Yep, that’s right, only a week after bemoaning the lack of a big flight since May I can now report that the drought is officially over having flown 152kms to goal on Tuesday 29th July.
From a few days out the forecast was looking good for a flight from Selsley or Frocester, and for once the day didn’t disappoint. We (Mike Humphries, Tom Janikowski and me) arrived at Frocester at 1130 to find Rich (billy no mates) Osborne (with his partner Annee to be fair) all alone on Frocester waiting for us. Everyone else had decided that with the wind a true NW Selsley would be a better bet. Being the herd animals that we are, we followed suit and ten minutes later joined the great and the good of the southern XC community at Selsley.
The sky was already looking good and there was a definite sense of expectation in the air, and after local boy Wayne Seeley showed that it was possible to stay up more people took off and started to find bits of lift. I was guilty of not completing my pre-flight checks thoroughly and missed the fact that one of my speedbar lines had come undone at the dreaded Brummel hooks. I tried to reattach it in the air but something was jammed so I spiralled off a couple of hundred feet, landed, quickly reattached them, relaunched and was off again. Total time maybe eight minutes, and nothing lost as no one had climbed out.
It took another half an hour and a couple of abortive climbs before I climbed out with Nancy Elliot, Remi Pickett, Gavin Ramsay and Nigel Brevitt. Gavin and I got to base first and we headed off downwind to try and catch up with Carlo Borsattino and Rich Osborne who had climbed out just before us.
I had the bit between my teeth as, with 150kms to goal and five hours of good conditions before the day was likely to die, I worked out I needed to fly at a fast average speed of 30km/h in order to make it, so there was no time to hang around waiting for people, especially with such a good sky.
We caught up with Carlo and Rich between Malmesbury and the M4, and with Remi and Nancy hot on our heels we were briefly a rather spread out gaggle of seven. I got lucky at this point and got to base first in our next climb and decided to push on on my own.
From here I flew the next 90kms on my own, passing to the north of Lyneham, over Marlborough, to the south of Combe Gibbet, to the north of Andover and over Whitchurch before I spotted a lone glider far beneath me.
It was pretty easy going to be honest – every cloud worked nicely and even crossing a large blue area was straightforward with abundant lift. I clocked up 100kms three hours after leaving the hill, which meant my average speed was 33km/h, so I was definitely on track time wise.
The glider I’d spotted was climbing well so I diverted south towards him and joined his thermal just underneath him.
I didn’t know who it was but I remembered seeing him doing well at Selsley whilst I was getting ready. Turns out it was Kenny McPhee, and approaching the 4500ft airspace south of Petersfield with about 35kms to go, it was good to have some company.
It was 1630 now and there were still some strong climbs around under the 5500ft airspace, however by the time we cleared the 4500ft section 45 mins later we were down to 2800ft and needing a climb, which fortunately didn’t take too long to find. This got us back up to 4100ft and with 16kms to go I started to think I might actually make my goal, Arundel castle.
Of course, I really should know better than to entertain such thoughts, as ten minutes later we were down to 1500ft and with the sky bluing out it was looking rather desperate! We were 8kms away now – so close, yet so far!
I found some air that wasn’t sinking and circled in it, turning as gently and smoothly as possible. I remember thinking I was glad that I’d emptied my ballast before I took off! Kenny came to join me and we drifted slowly SSE, mincing like gooduns. Then my vario started beeping a bit faster and suddenly we were rocketing up at 1m/s! Perfect… I watched the glide ratio to goal on FlySkyHy decrease from 19:1 to 15:1 to 10:1 and finally at 7.5:1 I decided it was safe to go for goal, now only 6.5kms away.
It was a buoyant final glide and I arrived over the castle with a couple of hundred feet to spare amidst much whooping and yelling! What the good citizens of Arundel must have thought as I came in to land just beyond the castle I do not know 🙂
Kenny glided in a couple of minutes after me just before 1800, and five minutes later Graham Steel wafted in. I knew we’d been beaten hands down by Guy Anderson, Adrian Thomas and Wagga Watts who had arrived well over an hour before us – those guys are in a league of their own!
So there it was, at 153kms straight line it was my second furthest flight ever and my furthest declared flight to goal… What a brilliant day!
Of course no XC adventure is complete without a long and complex retrieve, and this was no exception. With trains delayed due to an earlier incident near Redhill, working out the best way back was quite a challenge. Gray and I shared a taxi to Barnham arriving two minutes before our train to Fratton, then at Fratton we caught the connecting train to Bath with a minute to spare! As usual we met up with other pilots en route – Guy, Wayne and Mike Humphries, who’d flown a PB of 139kms! Nice one! Once back in Bath I took a taxi home, jumped in my car, drove back to the station and then took Mike, Wayne and Gray back to Selsley to pick up their cars, then home finally at 2345. A long day out, but by eck, it’s got to be done!