Everyone else is gone and I am sitting with a beer looking out at Falcon Lake (Come for the jet-skiing, stay for the funeral) contemplating the likely end of a bitter-sweet piece of personal history. Nine years ago I first came to Zapata at David Glover’s urging. My objective was to set a world record, ideally “the” world record, the sport’s absolute distance record. Previously I had already invested five wonderful summers in Rock Springs,WY pursuing the record. But in 2001 Manfred Ruhmer blew out Larry Tudor’s existing 308 mile record set from Rock Springs. With that, I realized that it had become essentially impossible to break Manfred’s new 435 mile record in Rock Springs, and that if I were serious about record hunting I would have to go to Zapata to do it.
So, the following year, 2002, I began what was to become an enduring love-hate relationship with this place; a relationship that began astonishingly well. Within a week of arriving, Mike Barber and I had made a couple of quick “training” flights of 125 and 160 miles to get the lay of the land. To round out a pleasant week’s flying we then jointly set the declared-distance-to-goal record of 321 miles. Wisely, Mike kept going, flying 438 miles and informally breaking Manfred’s record. Half an hour slower, and behind Mike, I opted to land at our declared goal of Big Lake, Texas. Before launching we had been assured that the day only rated a “5” on a scale of one to ten. In the coming month we were sure to see another three or four days with conditions at least that good. Assuming that this was an only moderately good Zapata day, I thought it would be the coolest damn thing to land my hang glider 321 miles away, at a point declared to be my destination nine hours before.
And so it has gone over the intervening years. A changing cast of characters has rotated through Zapata flying a variety of gliders. Many were world class competition pilots (Manfred, Mike Barber, Dustin, Alex Ploner, Jonny Durand, Bo Hagewood, and Paris Williams, to name some) while others were weekend warriors with dreams. We flew a variety of gliders: flex wings, rigids, Falcons, and Swifts, and, briefly, paragliders. Our guiding genius brought a succession of, first, ultralight sailplanes (which he kindly let me fly) and ultimately the uniquely heavy Gemini with which he set this year’s record. For a short while we flirted with towing from a dirt strip built for us on a local banker’s property twenty miles northeast of the airport. The objective was to give us a starting point further east to ease the basic early morning tactical problem of getting around Laredo’s airspace. Several pilots set triangle records (itself an indication that the winds were too light to go for the big distance), and several Swift and sailplane records went down. But the big conditions never returned in their entirety.
The Zapata Basics
|Davis Straub - OzReport.com|