by David Carter (aka "Sporto")
ValuJet's timely return, along with their special re-introductory low fares enabled me to finally honor a promise made early in the year to visit Gilbertsville and jump with the "United Diamonds." I'm very glad I did, as I had a great time. Red Payne also flew up from Atlanta to lend his experience (not to mention a suitcase full of demo canopies). The "regular" United DQ crowd was further joined by a small group visiting from the hinterlands of northwest PA, bringing the total to 17! Spirits were high in anticipation of building a 16-way or larger (while not a first for the United camps, certainly the biggest in many months).
We were fortunate to have blue skies and favorable winds the entire weekend, with temperatures peaking just above 60 during the day (but overnight and early morning lows around freezing... brrrr!). UPC's Twin Otter provided comfortable lifts.
The weekend got off to a rousingly good start late Friday afternoon with a "pre-lecture" 10-way. We had dirt dived an 11-way kite, but one newbie got too far behind the formation to catch up and make it in. Still, building a >= 9-way on a Friday was a notable accomplishment for a UPC camp.
A recurring problem for a few of the less experienced jumpers was to get lost behind the base as it shifted heading. You gotta keep an eye on the formation and react =fast=! To borrow an anonymous quote from rec.skydiving: "The superior skydiver uses superior judgement to avoid situations that call on superior skill."
Friday evening concluded with the mandatory lecture for the newbies. Chico handed out really nifty caps emblazoned with the DQ logo and "United Diamonds." Thank you, Chico, you're the man! =)
Saturday morning's first jump was planned as a 17-way kite. In hindsight this may have been too ambitious as the first jump together for the group. The base pin (and, for that matter, the whole top quad) had serious problems building. The row 3 wings were on approach as breakdown was called, and several people had slipped behind the formation. Rubbing salt into the wound, this dive ended with an off landing (our only one for the weekend), about a mile downwind from the DZ, with a brief hike through tall, wet grass to reach the road and a friendly pickup-truck driver. As many people as we stuffed into the back of the truck, there were jokes about next trying our hand at a phone booth or a VW bug.
A caution that bears repeating here: When landing off, LAND CLOSE TOGETHER! We were short a few heads in the head count, and were briefly worried about those missing. Everyone did make it back OK -- two had landed in a neighboring field, but one had given up early on the dive and headed back to the DZ. The latter, while avoiding needing a ride back, got an earful for skipping out on his teammates =before= the breakoff.
We made another attempt at the 17-way. Again the quad was very slow to build, but this time we got as far as the 9-way plus the right row 4 wing.
For the next jump, we split into two groups: a 12-way (a 9-way with an extra bottom row 2 above the #9 point, forming columns, and a stinger below); and several of the newbies in a 5-way kite. The 12-way ran out of time with the bottom 3 people out.
The fourth jump was planned as a 14-way (a 9-way plus row 4 wings and their lockups plus a stinger). This built only to the 9-way before running out of altitude.
For the 5th and last jump on Saturday, a few people decided to sit down, leaving 10 willing to go at it one more time, attempting a kite. The original plan had Ted and myself at the bottom, giving a couple of the lower experienced jumpers a chance to lock up the row 3's. When the left row 3 and the right lockup had problems getting where they needed to be, Ted and I ended up plugging those slots. The formation built to 8, with #9 on close approach at the breakoff. We had video on this dive, but the camerman's battery died shortly after exit (@#*&$%!!).
Sunday morning, with everyone well-rested and the newbies hopefully a little more ready, we again attempted a 17-way with video. This time, Red had trouble (a canopy problem?) and one of the row 3's had to plug Red's slot to complete the quad, causing a small chain of other plugs. That plus some long splits limited the formation to a 9-way.
At this point, the Otter developed problems with its electrical system, and we took a long lunch. When the Otter did resume flying, we were backed up behind a few RW loads. A couple of people left for long drives back home, and the remaining 15 attempted a formation similar to Saturday's 4th jump, with one more stinger and video. This time the right row-3 wing couldn't make it on, so the formation only got as far as a 6-way box.
As a few more people prepared to leave for home, the remaining folks who still wanted to jump closed out the weekend with a nice 9-way.
For several people, this camp provided the experience of chasing and docking on slightly larger formations than they were accustomed to. While we were disappointed not to have built a 16-way, we were very pleased to have had no whirlies, wraps, or cutaways the entire weekend.