World Cup Sport Kite Championships – Dieppe, France
A Diary of Events From September 7-14, 1998
The Normandy Invasion
The adventures, trials and tribulations of Shanti Air Kite Team and their trip to the World Cup Team Sport Kite Championships in Dieppe, France. The Team consists of Al Hargus – Team Captain Columbus, Ohio – Vicki Romanoff, Groveport, Ohio – Pete Digiacomo , Canton, Ohio – Gina Ignazzitto , North Olmstead, Ohio – Dave Hoelter, North Olmstead, Ohio – and Mike Donley, Euclid, Ohio
Day One – Monday Sept. 7, 1998
12:20 AM – Just back from the USAF Museum kite festival yesterday and finished final gear pack-up for the BIG trip. Better get some sleep; don’t know when I will get any again! Midwest fliers were very supportive and excited about the team’s trip to France. Words of encouragement came from many people. Good time in Dayton, as usual! We are taking the hopes and dreams of all these people to France with us. All who congratulated us emphasized that half of the battle was already won. We are part of Team USA and have earned the right to attend the World Cup. Our job now is to turn those dreams and hopes of the team and our friends into reality.
8:46 AM – Vicki called and is almost ready. She says her bags are way too light, she must be forgetting something. I told her she could put rocks and sand into them if being heavy made her feel better. Working harder means that you are better prepared? Vern Balodis will be driving us to Cleveland. He will be at my place at 9:30 AM.
9:15 AM – “Hello, this is April from US Airways…!” OH, OH ! there are predicted thundershowers at 3:30 PM in Cleveland that might delay our flight. The lady suggests that we take the 1:20 PM flight instead. So, before I even start, I’m two hours late. Call Pete!
10:54 AM – We are on the road to Cleveland. Vern is in charge of the schedule to Cleveland and advance attitude adjustment. I wish Vern was coming with us. My mind drifts to trivia and anticipation. Columbus to Cleveland to Philadelphia to Paris to Dieppe, France. That’s a total of 4342 miles. One Way!
1:20 PM – (7:20 PM Paris Time. ) – Finally off the ground and on our way!! Delays in Cleveland. Delays in Philly. Hurry up and wait! Team is scattered all over the plane. We are all going to try to sleep anyway! Time to change my watch to Paris time.
9:00 PM – (3:00 PM US Time) Seven hours on a plane is pretty bad. No sleep for me because of all the in plane noise, movie, food service. There is a French couple sitting in front of me with two little kids. Funny, but whining sounds the same in French as it does in English.
10:00 PM – So! Al Hargus is over the Atlantic Ocean heading East. Europe! France! Paris! Places I have read about and known about since I was a kid. Quite an adventure.
11:00 PM – Is this worth it? I’m sure that I’m going to ask that question hundreds of times before I’m through. So far I’ve spent about $1000 personally for the plane ticket, hotel accommodations and miscellaneous “stuff” for the trip. Can’t tell yet about the money. Has it been worth it, as a team flier? No way to know that either. So far, this six person team has been a difficult road to travel. Very difficult because I have designed it that way!
In the beginning (July 1997 14 months ago) The rest of the team decided to make a run for the World Cup. Outwardly, I agreed, knowing down deep that with this team’s level of experience we didn’t have a chance. We would be flying against teams that I knew would field experienced fliers and fly proven routines.
Just in case we got lucky though, I knew that we would need a worthy routine, complicated enough to make a good showing at the World Cup. We have that routine. We are going to the World Cup on Team USA. Luck? Effort? Skill? Determination? Who knows now? All I know is that Shanti Air Kite Team is heading for Dieppe, France. This is real and we are one of the two best teams in the United States. Better try for more sleep, Al.
Day Two – Tuesday Sept. 8, 1998
7:20 AM (Paris Time) What planet are we on? DeGaulle Airport and customs are a snap. The customs officials examine none of the baggage, only glance at passports. They don’t even say good morning! We are really on our way, now!
7:45 AM – Money exchange. Some of the team changes US dollars to French francs. Current exchange rate is 5.55 something?? That means that 200 francs cost me $36 dollars. Careful, Al, it may look like play money, but it isn’t.
7:50 AM – There are soldiers armed with rifles and full field gear walking around the airport in pairs. WOW this sure isn’t Wildwood, Dorothy!
9:00 AM – Finally acquired the rental van and the car. Pete will pilot the van with his wife Karen, and the team gear. Mike Donley will drive the car with Vicki, Gina and I following. We check the maps and make plans for a tour of Paris.
9:30 AM – Paris here we come! This is pretty exciting, but VERY confusing. Imagine trying to drive on an expressway where “Non-Gauche Tourner” means “No Left Turn!” Hard to punch letters into Vicki’s pocket translator fast enough. Mike Donley has had little experience with stick shift, but does well considering. I have made the mistake of ignoring warnings about jet lag and am very sick, and I’m half asleep.
10:00 AM – Paris is a very big city and we are very lost. DeGaulle airport is on the North side of Paris. We elect to head South toward the Eiffel Tower and the Arc de Triumph. Motor bikes and motorcycles fill all the available road space not taken up by very small French made Renaults and Citrons. We see no American made cars at all. I guess in Paris the lanes for the two wheelers are those white lines between lanes. This is not sightseeing — it is survival!
10:30 AM – We have finally sighted the Eiffel Tower. Hey! Just a postcard picture so far. I really won’t grasp the reality of it until I touch it!
11:00 AM – My visit to the Eiffel Tower is marred by a serious case of “Jet Lag Stomach” I am pretty sick. I’m afraid that if I get into a crowded elevator line for a trip to the top of the tower I’ll heave all over. Guess I should have followed the advice I was given: eat, drink liquids, sleep, and don’t drink alcohol. I ignored all of this stuff and am now paying the price.
1:30 PM – Heading out of Paris for Dieppe. We are following Pete in the van. Pete isn’t sure of the actual route either, but he is the lead driver. Oh my gosh, where’s Pete? We have lost him in Paris. Gina is the main navigator now! I hope we don’t get really lost. It doesn’t help to stop and ask directions either. None of our French helps at all!
3:30 PM – Finally out of Paris. I had a hard time convincing everyone that if we want to drive north, the sun should be on our left. Yes, gang, the sun still rises in the east and sets in the west in France!
4:00 PM – Country driving in France is very different. The road signs only tell you the name of the next town and the road numbers change between each village. There is no interstate that is continuously numbered from Paris to Dieppe.We are passed by very fast cars. How fast do you go when the posted speed is 105 kph? Then that post card transportation appears in the form of a horse drawn cart driven by a guy in a beret.
4:10 PM – I can barely stay awake and am very sick. Everyone but me wants food. WOW, there’s a McDonalds! It looks the same as at home. Menu says Deluxe Cheeseburger meal – 38 Francs. I think that’s $9.00. Money is not the object here, my stomach is. Passing on a Big Mac!
5:00 PM – Finally in Dieppe and we see kites and the English Channel. We have3.jpg (65070 bytes) found the hotel La Présidence. WOW, a big grassy flying field. A 15th century chateau on the hill overlooking the beach. Our hotel is attached to an 11th 4.jpg (32017 bytes)century stone guard tower and we are right next to the town Casino.
This sure isn’t Wildwood anymore, Dorothy! Pete and Karen are already here. They got lost too, and only arrived minutes before us. First team task, reassemble the 28 team kites. All these battens make the Opus 8’s fly well BUT, curse you, Mr. Wolff for the 280 of them we have to reinstall. Dave Hoelter and wife Ellen (my roommates) arrive from their side trip to Southern France. Shanti Air is all here and together!
6:30 PM – Kites are ready. We decide to take the kites to the beach and let Dieppe know we are here. WOW! What a beach. We cross the blvd de Verdun in front of the hotel. There’s 400 feet of grass, then another park road, then the beach which consists of 350 feet of rocks the size of oranges and plums polished smooth by the waves. Then there is another 200 feet of wet flat sand. There is a 20 foot slope down to the rocks and we decide to fly there. At this point we do not yet realize that this is low tide. There will be no beach or rocks tomorrow morning when high tide comes in (The tide will climb 18 feet in this part of France)
8:30 PM – Sun’s almost down. Rocks make walking difficult. We fly the team routine several times and call it quits. In 15 minutes of flying we attracted several hundred spectators. This is really going to be an experience to remember.
Day Three – Wednesday Sept. 9, 1998
8:00 AM – Breakfast coffee in the village. Coffee here comes in very small cups and is VERY potent. I like it! There is no concept here of “To Go.” So, Vic and I sit at a little table on the street and watch Dieppe wake up. No one ever seems to be in a hurry. Bakeries and pastry shops are open and busy. The pubs and bars are open, too. I think I’m gonna like this place and I am feeling better. I got some sleep last night. Is this really a stress reaction? I have never had this happen before but I5.jpg (59147 bytes) have never been to the World Cup before either!
10:00 AM – The Team assembles to practice on the main World Cup competition field. There are many teams and we have to share the field. Winds are 15 – 18 MPH from the Southwest. Right off the hotels and shore. It is very choppy!
10:30 AM – We are sharing the field with Team Positive Lift from Australia and Keops from France. Both national champions. HEY! So are we! Team captain Pierre Marzin of Keops has been to Wildwood, NJ and the East Coast event and recognizes me. We renew old friendships. I make new ones and meet many fliers from the other teams. There are about 500 spectators watching the teams practice. They applaud for simple compulsories. This is team heaven!! I even sign a few autographs. Is it worth it? So far, for me it is!
10:45 AM – Shanti Air takes the field. I didn’t realize in my personal revelry and excitement that most of the rest of the team is very nervous and apprehensive about flying in front of so many people and other World Cup teams. It is the one thing that we couldn’t ever practice and that is the tension and pressure resulting from a big championship, The biggest in the World! We fly very sloppy and the choppy gusting winds make us look even worse. Some of the team members forget maneuvers that we have flown for eight months. Heavy winds, Opus 8’s and 275# test line. We need to slow down, both in the air and emotionally, on the ground. Gina breaks a spreader, Blue Flight tangles and two kites are broken. One flier even loses a handle. Hey! Is this the first time we have ever flown together? I call a halt to practice, we are done for now. Better get off the field and nurse our bruised kites and egos.
12:00 PM – The team decides to tour Dieppe. The town was largely rebuilt after6.jpg (57257 bytes) World War Two, but there are still many very, very old buildings. About a block South of our hotel is Saint Remy, a 16th century church. Very elegant, but very old. This town has an ancient history that was old long before Chris Columbus got the urge to travel. Pete really drives home “old” to me by mentioning that they built this cathedral in 1512 because the other church, Saint Jacque, toward the 7.jpg (50092 bytes)center of town which was built in 1120 was falling down and they needed a new one.
1:00 PM- All the shops close between Noon and 1:00 for lunch. We elect to eat in a little sidewalk cafe. The waitress is beautiful, she looks like she could be a movie star. Take it easy Al, she also looks to be about 16 years old.
One MAJOR different thing about this country is the cigarette smoking policy. There isn’t one! Everyone smokes and there are ashtrays everywhere, even in the elevators. All the tables at restaurants have them. There are ‘No Smoking’ signs, but they are generally ignored. Smokers are not in a minority here. Actually it seems that no one cares at all. Pete wonders if France has a higher lung cancer rate that the USA. Mike says, “No they are all killed on motorcycles on the roads before they become a cancer statistic.”
The two parallel streets in town are Grande Rue blvd. and St. Jacques blvd. They are small and sidewalks about two feet wide. They were originally designed for horse drawn carts. This really feels like a “foreign” country now!
5:00 PM – Some of the team elect to visit the Casino. Dave, Ellen and I retreat to our room. I have recuperated from the Jet Lag problem and must have eaten four meals,10.jpg (32086 bytes) sampled a dozen chocolate shops treats and just gorged on pastries. I am stuffed and very tired. Dave is a TV guy so we watch a little French programming. You have not seen the world until you see NYPD Blue and Sipowitz lip synched in French. I didn’t know Ellen Hoelter very well before this trip. Dave and Ellen are GREAT roommates and we talk until late!
Day Four – Thursday Sept. 10, 1998
8:00 AM – Vicki and I have coffee at the Rouge Buche which I think means “The Red Log” Cafe. You have to order “Grand” to get a bigger than tiny cup of this stuff. If you are not awake after two cups of this Cappuccino, you’re dead! Vic really likes the breakfast pastries.
9:00 AM – The team meets for a photo session at the foot of the hill with the 14th11.jpg (73884 bytes) century Chateau in the background. We need a picture we promised to our friends at the USAF Museum in Dayton, Ohio. We all are wearing Red USAF Festival T-shirts. Everyone agrees to personal free time and touring until 1:00 when we will practice again.
10:00 AM – Vicki and I go to the center of town and decide to stop at the Bureau of Tourism for some info and maps. The office is right next to the harbor of Dieppe and right at the mouth of the river Deep, after which Dieppe is named. This is the same harbor that was the objective of the failed invasion in August of 1942 The invasion was code named “Operation Jubilee” There were Canadian, British and 50 American commandos in that landing force. The Allies needed a harbor and Dieppe was the choice. 6,000 troops attempted to take the town and failed. There is a cemetery near here with graves of 1,000 soldiers.
You really realize how high the tides get here by looking at the docks in the harbor. There are columns attached to the piers that are 20 feet tall. It’s low tide now, this evening the boats will be at the top of those columns.
1:00 PM – The team gathers and decides that the regular competition fields are too crowded and we will travel south and west along the coast to look for a practice field. The Chicago Fire practiced someplace south of here yesterday.
The team piles into the van, with all the kites and team lines. “Kinda crowded.” We immediately get lost, which seems to be the usual French driving method. We attempt to find an abandoned airport someplace just south of Dieppe. No such luck. We do see a lot of the countryside. There are times when you have to rub your eyes to remember that you are not looking at a picture post card. Some villages look like they are trapped in the 1930’s. Beautiful scenery, ancient buildings, BUT no place to fly.
3:30 PM – We finally make the Normandy coast. There are plenty of open fields here; most are planted with crops. Many have these huge French versions of cattle. Mike Donley is convinced that they are a mutant variety of the US cows! We follow a side road that turns to a dirt path. Are we lost? Probably! We arrive at a parking area that leads to a stunning view of the English Channel. There are stairs leading down to the13.jpg (50868 bytes) beach. The stairs descend about 500 feet to a beach that is maybe 35 feet wide. The waves are really rolling in down there. No flying here! In the parking lot we meet a local fella who says (in English, thank God!) that there might be a field to fly kites in about 12 miles south of here. He says that he would be glad to lead us there. I really think that he wants to see what these six crazy Americans are planning on doing.
4:00 PM – We arrive on a beautiful hill overlooking the village of Saint Valery-en-Caux. There isn’t really enough room to fly a team, but we bring out a kite anyway just because our French guide went to so much trouble to get us here. There is a monument down the slope from where we are flying. Would you believe that in 1942 two Frenchmen flew a bi-plane from New York to Paris and crossed the French coast right here?
4:30 PM – On our way back to Dieppe without a practice, we spot this peculiar mound of rubble and overgrown bushes and trees. We stop to investigate. We find one of many World War Two bunkers. There is a row of them that stretches off into the distance. Easy to recognize once you know what to look for. These bunkers were Anti-aircraft batteries. You can still see the metal gun mounts on top of them. Some are covered with marks of bullets and shell hits. Quite a touch of unexpected history.
5:45 PM – Back in Dieppe, the team parks at the flying field hoping to practice. Still no luck; the field is being used. We decide to return at 7:00 PM.
7:00 PM – Score a bit of Good Luck for Shanti Air. Team Speed from Japan is just leaving the flying field and no other team is waiting. We take the field. Winds are off the Channel at about 18 MPH. We fly Opus 8 heavy wind Slots and 400# test line. We also install our custom air brakes. The kites fly beautifully.
7:15 PM – Is it worth it.? Damn right it is! We fly our routine several times without a hitch. The team is in step and everyone is flying well. About 1000 spectators are in the bleachers behind us and I can see other World Cup teams on the sidelines watching us. “So this is the new, and until now unknown American team.” I am overjoyed. This is the best time I have ever had on a kite field. Doing what I know how to do, with other people on the team, doing their part in the routine that we have practiced so long!
7:30 PM – One of our maneuvers has Vicki’s lines passing over my head pretty close. This has been the way of it since last December. I always have to duck. This time she wings my hat and knocks it off. I have instant visions of Van Gogh and one ear for the Cup. I bust out laughing. I am having a great time. After we complete our practice and it is getting dark one of the team asks me, “Why were you laughing during practice?” I replied that I was having a good time, best time I have ever had on the field. That flier looked at me strangely and thought that I was so stressed out that I was hysterical. I then realized that all of Shanti Air WAS NOT on the same wavelength. Everyone was NOT as comfortable as I was. They were stressed out and still nervous. I really had my work cut out for me as team Captain and with tomorrow’s first competition, Team Precision.
8:00 PM – Finally ran into the Chicago Fire. They are the other half of Team USA. Glad to finally connect with Eric and the gang!
9:00 PM – Dinner at Les Tourelles, which means the West Gate and is also the name of the Guard Gate next to our hotel. Great meal, authentic Norman cuisine. The restaurant is filled with locals, so it must be the best. Anxious for tomorrow. Pretty pumped up after our great practice. Time to show the rest of the teams what it means to be a six person team from the USA!
Day Five – Friday Sept. 11, 1998
Vicki Romanoff’s Birthday
7:00 AM – Wake Up call and I’m as ready as I can possibly be. Can I hold this team together just two more days? Problems with team rooms and accommodations have been a hassle and a wedge between some members of the team since we arrived in France. Can we really get it all together? Attitude really is everything.
9:00 AM – Pilots meeting at the main tent. WOW there are sixty or seventy team fliers17.jpg (57496 bytes) in this tent. There aren’t that many active team fliers in the entire United States. Hans Jansen op de Haar is the Chief judge and conducts the meeting. I am amazed that it runs so smoothly, with four different languages and translations needed for explanations. Hans puts us at ease, and still runs a strict and orderly meeting.
9:30 AM – Compulsories are 1.) Cascade, 2.) Team Diamonds Down and 3.) Speed Up Domino Down. We can manage the first two. We were actually hoping for Cascade, as this is a maneuver everyone says six fliers cannot do, and we know we can do it. BUT Speed Up Domino Down is another thing altogether. Oh well we will smoke them in freestyle. The Chicago Fire will fly sixth and we will fly eighth.
10:30 AM – Threatening weather is coming. We can see the front over the English Channel. Winds are 16 mph. Will the weather hold?
11:00 AM – All the teams have to ground crew for each other. This is a good system. Shanti Air will crew for Garuda, a team from Germany. Our ground crew will be Team Keops. Pierre Marzin their team captain is pleased to help Al Hargus. I am honored, and tell him so!
11:30 AM – Winds are now a solid 18 mph off the Channel and it is beginning to rain. Three teams have already flown, five to go before we fly. A very small tick in this high wind breaks one of Lung Ta’s kites (Team from France) Lung Ta finishes the routine despite the damage. We are setting up Opus 8 Heavy wind Slots, 400# test line and air brakes.
12:00 PM – Keops takes the field and the rains become very heavy. The judges call a halt to the competition. Keops remains on the field and practices for 1/2 hour. That’s fortitude and perseverance. We are still going to use Opus 8 Slots and 400# test line, but no brakes.
12:30 PM – Competitions are resumed. Keops is soaked, but have the best winds of the day at about 10-12 mph. They fly perfectly. They ultimately win the precision event. BUT the winds are dropping and shifting from the northwest to due west off the buildings along the shore.
1:00 PM – Chicago Fire takes the field (two to go) The Fire flies their compulsories19.jpg (69134 bytes) as a four person team perfectly, but during their freestyle they have an impact, crash, broken kite and an assisted relaunch, but they finish their routine together.. We are now thinking of Standard Opus 8’s and 400# test line.
1:30 PM – Shanti Air is in the pit. We are next. We have Standard Opus 8’s and 275# test line set up. Winds are about 8-10 mph.
1:34 PM – Winds are down to 6-8 mph. Do we change kites? TO WHAT? We don’t have the Ultralight Opus’ even assembled. There is no time. We are on our way to the field. Keops carries our kites out and they are very supportive. We are pumped. It will work, I hope!
1:38 PM – IN Winds are down to 4-6 mph, the kites are wet and very slow. I SCREWED UP!
Compulsory #1 is Cascade. We do it well. We show the six kites in a diagonal dive “as drawn”. We are the only team to receive applause for a compulsory.
Compulsory #2 is Team Diamonds Down. We are only allowed 45 seconds between maneuvers and the Field Director calls “IN” four seconds before I do. We fly the maneuver well for a six person team.
Compulsory #3 is Speed Up Domino Down. We are not very precise, but we all do land at the end. We got through that one, our hardest.
Freestyle – We should have had the Ultralights set up and in the pit. We had enough time to change to them. This is called “inexperience at the World Cup!” Keops sets us up as far up field as they can. When we launch, I see the angle and climb of the kites is bad. We begin losing field. I call to the team to gain ground on every diving maneuver, but it is not enough. Ultimately, one of my team mates, concentrating on a maneuver, steps out of bounds. There is this horrible air horn they sound when a team is finished. I hate that air horn! Has anyone ever DQed at the World Cup?
1:40 PM – We are off the field. I’m OK, but is the rest of the team? After the kites are packed away, they have all run off in separate directions.
5:30 PM – I’m alone in my room drying out the kites. The team is off to dinner. I spend the time listening to our team music. That’s my job! Even if we score 100 tomorrow. We cannot win the World Cup. BUT we can show them how and why we got here. The lack of pressure to win the World Cup could help us to fly better tomorrow. The main job for me now is to convince Shanti Air to fly with spirit. Let the event people figure out what to do with a DQ and a First place!
8:30 PM – I had dinner and toured Dieppe alone. This town still amazes me. Can you believe there are prophylactic dispensers on the street corners and dogs in the restaurants, too. It sure isn’t Wildwood, Dorothy!
9:30 PM – I still feel pretty good despite today’s DQ. I made a poor equipment choice and the luck of the wind bit us on the behind. I guess that it doesn’t hurt me as much as some of the rest of the team because in the 12 years that I have flown on teams I have screwed up much worse than this. This was not as bad as the time in 1993 when my entire team became lost, tangled and finished in a big pile of kites in the middle of the field.
Okay, okay, this is the World Cup and it is an important event, but ultimately it is “just” kiteflying. A sport that 99.9999% of the planet hasn’t ever heard of. My rent won’t go up because we DQed, my Mom will still love me! BUT I really do wish we could have done better. So where the heck is Jimminy Cricket and that magic star, tonight?
Day Six – Saturday Sept. 12, 1998
9:00 AM – Ballet competition today! The event is scheduled for 2:00 PM. The weather is threatening again. Will it hold off today? Reports say there is a big storm on the way and is due at 12:30 PM
10:30 AM – Captains’ meeting and a decision to move up the competition about two hours. Can we beat the storm and fly dry?
11:00 AM – Even though Shanti Air has nothing to lose, many on the team are still nervous. I am asked several times about equipment choices about an hour and a half before we are schedules to compete. The team is pacing the equipment area.
11:30 AM – Scott Weider of Rhode island and also a member of Team USA flies in21.jpg (32157 bytes) Quadline Ballet. He does really well until the last 30 seconds of his routine. Scott has battled a case of pneumonia and saw a doctor Thursday. He did fly and finish, that is a major accomplishment at the World Cup. Scott is pleased to be attending. He finishes ninth in Ballet.
12:30 PM – Shanti Air has been asked to ground crew for Aftershock, the six person team from Japan. They are the favorites for the event. I meet with Aftershock and tell them that I was inspired by their 1997 World Cup performance and will be honored to be on the field with them this time. We cannot win, so why not another six person team? The team bows very politely and applauds.
1:00 PM – Aftershock flies their routine well. They have to as they are 15 points behind from the precision event. They fly to music from the movie Godzilla with a similar routine to the one they flew in 1997. They are very happy! I feel that Shanti Air has a more complex routine that incorporates all six fliers. We have better choreography. We can do better. We can beat them!
1:30 PM – Shanti Air is next up! The team is as nervous as if the Cup23.jpg (36361 bytes) was on the line. Can we make this work? Heavy Wind Opus 8 Slots and 400# test line. We are not allowed to test fly before we enter the field. Not very fair. Pit is 15 feet wide by 300 feet long. No flying, no way to know anything. Your ground crew carries out your kites and sets them up. Five minutes later you are called IN by the Field Director whether you are ready or not. Positive Lift from Australia will ground crew along with Pierre and one other team member from Keops from France.
1:35 PM – “IN” We have a good launch. These winds and these kites will work. The music is very loud. I yell to the Field Director, “Turn the Music Down” OOPS! He’s French and does not understand. The team’s timing is way off because the team members cannot hear me. The team continues to 1 minute and 45 seconds and someone makes a wrong turn. A massive air tangle occurs between fliers #1,2,3,&4. I am determined to get us out of this! I will not get a zero for this event, too! I will finish this routine even if I have to do it alone. Emergency management kicks in. (This is my personal name for problem corrections on the field.) Where can the team get back into the routine? Where are we in the music? How do I clear my lines to lead them? I charge the tangle and run down field. This brings the tangle close enough that I can see it. I untangle my lines quickly and relaunch. Positive Lift was ready! 2 minutes into the 24.jpg (30705 bytes)music. I don’t know how long anyone has been down. I follow the music and our place in it! Drop and Stop next? NO! No one will be able to rejoin and continue there. What’s next? Box Burst is what I yell. “Meet me at Box Burst!” Red Flight has a ground switch for this maneuver, Dave and Gina perform it perfectly without my telling them. The plan works and all six of us make it back into the routine. We are back into the groove at 3 minutes and 15 seconds. The rest of the routine goes25.jpg (43702 bytes) like clockwork and as drawn. We fly the best we can but have lost 1 1/2 minutes. Were any of us on the ground for 45 seconds? Will we zero this one, too? I don’t know and I don’t care. I did the best I could do at my job as caller and team leader. We finished together and called “OUT”
1:45 PM – Afterwards the team searches for excuses and reasons. I did my best! I have always realized that errors can and do occur on the field and my job has always been to get us past them and to finish the routine. I accomplished that mission.
1:55 PM – The Chicago Fire flies with a five person team. It is raining for their routine. BUT Eric has prepared the team in many ways, even to having really nice bright yellow team rain jackets. About half way through their routine three of the fliers become tangled with a single line kite that has wandered onto the field. The Fire can protest and ask for a refly, but Eric knows that the weather conditions will not improve and he elects to stand with their current performance. They finish together and are ranked toward the bottom third of the teams.
4:00 PM – This was probably be the last competition flight for Shanti Air. It was a very good year, all things considered!
7:00 PM – Evening dinner with all the rest of the festival kiters. It is a pretty rowdy party. The Japanese are on a roll, they are World Champions. The Odako Team from Japan really parties and all of them have a great time. One thing that really stands out to me is that the entire Japanese contingent has their own film crew, camera man and sound man. The Japanese never do things half way!
The appetizer for this meal is a plate of smoked salmon. No one likes it, except for Scott Weider and me. We consume everyone’s at our table and some others. We must have eaten $200 worth of salmon, each!
Pete Digiacomo finds out that the 30 waitresses at this meal are VERY interested in getting his souvenir Rock and Roll Hall of Fame pins. Pete is mobbed by them and loves it!
9:00 PM – Okay, the party is really over. All the team is scattered. Tomorrow is another day. Maybe the team will want to do a demonstration and make it all even!
Day Seven – Sunday Sept. 13, 1998
10:30 AM – Vicki and I tour the Dieppe markets, probably for the last time! We shop and watch life go by in France. It is raining again. The team is nowhere to be found.
12:00 PM – Eat lunch at my favorite restaurant on Rue de la Barre. It is my favorite because the food is excellent and the waitress is cute! She also knows that we are American and immediately resorts to sign language when we arrive. She is very helpful. I have Fish Stew and Ham with butter. Excellent!
2:00 PM – The team meets at the Dieppe Festival Headquarters. No small affair! Three trailers and a huge tent complex. The Finance office is our destination. The festival organizers have kindly agreed to reimburse us for a large percentage of our air fare and hotel accommodations. Paperwork is submitted and all goes well. We28.jpg (68265 bytes) meet the Chicago Fire there and they all seem to be in good spirits after their problems yesterday. Eric is disappointed but he has been to eight World Cups before, so this is a lifetime quest for him and this event is only a minor setback for the Fire. I know that one day Eric Wolff and the Fire will finally win that elusive trophy. Some Americans have doubted that we would be reimbursed at all, but we all leave happy and I am about 1400 francs richer.
3:00 PM – There is a gathering on the competition field and Sky Dance, the 1997 World Champions, elaborately drive out to the field in parade fashion holding the World Cup. The Cup is reverently transferred to a very excited Aftershock. Carl Robertshaw becomes the first winner of the Individual Quadline World Cup. Sky Dance then flies their 1997 award winning routine.
5:00 PM – This is the beginning of the real end of the trip. The team is gathered to 31.jpg (65685 bytes)break down the team kites for the trip back to the US. 28 Opus 8’s to airplane size is a real task. The team is still working together, but is very somber (read: “burned out” here!)
Pete Digiacomo, wife Karen, Dave Hoelter and wife Ellen will remain in Europe. Dave and Ellen to Austria and relatives, Pete and Karen to Germany and touring.
8:00 PM – Drinks and a final party with the Chicago Fire and many others at Le Rondo, a bar on the beach. Winds are so strong at the beach tonight (steady 30-35 mph off the Channel), you have to hold onto the railing just to get inside. Jon and Marianne Trennepohl are there; so are Scott Weider and his wife, Kathy. Many teams are there drowning their grief in not taking the Cup back to their respective countries, but the atmosphere is light and gay. I meet and talk to many, MANY people.
9:30 PM – Vicki and I dine at Les Tourelles restaurant. I like this place. It is frequented by locals and we are the only ones not French. Stuffed trout and cheese for me! And would you believe that one of the desert items is “whipped cream” — nothing else — just this huge bowl of whipped cream?
10:30 PM – Hard to get to sleep. Last night in France and, for all its foreignness, I think I like it here and will miss it when I am gone.
Day Eight – Monday Sept. 14, 1998
4:00 AM – Mike Donley has the van out front of the hotel. It is a three hour trip to Paris and DeGaulle airport and we don’t want to be late. Our flight is at 11:20 AM so we have plenty of time for problems. Little do we know what is to come! Just four of the team are making this trip. Mike, Gina, Vicki and I. We do get lost several times.
8:00 AM – We finally make it to DeGaulle airport. We are all very tired and it will be difficult going home after this one!
9:30 AM – We finally get the rental van taken care of and get in line for the first of five security checks. There are French Republican Army soldiers patrolling the airport with loaded rifles.
10:00 AM – Security check for baggage goes smoothly even though we are carrying three bags of kites that resemble rocket launchers. The kite bags move through the X-ray machines twice. We are questioned about the viewed contents, but are never required to open the bags. Security agents, who are aware of the Dieppe Festival wish the team well. They say that we should come back and have better luck next time. How True!
10:10 AM – All movement to the departure gates is stopped by the military. Announcements over the PA system say,”Security Alert…” We are stopped and are milling about with 500 or 600 people from everywhere on the planet. No one knows what is going on. We see army and police and uniforms everywhere.
10:30 AM – All exits to the gates are blocked by the army. No one knows anything and the tension builds. Over 1,000 are now waiting, hot, crowded and nervous.
11:00 AM – I recognize bomb disposal people by their flak jackets and helmets. They are moving up one of the ramps carrying blast blankets and shielding stuff. Oh oh! Personally, I am not too worried as the police and the army are not moving us but only holding us in this area.
11:15 AM – KABOOM! A very sharp report like an M-80 firecracker. Two ladies faint, children are crying. Rumor circulates that an abandoned briefcase has been destroyed in place. A French businessman next to us says that this happens three or four time a week! “Just a precaution”, he says and points to a sign on the wall that reads, “All abandoned bags will be destroyed immediately for security reasons”. Someone has just had their underwear blown up.
11:20 AM – (Our scheduled departure time!!) The barricades are removed and we begin the process of getting all these people, one at a time, through the “Boarding Pass Only” checkpoint at the beginning of the ramp.
11:35 AM – The team really hurries through the Duty Free shopping area. Vicki and Gina are VERY disappointed, but we have a plane to catch, we hope!
11:37 AM – Passport Control and another boarding pass check.
11:39 AM – X-rays and a security check line next.
11:42 AM – WOW, finally gate 3B. The airline knew of the delays downstairs and the plane is still holding at the gate.
11:45 AM – The team is finally seated and ready to fly home. WOW! Vicki, Gina and Mike are already sleeping! We remain in the taxi pattern for a while. No hurry now! Airtime to Philadelphia is 8 hours.
12:20 PM – We are next to take off. WOW! We are right behind the Concorde and I watch it take off. It will arrive at Dulles International four hours before us. Well, money talks and the Flying Turtles really are slow!
12:45 PM – (Paris Time) Take-off. Au revoir, France! Back to US time, Al.
7:00 AM – (US Time) The Paris to Philly flight is as uneventful as an eight hour flight can be. Besides the team being physically and mentally exhausted, the in-flight movie is the Wedding Singer. Z Z Z Z Z Z Z I eat and fall asleep with visions of World Cups dancing in my head.
3:55 PM – Philly and the last plane to Cleveland. Customs is easy. I later learn that the sleepy Customs agent forgets to stamp my passport. It’s as bare and clean as when I left the US a week ago.
5:30 PM – On the ground in Cleveland. Vern Balodis is at the gate to meet us. He already knows how we did and doesn’t care!
5:45 PM – The four of us meet at the baggage area. Vic, Vern and I go outside to have a cigarette. (It sure isn’t Dieppe anymore, Dorothy!) By the time we get back to our bags, Gina and Mike are already gone! Oh well, it’s probably better this way.
6:30 PM – In the Balodismobile heading out on 71 South to Columbus. (Clearly marked in English!)
9:00 PM – Home again! The Normandy invasion didn’t turn out like we all had hoped. Shanti Air was formed in July of 1997, specifically to go to this year’s World Cup. We did accomplish that goal. The six of us will attend the Cleveland Kite Festival on September 19th and fly Shanti Air Kite Team 1998 one more time for our friends. Some of the team may continue to fly together next season. Maybe as Shanti Air, maybe not!
Personally, it will be my last team flight for a while. I need to take a break from long distance team practice. It has taken up every single weekend for the last five years now.
I plan to turn over formal command of my ship called “Shanti Air” to Vern Balodis at32.jpg (30632 bytes) the Cleveland Kite Festival.
So here comes that question I asked in the very beginning, eight days ago.
Has It Been Worth It?
Money wise I have spent a bunch, mostly on souvenirs, gifts, food and drink. That’s about average for an eight day vacation. The festival organizers have reimbursed us half of our plane fare and about three quarters of our accommodations. Not as cheap as a trip to say Wildwood, NJ, but a fair deal for six actual days in France.
Now comes the most important question. Were the efforts as a sport kite team worth it? We practiced every Sunday since July of 1997 and accumulated over 250 hours of field time. We were a long distance team and that means that we each drove over 11,000 miles to those 75 practices. That is 225 hours of just sitting in a car, going to and returning from practices. This does not count the 9,000 miles and 24 hours of travel for this event.
The team competed in sixteen competitions including this one. We took seven first places, two second places, four third places. We were disqualified twice, both for out of bounds violations and we scored in last place in ballet at this event.
We practiced in five degree and ninety-five degree temperatures. We chipped ice off of our kites to get them to fly. We stood for hours in the field waiting for wind.
I personally listened to our music so many times that I can whistle it and hit the time exactly. The choreography for this routine was almost completely my own, with help and inspiration from Ron Reich, The Chicago Fire, Captain Eddies Flying Circus and Pair of Pairs kite team.
When the team flew this routine and made it work it was like we performed a wonderful magic trick. Spectators were amazed when they witnessed the magic happen. Occasionally sport kite judges witnessed that magic and were pleased. Most importantly, when we were at one of those seventy-five practices, cold, or hot, tired and all alone but the six of us… when the routine worked … when it all came together … when I saw that magic trick performed by me and my teammates … that was when I knew that all the hours were well spent. No one needed to applaud, no one needed to give us a good score, no one else even had to be there. Just my teammates and I.
Maybe this six person team will never fly this routine again. I really don’t know that now! But I saw the magic many times. I helped to make it happen.
Was It All Worth It?
DAMN RIGHT IT WAS!!