3/7/2005 - Mike Andrews, 82.1km from Merthyr

Hi Tim

Merthyr Common SO 078036 to Blackmore Farm near Three Counties Show Ground Malvern. SO794438 82.1Km on the GPS

I avoided the Ewyas Harold/Abbey Dore SAS danger area by doing a dog-leg to the south. I did keep a GPS track on my Garmin 12 but I don't have the ability to download it yet.

Luckily this was a BCC comp and I got the best flight of the day out of six teams so I feel extra-chuffed.

The day did not start very promisingly with a strong gusty wind 8-19 mph, I guessed, and well off to the SW for Merthyr launch. I expected the wind to get stronger, it was not going to be easy to ridge-soar, and there were dozens of pilots ready to fly. I thought it would be dangerous with a lot of pilots in those conditions. The sky looked good but the mountain forecast was for 30 mph! I decided to launch as soon as possible and was about the third pilot into the air. Thank goodness my discovery of the A+C line launch has made strong-wind launches on the Aspen much more possible. I was whipped off the ground as I turned, but all was OK. After only about 10 minutes I found a thermal in front of the SW bowl. There was one pilot who had launched earlier above me who came over to join, as did Ken. It was a relatively slow climb out and I wondered a couple of times whether to head back to the ridge, but stuck it out. Despite my efforts to core the best of the rather broken lift Ken seemed to be climbing in wider circles more easily than I was and I wondered about my relatively heavy loading on a small wing. I never actually got to cloud base but at about 2700 ato I headed for the next cloud. A lot of my progress was wind-drift in the strong S-westerly. I managed to stay high, sussing out the best lift which seemed to be on the edges of the clouds or even in the blue beside them. I soon lost sight of Ken and was on my own. I used 1/3 speed-bar in the stronger sink and my max speed over the ground was about 56km/hr.

The Aspen is a lively canopy and I was getting plenty of small tucks as one wingtip would fly out of the strong lift. The max lift for the flight was 7.8m/s, but that was in the second half of the flight. There was a lot of cneed to change flying style as the conditions varied from weak to strong. It took a lot of concentration. I cruised pretty comfortably to the north of Blaenavon where there was a blue hole so I headed more north to the southern, sunlit slope of the mountain to the north of the heads of the valleys road where it enters the gorge at Blackrock. This was not working but I had enough height to head out into the Gilwern valley - which I knew from past experience is a sink-hole. I tried the village, with no luck, and was resigned to landing when I had a last try over a couple of cut and baled hay fields next to the River Usk, against the wooded shoulder of Graig. "If it's going to trigger anywhere it should be there," I said to myself. I was down to about 200 feet when I got a save. It was very satisfying to be very gently circling, first out over the fields - gentle lift all the way round, then up the slope, desperate not to lose the lift. I then spotted a buzzard doing better than I was about 50 yards downwind - so I joined him and he was right. I took this thermal up the side of the sugar-loaf and to cloudbase of 5,300 asl.

Another thermal off Blaengavenny saw me high over the south end of the Pandy ridge. I kept south as I wanted to avoid the SAS danger area, and after a bit of map reading I worked out where to fly. I had to do a dog-leg to the South, but this took me to another cloud. I took a photo as I am a beginner with GPS tracks, to prove I was clear. I then got a bit low and had to start reading the ground again rather than the clouds. A combination of hot-looking fields and high-ground trigger 'theory' got me high again and I stayed high until well past the Severn south of Hereford. Base was about 5,400 and I was getting cold and stiff. It was hard to keep up concentration but I managed to eat a crunchy-bar for energy! It was not till I got to the edge of the Malvern ridge just north of Ledbury that I got low again and I found some hot fields to give me weak lift up the ridge. With only about 200 feet to spare at the ridge pass above the southern car-park, I was cold and tired and did not have the confidence to try to sustain height on the ridge till the next thermal might come through. I did not want to fly back down the western side, and I was concerned about rotor downwind to the East, so I just used my height to fly straight over into what I expected to be descending air. In fact it was smooth all the way to the 3-Counties show-ground. I got a couple of circles of zeros there but lost it. The wind was certainly knocking the thermals about low down. I then saw a farm with some people gardening and headed to land nearby to have a witness.

Dr J B Jones
Blackmore Farm
Blackmore Park Road
Malvern WR14 3LF

I was pretty tired after a flight of exactly 3 hours and mightily relieved and pleased to be down safe, in a comp, with an massive extension to my personal best which in May stood at 48km, then went to 53 and now 82. I was also very cold and pretty keen to have a pee!

Kind Mrs Jones gave me a cup of tea and then the Doctor took me to the station, where there were no trains - only buses, and then to the Worcester-Hereford road where I soon thumbed a ride to Hereford.

I had shouted to Dr Jones from the air, he looked round but not up until I called again. Afterwards he told me, "I thought it was the Grim Reaper after me!"

A Grand Day Out!

Mike Andrews