On Friday, February 15th, 2002 the cu's were looking great. On tow at around 2000 feet, the vario really started rising, so I decided to pop off tow and take my chances. After a few turns, I was centering stronger and stronger lift. I saw a large bird soaring about a mile away, and raced over to join it. Centering my turns under the bird I started climbing in solid 8 knot lift - in February!
OK, am I dreaming? No, just a minor location change. The large soaring birds are not hawks or eagles, but turkey buzzards. I'm not soaring with BESC at Arlington, but at the Seminole Lake Gliderport in Clermont, Florida. I was in Orlando for business, and decided to check out Seminole Lake's claim to be the 'Premier soaring site of the Southeast U.S.'
I made reservations for a dual checkout and solo time on Saturday, but ended up having Friday afternoon open. After fair to poor weather during week, Friday's weather was gorgeous, in the mid-70's with nicely developing cu. The gliderport is only about 20 minutes west of Disneyworld, so I stopped by to try for an unscheduled early checkout. Things were hopping with the great conditions, but owners Ingrid and Knut Kjenslie were able to get me scheduled for a dual checkout in a Grob 103 with Ron Dainton, one of the gliderport's local instructors.
Ron and I launched after a logbook and glider checkout into beautiful skies. Besides a number of sailplanes in the local area, there were also a bunch of turkey buzzards showing the way under the strongest cu's. Ron gave me a tour of the local area, including Disneyworld and Epcot Center, plus local pattern and landing procedures. Cloudbases were at 4600 feet, allowing comfortable roaming away from the local area. There were a number of landable areas to the east of the field, but conditions to the west looked harsher with only scrub trees and few landable zones. After much of the flight near cloudbase, I descended in maneuvers after 1.1 hours aloft to give the Grob to another pilot. Seminole Lake Gliderport is the annual home to the Senior Nationals, held this year from March 10-16. A number of competitors were already in town, practicing while enjoying the non-winter conditions. I talked with Tom Knauff and Doris Grove, who were also flying that day in their beautiful Duo Discus, using Seminole Lake as a base for a number of dual place Florida state records.
As I awoke Saturday to head back for a flight in the gliderport's DG-300, the weather had changed from glorious cus to solid overcast and light drizzle. I stopped by to square away my bill, but decided that the Seattle-like conditions didn't warrant any soaring attempt that day.
If travel takes you to the Orlando area, be sure to check out Seminole Lake Gliderport. Their friendly owners, great winter weather and nice fleet allow for some great opportunities while the rest of the country is only dreaming. Their best soaring conditions occur from March through May.