BCC 2022 Round 1 - Talybont.
The long-range forecast had been promising a nice gentle start to the season from Pandy, similar to last year's successful first rounds. However, the weather gods have a sick sense of humour and tweaked the strength down so that only Talybont was a practical launch point. On hearing this news some pilots suddenly remembered important appointments and bailed out, but this didn't prevent a car park full of nearly 100 pilots arriving at 9am on a Saturday morning. Cheery company eased the pain of the climb and soon we were enjoying the warm sun with the stunning views from the summit. Inevitable faffs later the serious business of the day was tackled with characteristic thoroughness by Dennis before we split into team groups for task discussion and collision avoidance reminders. During this the first hints of thermals arrived soon chased down by those fastest out of the blocks. Then the first gaggle drifted off to the north east in the very light breeze. It was time to get going!
Thorough 'Will Geordie… ' pre-flight checks complete, a brief nervous anticipation of remembered feisty initial climbs and then the clue I was looking for; a wing turning away from the ridge and continuing to climb. Off to join them. The thermal was to my left and the pilot I followed was also turning left so I did the same just to get that first bit of height above the ridge before settling into the briefed right hand pattern. The thermal was difficult to map, with wings climbing in several cores, but I finally found a steady part at the upwind edge and gradually pulled away from the crowd. Aproaching 5000 feet we were still only a few hundred metres downwind so this was going to be a slow day and a relatively short one with the approaching weather front already showing a tell-tale halo around the sun. No time to mince about in zeros, I needed to get going.
The glide across towards the Dragon's Back was lumpy but buoyant, only losing a few hundred feet by Llangorse Lake. What wind there was was blowing up the Usk Valley, but I was keen to connect with the high ground leading to Hay Bluff and some promising-looking clouds. The sky was full of paragliders wherever I looked and must have given the Talgarth glider tug pilot a challenge to avoid us all as dropped his clients off at the ridge. One of them was doing quite nicely so I headed over to join him, careful to keep well clear of his wide circle until I could tuck in behind as we were at the same altitude. Other paragliders came to join in and that was maybe too much for the poor sailplane as he scuttled off to quieter climbs further north. Looking back towards the Brecon Beacons a steady stream of paragliders were drifting over - this was looking like a very successful day. The Black Mountains delivered nicely, pushing me up to my high point of the day before another buoyant cruise above the ridge towards Hay Bluff. It was at this point that I remembered one of my cunning plans for the day; to collect waypoint competition points (check out the flysouthwales website for more details). Talybont had been a start cylinder and Hay Bluff was another, so any cylinders in between would count… Sadly there was only one so I grabbed it before making for Hay Bluff. One in the bag.
From here on the day changed. The incoming cloud had got thicker and the promising cloud over Hay Bluff was a decoy - nothing much under it as all it seemed to be doing was preventing the increasingly weak sun from getting to the ground. Time to head off on glide again towards the sunnier ground in England, joined in close formation by another paraglider. Nothing. Not a beep. The flight that had been fairly easy to this point gave its first threat of an early finish. Scanning the ground for sun and thermal triggers gave way to picking fields and finally to aiming for a small valley to ease my transition towards a village. A brown field might work… Over it the air started to get jittery; there was something there, but I was only a few hundred feet above the ground. Come on! Suddenly I was hauled upwards before promptly being spat out again. Nervously turning back into I was again flung upwards by the strongest bullet climb of the day. Some equally strong active flying somehow kept the wing inflated before things started to settle down. The other wing had grabbed the same climb a few minutes after me and was making equally ragged progress upward but then we worked together to find our way up. Other gliders joined in and we scrabbled up towards 4000 feet. At this point I realised we were still directly over our brown field - no wind at all! More mincing about not gaining or losing height but wasting precious time… 25 minutes spent over the same place getting back up to base! Time for another glide. This time on my own I again drifted ever lower, starting to think about major roads and villages that might contain a pub… Then a brown field with a tractor turning the soil; if this didn't work, nothing would. It did, but only with a weak climb. The wing I had shared the second half of the flight with was low down to the south and I willed it to join me, but he landed near a promising looking village. My weak climb wilted away to nothing and I decided it was probably time to find out who my formation buddy had been.
The after-landing story is often as fun as the in-flight experience and this was no exception. The other pilot turned out to be a former work colleague and taking the advice from friendly locals we headed into the village for refreshments and a catch-up. Unbeknownst to me, my teammate Ella had landed only a mile away and soon joined us at the quaint and noisy pub. Retrieve was simplicity itself thanks to the third pilot I had driven to the hill getting a lift back to the car park and finding the concealed car key. All we had to do was sit there and wait. Oh well!
Thanks to Dennis for an excellent round. Plenty more to come hopefully!