The forecast was pretty pants but Ken Wilkinson was adamant we should tow! Looking out the window to total cloud didn't fill me with optimism, but I set off anyway, arriving at 11. The cloud started to break up but base was super low with a light NW breeze. We decided to set what we thought was an optimistic 70k declared triangle with no real hope of achieving it!
We sat back and let some other people tow and to our surprise they slowly climbed. Some very speedy rigging ensued and Peggy and Ken graciously let Graham and I queue hop to quickly get into the air.
As I released from the tow at 600ft Alex Coltman had found a slow climb off the back of the field. It was weak and bitty but between us we worked our way up to base which was about 3000ft (2000ft agl), soon to be joined by Graham who had climbed straight out from his release! We headed off slightly crosswind towards TP1 and the next usable looking cloud and again slowly climbed back up. At this point Alex did an 'Alex' and vanished off in the other direction to a better looking cloud, but Gray and I stuck to our task and pushed on along our course. Five minutes later we were low under a cloud that didn't seem to be working when a seagull way off track started climbing. We turned 90 degrees and found a sweet but rough climb back to 3500ft then off we went again. Now half way along our 25k leg it was starting to really blue out but a few wispies helped our decision making and we soon closed in to TP1. For once the only good cloud was sat about 1km upwind of our TP. We flew into it quite low and found a lovely 3m/s climb to base. Now at 4 grand, I looked down at my instruments to see where the TP was and the drift had already put us in it 😊
We now had a 24k leg to TP2. It was nearly completely blue but it was also the downwind leg, so we pushed on aiming at any wisps that appeared and it worked quite well. A bad decision by me saw me fly the wrong way, very nearly putting me on the deck, but I lucked out and found a rough ass climb that I wasn't gonna give up on, and once established Graham, who had flown a much better route, raced over to join me. Now 10k from TP2 we were 5k from the most epic looking sky, so we pushed on to the clouds. At this point it got really good. There were clouds all around the TP and clouds all the way back to the field. We tagged TP2 at base (now 5 grand) and started thinking how to fly the route home. This was the into wind leg and, although very light, we needed to be a bit tactical about the route choice. Route one home had clouds dotted along it, but a cloud street had set up from the NW and we decided that this was the best choice. Although it was taking us a long way off route, we thought if we could get over the Cotswold edge high we would be left with a more crosswind final glide rather than a long glide into wind, which is always risky to close a triangle! So the next half hour saw us fly 10k upwind on 3/4 bar. Only stopping to top up in anything over 3m/s and ignoring anything weaker as slow climbs with a gentle headwind would mean minimal progress. As we reached the end of the street, final glide was possible but with a headwind it wasn't certain so we carried on pushing NW. I went first and very soon was down to 1000ft thinking I'd blown it with 5km to go. Luckily a random hang glider was climbing upwind so I joined him, eventually we found the core, and climbed back to 4000ft and chased Graham back into goal.
All in all a very satisfying day. The forecast had been poor and 70k FAI seemed too big before we launched. We made some very good decisions and got lucky when we needed it and both commented after that had we been alone it probably wasn't doable. We had it all, slow cloudy start, rough nasty blue conditions, then an epic end. Happy days.