13/6/99 - Rich Harding, 33.6km from Fan Gyhirych
Club Challenge, A Stand-In Captain Reports
Okay - I promise to try to make this not sound like Firefly. (Er..Fat Chance. Ed.) With Simon Kerr on Parent Duty the first weekend of June, I agreed to deputise as Club Challenge organiser. The weather prevented a proposed heat in SW Wales and, with Simon going to Snowdonia for the BPC, I said I'd co-ordinate again on the weekend of the 12th/13th. A team was assembled in the true spirit of the Club Challenge - Myself, Alex Coltman, Merlin Crossingham, Peter Taylor, Gary Mitchell and Felix Alcock - Combined Total Competition Experience: 6 Airwave Challenge Tasks. Combined Total UK Personal Best XCs: about 55km! During the week the heat was confirmed for SW Wales, with Nick Roberts organising. Wessex, Thames Valley, Dunstable and Sky Surfers would also be there for a six-team comp.
All six pilots drove over on the morning (well, Pete gave me a lift Œcos the bike was playing up!), arriving at the lay-by below Fan Gyhirych at the specified 10am. The day looked similar to the two previous, partly overcast with sporadic orographic cloud on the higher mountains, including Fan G itself. We piled in the vans and cars, drove up the track to behind take off and walked to the front, where it was very light from the NNW, so Alex treated everyone to his how to fly the NE bowl in rotor, in the rain‚ and how to launch a dripping wet glider‚ demonstrations. The drizzle continued to come and go but an Open XC task was called a little after 2pm, with a validation criterion of 5 pilots to make 5km+. Seeing the conditions I asked Nick whether, if this validation were met, all flights no matter how short would score, to which he immediately assented - certain people from other teams were later to say that they hadn't realised this and therefore hadn't taken off, to which we suggested that it might be an idea to listen to all of the briefing next time. The window opened immediately and was due to close at 5pm. I had previously briefed everyone to make sure they at least went somewhere and suggested flying down the valley as 3 to 4 km would be easily achievable; seeing the increasingly threatening cloud formations I, at this point, changed the advice to "If you don't want to fly then don't".
Yours truly was first off the hill, followed by Felix and a red ribbon pilot. This was unfortunate as there was almost no lift and none of us could turn in what there was because the others were there. Felix flew round into the bowl and walked all the way back up. It started to rain. I flew out and almost caught something to get me back but fell out again, looked at the, frankly threatening sky and asked myself "What would I do if this wasn't a competition?"; back came the resounding answer "Fly down to the car park". I thus earned the distinction of being the only pilot not to get his glider wet whilst scoring 1.8km more than almost half of the pilots present. Soon after, Pete launched and immediately plummetted - rather unlucky as the pilots who followed him off, including Alex, all went up. Even more unfortunately, as soon as he landed, 300m short of the car park, he was engulfed in his own little microburst and his canopy became thoroughly saturated - he was not amused.
The two of us drove down to the Gwyn Arms to the increasingly annoying accompaniment of a procession of gliders climbing 200 to 300ft above the hill (in rain!) and turning down the valley. Fortunately, four of said gliders belonged to the rest of the team - Alex and Merlin both making 5.4km to a field actually containing a windsock (!) and Felix and Gary making 4km each, Gary crash-landing downwind but unhurt on a stone
wall! (In true Team Avon style, five out of six pilots were in the pub by 4pm!) More fortunately, no-one (other than a SW Wales pilot who wasn't in the comp!) even made 10km. One chap landed high in a tree and a video was shot of him being rescued by the Fire Brigade! The sun came out and everyone dried their gliders in the lovely UV in the pub
garden. Felix and Gary went home as they were unable to fly Sunday; Alex went home as he hates camping; Pete, Merlin and I spent an enjoyable evening in the pub!
The placings after Day 1 (top four pilots scoring) were:
Having done our best to dry Pete's Epsilon (and dispose with everything onto which his blackcurrant vodka jelly had leaked!), we met Alex and the other teams back at the lay-by at ten but had to wait for Nick to show with a hire van, as neither Gary nor the other van-enabled pilot were there to ferry people up the hill. By the time the second shuttle-load arrived on take-off at gone 11.30, the compression was already making top launches very tricky, but at the midday briefing another open XC task was called. The NW wind (accompanied by WSW cloud drift behind the hill - I've never seen clouds turn right angles before!) steadily increased until it was consistently 25-30km/h on top, with the occasional lull to 10-15. Pilots understandably began walking further and further down the hill to launch but seemed to be okay once in the air, so Alex followed them off. Three pilots then left the hill in quick succession, including Nick Roberts and Jacek Generowicz (Wessex Captain).
When Alex too climbed out with another pilot the task was definitely going to be validated, so Merlin, Pete and I gave up moaning about the wind (I had had a bit of a disagreement about the conditions with one of the other captains - contentious, moi?) and walked 200 to 300 feet down the hill to lay out. Pete and I launched in quick succession, with Merlin waiting a while. I owe my climb out to some moron on a wing that I shall choose not to identify who did his best to kill me and a Nova pilot by flying straight at us - after that I just kept flying away from the pack and picked up a corker about 200yds out from the hill, which took me and the guy I'd been arguing with (no talking in that thermal!) to about 3800asl before petering out. He followed Alex downwind (tracking SE) whilst I decided to head crosswind to the North to a shallow NW ridge that had been in sun for 30mins+ and above which a cloud was slowly forming.
Two thermals later Pete followed me over the back but was sinking badly underneath me as I literally hung on, clawing up in horrendous air, until he hooked an absolute beauty that took us up and over towards Fan Fawr (from where we were joined underneath by a SW Wales pilot who had already been forced to land), soon arriving at base (4500asl) for the first time. Meanwhile Merlin had also left the hill and was following Alex, who was himself being forced to feed his wing on gnarly lee-siders as he tracked towards Merthyr. When the cloud disintegrated I again headed slightly cross-wind to the North, directly towards Pen-Y-Fan. Approaching with about 400ft over the top both Pete and I found separate parts of a thermal again and regained base together about half a km South of that highest beacon. Meanwhile Alex was flying over a pretty little reservoir with a steam engine tooting "Hello"‚ at him!
Out from that decaying cloud, another cross-wind track took us towards the back of Tal-Y-Bont, approaching which we found another climb to base, this time making 4800ft into a dome in the middle of the cloud. When that fell apart we separated for the last time, Pete flying off to the northern end of Tal-Y-Bont reservoir and I pointing at the Western edge of Tor-Y-Foel. Whilst circling in zeroes, I saw Pete get decked in appalling sink to land in the clearing on the far side of the reservoir. At this point in time, Merlin was landing on the ridge opposite Merthyr and Alex was being watched from the deck by Nick Roberts as he overflew him and caught yet another save from the Ebbw Vale works. He eventually landed at Blaina.
I was only going to make Tor-Y-Foel just above the tree line, if that, so I checked my landing options and set myself up to glide straight across the bottom 100yds of the reservoir. The far side was gnarly - the day‚s thermals had all been protected by truly vicious air - but I was gradually sinking. On landing approach, deciding between two fields, I felt a little tug on the wing and threw a couple of esses - I was almost straight above the pumping station, watching people buying ice cream and driving past - the blip became a one-up - I had enough height to 360 now - 2-up - I can afford to crab over the ridge as there is a landing option there - 3-up - keep turning and correcting all the way to 3500asl above Tor-Y-Foel! The blue wing came charging across the reservoir to come in below me but not in time to get a decent climb - he'd never got to base with us either - the thermals were getting weaker, with the predicted warm front slowly catching us. At this point I might have tracked over the tops but the valley wind was now quite strong and I could see Crickhowell clearly. As the blue wing was being forced to land at Llangynidr I found one last blue climb to about 2500asl and headed off to Llangattock village from where I almost got another save before flying across the river to Crick, coming gently down into the public recreation field by the bridge. The sky went milky white as the front passed overhead.
Frantic mobile activity followed - including a red herring report that the Sky Surfers‚ captain had made Cardiff (he‚d actually done 8.5km!) - with Merlin and Alex meeting up for a taxi ride back, Pete getting a lift with a SW Wales pilot and also meeting the chap who had landed at Llangynidr (kept going on about the sodding pink glider‚ apparently - cue smug grin!) and everyone eventually joining me in The Brit‚ in Crickhowell, including Marcus, Charlie and Simon, who'd come down from a blown-out BPC Day Two to fly at Hay. I was fairly convinced that we must have won the day but knew we would probably have to wait to find out. Also, where would we finish overall? We needed to beat Dunstable by two places and SW Wales by one to win the weekend outright. Celebrations were not, however, muted by this uncertainty as each of us had flown a personal best - Merlin's was his best flight in the UK, Alex and I had both beaten PBs that we had only set from The Bluff on the previous Wednesday (!) and Pete had never even been over the back before!!
Avon Team Flights (measured, under the task rules, from the Fan G trig point - actual distances about 0.2 to 0.3km further):
Alex Coltman: 34.6km
And the final Team positions? Nick Roberts called me Monday afternoon with the news as follows:
Task 2 Team Result:
Roll on the Semi-Finals!!!
Rich Harding. (Any resemblance to Firefly is frankly unavoidable)