The competition started out pretty wet and cloudy on August 26th, 2014. Despite a long day on the DZ waiting for the weather to clear the organisers were determined to get the competition underway so right at the end of the day we were rewarded and the airplanes were in the air and it was on. All teams completed round 1 and a few teams started on round 2 when it was finally ended it for the day. It was good to be on the score board. We approached round 1 pretty conservatively and launched an E (Meeker) exit which flew pretty well. We kept it smooth and controlled and were satisfied when we landed. Some might say relieved. Round 1 is always a tense experience and while I don’t think we felt overly nervous there was definitely some dry mouth when we landed. That is after all why we love competition so much. We called it a day excited for more of the same the following day.
We woke on day 2 of the meet to a message from the organisers that although the weather was clearing the grass runway was too waterlogged to allow the airplanes to take off. We remained on standby for a few hours at the hotel until we were finally released for the day. It was surreal to be outside in gorgeous weather and not be jumping.
Day 3 was much better and we managed to get 2 rounds in before being released for the rest of the day. We approached these 2 jumps in a similar manner to the first jump and were, for the most part, smooth and controlled. We did incur a deduction on round 2 due to a missed grip in the center which caused the rest of the team to move on to the next point. This could have been avoided by slowing down a bit and making sure that the grips were there before picking them up. Competition urgency sometimes causes one to get a little too eager and we hoped that this would be a lesson for us and we would avoid similar penalties in future rounds.
The sun rose on day 4 to reveal a magnificent day, and we would finish the meet which meant completing between 5 and 7 rounds, depending on whether we made the semi-finals and finals and got to participate in round 9 and 10 respectively.
We exited an M (Star) on round 4 and due to the unfamiliarity of the airplane we had a glitch which caused Amy to sub-locate her shoulder and, as she would later learn once she was back in SA, tear the cartilage in her shoulder. We are not sure if she struck the airplane or if we just launched a poorly configured formation. We managed to salvage the exit even though at least 3 of the team members were upside down at one point. We also picked up a penalty later on in the jump due to a bit of eagerness and jumping the key. This jump would set the tone for the day and our lack of training together and the disadvantage of the new aircraft started to become apparent.
Amy is a badass and she sucked it up and that was the last we heard from her about her extremely painful shoulder.
Round 5 was an anomaly. We had a sketchy O exit but afterwards we seemed to have levels throughout the jump. This was hopefully going to be a great round for us since it was pretty fast but since I (Alex) was feeling particularly heavy this jump the precision was just not there and there were a number of times that we were almost on top of one another. This is quite unusual for us and seemed to be quite inexplicable. The result was that we did not take advantage of the faster sequence of the round and teams that were close to us easily outscored us.
Doubt was starting to creep in.
We seemed to start to get it back together in round 6. A somewhat successful 8 (Canadian Tee) exit and an ok jump. We felt good about it and smiles started creeping back in.
We opted for a safe P (Sidebody) exit on round 7 which again, inexplicably resulted in 4 bodies rolling around on top of one another. We have exited this formation many times and regard it as a safe, conservative option. The aircraft was quite different from anything we had previously jumped since the door was situated differently and the run in speed and prop wash was a lot faster than we were accustomed to. Add to this our lack of currency as a team together and the smallest errors manifested in the worst possible way. The remainder of the jump lacked our regular flow and although we all know to disregard the previous mishap and just to continue with the jump in our normal fashion we all seemed to be rushing a bit. Formations were wide and communication was low.
On round 8, which was our final competition jump, we tried an ambitious exit since we felt that we had nothing to lose and we all felt that we could pull it off. Our setup configuration in the door was unlike anything we have done before and it turned out that we would have been better of trying this in training at least once, since it was a challenging exit for Tail which ultimately resulted in Bailey getting stuck in the door and exiting last instead of first. The jump was ok, and we landed with smiles on our faces, not because we were super happy with our performance, but because we knew we had learned so much form the experience that was going to be very valuable later on. Plus we love jumping together and despite performance disappointments we have the best team in the world in our opinion.
After the meet we reviewed our approach and it turned out that most of the teams were taking a far more conservative approach to exits, either launching the same single exit on every jump or by taking cross grips of modifying the other exits to make them stronger. We also moved some of our exits entirely inside the airplane which certainly changed the dynamic of our exit, and the small changes which we felt that we could assimilate pretty easily proved to have large ramifications. These were all great learning experiences and overall we were happy with what we did. We made some decisions based on this going forward which will only make us stronger! More on this in part 4 :-)
Alex obo SAVOLO