BIG Saturday!

Amongst the eighty one flights totalling 6,107km logged on Saturday 12th May, which included twenty three flights of over 100km and one of 243km (congratulations Kai!), my 127km from Leckhampton (11th furthest on the day, and 2nd furthest from the hill) fades into insignificance slightly, however for me it was a very significant flight, in that it was my first legitimate 100km flight and a new personal best! (My 117km flight from Liddington last year infringed airspace briefly).

The forecast for Saturday was looking good from a few days out, albeit with slight questions over the exact wind direction and strength, however it was looking like Leckhampton was going to be the best bet [1]. I teamed up with Nick Somerville and Pete Waters and we arrived at a clearly too windy hill at about 1015. Slowly more and more pilots turned up, but gliders remained firmly in bags until about 1130 when the wind dropped a bit.

A frenzy of activity once the wind dropped

I was first off just after midday, closely followed by Alex Coltman and AN Other. Alex was the first to climb out but I never got established underneath him and pushed forward to where the other yellow and blue glider was going up nicely.

Cheltenham 4000′ below me

This was about the smoothest climbout I’d ever had and by 1215 I was at base at 4,100′ and on my way in the company of the other glider. However I was I making poor decisions having separated from the other pilot and by 1230 I was down to 1,800’and thinking I was going to blow a big day a mere 10km from takeoff! I found a weak climb that took me up to 2,600′ and gave me a bit of breathing space, but only a few minutes later I was down to 1,500′ three or four kms north of Cirencester. This was not looking good!

However about 1km south of the A417 I found a lovely climb that took me up to 3,800′ by the time I was over the centre of Cirencester. Still a few hundred feet below base I pushed on and 2km further on I connected with the thermal that must have been coming off the town and got up to 5,200′ this time. Phew, that’s more like it – now let’s settle down and relax a bit…

A rather nicer view of Cirencester than I’d had twenty minutes earlier!
The Cotswold Water Park looking, err, watery 🙂

At this point I was squeezing between the 2.8km wide gap between Kemble ATZ and South Cerney Drop Zone, but fortunately my climb from Cirencester was in the perfect place to let me cruise through nice and high.

With this much height I could have cruised straight over Kemble

By now I was approaching the M4 and Lynham was in sight not far ahead. A year ago I wouldn’t have been able to take this photo…

This is one military cut back I do approve of 🙂

I got a climb just past the M4, and again as I passed to the east of Chippenham, so that at the 50km mark I was in a comfortable position at 5,100′ 1hr 46mins into the flight.

However good things never last and after an 11km glide I was down to 1,600′ as I approached Trowbridge. A weak climb won me 500′ but this was only a temporary reprieve… I could see gliders flying at Westbury White Horse and by the time I was approaching (the town of) Westbury I was well below them at 837′ (approx 600′ above the ground) and getting very desperate!

Low, and getting lower as I pass Westbury White Horse

I headed for the sidings at Westbury Railway Station, and sure enough I found a nice climb which got even better as I moved a few hundred yards to the west to join some circling seagulls. Fifteen minutes later I was back at 4,200’… That was a close one – a bit too close for comfort really!

From my lofty perch I could see Mike Coupe (who’d taken off at Westbury) lowish over Warminster and as I glided towards the CentreParcs at Longleat I followed his difficult progress to the ground south of Warminster. I flew over the cabins, aquatic dome and canoeing lake without a blip on the vario, but then Lady Luck came to my rescue at 1,900′ and I thermalled upto base at 4,900′ to join some sailplanes from The Park Gliding Club right over their grass strip.

I passed just to the east of Mere heading towards Gillingham, where yes, you guessed it, I ended up very low again. That was a feature of this flight – long transitions (this one was 15km with only a small blip half way) and low saves! I had my GPS on countdown to my declared goal at Weymouth, and at this point it was saying 45km to go, so I knew I must be approaching the 100km mark, however being down at 1,100′ (700′-800′ agl) it didn’t look like I was going to crack the ton this time.

But fortune favours the bold as they say, and I found my climb 1-2kms beyond Gillingham and after 3hrs 15mins and 99kms into the flight I was once more nice and high at 5,600′ with the 100km in the bag! Wahoo!!! (Actually it was a rather muted affair – there were no wild celebrations like the first time I passed 100km 🙂 last year).

Oh yes, this is better! Especially as the coast is now visible…

I think I found another nice climb under the cloud on the right in the photo above and at this point Portland was clearly visible only 40kms away.

The Isle of Portland in the distance

As you can see the clouds were getting quite far apart at this point and I now realise with the benefit of hindsight that given that it was only about 1530 I should have slowed down and drifted at base for a while, but as I hadn’t done this once during the whole flight that option didn’t occur to me. So as usual I pressed on and although I did find another climb after a few kms, when I lost it at 4,200′ I pushed on again trying my luck one too many times instead of really searching and trying to get back in the lift.

So I glided about 15km without finding a thing and landed in rather a tight spot surrounded by power lines near Piddletrenthide, just 20km short of my declared goal at Weymouth. I later discovered that Simon Twiss, who did reach Weymouth, got a climb right over Piddletrenthide, so I was obviously on the right track, but hey ho, you can’t win them all!

As for getting home, I got a lift straight to Dorchester West railway station with a nice lady who was amazed I’d flown so far, and I had an hour’s wait in the sunshine before I caught the 1741 back to Bath – simples!

So, overall it was a great feeling to have finally flown a legitimate 100km flight, but at the same I couldn’t get the small nagging feeling out of my mind that I really should have made goal if only I’d changed gear and slowed down a bit. I guess the fact that there’s always more to learn in this great sport is what makes it so compelling and addictive.

Expecting to get a fourth low save was clearly pushing it a bit!
My route across three counties (click to see tracklog in XC Planner)

As usual there are more photos on Flickr here.

[1] To be precise, Leckhampton was the best bet unless we wanted to drive four hours to Long Mountain, where the majority of the big flights were made, including Kai’s…

2 responses to “BIG Saturday!”

  1. Wow brilliant well done, I again was stopped by the coast for a little 39k er,

  2. Ken Wilkinson Avatar
    Ken Wilkinson

    Great flight Tim. Amazed at the 3 low saves, it could have so easily been a ‘yeh 40k, pretty nice really’ day, as it was for so many others, (Inc Kirsty and Guy!). I had a sketchy get away and one low save so it does need a bit of luck at times!! 100 here I come… Ken W

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