Things are looking up :-)

•February 20, 2018 • Leave a Comment

After 4.5 hours’ flying last Friday and Saturday I can officially say that things are looking up after what’s been a very long wet and windy winter here in the UK. Cumulus clouds are gracing our skies once again, and I’ve been up at cloudbase for the first time in five months, wahoo! I’ve even done my first, albeit very short, XC. It was only about 12kms straight line, but it was A LOT more than a one thermal wonder… take a look at the vid below…

Happy thermalling folks 🙂

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In the bleak mid-winter

•January 17, 2018 • Leave a Comment

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 🙂

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About to do battle with the elements… (fortunately my safety team weren’t required!)

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.

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G’night all

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 🙂

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Never forget how lucky we are being able to do this fantastic sport

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…

2018 – Bring it on!

•January 8, 2018 • Leave a Comment

So, six days into 2018 and I have flown! Ok, so the flight only lasted eight minutes, but it was a fun mission! Fellow desperate optimist, Tim Bishop, picked me up in Bath at 0615 and by 0700 we were walking up Ubley in darkness only punctuated by the light of the moon (having forgotten my head torch)! By 0725 we’d reached takeoff having somehow not got lost on the way up, and strangely enough it was only slightly less dark with sunrise not for another 40 minutes! And there was no wind… Hmm, the whole point of this madcap idea was to get a flight in before it got too windy, and here we were, standing in the semi-darkness and there wasn’t any… What’s more, as the sky lightened, so the cloud rolled in, and we’re weren’t talking high cloud either!

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Yep, we’re officially mad 🙂

I’d made a schoolboy error and left my stove and coffee pot in Tim’s car, so the obligatory parawaiting consisted of the usual banter interspaced by moments of running on the spot to keep warm! By 0815 the wind was picking up nicely and it was now definitely light enough to fly, but unfortunately the cloud was now only fifty feet above us, so it was now or never. I quickly called Bristol ATC to open the 2,500′ Ubley Glider Block (2,500′ – if only!), then Tim was off, rapidly disappearing into the murk!

Oh well, I figured if stayed out from the hill I could skirt the fine line between hilltop cloud flying and going down, so off I went. Eight and a half minutes later I was on the ground having headed down the ridge to the west to see where Tim had got to (he’d landed), and with the wind evidently off the hill a bit, I hadn’t been able to maintain height heading back east, despite it having been pretty lifty in front of takeoff a few minutes earlier. But the point was we’d made the effort, we’d flown, and had enjoyed our madcap mission, AND we were home in time for a decent breakfast!

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Back home and tucking into a hearty breakfast by 10am

Here’s to many more madcap adventures in 2018!

What a week…!

•September 22, 2017 • 2 Comments

I finished off my last post by praying to whichever god it is that’s in charge of the weather to give us some great flying in St André. Well, my prayers were answered! We had five great tasks, plus a day in St Vincent-les-Forts before the comp, and a great day’s mountain biking from St André to Castellane, and just to finish it off, a sweet little hike and fly before the rain came in on the cancelled last day 🙂

Task 1 (3rd Sept) – 77km race to goal at Laragne

Well, so much for the forecast strongish southerly winds – we ended up flying most of the way in a headwind! Add to that high cloud coming in from the south later in the day and it added up to only nine people in goal! I got most of the way round and I think got to within 7kms of goal after 5.5 hours in the air and absolutely loved it! It was a flight of contrasts – small hills and weak climbs at turnpoint 1, strong climbs and big mountains at turn point 2, buttock-clenching into-wind sink followed by a booming climb on the final leg, then some of the minciest flying I’ve done all year trying to get up from low down near the Sisteron Gliding Club. Oh yes, and power lines too 😄 I ended up gliding towards Sisteron for a beer and easy retrieve, but despite that I didn’t get back to St André until 2130. Great day!!

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Climbing out after the tricky TP 1

Summary: 9 in goal, I came 33rd. Mark Watts won the task, and Frazer Wilson took the prize for today’s reserve ride

 

Task 2 (4th Sept) – 68km cat’s cradle

Fast and furious with some rowdy climbs over the “Cheese”… St André built its reputation on days like this 😂. I think Kirsty was the only reserve toss today, minutes before the start, but I’m pretty sure Frazer had a big cascade, not to mention Yuki’s incident above the “Cheese”, followed shortly afterwards by Tom Cole’s very impressive frontal on full speed bar 😂😂.

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Pre-start crowds

Summary: 70 in goal, I came 33rd again, 33 mins behind the winner, Idris Birch

 

Task 3 (6th Sept) – 47km race to goal at Col de Bleyne

Despite an unpromising forecast François from Aerogliss insisted we should be bussed up the hill, and luckily for us we did – we were rewarded with a cracking task down to Col de Bleyne. Unfortunately it was all over too quickly – three minutes and thirty places separated Grant Oseland and me on our Omega X-Alpses (first three-liners in) from the winners who did it in 1hr 9mins. Unfortunately it was also a cracking flight (literally) for Rupert Hone who crashed near the third turnpoint and had to be helicoptered to Digne then Marseille Hospital with a fractured pelvis 😦 Get well soon Rupert!!

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Goal, Wahoo!

Summary: 100 people in goal today, I was 30th, 3 minutes behind the winner, Mark Watts

 

Task 4 (7th Sept) – a 100km epic!

The task of the comp! Lots of big names went down trying to get onto the Coupe on the way to TP1, but past that crux, and once past TP 1, the field split as there were three distinct routes to TP 2, some 20kms north of Digne. I took the west route along with seven or eight others in our gaggle, and once past the small hills just north of Digne it was into some spectacular scenery as we finally made it up to 2000m+ for the first time since the start! Having bagged TP 2 I headed to the Cheval Blanc and the Cheese and Shark’s Fin before crossing the valley and heading to TP 3. The house thermal there worked as advertised and from there it was an easy and fast run past Castellane and over the southern end of the lake to TP 4. I couldn’t resist topping up here, which cost me a place – the lifty line back to goal meaning I could have gone on glide at least 300m lower. Still, I wasn’t too disappointed with 13th place and first three-liner 😄 I think it was this task the Frazer had his third incident, resulting in a stay in Digne hospital whilst his shoulder, broken ribs and punctured lung were taken care of… a very tough comp for him for sure. I wish you all the best for a speedy recovery Frazer…

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Cranking it up near the Cheval Blanc

Summary: 39 in goal today, I was 13th, 18 minutes behind the winner, Russel Ogden

 

Task 5 (8th Sept) – 67km cat’s cradle

With light winds and a high base forecast, this was a doddle for many, and would have been for me too had I not had a brain malfunction on the way to TP 2. I was following gliders ahead and above me (not much above me) and they were pitching back in evidently strong lift, but I never found it… and the three of us (I’ll let you remain nameless) pushed on too low to our inevitable doom! Crazy! The retrieve was super-efficient and it didn’t take long to get back to HQ, where we we greeted with the sight of every man and his dog arriving over goal with tons of height… oh well, thank goodness for discards 😂😂

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Turnpoint 1 action

 

Summary: 88 in goal today with Mark Watts winning it again. The less said about my position the better! No reserve rides, just Mal Davies falling through his lines!!!

 

So there we have it – five tasks (the first time in 13 years I think Calvo said) and lots of great flying (for some). For others it was quite an eye-opener in the rough, strong very dry conditions. I was super-happy with my Omega X-Alps, barely a collapse all week, and most of the time well able to keep up with the hoards of Zenos! Decision making and good lines are so much more important than an extra couple of kms speed in my opinion, and I was more than happy with 27th place overall and first three-liner.

Results – Overall

Marks Watts
Seb Ospina
Russell Ogden

Women

Kirsty Cameron
Jess Cox
Nanda Walliser

Reynolds

Jack Pimblett
Lauren Martins
Alex Colbeck

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Reynolds Class winners (sponsored by XC Tracer UK)

Sports

Mike Miller
Dave Smart
Fons de Leeuw

Great Expectations

•August 29, 2017 • 1 Comment

Well, it’s been a funny old season for me, I’ve had some really fun flights but the big distances have been elusive apart from a lovely 135km from Rybury back in early June.

I’ve been busier at work this year and haven’t been able to take so many days off on short notice, and on a couple of the days I did take off, the conditions didn’t live up to the forecast. Add in a couple of weddings and various family commitments, and I just haven’t been out as much as I might have done in the last couple of years.

Of course, this is the situation that most pilots find themselves in, and I count myself fortunate that I can get out as much as I do, but whilst I’m undoubtedly a bit disappointed from the point of view of my position in the XC League this year, I’ve realised that not chasing league points does have its benefits.

For instance I’ve been happier than in previous years to commit in advance to camping and sailing weekends with friends, and shock horror, last Sunday I even stayed at home and did some gardening with Lisa rather than most likely spending a hot frustrating afternoon parawaiting in nil wind. I’ve actually enjoyed the variety too – I guess it’s all about finding the right balance, probably something I’ve not been particularly good at in previous years.

But I’m not kidding myself that I’ve fundamentally changed, and I’m sure that had I been doing better in the league I would be more motivated than I have been recently. But, and hence the title of this post, I have great expectations and high hopes for some fabulous flying in St André-les-Alpes during the British Open next week, and it’s been partly the prospect of a week of good flying that has kept me going over the last few weeks, so, if there are any weather gods out there reading this, please, please, please, give us some great weather!!!

About bloody time too… :-)

•June 15, 2017 • 1 Comment

So finally, on June 3rd, a whole two months into the season, I flew my first 100km+ flight of the year. (By way of comparison, by the same time last year I’d flown three 100km+ flights, although interestingly, in 2015 I didn’t fly my first 100km+ flight until 4th June). Through a combination of poorish weather, being very busy at work, and what I put down to bad luck (or bad piloting), it just hasn’t happened until now, so it felt damn good to rack up 136kms on a lovely five hour flight from Rybury to Devil’s Dyke a couple of weeks ago now…

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Climbing out from Rybury looking down on Milk Hill White Horse

I flew most of the way in the company of my good friend Rich Osborne, and apart from a couple of times where one or the other of us was low, we were pretty much wingtip to wingtip the whole way, and even though we didn’t make our 161km goal to the north of Eastbourne it was a very satisfying flight as it wasn’t by any means plain sailing all the way. We both had low saves, difficult broken climbs, and airspace to contend with, so landing together at the foot of the Dyke was a real pleasure.

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Happy chaps!

What’s more, Lisa, and Rich’s partner Annee, had followed us in our campervans, and by the time we’d packed up and walked across a field to the nearest road, Lisa had spotted where we’d landed (thanks to xcrt.aero) and had parked up and got the beers (cold!) ready for us. Superb 🙂

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Retrieve crew arrives 🙂

Annee arrived an hour or so later and after a short while we headed up to Firle Beacon (via Asda to stock up on goodies) where we had a lovely evening dining in our campervan. A really terrific way to end a cracking flying day 🙂

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Dining campervan style!


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The view from Firle Beacon on Sunday morning – shame it was too windy to fly

Here’s a link to the tracklog on XCLeague.

A Mountain Masterclass

•April 24, 2017 • Leave a Comment

Back in February my old friend Marcus King tipped a few of us in the Avon Club off about Gavin McClurg’s Mountain Masterclass in the Lake District in April, and a couple of us booked up straight away. Gavin has always been a bit of a hero of mine through his films and amazing flights in the US, and whatever the weather on the weekend I thought it would be great to meet him in person and get some pearls of wisdom from him.

Lisa and I and our brown lab Monty drove up on Thursday night after the viewing of Gavin’s “North of Known” film in Bristol, and after a few hours kip in the van at Teebay Services we met up with my old buddy Steve Etherington at Jocky’s Flight Park. we made plans and headed off to Swinside where Steve and I had a lovely flight back to Keswick under 8/8 skies. Lisa met us where we landed and we headed to the Chalet Tearooms at Portinscale for a delicious lunch.

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Soaring Swinside before heading down to Buttermere

The sun was starting to make an appearance so Lisa dropped Steve and me off at Ullock and before too long we were soaring the upper slopes of Skiddaw trying to keep out of the cloud. A thermal just past Keswick got us onto Clough Head and then it was a beautiful cruise down past Helvellyn to Ambleside in lovely conditions. I first attempted that run years ago during a BP Cup or LCC when Jocky set a task form Jenkin down to Ambleside and I landed a couple of kms short of goal, so it was great to finally nail it!

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Looking south along the Helvellyn ridge

Saturday dawned clear and bright and by 9am we’d all RV’d at the Flight Park and made our introductions and met Gavin who was rocking a great T-shirt-tucked-into-pants look (he’s obviously spent too much time on his own in Alaska 😄). In turn we went round the table saying what we wanted to get out of the day – the group (14-15?) covered a wide range of experiences, from two years to my twenty six, and the common theme was info on vol biv flying and kit, but also just a general desire to keep learning.

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Big Guns Gav and his pants 🙂

We spent an hour or so at the Flight Park during which Gavin talked though his X-Alps kit, and gave us hints and tips for vol biv and mountain flying. We set a task for the day – Dale Head, Helvellyn, Skiddaw and back to the Flight Park – then set off for Honnister Pass in a convoy. The walk up went on, and on, and on! Just when you thought you were there you reached another brow and nope, there was definitely more to go! But eventually we all reached a suitable take off point at 2400′, and we started launching at 1330.

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Local pilot Rob Welford shows us the lie of the land

Pretty soon we were started climbing out – I think we were above the inversion and there were some strong climbs up to almost 4000′, however once we got low after the first glide it was tough work soaring the slopes to the east of Rosthwaite with the SSW wind blowing more along the slopes than up them! Some of the group landed in Rosthwaite, four of us flopped over into the next valley to the east, myself included, and only Lawrie Noctor managed to get to Skiddaw, though not via Helvellyn – that turned out to be a bit too ambitious! Meanwhile Gavin and Leon Newcombe were making their way on foot and air towards Keswick, and by the time the four of us were picked up by Lisa south of Keswick after an hour’s walk, Gavin had just dropped a pin in Telegram just to the south of the A66 so we were able to squeeze him in then drive up the newly tarmacced road up to the Skiddaw/Jenkin car park.

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The views round here aren’t too shabby

The walk up to a suitable take-off was like a Sunday afternoon stroll compared to Dale Head, and before long we were all enjoying afternoon beautiful soaring conditions on the slopes of Skiddaw. Gavin had encouraged us to practice too landing and a few of us took him up on his offer, touching down briefly and then taking off again. Gavin had earlier told us that too landing is one of the key vol biv skills so it was good to get two or three landings in.

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Adrian How soaring Skiddaw

During one of Gavin’s landings I noticed him have a bit of a mare with his wing, and I then spotted him disconnecting the harness to try to sort out the lines. It was quite breezy so I dropped in to assist. A mere hour or so later we were finally off!! I added to the problem because it took ten minutes or so to sort my lines out too – I was convinced I had twists in my lines so I was “somersaulting” my harness through the lines only to discover I was making it worse, doh! Then, when I did finally take off, I failed to check that my lines were the correct way for me to do my normal turn to the left and took off with a twist, so had a short “flight” before being dumped onto the ground!! That was a real wake up call for me – how on earth did I miss that? The answer is that I think I was probably dehydrated after all the hiking, as thinking back on it, I definitely hadn’t drunk enough water through the day. Interesting… Meanwhile Cross Country mag editor Ed Ewing had been filming the whole procedings from a lofty vantage point! Oh well…

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Top landing with Gav – it would have been a beautiful spot for a bivvy

Anyway, after all the faffing we pretty much headed straight out to The Flight Park where, at 1915, we touched down after an excellent day’s adventure. We had a debrief over some beers and all agreed it had been a really fun and useful day.

The next day another group was booked in for the Masterclass, but whilst some of Saturday’s group headed to Blease Fell for some flying before the wind picked up, the other group headed somewhere else for their day – I don’t know where, and I don’t know how they got on, but I assume they survived and had an equally enjoyable day as we had had.

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Yours truly soaring the lower slopes of Blease Fell

As to my overall thoughts on the Masterclass – it was always going to be a tall order meeting everyone’s expectations on a course like this, and personally I don’t think I particularly benefitted from it (except accidentally learning about the effects of dehydration on one’s concentration!), but having said that, it was great meeting and supporting Gavin in his X-Alps bid (and supporting the Cloudbase Foundation too), making new friends, and above all having three fantastic days’ flying in the beautiful Lake District!

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Monty eyeing up our picnic before we headed back south