Two weeks ago, on the spur of the moment, I went off to a kite festival in Inner Mongolia.
This is the Chinese bit of Mongolia- an "autonomous region".
The 2015 Mongolian Kite Festival became an international event by virtue (or otherwise) of my attending.
Because of northern hemisphere holidays and just two day's notice, no convenient flights were available so I had to fly all the way there and back business class (damn!), which was ridiculously expensive, even though I used flier points (the cost's the same in the longer term). Nor am I a good fit with this class of travel, being a bit rough around the edges - and maybe in the middle too- and somewhat reactionary in the face of purchased obsequiousness.
But a warm sunny pleasant week in Mongolia made all this suffering worthwhile.
And while I was away, Elwyn had two Mitsubishi (famous for making the WW2 Zero fighter did you know?) heat pumps installed - also bloody expensive.
If I now stay at home instead of heading off to warmer weather whenever it's too cold, the payback will be less than two more trips away at the cost of this Mongolian one.
Does this mean Elwyn doesn't intend to throw me out quite yet, or is she also feeling the cold?
I wonder; more probably she was thinking about the comfort of visiting grandchildren, quite rightly so too.
Kite Flying Police In Mongolia
6 sq M 1Skin and ST Ray Weifang Civic Square July 2015
The Best Kite Helper Mongolia 2015
The three day Mongolian International Kite Festival was unusual in requiring a daily 200km/2½ hour bus commute from our hotel in Baotou. This was because of the absence of nearer hotels. Personally, I would have been pleased to have gone local and slept in a yurt (of which there were 30 on the kite field) even if this also required not washing, eating entire goats, and drinking kumis (fermented mare's milk).
Baotou is reputedly the most polluted city in the world (Chernobyl not being a city), on account of that more than 85% of the world's heavy metals are mined and refined there. The effective monopoly that Baotou has on these key ingredients of every modern gadget has derived either from clever Chinese marketing strategies (the US, South Africa and Australia also have plenty of the base ores) or from their willingness to accept the environmental cost- take your pick. Actually, from the two spare days I had there, Baotou is a clean new vibrant modern city with clear blue skies that would be an asset even in NZ.
The water tasted good too, maybe because of the dysprosium, or perhaps the yttrium.
The kite field was the infield of an oval 2km horse racing track, and yes, there were lots of Mongolian ponies there - and very interested in the kites they were too.
Compared to the horses I'm used to in NZ, they are so small!
Often their riders looked to be bigger than they are, but wow, they are strong, fast, and clever.
Not surprising I suppose, seeing as, 750 years ago, they carried the golden hordes out more than 5000km from their homeland steppes to plunder almost all of the known world, comprehensively besting the European knights in shining armour on their huge destriers in the process..
At the kite event, during one brief period when there was wind, Tan Xinbo and I let go of a 35m single skin Serpent kite that was dragging us at an accelerating pace towards thing that would hurt. On landing, it was attacked by a bunch of these small (and by then) angry horses- but to be fair, it did attack them first.
Later, Qatar, Tan Xinbo and I went prospecting for oil with a Ray kite - instead we found water, but hey, a gusher is a gusher!
Prospecting For Water In Mongolia
20m Single Skin Octopus Weifang Main Square July 2015
Caterpillar at Wakanui 29th July 2015
Otherwise the event was notable for an almost complete absence of useable wind interrupted by brief gusts from random directions- and a violent thunderstorm on the second afternoon. The sophisticated reels used for eagle flying in China are now also commonly used for flying quite large kites in light winds- and they are uncommonly good for this. The active flying and thermal soaring they enable, allows some kites that wouldn't normally be regarded as suitable for light wind to be kept up pretty much indefinitely. An about 8sq.m inflatable ladybird kite, actively flown on one of these reels, was undoubtedly the form kite in these conditions- although the 20m single skin yellow Octopus I had was probably better than anything else that was tethered. Unfortunately most of the other 200 or so fliers there were using Kevlar lines- so I now have 9 knots in an originally 80m 3.5mm Dyneema line and multiple splices in my 300kg 1Skin lines.
But there were some brief periods of good flying, and the comradery and hospitality were excellent.
After Mongolia I had a few days in Weifang with Kaixuan and the kite community there.
Weifang has been in drought for the last 2 years, no rain, to the point of having to draw water from the Yellow River, which is quite a few hundred kilometres away, rather than from local sources.
I went to Weifang primarily to check various production kites and introduce some new designs, and to make a new SSSL prototype (see below), and for quite social "nights of the round table" and the excellent red wine that accompanies these.
The most convenient Weifang test flying site is the main down-town civic square- a huge unobstructed paved area that is a slightly smaller version of Beijing's Tiananmen.
It might be expected that the more appropriately named "Kite Square" would have been our choice of flying site, but kite flying is banned there- which is a little surprising considering that Weifang is officially the "Kite Capital".
Unfortunately, or fortunately (depending on your point of view), it blew like crazy and the rain bucketed down from just after we'd tested the first kite (a blue 20m SS Octopus). After the first squall- which made the kites (and us) all wet- the wind then died.
There was still no wind and it was still raining on and off two days later when I left for NZ, so I arrived back here with a new design 4m x 11m single skin Caterpillar still untested, leaving the ladies at Kaixuan and myself quite disappointed. After putting so much effort into taking this kite from a few rough sketches in just 3 hectic days, we were really keen to see if it would fly, and what it looked like in the air.
Mongolia, Briefly There Was Wind
Locals And Yurts Mongolia 2015
Caterpillar Under 3Sqm 1Skin Wakanui 29th July 2015
Back in NZ now, it does fly and, although requiring a lot of development yet, looks like it may handle strong winds inherently better than the single skin Octopus and Serpent do. It's pretty ugly though!
Oh well, can't have everything, maybe it's an insect version of the ugly duckling and will one day metamorphose into a kite of grace and beauty (yeah right, says Andrew Beattie!).
But that it flies is the primary goal and hopefully it will soon join the Octopus, Serpent, 3sq.m 1Skin pilot, and 6sq.m 1Skin pilot from Kaixuan and the Boomer pilots (available from John and Irene Tan in Singapore) in our rapidly growing single skin stable.
Realistically it's still too soon to tell whether single skin single line kites will be just a brief curiosity or find a long term niche. My inclination is to the latter of course- but I shouldn't be trusted in this judgement, being necessarily a congenital idiot (whoops, mean optimist) with regard to new kite passions.
Compared to the period in the 1990's when the now dominant inflatable show kites and pilots were first being developed, single skin kites have a better success rate; just 2 failures out of 7 tries in the last 12 months- notwithstanding that it took 2 years to work out some basic parameters before this. They also fly pilotless much more readily.
But their weakness is clearly wind range; I can get them to fly in very light wind, or in mid-range winds, or in strong winds, but not yet with the same bridle setting- and not without impossibly complex changes that average fliers will not be able or willing to manage.
If the range can broaden enough, they will soon own a decent chunk of the sky though- not least because of their light weight. An almost maxi size single skin kite (like the 3.2m x 35m Serpent) weighs just 3kg.
A kite show in a carry-on bag!
PETER LYNN, ASHBURTON NEW ZEALAND, 1 AUGUST '15