Lessons learned…

One week and two hours ago exactly (yes, THAT Thursday 14th March) I had just got back to the hill (Combe Gibbet) after bombing out on quite possibly the best March XC day ever. Four people flew over 100km and a further eighteen flew more than 50km, and what did I do? To tell the truth I’m not sure as I haven’t bothered to download the tracklog, but I’m pretty sure it was less than 10km. I never got above 3,000′ the whole day (probably two hours in the air) and never found any more lift having left the hill.

So what went so badly wrong? Especially seeing as Nick Somerville, whom I left the hill with, went on to fly a PB of 82km

Needless to say in the first day or two afterwards, my masochistic brain spent every unoccupied moment punishing me for screwing up so badly. And it’s only now, now that I think I’ve got the self-flagellation out of my system, that I’ve been able to think rationally about what went wrong and have come to some simple conclusions.

1. We got to the hill too late

Whilst it’s nice to see wings in the air when you arrive, alarm bells started ringing when the first gaggle left the hill before I’d even started unpacking my kit. The night before Nick and I had agreed that we should get to the hill at 1100 ready for an 1130 start. Why so late? I don’t know, but in hindsight 1000 would have been better. Anyway we worked backwards for 1100 and I reckoned I needed to leave Bath at 0915. However due to one thing or another I left late, and so we didn’t get to the hill until 1115. And then it took a good half an hour to get ready with all my layers of clothes on and eat my sandwiches etc, so I didn’t actually take off until 1145, maybe even slightly later, by which time another gaggle had left.

Edit 25/3/2014: I’ve only just appreciated that 1100 in the last couple of weeks before BST starts is pretty much the same as 1200 just a little while later, so we should have agreed to be on the hill at 1000. Doh!

2. Commit to leaving the hill!

An odd one this, seeing as I don’t normally have a problem with leaving the hill, but the thermals on the hill weren’t as strong as I was expecting (only 1-2 m/s), and although I got to 1200-1800′ above the hill on a couple of occasions the thermals seemed to fizzle out at 2800-2900′ asl. I used to have a rule that if I was 1000′ above the hill and still going up I’d leave the hill. But maybe with today’s gliders having pretty good into-wind performance you get used to heading back to the hill when in previous years you wouldn’t have been able to.

Anyway, for whatever the reason, on those couple of occasions I headed back to the hill instead of committing to going over the back. And so finally when Nick and I and another glider found ourselves at 2,800′ about 2km behind the hill with the climb petering out, I was still feeling hesitant and indecisive mainly because a large cloud, which I thought was decaying, was blocking out the sunshine from a large swathe of countryside directly downwind. At this point I should have either gone for it with Nick and the other glider, or headed directly back to the hill. Unfortunately I did neither.

3. Stick with the gaggle.

Yes, that’s right, I headed off on my own flying towards some ground to the east that was still in sunshine. Unfortunately by the time I reached it I was down to 500′ so my options were rather limited and needless to say I was on the ground only a couple of minutes later. F*%k! F*%k! F*%k!

Oh well I thought, Nick will be on the ground soon, and when I didn’t get a reply to my text saying I’d landed I thought he can’t have a mobile signal. When he eventually texted a couple of hours later saying he was in Chichester I was flabbergasted! No way! Clearly the moral of the story is to stick with the gaggle! You’re much more likely to find lift with others helping, and if it doesn’t work at least you won’t be bombing out on your own 🙂

4. Stick with zeros.

Although the thermal was petering out, we weren’t plummeting out of the sky, we were pretty much maintaining (2,000′ agl), so why did I head off crosswind literally on a wing and a prayer? I really don’t know. No good reason at all. Brain not engaged is all I can think of. Don’t leave zeros unless you’re pretty sure you’ll find something better nearby. Simples.


So there you have it – I hope I learn from my mistakes, and I hope reading this might prevent you from wasting a similar epic day!

Now, where did I put that birch whip…? ;^)

5 responses to “Lessons learned…”

  1. Have read of Kirsty’s flight. She bombed early and then flew 200km+ the very next day. Swap the birch for balsa!

    1. Kirsty was lucky enough to have a cracking day the very next day so didn’t have to dwell on it for long… 🙂 Who knows when the next decent day will be?

  2. Fantastic summary Tim but stop beating yourself up, I am in awe of your XCs but sometimes things don’t go according to plan I guess. Luck also plays a big part too.

    The key areas you covered I recognise in my flying on that day. I went down whereas the other pilot I was flying with most of the flight carried on for another 30km but why? I left the other pilot I was with sharing the zeros and ones drifting downwind at 4,000ft to head out and cut round Southampton airspace. I made the mistake of pushing out into an area of blue with the nearest cloud downwind quite far out. I pushed too hard instead of staying with the gaggle and using the nearest available thermals. In fact there was also a cloud off to my left but I was hungry for distance and inevitably pushed myself into the ground. I may have been lucky with a low save or blue thermal if I had taken the gable in a comp but of course it didn’t happen and worse I had no need to do it. I am personally happy with my PB of the day but I still got the birch out and gave myself a good thrashing…

  3. I remember that day on Liddi Tim when I climbed out before you and went straight to 5500ft only to get decked at Hungerford. You then flew over me to make the coast. We all have bad days. In fact I was kicking myself when Jim Squeeked out and I went down but it only lasted for 5 minutes. Next time 🙂

  4. […] the mental beating-up I’d been giving myself after 14th March, I’d worked out what I needed to do in order not to make the same mistake […]

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