After the usual round of phone calls and text messages on Thursday evening, Martin (on a brief visit back to Bath from France), Mike, Nick and I piled into my car at 0930 on Friday morning heading to Combe Gibbet. We needed to be there early to beat the on-rushing warm front being sent down south by those pesky Northerners determined to thwart us Southerners’ XC plans!
As we approached Inkpen at 1040 we could see lots of gliders in the air, some quite high, and our pulses rose to match!
Arriving on the hill my first thought was “why don’t I come here more often?” as it really is a fantastic ridge! With lots of gliders in the air it almost looked like a PWC had suddenly rolled into town 🙂
We could see the front in the distance, so I hastily got my kit ready and stuffed a sandwich down my throat and took off at about 1120. It didn’t take long to get to about 1000′ above takeoff, then it was a case of exploring along the ridge and into wind to find a good climb. By 1145 I was up at 3,500′ with Martin and Richard Bungay, and then half a hour later after a couple of small climbs and one really nice one we were passing Andover to our right.
My initial plan was to fly the traditional route down to Worthing as I had declared a goal by the pier, however as we were passing Andover Martin yelled across to me that he was heading to Bournemouth as he thought the drift was slightly to the west. I was happy to go with this plan even though I wasn’t familiar with the airspace on this route. We parted company with Richard here as he was clearly sticking to his plan A!
And now a little tip… Make sure your radio is set at the correct volume before you take off. I say this because it was about now that there was quite a lot of chatter over the radio from a female pilot on the ground and her boyfriend / partner / husband in the air. It was loud and distracting in my earpiece but tolerable whilst the conversation was flying related, but when they signed off with “love you”, “love you too”, that was just too much! Shut up please!!! (Actually thinking about it, it can’t have been her husband 🙂 ) After this I took a glove off, unzipped my jacket and turned the volume down… Better late than never!
Martin and I carried on heading south past Andover and by the time we were approaching the River Test north of Stockbridge at Chilbolton we were down to 1,500′ and in need of a climb. Fortunately Lady Luck was looking out for us and a gentle climb took us back up to 3,500′ over the course of 8 kms.
By now we were very close to Solent CTA-4 (2,500′-5,500′) and had to make serious steps to the west…
Facing pretty much west, but heading south west, we got another nice climb to 3,700′ south of Michelmersh, and it was round about here that we caught up with Kirsty on her R11. “Caught up?” I hear you say, how’s that possible? Good question! Maybe flying with someone lets you both fly a little bit faster…
Kirsty and I found the next climb a few kms further to the west of Shootash, but sadly Martin didn’t connect with it and dropped out here.
There were a few small clouds popping up now in advance of the front however I didn’t have a great deal of success under them – oddly the best lift seemed to be well off to the side of them rather than underneath, but at least with Kirsty nearby it was possible to turn back and rejoin the lift.
Kirsty and I found another climb before we were joined by Mark Jones who was racing hard to catch us on his XC3, but sadly the three ship formation only lasted a couple more thermals before my desire to push on after a climb fizzled out saw me get drilled from about 3,000′ to the deck barely five minutes 😦
Kirsty stuck with the weak lift that I’d left and worked it hard and eventually got to base at 4,500′, the highest point of her flight, but sadly even with all that height the struggle to stay north of the airspace decked her just a few km further on.
Meanwhile Mark who had seen me getting drilled tracked a bit further north but soon found himself low over where I landed, and despite finding some weak lift nearby, he decided to land by me to help with my retrieve as he had a friend following him in his car. What a thoroughly nice chap! Many thanks Mark, it was much appreciated as hitching out of where we landed probably wouldn’t have happened!
Mark’s GroundworX wagon duly arrived driven by another pilot, Gus, and navigated by Heidi, so we loaded up and went to pick up Martin who was holed up in The King’s Arms in Lockerley. Having already spent three hours in there propping up the bar we felt he wouldn’t begrudge another half a hour whilst we all had a pint – we were pretty thirsty by this stage 🙂
Suitably refreshed it took about an hour to get back to the hill from there where we met up with Mike and Nick who’d been enjoying a pint themselves in The Swan in Inkpen. Mike had made it to south of Andover, and Nick, in his second flight made it to Whitchurch under 8/8ths cloud cover.
All in all a very successful day out at Combe, and in the words of Arnie, “I’ll be back” 🙂
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