'Sharpenhoe, I love you, but you're bringing me down'…
After four windy crosswind top landings throughout the morning, I was ready for a trip to the local garden centre for tea and cake. The slope faces ENE, but anything N of NE it becomes a horror show of rotor over the hedge line, a dive into an into-wind ridge of trees, and a desparate claw up the trees before turning tail and just making it back in for a top landing. Not fun.
But then at 12:15 pm the wind backed (yes after 30 years of flying, I've finally learnt the difference between backed and veered) and the the trigger temp was reached (am I sounding knowledgable now) and those lovely parcels of air started ballooning up from the cut fields out front.
Mark and I circled up and away with Tom, Ash, Jonny, James and others, while Kirsty and Andrew barely cleared the bushes at the end of the take-off run and lawn-darted into the fields below. Their sacrifice to the Gods ensured a smooth climb out to around 3000 ft.
Mark and I pushed quite hard on due west to escape the Easyjet 747s on final into Luton just to our south - think the newer pilots to Sharpenhoe may have stayed more in downwind-and-drift survival mode in the weaker stuff and got caught out by the fast approaching airspace boundary. However, the first 2 hours required patience, and it wasn't until Oxford that Mark and I started picking up the pace a little. 'Yep the day is turning on' Mark radio'd as we hit our first solid 2 m/s climb.
From here memory gets a bit hazy. I remember gliding cross wind to the baked fields of Glastonbury festival - 2 weeks prior to it - and getting a really nice climb. Then pushing a little faster towards Taunton. We hit the 200 km mark at around 5:20 pm. We worked well together, doing some joint decision making round blue sections, but we were flying quite sedately, never using more than a quarter or half bar to make the most of the downwind polar curve.
Then just short of Tuanton, at 5:30 pm, it turned on - with a nice street lined up towards Devon. Unfortunately Mark was 2000 ft lower than me as I hit a solid 3 up, the first really good climb of the day, and he landed soon after. The street worked for about 20 km, with base rising to just under 5K, so I pushed on as fast as I dared… Then pfffft, every cloud in the sky just melted to nothing. What!
Here we go again, I thought, me, Devon, 250 km and the blue. I've been here three times before now. Time to be patient. I told myself, well, this is where the flight begins. Just before 6 pm I was gliding into very smooth air, then got a couple of jiggles under a very faint milky cu. I was desperate not to repeat the previous mistakes, so changed right down the gears into '75 year old sunday vicar has a stroll round the parish mode. ' I think I spent the next 2 hours in nothing better than 0.5 m/s up on my averager, working Crediton, then cross winding slightly. There's very little to go for in this part of the world, with lots of wet looking grasslands - none of the big arable fields of east England - so I tried to jump the towns. Even so I grew to think that 0.5 m/s was a good climb.
A very light grey cu started forming above me in what felt like my last climb at the day, and I was at 265 km. I took as much of it as I could, then glided towards Okehampton, bathed in sun, the hills of Dartmoor to the south. I connected with a couple of bits, and just stuck in what I could. Then, bizarrely, amazingly, in a what the hell is a climb doing here kind of way, I connected with a 0.5 - 1 m/s climb that just lifted me up by the scruff of the neck to the kind of altitude I might squeek 300 km out of. I think actually the air was converging and lifting in the lee of Dartmoor - something to bear in mind for the future.
On final glide, at 7:45 pm, I really felt I had worked the day as best I could. As I turned in to land, My FlySkyHi app showed a straight line distance of 307 km which would have been the record by 200 m so I got to enjoy that feeling of breaking it too… Without actually having done so, as it turns out the software had a glitch and wasn't showing distance to TO, but distance via 2 TPs. Hey ho. Most importantly, this flight conquered the gremlin of my last 275 km effort, where I really felt I'd messed up by landing at 4:45 pm. My main goal in flying for this year was to crack 300 in the UK and I'd done it.
What made it even better was the kindness of a fellow pilot I'd never met before - James Loyd - driving an hour to offer a lift out of the blue - then Mark and Annie turning up too - and of course the buzz of Andrew and Kirsty also breaking over 250 km (and a new UK record for Kirsty), finding them in a distant Devon pub garden - and the buzz of driving for 6 hours down empty motorways with the dance music blaring - and coffees at service stations at 1 am - and leaving your boot door open halfway round the M25 after dropping Kirsty off and forgetting to close it - and - and - and…
We'll just have to have another go, won't we?