This time of year, unless you’re lucky enough have a holiday booked to South America, Africa or Australia, can be a pretty bleak time for UK pilots. And this winter is no exception – we’ve had a succession of windy and stormy spells, interspersed with periods of claggy grey “meh” weather, with only the very occasional clear sunny (or even grey) flyable day, so it’s doubly important to try to make the most of any opportunity you get because you can bet that the next opportunity will be weeks, rather than days away.
But fortunately the stars aligned for me this weekend just gone – whilst Lisa was away on a girls’ weekend in the New Forest, and with my son home from uni and around to look after the dog, I was able to combine visiting my elderly parents with kitesurfing and paragliding, and a night in the campervan! Result 🙂
On Saturday, once I’d changed from a 9m to a 13m kite, I had great time playing amongst the waves in Weymouth Bay. However it was pretty cold, and it was also my first time out for a few months, so I was quite happy to call it a day after an hour or so. I went back to my parents’ flat in Poundbury for a shower and supper, and afterwards I drove back towards Portland and parked up for the night in the Ferrybridge car park, where, after a quick whisky, the wind rocked me gently to sleep.
Sunday morning dawned grey and cold (I was hoping for a bit more in the way of blue sky but it wasn’t to be) and I headed straight up to the north-most of the two Portland East takeoffs where I’d planned to have coffee and some breakfast. In the event I ended up making do with just a banana because some fellow pilots turned up, and with the wind forecast to drop, it made sense to get airborne as soon as possible.
From my previous experience of the small takeoff area I knew that due to the rotor, getting your wing up above you was non-trivial – last time I think it took me three forward launch attempts – so this time I thought I’d try a cobra launch instead as it seemed the ideal technique. Only one snag, I’d never done one before…! Fortunately I knew roughly what to do from watching numerous YouTube videos, and with an “oh well, what’s the worst that can happen?” attitude I asked my helpers (thanks Alan and Gary) to lift my wingtip into the wind, and I gently teased the wing up using the outer A and C lines. It all worked exactly as advertised and with that I was off! As to whether it was a fluke or inherent natural skill we won’t know until I try it again sometime :-). Judge for yourself in the video below…!
Gentle sea thermals got me up to a max of 1,300′ asl, and I spent a pleasant 30-40 minutes or so flying on my own before I was joined by the others – they clearly hadn’t fancied trying the cobra 🙂
After 80 minutes or so I landed as the wind was definitely dropping – the rotor makes getting a good approach imperative: too far back and you’re in rotor, too high and you’ll overshoot – this is definitely not a site for low airtimers! I packed up, headed back to my parents’ for lunch, and was back at home ten minutes before Lisa – all in all a great weekend!
A final parting thought – flying above the Youth Offenders Institution to the south and the Immigration Detention Centre to the north gives you a stark reminder of the freedom we enjoy so much when flying, even if it is a snatched hour or two on a grey and cold mid-winter’s day – we should never forget how lucky we are being able to do this fantastic sport…