On Thursday evening I’d given a talk to the Avon Club on the subject of XC Planning, so Sunday was the day to prove that I could walk the walk as well as talk the talk… Unfortunately however things weren’t going to plan – for one thing I was fighting off a cold and had barely managed to crawl out of bed onto the sofa to watch TV all Saturday. Ok, so that’s a slight exaggeration, but I would definitely not have been up for any flying on Saturday! I was just gambling that if I kept on taking the man flu pills I’d feel ok on Sunday 🙂
The other thing was that due to conflicting forecasts about the wind strength I was still thinking that it might be on for Leckhampton and so hadn’t been prepared to leave Bath early enough to get to the alternative, Hundred House Hill, by 1100.
Still, five of us (Nick Somerville, Richard Danbury, Jamie Llwellyn and Remi Pickett) all met up at Aust at 0945 and piled into two cars and started on the 65 mile journey to Hundred House near Builth Wells.
The sky was looking great as we drove through Abergavenney and I decided I had nothing to lose by declaring a goal at Rest Bay, Porthcawl, some 80km from the hill [edit 30/4/2012: It turns out that my text message declaring my goal missed out one vital element – the coordinate of the start of my flight. As I thought I was declaring a goal rather than a flight I thought that specifying “Hundred House” as the start of my flight and using my takeoff coordinate would be sufficient]. At the same time as texting the coords to the XC league hotline I entered them in my Flymaster B1 Nav so that I’d always have a target to aim for, together with the distance to go.
Ideally you need a NNE wind, however with the wind from the N it was always going to be a bit of a challenge effectively flying about 25km cross wind. But hey, nothing chanced, nothing gained!
By the time we got to the hill at about 1130 there were plenty of gliders in the air, however the sky wasn’t looking quite so good, but as we walked up the first gaggles of gliders in the BCC comp were already getting high and leaving the hill, so it was clearly working ok.
Following my own advice of focussing, eating, preparing and not standing around chatting it didn’t take long before I was in the air just after noon, but it then took about half an hour and a couple of aborted climbs before I followed Remi into an absolute boomer of a thermal that saw us climb from 1,500′ to 4,500′ in just seven minutes….! Sweet 🙂
As you can see from the photo there wasn’t much sunshine on the ground, but as there was a decent 20-25km/h wind at height we decided the best approach was to fly conservatively and stick with the cloud and let the wind do the work, especially as we were hearing on the radio that quite a few people had landed between 10 and 20kms. So that first cloud took us about 20kms to 5km north of Brecon, where after a short glide I found another really nice climb which took us both back up to 5,100′ just to the SE of Brecon.
Now I knew from studying the route beforehand that the direct line to Porthcawl took us just to the west of Pen-y-Fan, so as we drifted south of Brecon I realised that we could use the Beacons to make some significant progress crosswind, unless of course we found a boomer that took us right over them in the meantime.
Of course that didn’t happen so we tracked west past Pen-y-Fan aiming for the spur to the north west where I was prepared to sit it out at ridge height to wait for some sunshine.
As I pushed slowly into wind along the ridge I pondered the fact that I’d been flying for two hours now and still had 50km of my 80km to fly… crikey, this isn’t going to be easy. But the one good thing about being down at 2,600′ was that it was noticeably warmer than the snow and -5 deg C temperatures at base at 5,000′!
I was expecting a bit of a wait as there wasn’t any sun on the ground for a few miles in front of us, however as I approached the spur I flew straight into a lovely thermal that took me back up to 4,600′ in five minutes. I was a bit worried about crossing the boonies before Hirwaun, but I needn’t have been – I was at 5,700′ just before Hirwaun, and 4,600′ as I passed just to the east of Rhigos where I could see three PGs soaring below.
This was a great 20km stretch to have under my belt and now after 2 hours 40 minutes in the air I was properly over half way with just 30km to go.
I spent the next 13km at about 1,000-1,500′ above the ground (2,600′-3,100′ asl) working every little bit of lift, and just letting the wind do the work staying in ones and zeros. I always left myself bailout options vaguely near civilisation, but even though there wasn’t much sun on the ground I seemed to be ok for the time being, however it was clear that I’d need a proper climb if I was going to succeed in making goal.
Sure enough a nice climb triggered off the slopes to the south of Blaengarw and once again I was back up at 5,000′ with only 13km to go. I drifted south with it for another couple of kms before either I lost it or it fizzled out, so with 11km to goal and a required glide ratio to goal of 7:1 I decided to get on half bar and follow the arrow on my B1 Nav.
Once or twice my sink rate was worse than the required glide ratio so I used more bar, but generally it was 0.5 or so above it, and by 5km out I was pretty confident I was going to nail it!
I was following the pointer watching the distance to go count down – 2km, 1.5km, 1km, 800m, 500m then at 400m came the fantastic warble it makes when you reach goal! I was still at 800′ so that worked out just about perfectly! On a warmer day people on the ground would have heard great whoops of joy but the trouble was that after 3 hours 40 minutes in the air I was too cold and tired to get particularly excited, and despite landing near a purveyor of fine Welsh ice creams, I opted for a large cappuccino and slice of cake to warm me up!
Once I’d packed up I tried calling Remi to see where he’d got to, but getting no reply I called Jamie who told me he’d had a low level collapse and had piled in quite hard on the lower slopes of Pen-y-Fan. Amazingly he was uninjured and was able to pack up and complete a one and a half hour walkout down to the main road where Jamie met him. Remi, you’re one very lucky guy!
I finished my coffee and cake in the cafe, then as it was were closing for the day, the owner drove me to the Waterfront Bar on the town seafront and I spent a very pleasant hour or so watching the world go by waiting for Nick (who’d flown 63km, and Richard who’d done about 15km) to come and meet me. As I enjoyed another coffee I thought back to something I’d said at the Club talk on Thursday – it really is insane what we do when we fly XC on our flimsy craft. I mean, to fly half way across Wales over some of the wildest countryside in the UK and land by the sea, using nothing more than a glider than can be packed up into a rucksack is truly amazing – we are genuinely privileged to be able to enjoy this incredible sport.
[edited 30/4/2012] So had I declared the flight correctly then with the 1.35 multiplier added onto the 80km declared task I would have scored 105.9 in the league, making it a sneaky one hundred, but due to my piss poor planning (ironic after my talk 🙂 ) it scored 87km as a standard turnpoint flight.
However I didn’t know this at the time so the drinks were on me!