12/04/03 - Tom Mayne, 71.6km from the Malverns
Finally I've had another XC flight, I was beginning to feel I had lost it. Loads of flying lately, but lots of missed opportunities, turning up too late, aborted climb-outs, mental blocks and ridge suck. I was starting to feel a growing sense of frustration and self doubt, to cap it all I was nearly out of time, with a baby due in 2 weeks, Saturday was going to be my last chance to go XC for a while.
Weather Jack gave the day a 4, and was saying cloudbase 5000ft, sounded good!. The winds looked ESE, so at a little after 10am I set off to the Malverns. When I got there at 11am there was no sign of the day starting, completely blue and murky. Took my time setting-up, having something to eat, chatted to the other pilots who where gradually arriving. The sky was now improving, enough clouds behind the hill to have a good chance of staying up, time to go. Had one flight as "disposable probe" which was indifferent. Then a few minutes later Tim Crow had a go, and started going up, followed by another pilot on a Freex, then me. Tim was a good way out in front climbing well, I started climbing well before I got near him, the thermal was huge. I was badly out-climbed by the other two, but caught up when the thermal started to break-up and weaken at 4000ft AMSL (2800ft ATO). It became apparent to me that it was time to move on, there was a good cloud to the North, I radioed to the others and off I went.
The second climb was better, 500fpm average, which turned out to be typical for the day. The climb was easy, I was over the moon to be XC again, I felt I'd be happy if I just got 10km. Thermalling "on idle" I was totally relaxed, enjoying the view, and considering my next move. The others arrived 2000ft below me having finally given up on their scraps and headed my way. I reached cloudbase at 5000ft, it was very cold. I though it might be nice to have company, but there was a cloud waiting to the west, so off I went. It looked like the climb wasn't working out for the other two, as they where soon following again. I reached the cloud, and it wasn't working, but fortunately Tim had found something behind me, and appeared to be climbing well so I turned back and joined him.
Once back at base, and all together again, there was the option of small stuff due west but near with scraps of cloud on the way, or a really big solid cloud to the NW, the most active part of which was at the west end, quite near my small cloud. I decided to "follow the energy" as the sailplane pilots say, and fly along under the scraps to the small cloud, and then if that didn't work hop across north to the big one.
As luck would have it the small cloud was working, Tim found the best bit of lift, then strangely lost it? There now seemed to be a street to the North, and a street to the South with us in the middle. I spent some time looking at the two, and decided that I would rather fly on the sunny side of the northern street for warmth (it looked better too).
From here it became very easy, and I didn't go below 4000ft for the next 40km, lost track of Tim quite soon as he never caught up after missing the climb, the freex pilot stayed with me a little distance behind. Cloudbase reached 5500ft later on. I reached 6200ft at one point, having reached cloud base and glided off, but kept climbing, thinking, I'll fly out the side soon, then realised that the glide bearing I had chosen was along the street, so changed course to get out the side. I then noticed this funny white fluffy stuff that had appeared on my helmet chin guard, and on the webbing of my harness... ice!. I decided it might be an idea to expedite my descent, so pulled the ears in.
A little to the S of Ludlow, I was doing some navigating, checking out the position of the railway, then realised that this would be an idle retrieval route, so I decided to head in a more northerly direction to take me to the east of the Long Mynd and follow the railway, the Freex pilot continued in a more westerly direction, don't know where he got to?
The clouds where starting to spread out more now, I had been in shade for a while, and my fingers were frozen. I started swinging my arms to get the blood back to my hands, unfortunately it worked, the pain was intense. I was nearing the Long Mynd, not much happening in the sky, I thought I was probably on final glide, but kept on finding weak lift under the spreadout. I Glided over Church Stretton, selected a landing field from a wide choice, but with power lines everywhere, and set up, still quite high. As I orbited, I blundered into another thermal, and climbed weakly away, but it was only delaying the inevitable, and I landed 10km later.
What was surprising was that after nearly three and a half hours I still felt quite fresh, probably because I had felt so relaxed on the flight, I think I may well have flown more than half the flight distance hands-off. The retrieve was very easy, the only slightly tricky bit was hitching to the train station, fortunately I arrived there 3 minutes before the train. Very nice to sit on the train looking out the window in an endorphin filled daze. Got a taxi from Great Malvern station to arrive back at my car by 7:00pm.