Bike, Hike & Fly!

•December 1, 2016 • Leave a Comment

I’d watched this video on Monday and having already thought about doing a hike and fly sometime this week, it inspired me to add a bike ride to my plans in a homage to these three superheroes/nutters who cycled 100 miles from Interlaken to Chamonix, hiked/climbed up Mont Blanc, flew down, then cycled the 100 miles back to Interlaken!

And the setting for my mini-adventure? Talybont🙂 Ok, so it’s not quite Mont Blanc, but at 762m it’s the second biggest hill in the south of the UK (assuming you count the peaks in the immediate vicinity of Pen-y-Fan as one) unless you want to drive 185 miles to Snowdonia!

I got up early on Tuesday morning (29th November) to get some urgent work done, but by the time I’d done that, had breakfast, made a sandwich and chucked my bike in the car it was 9am before I left. On the way to the M4 I had to stop for 15 frustrating minutes to answer some emails, so I didn’t arrive at Llangattock (nr Crickhowell) until 11am. My plan was to cycle 8 miles along the Monmouthshire and Brecon Canal to Talybont-on-Usk, hike 7 miles up to the hill simply known (in the PG world) as Talybont, fly 3.2 miles flight back to Talybont-on-Usk (hereafter referred to as Talybont), before finishing (myself) off with the 8 mile ride to Llangattock.

En route I’d posted a message on the South East Wales Telegram Planning group asking if any mad fools wanted to join me at Talybont for a hike and fly, and surprisingly the threat of a 7 mile walk didn’t put Mair James off, so we arranged to meet up at the village shop at midday.

My epic adventure didn’t start very auspiciously with me discovering that the towpath was closed at Llangattock, but fortunately I was able to rejoin the canal about half a mile farther on.

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I hadn’t bargained on having to cycle uphill🙂

The ride along the canal was an absolute delight (apart from the dozen or so low bridges that I kept bashing my backpack on – minor repairs will be necessary) – within two minutes the unmistakable dazzling electric blue flash of a Kingfisher darting up the canal signalled that I was in for a treat!

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Frozen!

Over the course of the next eight miles I saw squirrels, another Kingfisher, dozens of pheasants and a heron, not to mention the beautiful views of the hills to the north – just wonderful!

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Yet another low bridge…

I arrived at Talybont just before 12 only to discover I’d left my bike lock in the back of my car… Fortunately the kind people at the shop/cafe were happy to let me put my bike in their back yard,  and I was just ordering a coffee when Mair walked in. She ordered one too, and suitably refreshed, we hit the trail ten minutes later.

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Onwards and upwards!

We traversed the gentle slopes to the NW of Talybont as far as the church at Pencelli, then we joined the track  heading SSW up to the high ground.

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I wonder how many pairs of feet have trodden upon this ancient track?

We took it pretty steadily and by 3 ish we came across the first remains of snow left over after a big dump a week or so earlier.

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“Are we nearly there yet?”

Another half an hour’s walking brought us to the east facing bowl overlooking the reservoir and with the sun getting low in the sky we didn’t dawdle getting our kit ready. There was virtually no wind so it was clear we weren’t going to be able to soar and get some height before setting off on a glide.

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Almost ready…

I duly created a route on Flyskyhy which said I needed a 7.5:1 glide ratio to reach Talybont, and I was pretty confident that I’d make it on my Omega X-Alps, although a hill en route might pose a problem, but Mair, on her EN-A Nova Susi, wasn’t confident at all! I suggested it would made sense for me to take her car keys so that she could fly straight down the valley in front and wait for me to pick her up on the road.

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And I’m off!

Being made of lightweight material, my glider pops up in the slightest puff of wind and I was able to reverse launch and get off with no trouble. I headed in the direction of Talybont trying to maximise my glide with half-bar at first to get out of the initial quite strong sink. My current vs required glide ratio was looking distinctly touch and go for the first couple of minutes, and I was trying to line up a ground feature beyond the brow of the hill I had to cross to see whether I’d make it. As I got closer to it my sink rate improved and it became clear I’d make it, although not by much!

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I wouldn’t have wanted to be any lower going over this hill!

I could now see that i was going to make “goal” so it was time to relax and enjoy the next few minutes…

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You can see the takeoff hill on the left just above the hill in the near distance

I realised I had enough height to cross the canal and road, and opted for the village cricket pitch seeing as it had a perfect runway to land on🙂

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The cricket pitch and runway (artificial wicket) at the far left

I had just enough height to line myself up on runway 09 (ie. facing E) where I made a smooth landing, touching down at 1551!

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Touchdown on runway 09🙂

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The smile says it all

I quickly packed up, retrieved my bike and squashed it in the back of Mair’s car, then headed up the road to retrieve her. Fortunately we both had mobile reception at the right time and I was able to easily navigate to where I thought she would reach the road. It was almost dark by the time she walked down from her landing so we were both glad that this part of the adventure went smoothly.

Obviously it was now too dark to cycle back along the canal (phew!), and as no visit to Talybont is complete without a visit to the Stag (or Star, closed on this occasion) it would have been rude not to🙂

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Hours of fun, literally🙂 (50 mins cycling, 2.5 hours walking, 9 mins flying)

So all in all a great day – thanks very much for your company Mair, and also for the lift back to Llangattock to retrieve my car!

Video to follow, but in the meantime there are more pictures on Flickr here.

Edit 2/12/2016 – as promised, here’s the video🙂

Is it finally all over?

•October 17, 2016 • 2 Comments

So, after two successive 50km Sundays in October, I wonder if this season is finally over? On Sunday 2nd I had a wonderful aerial tour of the Brecon Beacons, and just a week later I had a really lovely 5okm flight from Ubley down to near Taunton.

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Takeoff is in the centre, Blagdon Lake in the distance

It didn’t take too long before we climbed out in a gaggle of five – we took it pretty steadily at first as it’s important to leave the high ground as high as possible to avoid bombing as soon as you leave the Mendips.

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Climbing out with Remi, Joe, Rich and Innes

Cloudbase was only 3300′ max, but that just meant we didn’t have to climb so high to have fun in the wispies🙂

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Remi with Axbridge reservoir beyond

We made good progress across the Somerset Levels without ever getting too low, and even the wet areas seemed to work well.

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Passing Street with Ken

Before too long we were approaching RNAS Merryfield and with declared goals near Totnes we decided to pass to the west of it.

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Innes leads the way with Lyme Bay glinting in the afternoon sunshine

Unfortunately avoiding it (unnecessarily it later transpired) meant avoiding a better bit of sky (and brown sunny fields) and we all got low passing it, with only Innes (and later Alan Maguire) making 60kms whilst the rest of us landed at about 50kms.

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Too low too early🙂

The sky was still looking great when I landed at about 1330, but hey-ho, all good things have to come to an end sometime, both for this flight and for the season I rather suspect.

But what a season it’s been – I’ve finished in the top ten of the XC League for the first time ever and was only 24 points away from my goal of getting 1000 points this year. It’s also the first year where all six of my scoring flights were over 100kms, something I’ve been trying to do for ages!

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UK XC kms flown – 2016 was definitely my best ever!

Let’s hope that 2017 is just as good!

 

 

A Tour of the Brecon Beacons

•October 7, 2016 • 1 Comment

Wow, for early October yesterday (Sunday 2nd) was pretty special – light winds, 4500’+ cloudbase, and some pretty reasonable thermals! After some initial communication confusion (mentioning no names, but not one of us :-)) five of us headed over to Wales in my car (Nick Smith, Tim Crozier-Cole, RJ Macaulay and Keiron ?) and made it to the car park at Talybont at 11 o’clock where we met up with Rich O and Annee, and Mike Humphries. Short walk, long walk, short walk, long walk? – the age old question…! The long walk won, and so the adventure began🙂

This is where light kit is a real bonus – my Omega X-Alps plus all kit and sandwich/water etc weighs in at a modest 14kgs which really is very civilised and makes a hike like this, whilst still not exactly a walk in the park, really not too bad at all.

After a bit of a discussion about plans and declaring triangles I decided not to declare anything and just go with the flow of the day. Of course I had something in mind, but I wasn’t going to let it dominate my flight, and in hindsight I reckon it was definitely the best plan.

We took off shortly after 1pm and within 10 minutes were climbing out under a lovely sky.

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The adventure begins!

There was a vague plan to head south to Merthyr for the first turnpoint, however even though there was a nice line of clouds heading that way I decided to stay over the high ground and take the scenic route… (NB. It turned out to be a good decision – RJ and Rich headed south towards Merthyr but didn’t make it back…)

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Heading west towards Pen-y-Fan and beyond

I’ve never simply explored these hills like this before – it was a real treat, just soaking up the views…

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Cruising past Pen-y-Fan (centre right) at base

I pushed west a bit farther, past Fan Fawr and over to Ystradfellte Reservoir. I’m sure I could have gone farther, but this flight wasn’t about points or kms.

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Past the A470, looking east


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Looking south towards Ystradfellte before heading back east


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Talybont Reservoir to the left, Pentwyn Reservoir to the right

I pushed south towards Merthyr for a few kms along this line of clouds before heading north again back towards takeoff to close my circuit.

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Just playing in the clouds…


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Heading back to takeoff (far left) to close the circuit

My little triangle turned out to be 28kms, then, having bagged it I decided to try to fly to Abergavenny and couldn’t resist a spot of cloud flying on the way🙂

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Mmmmm🙂


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Such fun!

After getting up to 5,300′ I found one more thermal which took me all the way past Gilwern to where I landed just a few kms short of Aber.

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Passing Gilwern heading for the wooded slopes on the north side of the valley

I was  expecting the wooded slopes to be into wind and thought they’d work well however I arrived just below ridgetop and the wind was from the south east, blowing up the valley towards Crickhowell, which didn’t exactly help my glide🙂

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My LZ in the centre of the photo

So two and a half hours later I touched down after a wonderful 53km tour of the Brecon Beacons!

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There are worse places to wait for a retrieve than the Bridge End Inn in Crickhowell!

It might well be my last decent flight of the year, and if so it was a fitting end to a great season!

Click here for the tracklog, and here to see full-res pics on Flickr, and watch out on YouTube for the video!

Edit… and here is the video on YouTube🙂

 

Wow, what an August!

•September 20, 2016 • Leave a Comment

After a very mediocre June and July we were owed some good flying weather, and I think it’s fair to say it came good! I’d had some fun flights in July, including three flights from Selsley, however with two at 83kms and one 68kms, and without a 100km+ flight since my flight from the Malverns to St Clears on 24th May, I was feeling bereft of a really good flight. Fortunately all that was to change in August with three 100+km flights.

#1 – Tuesday 9th, 168kms from Selsley to Worthing

First up was on Tuesday 9th when the all the usual suspects descended on Selsley (yet again!) on a great looking day. For the fifth time this year I declared Arundel as my goal – would this be the day I finally made it?

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Looking back towards the River Severn shortly after climbing out

To cut a long story short, I made it, but not without more than my fair share of low saves! The first time was near Wooton Bassett where I got down to maybe 700′ above the ground, then a few kms later I got low near Barbury Castle on the Marlborough Downs. I think quite a few of the usual suspects landed near here, but after a bit of a climb I hooked up with Joe Dart and we found a great climb up to base. The final low save was when I ended up soaring Combe Gibbet when it was off to the west and a bit strong and gusty. Fortunately I was only there for a few minutes before I climbed out in a gnarly thermal.I’m not sure I inspired anyone else to launch though🙂

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The first half of the flight wasn’t easy…!

After this the flight was pretty straightforward, and after bagging my goal at Arundel I had enough height to carry on to the coast at Worthing, which I’d never made before!

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Arundel

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Worthing Pier

I had seen another glider land on the beach a few minutes ahead of me – it turned out to be Al Wilson who’d flown from Combe…

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A swim followed by an ice cream just had to be done🙂

Have a look of the video of the flight here:

Flight details, photos

#2 – Friday 26th August, 101kms from Worcester Beacon

Ok, so this was almost three weeks later, but it was a new site for me, and a challenging flight to boot. The thermals were very broken for some reason and I think we all found them difficult to core, at least initially, and it was slooow, but it was great fun, especially in the “super-gaggle” that we all left the hill in…

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Wahooo!

It was a sparkling day, and the colours seemed especially vibrant.

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Ken on his Iota crossing the M5

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Dave Thomas under a cracking sky (it went fully blue later though)

Sadly all good things come to an end and I touched down to the east of Towcester for 101kms after 4hrs 17mins, with Steve Watts and Graham Richards close by.

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Me, Steve and Graham enjoying a spot of tapas (and a beer) at Birmingham New Street station

Have a look at the video of the flight below…

Flight details, photos

#3 – Bank Holiday Monday 29th August, 147kms from Selsley to not quite Arundel

It was back to Selsley three days later for another attempt at getting enough points from this flight to put me over 1000 points in my top six flights this year, and Arundel seemed like a good choice again.

It took a while for the first thermals to appear, but once they did we had a nice climbout and the first half of the flight as far as Hungerford, which I flew fast with Kirsty, was pretty easy.

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Cruising past Swindon with Kirsty

However we both found ourselves very low as we approached Combe Gibbet and we were down to 500′ AGL before we found a sniff of a climb after a 10km glide! We worked it and worked it with Kirsty gradually outclimbing me (grrrrr!), but I eventually lost it, fortunately I now had enough height to make it to Combe where it was light and off to the W. No one else was flying and I found myself below the top of the hill at times, but after about 10 minutes of scratching I found a climb and went with it. It was slow and took ages to properly ping off during which time I had drifted about 3kms at only about 1000′ AGL, but I finally got up to base fifty minutes after our first low save. Meanwhile Kirsty was about 10kms ahead having not wasted time on the hill.

Have a look at my video of the low save below…

After this it was plain sailing, as you can see from the graph below:

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Easy – difficult – easy!

Unfortunately though, despite overhauling a few pilots who’d overtaken me when I was struggling, that wasted time meant I was too late getting to the South Downs and I was too late to utilise the sea-breeze front to work my way east to Arundel. Only Kirsty and Hugh Miller made their goal near Arundel, with everyone else landing just a few kms short…

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Trying to stay under the 4500′ airspace, and then connect with the SB front proved too difficult

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Hmmm, now I know why Remi and I struggled to get a lift to Chichester station🙂 *

* Actually, that’s not strictly true, Mariusz Kozlowski very kindly offered his car (his wife was following him in their car with another pilot, Rafal), and Rafal drove Remi and me to the station whilst his wife, son and him had a picnic where the three of us landed (if that makes sense!)

Flight details, photos

So there we have it, that was August, what will September deliver?!

 

 

Snatching victory from the jaws of defeat!

•August 12, 2016 • Leave a Comment

Saturday 30th July was a busy day on Selsley what with Avon hosting a round of the Advance BCC there,  and lots of other pilots descending on the hill on the promise of a good NW’ly day.

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Lots of parawaiting in the light wind

I arrived with Rich Osborne and Annee Brekenridge at about 1045 just as the first gliders got airborne in the light breeze, but those first flights were short-lived. We found a spot to get ready (not so easy given the number of people on the hill), and declared the usual goal of Arundel, and then sat around for ages waiting for the chance to take off. There were quite a few false starts but we were encouraged when Lawrie Noctor, Wayne Seeley and Helen Gant ever-so-slowly climbed out.

Eventually a couple of hours after we arrived I climbed out with a few others and climbed to about 2000′ before I noticed that I hadn’t tagged my start turnpoint which was just a few tens of meters in front of takeoff. I’m really not sure how I managed to avoid it, but there you go…

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Climbing out under a lovely sky

Anyway, no problem I thought, I’d nip forward, bag it, then rejoin the climb. Needless-to-say it didn’t work out like that, and I landed back on take off a short while later, DOH! Lesson learnt – don’t be dumb with waypoints for the sake of a hundred meters!

There were still lots of us on the hill, but with the sky spreading out I thought I had blown the day. Indeed, a number of people packed up between 1300-1400, and possibly I might have joined them had I had my own car there. Fortunately I didn’t/couldn’t though, because just after 1400 a good sustained breeze sprung up and allowed some of us to get in the air, and not long after a gaggle of eleven of us started climbing out under 8/8 skies.

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Looking back to takeoff (with Theo Warden)

Ok, so it was slow, but it was steady – so slow and steady in fact that we all circled to the right pretty much non-stop, apart for a couple of short glides, until we were past WOMAD just to the NE of Malmesbury, some 23kms downwind!

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Just keep on going round and round (for 23kms!)

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Wings over WOMAD!

I think Theo and I had a bit more height as we finally topped up and headed off on a glide towards Swindon, and it’s here that we lost the others – they all landed between Malmesbury and Swindon. We faffed around in weak lift to the  west of Swindon before finding a much stronger climb (2+m/s) to the south of Swindon.

From our high point of 4,600′ at the top of this climb we glided towards Aldbourne and were very low when we arrived, but we sniffed something out and slowly climbed out, Theo finding slightly better lift than me and heading off towards Hungerford on his own. I minced over Bear Grylls’ house (where I had landed after a short flight from Liddington last year) at barely 2000′, and was contemplating dropping in again but spotted a combine downwind and headed for it and was rewarded with a slow climb to about 2,000′.

From here it was basically a case of extending my glide as I cruised over Hungerford before landing in Inkpen for 68kms. I packed up and the kind gent who owned the field gave me a lift all 400yds to the road where I was met by Rich and Annee in the Magic XC Bus🙂

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Well, it would have been rude not to accept the offer of a lift🙂

And seeing as The Swan Inn was just up the road it felt rude not to grab a quick cider to celebrate what turned out to be a really fun flight!

Here’s the short video I made of the flight…

 

XC Tracer

•June 21, 2016 • Leave a Comment

I have recently become the UK supplier for the XC Tracer and XC Tracer Mini lag-free varios.

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XC Tracer

Both varios share the same barometer and 9 DOF (degrees of freedom) sensor, however the XC Tracer has a GPS chip and Bluetooth LE to allow it to connect to smartphones and Kobos, whilst the XC Tracer Mini is just the vario and is solar powered.

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XC Tracer Mini

Here are two videos demonstrating the lag-free nature of the varios:

Please visit my Facebook page here, or www.xctracer.com, for more info and to order.

What a line!

•May 26, 2016 • 1 Comment

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′.

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Setting off…

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!

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I learnt a thing or two about my wing (in a good way🙂 )

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.

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Not ideal🙂

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.

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Just as well I didn’t take off from here!

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.

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Looking east towards Pen-y-Fan before I pushed NE along the spur

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!

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They don’t come much better than this!

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.

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Fan Hir

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!

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Yay, I’ve got company!

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!

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Wonderful views across to the Gower and farther west to Pembrokeshire

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.

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Soaking up the views

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.

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GOAL at 150kms!!!

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🙂

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Happy chappie!

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🙂 )

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The “saviour” and final glide

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 (ÂŁ34) 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!

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Another brilliant adventure with some great mates!

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!