Well, there’s no doubt about it, after what has seemed like a long and barren winter flying-wise, the xc season has started in earnest. Good Friday provided my first opportunity for an xc flight but a slightly tricky forecast made for a difficult site call… I reckoned Combe Gibbet was probably the best option and managed to get a car load together. We arrived at 1015 and as per the forecast it was breezy, but it was due to drop and go round to the west as the day progressed.
It was busy on the hill and in the air, but despite the long winter layoff everyone played nicely and we enjoyed climbs to 2000′ – nice, but not nice enough to leave the hill in… It took a further hour before the first gaggle got up to 3000′, and despite one of my guidelines this season being “think very carefully before leaving in the first gaggle” I decided, given the backing forecast and relatively short day, to go for it.
The first half hour of the flight consisted of the climb up to about 3300′ followed by a glide down to 750′ at Andover. Hmmm, this wasn’t going to be a great start to the season unless I got lucky! I drifted low (300-400′) over an industrial estate before spotting some circling gulls, so I stopped my mincing and headed straight for them, and sure enough, ten minutes later I was enjoying stunning views from base at 3500′.
The sky was looking better now as well, so from here down to the South Downs it was was straigtforward climbing and gliding. I had been on my own since leaving the original gaggle before Andover, but I joined three hangies above Harting, but never quite made it to base, and unfortunately the lure of my goal some 20 odd kms away at Devil’s Dyke made me forego the obvious flight down to the coast at Littlehampton, and fly into an area of shade over the Downs from which I couldn’t recover. Still, I’d had a lovely four hour flight and had covered 85kms so I wasn’t too upset at having missed out on an ice cream by the sea 🙂
The retrieve was pretty easy – about a one mile walk, a five minute wait before a kind Polish lady stopped and gave me a lift to Barnham Station, where I had a three minute wait for the next train… Home in time for supper – perfect!
I had expected that to be my last flight on my Sigma 9 before I got my new glider, but less than a week later the forecast was looking great for a flight from Leckhampton to the coast at Weymouth, and judging by the assembled throng on the hill I wasn’t alone in thinking that!
I declared a 130km goal in Dorchester, and because RASP was predicting a 4-4.5 hour usable window I was keen to get going early. However when we got to base at just under 3000′ I began to question the wisdom of that decision. In fact thinking about it now, I really don’t know why I had been so keen to get off with base obviously so low… Oh well, it was was it was, and as I was with some good pilots I thought we’d be ok.
And so we were for 40kms or so despite the conditions being surprisingly mincy given the good sky. But approaching Lyneham and with the climb we were in seeming to be petering out before we reached base, we decided to push on just as the sky in front opened up into a blue hole with nothing obvious to aim for. Remi, RichO and I pushed slightly crosswind hoping to get something off the gently sloping ground to the south of Lyneham, whilst the others went more directly downwind. Rich somehow managed to scrape up from super-low down, but Remi and I didn’t find it and went down. I think the others found something but by the time the climb really took off they were very close to the Salisbury Plain Danger Area and didn’t have enough height to play with to make it round the corner at Westbury.
After pacifying the somewhat irate farmer whose field we had landed in, Remi and I walked to Calne then caught a bus to Chippenham. I opted to hop on a train straight for Bath, whilst Remi waited for a lift from Pete Douglas back to Bristol.
So it was a funny day really – lots went down before 50km with a few making goal at Dorchester or Weymouth. I guess it’s fair to say the day got better later on and that we might have had better luck if we’d delayed taking off my half an hour, however it’s easy to say that with hindsight!
So, that really was my final flight on my Sigma 9 – I’ve now picked up my Omega X-Alps whilst at the Advance XC Serial Team weekend in Switzerland and I’m now waiting for a decent day to fly it! What a great glider the Sigma 9 has been – I hope its new owner, Darren, has as many adventures with it as I have had in the last two years!