|Andalo Bear Escapes to the Woods
Italian Alps, 17 June '06.
It might be better for me if I didn’t talk about this, it was a bad mistake- but on the other hand, maybe I can slip in a bit of positive spin with this version.
Anyway, the basics are that a train of kites I was flying; 8m Pilot, maxi Ray, maxi Trilobite and maxi Penguin, made a 5km run for it through the forest canopy over to the next valley before being re-captured. No-one injured, not much damage to things or kites- but definitely ranking in the top 5 most dramatic kite accidents I’ve been part of in 30 years of event kite flying.
Interestingly, No Limits have been present/involved with three of these. Volker is suspicious that I’m trying to kill him.
The wind was strong- up to 60km/hr in gusts I believe (couldn’t hold onto an 8m Pilot by myself at times), but surprisingly steady for an inland alpine location.
I’d tied the train off to the foundation of a re-locatable 3m x 4m office servicing an adjacent climbing wall by lashing around the 80mm x 80mm foundation timbers that crossed at each corner, and for security, had rigged a 2000kgm Dyneema loop around a substantial fence post by the upwind corner.
How it all let go I'm not sure- an 80mmx 80mm x 4m piece of building went along for the entire trip- pulled out nails and all- but what happened to the tie to the fence post I have no clue- it vanished. Did it break?- I wouldn’t think it could have, and if it did, some remains would have remained with the (recovered) main leash it was rigged to. Did it come untied?- it’s difficult to imagine that both ends would have done so simultaneously. In the days following I tied off to the same building (but with a line right around, rather than just to it’s foundation), with a loop back to the same post- and even with now heightened suspicion, could not see how it could fail.
Fortunately I'd just encouraged some spectators to move out of the danger area just downwind of the anchor point- no, not a premonition just s.o.p. when the wind’s up- when the kites began to get smaller and smaller, while I stood there open mouthed for a second or so thinking maybe I need glasses.
The Penguin, lowest on the totem, took a liking to the first tree it met and stayed there sans bridles. Then, after demolishing 4 sections of a post and rail fence beside a horse arena (complete with horses- who were very interested by this time), the other kites flew 500m or so across an empty lake before catching in the forest canopy, through which they snagged and dragged for the next few kilometres, powered by the Ray and Pilot that remained flying. Eventually they were bought to earth from the final snag courtesy of Andreas’s (No Limits) not inconsiderable tree climbing skills.
I ‘m very embarrassed to have had this accident- and apologise for the risks that other kitefliers and the public were exposed to – and especially to Claudio and Catarina Capelli (the event organisers).
The Pilot and Ray were untouched, the Bear had an easily repairable 1.5m rip below the muzzle, - and were all back up in the air again the same day. The Penguin was rebridled, better than original, and up again the following day. The Trilobite took the brunt with an ugly 2m dismemberment in the upper head area and completely shredded tails, but was near enough to flyable again by festival end.
Many thanks to all the kitefliers who helped with retrieval and repairs to enable everything to get back in the air as quickly as possible.
And on a brighter note, the mayor was delighted with the regional news coverage Andalo derived from all this – under headlines like "Bear makes a break for the woods". At the official dinner I was presented with a commemorative plate (with Andalo’s bear logo coat of arms) as thanks- and was apparently to have received a bronze casting of a bear instead until Claudio dissuaded the authorities on the grounds that I wouldn't have weight allowance sufficient to bring it home- which this time I did have, damn!
Every time there’s something like this, I think, OK, it was VERY bad, but I won’t ever let this happen again- and generally it doesn't, but then some new thing does.
Ten year ago I was in the middle of a line breaking crisis that at times had made me considering seriously whether it was safe to continue festival flying. The underlying problems then were the weight of lines- having to travel everywhere by air, there was just no possibility of carrying big heavy strong lines- and kites that pulled to hard.
The solution to the line problem was the advent of reasonably priced Spectra/Dyneema- although I’m only now developing knot systems that don't weaken the line too much and hold reliably under load but can be undone easily when required (see attached non-verbal comments on my knot tying skills from Seaside 2 years ago).
The answer to kites that pull to much has been 10 years unremitting effort designing them so they pull less. The challenge is that there is a narrow window of bridling angle for which most kites are stable- and generally this occurs at a much steeper angle than for the minimum pull condition. Soft kites that have interesting shapes are already difficult enough to design without this unwelcome restriction. They've gradually yielded though, the kites we make now pull much less than those of 10 years ago did- and are generally better behaved and more stable.
Anchoring has now become the major challenge for large kite flyers at festivals. Event organisers naturally want as many kites in the air as is possible, but the limiting factor is now more usually availability of anchoring and their precise placement than kite or space availability. To add to the problem, increasingly we fly trains of kites, because this gets more kites into less space- but this loads the available anchor points even more.
Small vehicles are the best- easily moved when the wind shifts- and not even a major train like the Andalo escapees will easily move a car, whereas in 1995 just one Ray would have.
Next best is some form of heavy weight. Berck do this very well with their supply of concrete dumbbells, backed by a friendly front end loader driver for quick shifting. Anchors that rely on weight are best because when they do move, it usually happens slowly enough to give warning and allow remedial response. For beaches, sand bags are excellent- construction material bags especially. If more organisers could supply a few of these- and shovels- many more kites would grace their skies. These bags are easy for them to supply but impossible for kitefliers that are flying in to bring- and cost a very small percentage of what festival organisers spend on travel, accommodation and field organisation expenses.
Worst, and particularly unsafe, are stakes, screws and rods. There are a few large kite fliers who use them safely- and if you use arrays of lots of them, know the ground conditions well and have your own equipment and systems, I have no doubt that they can be. But visiting fliers are forced to use what can be scrounged or borrowed locally- and are frequently reduced to using unsuitable or wrongly situated set ups, or not fly,- a recipe for disaster. The only injury I've ever sustained from single line flying is a broken thumb when a ground screw came out without warning, and the nearest to being offed ditto was when a 1.5m x 25mm dia. rod came out of the ground like a rocket ditto, creasing my hair as it went past. Lumps of metal flying through the air pulled by escaping kites just don’t bear thinking about.
So I'm not thinking about them, I'm thinking about a great idea I have for solving the loss of steering at max. de-power that the next generation of traction kites will be plagued by instead.
July 2 2006