SHEAR SOARING

In small or weak shears (or at the bottom of one) it is sometimes necessary to remain in one area to stay aloft, with the lift so sporadic that continuous circling is impractical.   A parcel of air that feels very thermal-like can suddenly fall still and begin to sink.   Be ready at any moment to abandon a conventional circling turn and fly toward the shear’s rising side.   Where the shear is narrow, figure eights may be more effective, mixed with occasional full circles or straight runs.   If using a figure-eight, make your turns toward the livelier air mass at each end of your eight, just as when turning into the wind each time while ridge soaring.

Shear lift can also bubble up in cyclically, first in one spot, then in another, and later back where it was before.   A sort of rhythm may exist, allowing you to anticipate and move away from one area when it weakens, arriving elsewhere just as newer lift begins to build.

The trick, whether holding station in an isolated patch of shear or running along a line that extends out of sight, is to remain within that interface where the merging of flows is most dynamic.   Meanwhile, a shear’s character can vary greatly as you travel along it, or as you or it change altitudes.    Therefore, employ multiple models interdependently to visualize what is actually happening and be ready to alter your assessment and technique at any moment.   Remember that, typically, the best lift will lie in a narrow interface between two distinct wind directions or wind strengths.   Drifting in a crosswind toward the opposing wind shortens a search for optimal lift.   Feel and watch constantly for subtle – or not so subtle – changes.   Be ready to respond immediately to differences in either the feel of the ambient air or your mental conception of physical conditions.   Porpoise, veer off course as necessary to follow the shear, but stop to climb only when the lift is stronger than average or you need altitude.

Cloud formations caused by such action can be very short-lived, or could last all day.   They usually help in finding lift, but if they’re far above you they may be deceptive.   Clouds could appear above an area that’s presently inactive at your altitude, while down where you are the lift might be better where there are no clouds overhead.   Here too, a useful rhythm may be discernable.