15/08/03 - Tom Mayne, 58.6km from Kettle Sings
Had this nice ﬂight from the Malvern’s the other day:
I arrived a the Malvern’s somewhat later than I would like, due to dithering over whether to go out, or do something more useful. Fortunately I wasn’t too late as nothing had happened, I wasn’t sure whether to be pleased or concerned. Anyway I found a spot on the crowded take-off, and sorted my-self out whilst talking to the numerous Avon pilots there. I was ﬁnally ready about half an hour later, but during this time it had been completely dead, without the slightest hint of a thermal. A few weak indications started up, and the usual attempts at persuading other pilots to launch to test the conditions started. A few feeble attempts at ﬂight where made, but nobody found anything other than reduced sink, also what little wind seemed to be due south.
Finally Nick ? on a class 5 launched and found something weak a fair way in front, Jim Malinson then launched and started going up, and was rapidly followed by a series of pilots, it was like watching a competition start. I felt really sorry for Nick, still not established, and having his thermal stolen by a mass of PG pilots, so I felt a certain level of guilt when I launched. Unfortunately I had missed the best of the ﬁrst thermal of the cycle, so I was unable to climb away with the ﬁrst gaggle, but luckily there was more lift to be had, so two other stragglers and I worked at gaining height on the ridge for a couple more minutes before we where able to climb away reasonably well.
By this time the ﬁrst group were well on their way to cloudbase, and I was eager to catch up, as ﬂying with a gaggle would be much easier. Our climb improved, and I was able to out climb the other two slightly. Ahead the ﬁrst group split, half zoomed off before reaching base, the others where searching around for the last bit of lift to take them to cloudbase. By the time I reached cloud base at 6000ft most of the lead gaggle had disappeared into the distance, catching up would not be easy. I headed off in the general direction of the others. An hour and a few climbs and glides later, the two pilots I had climbed out with were trailing a fair way behind, and I was starting to catch up with the stragglers of the ﬁrst gaggle. However in my haste I made an error and decided to press on when I should have made more effort to climb higher, and during the next glide I dropped below the threshold for using the clouds to ﬁnd thermals.
I was lucky and managed to ﬁnd another thermal downwind of a village (also upslope), but after only climbing a 2000ft I again made an error. I felt sure, from looking at the could above, that there would be better lift in another position, and I went to look, but instead of better lift I found very heavy sink. Again I was searching low for a thermal, less than a km from where I was before, and although I did ﬁnd more lift it was very frustrating. I had lost loads of time, and I could no longer see any of the lead gaggle, or for that matter the two pilots I had been with earlier. On my way to cloudbase I considered my options, struggle on with the slow drift down a decidedly tired looking street, or turn back. The route back wasn’t great, and would involve a long transition to a new street, but the cloud I needed to jump to did seem to be growing in my direction, I decided to go for it.
Amazingly the long glide went really well, nice buoyant air, not the moderate sink I was expecting, and I arrived under the new street with good height and with a little work was back a base again. Also the street seemed to be moving into a better position, previously it had lined up to a point just north of the northern end of the Malvern’s now it had moved so it ﬁnished much nearer takeoff. So at this point I felt very optimistic about making it back.
The only difﬁculty was that I had to take a very indirect route to stay with the best clouds, but despite this for the next hour progress was good. Finally I reached a point when there was another long transition to the next group of clouds. As I set off and realised there might be a problem when I saw the heavy top cover, which I hadn’t been aware of having been under cloud for some time. The clouds ahead were also becoming more scrappy, though there was some development. I could see I was going to be low when I reached then. I decided to go for more promising ground features in a position that would allow me to cross my outward track, so allowing for a remote start out and return. I crossed my track with a few hundred feet to spare, then found a weak thermal, but it wasn’t to be, and after a decidedly ropy approach I landed.
After a miserable 2 mile walk along the A4103 (an impossible hitching road), one of those really generous people you sometimes meet gave me a lift completely out of his way all the way back to the hill.