Thursday, 21 July 2016

Leominster & Hereford Kite Festival

In 2012, after our festival debut, Flying Fish was asked to come fly at Leominster & Hereford Kite Festival. Unfortunately, the festival was subsequently cancelled because of the grounds being flooded. Fastforward four years, and we finally made it to Berrington Hall! Only for a quick splash-and-dash on Saturday, though, as we had other, non-kite-related commitments on Sunday.

Leominster & Hereford Kite Festival is different from other festivals we fly at, for three reasons: 1) no programme; 2) no arena; and 3) no PA. Basically, it's a case of join in and fly, what you want, when you want, and where you want.

The Airheads were there as well and basically violated 2) by pacing out an arena for dual-line flyers, just to make sure we could actually do some team-flying without interfering with the single-line flyers. As we got flying, all using Airdyamics T5 kites (ultralight or standard, depending on the wind), it just so happened that Irma and I ended up flying in-between Keith and Vee on one side, and Peter and Mick on the other side. The name 'Fish sandwich' didn't take long to emerge!

And when Dave Salmon from Sky Symphony joined in, it quickly became 'Fish sandwich with extra salmon'.

Basically, we flew as a team, with between four and seven members, throughout the day. And you have to admit that the spacing in the wrap isn't too bad, huh?

After a break for lunch, we were joined by Martin Crowther, who had been flying his Peter Powell 5-stack in the arena prior. He had never flown as part of a team, and was keen to have the experience. Vee took him along for a bit of basic pair-flying, after which Irma and I joined in to really give him a feel for what flying in the middle of a team was.

Given that Martin had never flown in a pair or team before, he really impressed with how well he coped. Kept things going even if he made a mistake, didn't panic, didn't take out any other kites. Martin, if you read this, you did fantastically well for a first time!

Our first experience at Leominster & Hereford Kite Festival was definitely a positive one, and we'll be back in future years, hopefully for the whole weekend. We got to fly a lot more than on a typical kite festival, and it was also especially good for me. Why? Because when I fly in Flying Fish or with our L-katz team, I always lead and call. Now, I flew the entire day in the middle of a team (usually in #4 position), which is not something I'm used to. So very valuable team-flying experience!

Besides as part of 'Fish sandwich with or without extra salmon', we also flew a few recently acquired Peter Powell kites: a Mk I with aluminium frame, and 'The Monster'; pictures of these and other kites and people (plus very interested cows) are here.

Picture credits: fish sandwich (with and without salmon) - Valerie Hancorn; spacing in the wrap - Alan Pinnock; flying with Martin Crowther - Anne Crowther.

Thursday, 14 July 2016

Brighton Kite Festival

Brighton was the first festival inviting us to fly, back in 2012. Because of that, it will always be a special kite festival for us: this is where it all started in terms of festival flying. So I was really disappointed that I could not attend this year, due to work commitments .... Irma did go, so Flying Fish was represented in a way; I'll now hand over to her for a bit of a festival report.

Brighton kite festival was a bit of a festival of two halves: Saturday the weather was warm and cloudy, although it brightened up nicely later in the day, but Sunday was quite damp, with the drizzle turning into rain at times. The wind on both days was rather variable (between 2-20 mph on Saturday, 5-15 mph on Sunday) but that seems normal for the site...

Having made it to Stanmer Park without my usual navigator, I was greeted by our friendly festival neighbours, Team Spectrum, who had kindly saved me a space next to their tent (and fed me muffins too!). Their performances during the weekend were as always great to watch, and they even managed to fly with (very wet!) tails on Sunday.

Apart from Tim Rohn and several of his friends, who showed some trick flying at various times, the only other dual-line act there was myself. So rather than two-man demonstrations, I flew to our usual music on my own. On Saturday I used my Airdynamics Taipan T5 V1, a North Shore VIP and one of the L-katz Peter Powells -it was very happy in the strong winds! On Sunday the only kite to come out was a North Shore Radical.

It felt rather strange to be in the arena flying on my own, so I found some other folks kind (mad?) enough to join me. Simon Dann (of The Flying Squad fame) enjoyed flying the old North Shores, the very same kites he flew many years back in his dual-line team-flying days. He hasn't lost his skills! I reckon we should do that more often, although we have to work on a good name. Somehow, "Fish Squad" doesn't really do it for me...

Carl from Team Spectrum also joined me a couple of times. As "Flying Spectrum" (according to commentator Simon Dann) we flew North Shores, and I even persuaded Carl to fly the Peter Powells with me. Unfortunately, right at that moment the wind dropped a bit, so the PPs weren't on their best behaviour... I don't think he will be rushing out to buy one for himself, but it was still fun to see the two in the sky, and great to have a chance to fly with Carl.

Apart from flying two-liners, I also on both days had the honour of helping Karl and Sara Longbottom fly their beautiful single-line kites; pictures of these and of some of the other kites are here.

All in all, and despite the rain on Sunday, I had a great time at this lovely relaxed festival. It was interesting for me to fly with other people in a pair. It makes you realise how tuned in you get to your normal flying partner, and how used you are to a certain style of commands and flying. So, even though I very much enjoyed flying with Carl and Simon, and hope to to do that again at some future event, I do look forward to flying with Lex again as the regular Flying Fish!

Pictures of Irma flying solo, with Simon Dann or with Carl Wright: credit Carl/Jan Wright

Friday, 8 July 2016

UK National Championships 2016

For 2016, STACK introduced two changes to the format of the UK National Championships. First of all, the nationals were to be run over two weekends, giving competitors the opportunity to fly four rounds, the best two of which would count. And secondly, the competition would include a technical routine as well as compulsory figures and a ballet.

After we flew at the Nationals in 2015, the major feedback was that we needed to fly more 'to' the music than 'with' the music. As I wrote about in an earlier blog post, we worked hard since the end of the 2015 festival season on a new ballet, which has Ron Reich's "Chariots of Fire" routine at its heart, but tweaked and changed to suit our own flying style. And completely flown 'to' the music, of course. Going into the 2016 nationals, our primary goal was to increase our scores such that we ended up solidly in the 50s. Or, in other words, improve on our 2015 overall score of 45.3 by around 10 points.

Southern leg - Dunstable Downs - June 11&12

In the run-up to Dunstable, the forecast was for rain all day on Saturday, and no wind. Sunday looked like the better day, with a bit more wind, and less rain. It turned out the forecast was wrong on all counts ... Saturday started off with virtually no wind, but then it picked up to a pretty smooth 3-9mph. And no rain to speak off throughout the day. Sunday was mostly drizzle and rain, with the wind a wee bit stronger (up to 12mph) than Saturday. With no quad-flyers present, and taking advantage of the pretty good conditions on Saturday, we flew both Dunstable rounds on Saturday, for dual-line individual, pairs, and team.

Two competitors in DI: Miguel Pérez Senent (a guest flyer from Spain) and Tony Shiggins. Miguel ended up with the highest scores at the end of the day.

Two pairs flying in DP: Phoenix, the reigning UK champions, and Flying Fish. As was to be expected, Phoenix topped the table after two rounds.

Just one competitor in DT: the current UK champions Flame. As the sole team, they remained unchallenged this round.

As I mentioned above, there were no quad-flyers, and no multi-kite flyers, so no competitions were run in those categories.

So how did Flying Fish actually do at Dunstable, apart from finishing second to Phoenix? To cut to the chase, we achieved our goal of increasing our overall score by 10 points. No, not true: we overshot that goal. Our overall average over the two rounds was 60.0, improving on last year's overall score by about 15 points! And what's more: we beat Phoenix in four of the six figures ... That means that we had two solid rounds in the bag, and could only improve on that during the northern leg.

As far as I'm aware, no pictures were taken of our flying, but there is something better: one of our two ballets was video-ed:

Videos like this really show where we need to improve!

On Sunday, only one round of freestyle was flown, with a single competitor: Miguel Pérez Senent (who obviously topped the table after Dunstable!)

If you want to see the full results of round 1 and round 2, you know where to click.

Obviously, the end of each day was spent mega-teaming. Mixture of mostly ultralight T5 and Fury kites on Saturday; North Shore Radicals and Furies on Sunday.

More pics of the weekend, including some of the Sunday mega-team and one of a (real) red kite flying over, are here.

Northern leg - Souter Lighthouse - July 2&3

Souter Lighthouse gave us not only the northernmost site we've ever flown kites on, but also the worst conditions we've so far competed in .... Saturday gave us extremely variable bumpy and lumpy winds (down to 4mph, up to 26mph, and all that within seconds at times) combined with squally showers all through the day; Sunday winds were only a tad less extreme, but at least it remained dry. With winds like that, you could be sure that whatever kite you opted for, it would be the wrong one ... Still, you've got to deal with what you're presented with, and we tried to make the best of it.

DI again had two competitors, Tony Shiggins and Josh Mitcheson. Tony obtained the highest scores of the leg.

One competitor in MI: Josh Mitcheson, who obviously topped the table at the end of Sunday.

On to pairs; Phoenix and Flying Fish flew in DP, with Phoenix getting the higher scores over the weekend.

MP saw a new pair entering competition: Amalgamation, consisting of Josh Mitcheson and Tom Greenfield. As the only entry in this category, they obviously scored highest.

DT had only one entry: Flame was unopposed during the weekend.

Finally, there were no entries in the freestyle category, and only one entry in multi-kite: Josh Mitcheson.

We tried to do the best we could under the circumstances, and at least we didn't crash or make major errors. And Phoenix and Flame were also struggling with the wind, so it wasn't just us.

Mega-team, I hear you ask? Not this time; no one really had an appetite for that in the prevailing winds ... But we did have something special: Pallas Family Flyers dropped by to see what competition flying was all about, and they flew their 3-man demo on Sunday, prior to the ballets.

Hopefully, they liked what they saw, and that their first taste of flying in the competition arena will make them compete next year!

Full results of round 3, round 4, and overall results are available, if you're interested. And more pictures of the weekend up north are here.

And that then leads us to the 2016 UK National Champions, with trophies presented in front of the very pretty lighthouse, and with the sound of kittiwakes in the background!

Dual-line individual: Tony Shiggins

Multi-line individual: Josh Mitcheson

Dual-line pairs: Phoenix

Multi-line pairs: Amalgamation

Dual-line team: Flame

Congratulations to all!

And in addition to the National Champions shown above, Flying Fish won DP Experienced class.

Let's take stock of what we managed to achieve flying national competition this year. To remind you, our primary aim was to increase our overall score by around 10 points, and get ourselves solidly scoring in the mid to high 50s. With an overall score of 60.5, we can say that we most definitely achieved what we set out to do, and more: as we now (just) cleared the 60 points overall hurdle, we were promoted to Master class for next year, after a hat-trick of Experienced class wins. The increase in our overall score of well over 10 points also strengthened our UK ranking, obviously, but the promotion to Master class really is the icing on the cake!

Of course, Phoenix is still well ahead of us, but the gulf between us and them is now reduced to a gap. I played with numbers a bit to see exactly where we are now relative to Phoenix and where we made the most progress. I combined scores from 2014 and 2015 (years with two rounds each) and compared them to the 2016 scores (taking all four rounds). I separated out figures and ballet and the results are shown in the two graphs: average scores for figures on the left, average scores for ballet on the right. Phoenix shown in red, Flying Fish in blue.

The gap in figures has closed from just over 20 points to less than 5 points (and we beat Phoenix in half of all figures flown this year), whereas the gap in ballet is reduced from more than 18 points to just over 7 points. Can you imagine we're quite chuffed to have gotten this close? Technical routines weren't flown in 2014 and 2015, so I can't make the comparison in the same way, but we were well behind Phoenix in 2016 (73.2 vs 59.0)

We know where we need to improve to increase our scores clearly into the 60s: include more technically challenging elements in both technical routine and ballet. Or, as Andy Taylor put it: expand our vocabulary. So that's where we will focus our practicing on between now and the start of the 2017 competition season. Wish us luck!

Video of us flying at Dunstable - credit: Simon Dann. Picture of us flying, seen from Souter Lighthouse - credit: Sharon Savell. Picture of us getting our Experienced class trophy at Souter Lighthouse - credit: Peter Heayns

Thursday, 30 June 2016

Double Sky Rider!

The Ariel Sky Rider was one of the diamond stunt kites that came on the market in the late 1970s in the wake of the success of Peter Powell kites. I've only ever seen two Sky Riders 'in the flesh': One was part of a job lot of 1970s dual-liners (which mostly contained Peter Powells) that I bought from Allan Pothercary. The other one was a gift from ........ the very same Allan Pothecary.

So here are our two Ariel Sky Riders!

Note that Sky Riders do not have cross spars. The (aluminium) frame consists of a spine and two leading edges. The first one came with an original black tail, while the second one came without tail. I added a purple Trlby tail, to match the lettering on the sail. So how do the Sky Riders fly?

Well, even though Sky Riders proudly proclaim on the sail to be 'the first 100mph kite' (not clear whether that refers to the wind speed or their own potential speed), their flight characteristics are less than impressive. They're very twitchy, and not very good at consistently catching the wind. In other words, they stall unpredictably, and then require extra efforts just to keep them flying. This may well be due to the high level of flexibility of the frame, and lack of cross spars. Their flight behaviour makes it quite a challenge to fly two of them together.

In summary, it's fun to have them as part of a collection of early dual-liners, but they're not even in the same league as a contemporary Peter Powell. So don't expect Flying Fish to fly them for anything serious.

Wednesday, 8 June 2016

Basingstoke Kite Festival

We've come to Basingstoke Kite Festival every year since we took up flying kites in 2009, so this was our eighth time attending, and our fourth year as invited flyers.

Saturday was overcast all day, with very light winds (mostly 2-7mph), whereas Sunday gave us a gorgeous sunny day, with a bit more wind (mostly 3-9mph); the rain and thunderstorms forecast for Sunday never materialised! On both days, the wind had the tendency to drop away to almost nothing at times, and there were holes in the wind throughout the weekend.

Flying Fish flew five slots in total (three on Saturday, two on Sunday). Our weapon of choice was mostly our ultralight Airdynamics T5 Taipan, though we had to switch down to our Cubans once. On Saturday, we struggled a lot with the finicky wind, several times almost running out of arena. but on Sunday we flew a few cleaner routines.

Who else was there in terms of pair/team-flyers? First of all, our regular neighbours at kite festivals throughout the season, Team Spectrum. Carl and Bryan flew their usual set of routines: Carl flying two kites -> Carl and Bryan flying as a pair -> Carl flying three kites. They weren't very lucky with the wind this weekend, as they had to stop and restart their routine a few times due to running out of arena.

In terms of dual-line teams, Sky Symphony attended with a 3-man team on Saturday:

And Flame flew on Sunday, also including a pairs routine as Phoenix in their slots:

And the third team flying at Basingstoke was L-katz! Back to fully flying at a festival this year (after last year's single-day appearance at Brighton). On Saturday, we made some errors, and Neil dropped out of the sky once due to the wind dropping away completely. Sunday was a lot better: we flew a pretty smooth routine in the first of our two slots (with a perfect cascade!), and were very lucky in the second ... Just prior to L-katz flying, we'd flown as Flying Fish and had to switch down to Cubans because of the wind dropping. Now for the L-katz routine, we had to switch back up again to ultralights, simply because Neil doesn't have a Cuban. I called the shots to try and fly, as I didn't want to give up without trying. As we launched, and the kites struggled to rise, I thought I'd made the wrong call .... but then the wind did pick up a bit, just enough for us to fly a clean routine, and just as we landed, the wind switched off. Talk about a lucky 4 minutes!

Of course, with several dual-line teams present, a mega-team is part of the programme. On Saturday, the mega-team consisted of two members of Sky Symphony, Carl from Team Spectrum, Flying Fish, Fran from Flame, and Chris Goff flying the latest Benson kite on 25m lines .... all went well! Sunday had a brief mini-mega-team, consisting of Flame + Flying Fish.

For the first time since we've been attending Basingstoke, there was no quad-line team; hope The Flying Squad will be back flying again next year. Although not flying, some TFS members were present: Simon doing the commentary and Hezz womanning the music system.

Of course there were lots more flyers and lots more kites; pics are here. I do want to single out one kite: the absolutely gorgeous Phoenix, made by Karl Longbottom. Glad I got to fly one!

Pictures of Flying Fish and L-katz: credit Carl Wright.