the festival. Unfortunately, there was basically no budget for organising the festival, but Brighton Kite Flyers did a great job organising and running the festival again, despite this lack of funding. Thanks guys!

Picture credit of us flying: Roger Backhouse

Saturday, 5 July 2014

Pair and team flying in the UK - an update

About a year and half ago, I wrote a blog post on pairs and teams in the UK, and I felt it was time for an update, given that some new blood is emerging into the sport. And I'm going to do this overview from a perspective of 'tiers': fun, event, or competition. Pairs or teams in the fun tier essentially get together on a Saturday or Sunday (or whatever day of the week) and fly together, purely for fun. They may or may not have a specific routine choreographed to music, and there is no interest in flying public demos. Next is the event tier: pair or team has at least one routine, and performs at kite festivals, village fairs, or other public events. And then we have the competition tier, be it national or international. Guess this speaks for itself: pair or team competes at the UK nationals, EuroCup or WSKC. Compare these tiers to different divisions in other sports, with the big difference that there is no promotion or relegation from one tier to another. Essentially, pairs or teams 'promote' or 'relegate' themselves (e.g. by deciding to start flying at kite festivals, or retiring from competition), depending on their ambitions and ability. The only exception is that in order to compete internationally, a pair or team has to be nominated by STACK.

OK, let's start with Dual-line teams

First we have the reigning World Champions, the Scratch Bunnies, who retained their world title earlier this year. Following this, they retired from competition, and I don't know whether they'll still fly together as a team at events or just for fun. Next there is Flame, the current UK champions. Obviously a team in the competition tier, and they have also competed internationally (they came 10th at the last world championships). Another team that used to be in the (international) competition tier is Airheads (shown in the photo). They have retired from competition this year, but are still very much flying in the event tier. And they haven't ruled out coming back to competition in the future. Sky Symphony has, as far as I'm aware, never flown competition, and have no plans of doing so. So a team firmly in the event tierPallas Family Flyers also has not flown competition so far, but they haven't ruled out doing so in the future. Until that happens, they're in the event tierThe Flying Squad is mostly known as a quad-line team (see below), but they occasionally fly dual-line routines, which warrants them being included in this section. Not flying competition, so another team in the event tier. And then there is L-katz, the team we're part of. L-katz has flown at a few kite festivals last year, but, for various reasons, decided not to do so this year. They may fly again at festivals in coming years, but for now they're a team in the fun tier.

Here's a table summarising the seven UK dual-line teams and their current tier (C = Competition; E = Event; F = Fun):

Scratch Bunnies
Sky Symphony
Pallas Family Flyers
The Flying Squad

OK, on to Quad-line teams

First of all, there is The Flying Squad, already mentioned above. They've flown competition in the distant past, but are now very much a team flying at festival and events, so firmly in the event tier. Also in the event tier, and also having flown competition in the distant past are The Decorators. Then we have Fusion (shown in the photo), which, to my knowledge, has never flown competition, so again, very much a team in the event tier. And finally the Haven Flyers. Again, not a team that has ever flown competition for all I know, but flies at festivals and events, so yet again, a team in the event tier. Which gives us the following simple table; note that there is not a single quad-line team flying competition in the UK at the moment?

The Flying Squad
The Decorators
Haven Flyers

From teams we go to pairs, and I'll first look at Dual-line pairs.

Unlike the teams, which can often vary in exactly who is flying, I will now mention names, as pair compositions are pretty much fixed. Phoenix, part of Flame, consists of Fran Burstall and Tony Shiggins. They are the current UK champions, so clearly in the competition tier. Ex-Grads consists of Keith Griffiths and Vee Griffiths. They have flown competition in the past (up to UK national champions), but have retired from competition, and are now flying at festivals and events, so in the event tier. To be more precise, Ex-Grads is part of the Airheads, and since retiring from competition have abandoned the name Ex-Grads, and are flying under the name Airheads at festivals. Close Encounters (shown in the photo), consisting of Allan and Marilyn Pothecary, have flown competition in the past (making it up to Experienced Class champions), but are now firmly in the event tierTeam Spectrum, made up of Bryan and Carl Wright, have never flown competition and have no intention of doing so. Another pair in the event tier. Dave and Angela Green don't have an official name for festivals, though they sometimes refer to themselves as "The Greenies". They've flown at at least one kite festival, so another event tier pair. Four Bi' Two is a new pair, consisting of Josh Mitcheson and Graham Lockwood. As far as I'm aware, they're flying at a festival in the Netherlands as this blog post gets published, so most definitely an event tier pair. Competition flying will be a bit more difficult for them, as both are flying two kites, and 'multi-kite pair flying' doesn't really fit in the existing competition categories. The Weekend Pilots is a pair within the Brighton Kite Flyers; as far as I'm aware they don't have a routine for festivals, so I'll regard them as a fun tier pair for now. Wings on Strings is our sister pair within L-katz, and consists of Roger Backhouse and Tony Vella. They've flown at two festivals last year, but have decided not to fly at festivals any more for the foreseeable future, so another fun tier pair. And then last, but hopefully not least, Flying Fish, made up of yours truly and Irma Adriaanse, and also part of the L-katz team. And, as you may know, we recently took the plunge and became a competition tier pair. Here's the helpful (?) summarising table again, with the tiers of the nine active UK dual-line pairs:

Flying Fish
Close Encounters
Team Spectrum
The Greenies
Four Bi’ Two
Weekend Pilots
Wings on Strings

Which brings us finally to Quad-line pairs. 

Smallest of the four categories. First of all, The Flying Squad. They have flown competition in the past (up to becoming European champions), and are now flying in the event tier. And then we have a new quad-line pair: Quadrilateral (shown in the picture), consisting of Mark Brackenridge and Teresa Brackenridge. A fun tier pair at the moment, until they get a routine under their belt. I hope to see them move up to festivals, and possibly even competition (nudge, nudge). For completeness, a table!

The Flying Squad

The above gives you all the pairs and teams active in the UK. Clearly, I know of all current pairs and teams in the competition tier, and sadly, there are only three of them .... I probably didn't miss many (if any) in the event tier. As to the fun tier, it's difficult to tell how many pairs and teams are flying in the UK outside of festivals and other organised events, because by their nature, you're unlikely to hear about them unless you see them flying or happen to know one of the members. So there may well be more that I'm not aware of.

Three teams (all quad-line) were mentioned in my previous overview, but I've not heard anything from them, and in one case the web-site appears to be dead. So, unless I hear anything to the contrary, I'll assume that Flying Colours, Team4Mation and Snuff are no longer active.

If anyone reading this notices any errors or omissions, please let me know and I'll correct/update; thanks!

Credit for the picture of Quadrilateral: Ian Forsey