Edit 13/6/2016 – scroll down to watch the video of the flight…
Tuesday 24th May. I really shouldn’t take the day off work what with me heading out to Gemona on Friday for the British Open but I just can’t stop myself particularly as RASP was bright orange! I hitched an early-doors ride with Nev Almond and was at take off at Kettle Sings (Malverns) getting ready at about 0930. The forecast was for the wind to pick up so my plan was to take off early and hang around until the thermals started kicking off.
The usual suspects started turning up about half an hour later, and I was first off at 1030 having declared a 150km goal at St Clears. I went for a cruise to the north end of the hills and back whilst waiting for the others to take off. Richard Osborne was off next and joined me pushing out front over the town in the improving thermals and by 1150 we were up high and joined a gaggle with Ant Moore, Simon Green, Ken Wilkinson and Graham Richards and committed to going over the back at about 3800′.
The clouds downwind were forming nicely and we made good progress in the 20+km/h wind cruising to the south Hereford then threading between the two danger areas to the west, never really getting much below 4000′. I was in a four ship formation with Simon, Rich and Ant by this time, with Graham and Ken on slower gliders falling back a bit, but as is the way with XC flying, just when you think it’s all going really well it gets difficult! First Rich found himself very low, so Ant and I pressed on (Si having remained high and slightly to the south of us) towards the Black Mountains.Then I pushed on to the Cat’s Back, got a small climb which didn’t really work and flopped over the back onto the main ridge which was a tad interesting in the rotor!
My glider flexed and bent but didn’t collapse as I made my way south into the clean air. Meanwhile Rich and Si are cruising overhead at height and Ant is sensibly playing it safe by keeping well in front of the Cat’s Back.
A few minutes later I catch a 4m/s express elevator out of there and once up a base I established that I was only a couple of kms behind Rich and Si. I last saw Ant low in front of the main Pandy ridge but I later heard he got up again and went on to fly 110kms approx.
I topped up over Mynnd Troed to the East of Llangorse, and although I was catching Rich and Si up I ended up 1000′ lower than them as we cruised past the northern flanks of the Brecon Beacons. By the time we had crossed the A470 I was down to ridge height and had to watch them sail past nice and high whilst I tried to find a climb out from a windy bowl. I remembered reading something in Berkhard Martens’ “Thermal Flying” that gullies collect wind, and spurs collect thermals, so I pushed out of the bowl to my left along the spur. I had to use full bar to make progress, and I was hoping that I wouldn’t have to hang around here for too long.
I needn’t have worried because no sooner had I reached the end I flew into a lovely 2m/s climb that took me back to base – game on!
From here it was great to glide over my old stamping grounds of Heol Senni and Fan Gyhiryrch (where I did my first 4km flop over the back in 1991 I think it was), then over the Crai Reservoir and high over the majestic Fan Hir ridge.
Rich and Si were still a few kms ahead of me, but I caught occasional glimpses of them as I chased them down for the second time!
This had been an easy 20kms, most of it at base, however at the end of the high ground was a big blue hole all the way to goal which was still some 35kms away. I could see that Rich and Si had gone off track to the SW to try and connect with the convergence line closer to the sea, and seeing no better option I followed suit.
Rich had pushed on ahead and by the time I caught up with Si he was in a nice climb. However Si and I were very low and in need of a save otherwise our dreams would be over. We minced around in zeros for the best part of 10kms before we finally found a lifesaving 3 up over shady ground that got us back in the game again!
This climb topped out at 5700′ and with 20kms to goal it was definitely doable even though we’d have to glide into the blue again to avoid the danger area. Flyskyhy was reporting about a 11.5 glide angle to goal, and as I set off on glide it was good to see it slowly reducing.
Rich was still a few kms ahead, and Si had shot off towards his goal at Carmarthen, so I was on my own soaking up the views in between checking my current glide angle vs glide angle to goal. It was all looking good but there was no point taking any chances to I topped up in weak lift for a couple of minutes at one point. I contacted Rich to find out how he was getting on, only to hear “Busy, standby” as his reply. It turned out he was low and battling to stay up just a few kms from goal. His next transmission was “Windy landing, take care” and unfortunately he didn’t quite make goal.
As it turned out I arrived over goal with plenty of height and had time for a few wingovers and a gentle spiral before touching down with a huge grin on my face at the into-wind end of a large field 🙂
I made contact with Rich (who was still untangling lines after a dragging) to let him know I had landed safely, then packed up and headed into St Clears to suss out the retrieve options. As I was walking I had a call from Graham Steel who I’d not seen fly overhead, but he’d set more or less the same goal (1km farther actually, damn him!) We met up at the local Spa shop, stocked up on ciders for the journey home, and indulged in a non-beach ice-cream (I did feel I deserved it 🙂 )
We ended up getting a taxi to Carmarthen and picked Rich up en-route to save him the walk into St Clears. The trains were easy, and with a small-group booking as far as Cardiff it wasn’t too expensive (£34) all the way back to Bath, where Mike Coupe met me at 2140 and took me home (thanks Mike!). What a brilliant day, made all the more special by the awesome line we took over the high ground!
You can see my flight in the XC League here, and a 3D Doarama visualisation of all of us here.
Edit 13/6/2016 – here’s the video I made of the flight, hope you enjoy it!
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