This was a UK personal best flight for me. My next longest flight in the UK was 44km, just a couple of weeks before this one. I feel like I am beginning to crack the code of UK XC flying!
The day looked very promising with sunshine and an arctic air mass. Lots of people wisely took the day off.
The day didn't start auspiciously for me, as I mis-timed two launches and ended up slope landing and walking back up. Learning point 1 for the day: improve launch timing. Third time's a charm, but really I just watched a much more experienced pilot and launched when he did (thanks Rich! )
This time the timing was on and I was quickly up at base. After talk of triangles when on the ground, our North Devon (+ Gerry) crew lobbed off downwind to the WSW, spread out but in radio contact.
I left the Malverns in the company of a white and blue/gray Zeno. Three times I foolishly led out, three times I chastised myself as I started to go down, and three times I gave myself a pat on the back when I found the climb and my friend came over to visit.
I don't have a lot of UK XC expereience, but recently was in Colombia where I feel that I learned a lot about flatland flying. I applied what I had learned: 1/ look for *active* clouds, 2/ approach them from the upwind side, 3/ try to marry clouds with ground features and fly in the line that joins them.
I did all that and bugger me it worked!
I also applied previous (frustrating) UK experience by staying in the zeros and 0.1-0.4 climbs, while scanning around for other opportunities or waiting to be sucked into a better climb. About half the time in this flight those zeros and 0.3s would transform into solid 2+ climbs. This was learning point number 2 for this flight.
As I approached Hereford (with my Zeno buddy in tow) I met up with fellow North Devon pilot Steve, and we flew together for a bit until he climbed to base and disappeared off to the east, but not before calling me over on the radio. I saw him climb but thought I would lose too much height getting from where I was to where he was, or that I would miss the cycle. So I stayed in my zeros and 0.3s until I had drifted far enough to make a run for the air above the commercial centre to the south of Hereford, where Steve had climbed out. Sure enough there was another solid climb to base, though I was disappointed to see my Zeno friend comprehensively out-thermal me, coming from below and ending up well above me. Oh well.
Heading off downwind again I caught sight of a sailplane circling, and then a paraglider nearby. I recognised another North Devon pilot (Jamie) and headed over. We climbed together exchanging the usual whoops and hollers, and then Jamie headed off east, while I loitered in more zeros and 0.3s as I watched him sink away into the distance (I did radio him, honest! )
I had flown the entire flight so far on the thermalling screen of FlySkyHy. My winter gloves would not work on the screen, and the stylus I had tied to my flight deck was no longer there. So I had to take my hands off the controls to wrestle my gloves off, while taking care not drop the HotHands… Learning point number 3: get a reliable stylus. I went through this risky manouvre several times on the flight. Not great.
I wanted to see where my mate Gerry was, and I recalled that there were airspace issues on the planned route. So I wrestled my gloves off and changed the screen to the map screen, located Gerry behind me to my right, and saw airspace immediately ahead. Errr… What to do? Go north or south? Gerry was going north, but the wind was ENE. I went south, but by this stage I was getting low, and I picked up a lovely smooth climb just outside Pontrilas airspace. The wind was blowing me into the airspace so I had to keep extending my circles upwind, occasionally losing the climb. I was unable to tap the screen to zoom in so wasn't sure if I had actually breached airapace (I hadn't)
As the climb was nice and smooth, I decided to try to use my XC pee system. I had a full bladder but had been putting it off. After some coaxing I managed to start the flow, only to instantly realise that it wasn't going down the tube, but instead was filling my pants. I managed to stop, but couldn't take my hands off the controls to do any rummaging about to see what had gone wrong. Oh well. I'm sure I'm not the first to land a bit pissy.
After this I focussed on edging my way around Pontrillas while staying in the climb. I'm sure I'm not the first to curse this airspace and wonder what's so bloody important that I can't fly over it? Once I was finally past the airspace I headed off downwind. In possibly the best moment of the flight, I got cloud sucked just as I went on bar, and was going up a 2m/s while rocketing downwind on full bar. I had just entered the wispies when I passed through the cloud. Epic!
I decided to try and make it to Abergavenny. I used a technique suggested by my friend James the Vet in Colombia: if glide ratio is less than 8, then apply bar, if greater than 8 then release bar. I eked out every meter of distance by constantly adjusting bar, and maximised my efficiency by keeping my hands on the rear risers, and off the brakes. At first I didn't think I was going to make Aber, but consoled myself that at least I would be able to have a pee in whatever field I landed in (not immediately possible in Castle Meadows). However I picked up another climb to base just over Pandy. Abergavenny passed to my left as I now targeted Crickhowel, knowing I could easily catch a bus back to Abergavenny.
At this stage I knew that I had broken my UK personal best and also passed the 50km mark. Given the state of the sky (filled in) I doubted that I would make 100km. So from this point on I just relaxed and enjoyed the view.
I now had some decent ground speed and could tell that the wind was much stronger than forecast. From my thermal drift I could see that the wind here was ESE following the valley, and not ENE as it was crossing the flatlands from the Malverns. I was very reluctant to head over the mountains as it was windy, almost everywhere was shaded out and it was past 4pm. I also was thinking about retrieve at this point and did not fancy a long walk out. Lastly my bladder was very full! So, it seems I had decided that I was going to land in the valley, near a road.
I picked up another patchy climb above Crickhowell. I tried to go cross-wind toward Magic as it was the only place in the sun, but immediately started sinking out so turned back on my original path. I decided to try and make Bwlch, which I could see at the end of the valley. I employed my 'efficient glide' technique and had a lovely smooth and very enjoyable glide down the valley. I didn't quite make Bwlch, instead landed in a field a half mile short. After a brief moment of concern as 50 cattle came jogging towards me, I packed up and hitched back to Abergavenny, where I met up with the others and we had a cider in the Kings Arms. A great day out!
Thanks for the retreive Gerry!