24/4/99 - Tim Pentreath, 12.7km from Westbury

Saturday 24th April, what a day! After four days of rain, and before at least another couple, came a cracker of a day! A ridge of high pressure producing a light NW backing SW, with cloud bubbling up through the day with the risk of an occasional shower. Domestic duties at home (laying some turf) kept me from heading over to Merthyr with Marcus, Charlotte, Simon and Rich, but with the turfing done by 1015 I shot over to Westbury where there was quite a crowd of regulars ready to take off - Bertie, Ron Smith, Guy Anderson, Rob Bilson, Simon Dutton, Alan Wainer, Martin Stanton and a few others whose names I forget.

Conditions initially favoured PGs, with the wind quite light but with good cycles coming through every ten minutes or so. As I was unpacking, the first two or three PGs took off, immediately gaining reasonable height above TO. I took off a few minutes later at 1130 by which time there were about ten PGs in the air. After maybe 20 minutes of stooging around I climbed up to about a grand above TO in something quite nice, but then lost it (can't complain too much, it was my first thermal of the year!) and came back down slowly to the bowl.

After maybe another 15 minutes I found myself on my own down at the southern end of the ridge working a scratchy bit of lift which slowly and surely organised itself into something decent, and by time I was a grand above TO I was in a pretty consistent 6 up. After another couple of minutes I was passing the two grand mark (ATO, 2700 ASL) and still going up nicely, but was aware of the drift (SE at height) taking me towards the range. I kept with it for a bit longer (2400 ATO, 3100 ASL, maybe a couple of hundred feet beneath base) before losing the strongest lift, so decided to push out towards Bratton.

I made pretty good progress crosswind and before too long found another thermal where I was able to top up height and get to 3200 ASL. The climbs up high were absolutely lovely - big, strong and smooth (I'm sure Lisa used to use those words about me when we were first together!)

By now I was approaching the 10km mark, but was getting pretty low. Looking at the airmap I could see that the Danger Area extended out as far as the bend in the railway line near West Lavington, so I thought I better not land in inside it, even if I was just in it higher up. Eyeing up suitable landing fields I passed low (maybe 300' AGL, 50' below TO ) above a sewage works on the northern side of the railway track, and amazingly the vario started beeping. With nothing to lose and everything to gain I worked it and it slowly devloped into something a bit more organised, but still the drift was SE and taking me straight back into the Danger Area. I managed to stay with this fairly week thermal (only about 2 up) for a few minutes by which time I was up to roughly 1000' ATO, but then I lost it and thought I'd better head NE again to clear the Danger Area once more.

Although I did fly over a couple of farmyards, there were no low saves this time, and at 1250 I landed in Easterton Sands, 12.5km from take off. It was a reltively painless trip back to TO - I guess I walked a mile before my first lift to Market Lavington, and then another mile or so before getting another lift right back to take off.

So not an epic flight in terms of distance, but I really enjoyed it all the same - it was the first "xc-able" day of the year for me, and I had got away. It was a technical flight from a local site, and my best ever flight from Westbury. I had also managed to do some work at home first thing which was a bonus, but above all it was just a fantastic feeling to be up high after what seems like such a long wet winter!

Let's hope there are many more days like it this spring and summer!

Tim Pentreath