15/5/99 - Tim Pentreath, 27.8km from Ubley

On Thursday and Friday the forecast for the weekend was looking classic - a high pressure building from the west would bring light north easterlies with long sunny spells. Needless to say the reality on Saturday morning was somewhat different - fairly breezy, pretty cloudy but at least the wind was still from the NE.

I turned up with Charlie at 1000 to find a number of pilots of both persuasions (Simon Kerr, John Fielder, David Yeandle, Tim Brunskill, Ron, already there, but none yet in the air.

Tim B was first off at 1020 followed by me 5 minutes later, with others following shortly afterwards. It was faily grey at this stage, but with sufficient sunshine breaking through to make it quite lively with some good climbs. They always say use all your senses to "look" for thermals, and it was especially true today - if you could smell cow sh*t then it was time to start turning! We were topping out at about 1200' ato (1900' asl) at this stage with 2-4 up climbs I guess.

Flying with Tim B before going xc...

I landed at about 1130 for a "comfort break", and vario battery change, and was back in the air again at 1200. More people had turned up by this stage (Mark Aplin, Chris Jones and others), and before too long six of us (Tim B, Mark Aplin, Dave Yeandle, Charlie, myself and a HG pilot) found ourselves quite high (1500' ato) in a decent thermal. We weren't at base (still 500' above us) but we were slowly climbing in weak lift. At this stage (now maybe 2km downwind) Tim B and the HG pilot decided that this thermal wasn't for them and headed back to the ridge. That left Mark, Dave and me (Charlotte was a long way beneath us at this stage on her now condemned porous A4!) to carry on searching for something that would get us up to base.

About half way across the Mendips Mark widened his search slightly to the left and was rewarded with a stronger climb. I headed over and joined him and pretty soon we had gained the 500' to get us at base (2700' asl). Dave never made it and struggled thereafter, eventually landing in the village of Draycott for a flight of 8.3km (his first XC).

For Mark and me it was a case of circling at base avoiding each other and the cloud. It was great cruising over the western edge of the gliding club watching what looked like toy gliders (from two grand up) getting ready for launching. We passed over Draycott (we could see Dave packing up below), and got to Wedmore before our cloud ran out of steam. This one thermal and cloud had taken us 12 or 13km I reckon - the furthest I think I've ever gone on one thermal.

It was now imperative to find the second climb - and it wasn't going to be easy. There was so much cloud around that large areas of the levels were in shade, however I guess in a way that did make it easier - simply head over some sunny ground...

In order to do that we had to track west from Wedmore along the B3139. We started off the glide at about 2700' asl and were obviously losing height all the way. I guess by Blackford we were down to 1200' asl', and it was here that Mark and I went separate ways. Mark had kept going along the road hoping for something from the village, whereas I had tracked slighty south over a large ploughed field which was in the sunshine. It turned out to be the right decision because I was rewarded with zeros and ones for a few minutes before it got itself organised into something I knew would take me back up to base. Meanwhile Mark was packing up!

Once I got to base (2900' asl now) I had one of the most memorable flying experiences of my life - I was literally able to "play" with the cloud, cruising up and down the front of it. It wasn't a classic round cumulus, it was all over the place so I was diving into "caverns", coming out again, finding cloud in front of me, and wheeling round to sqeeze out through a gap. This went on for 10-15 minutes I reckon - it was fantastic fun and I was aware I was screaming out loud - can people hear you 3000' below I wonder?

I was reminded of the famous poem, "High Flight", by John Gillespie Magee, a Spitfire pilot in the Royal Canadian Air Force who died during training on 11th December 1941, aged 19.

Oh, I have slipped the surly bonds of earth
and danced the skies on laughter-silvered wings.

Sunward I've climbed, and joined the tumbling
mirth of sun-split clouds, and done a hundred

things you have not dreamed of - wheeled
and soared and swung high in the sunlit silence.

Hovr'ring there, I've chased the shouting wind along,
and flung my eager craft through footless halls of air.

Up, up, the long, delirious, burning blue,
I've topped the windswept heights with easy grace

where never lark, or even eagle flew.
And while with silent, lifting mind I've trod

the high untrespassed sanctity of space,
put out my hand, and touched the face of God.

These words sum up my feelings pretty well, and it was certainly an experience I'll always remember.

Well of course all good things must come to an end, and suddenly I found myself a couple of hundred metres from the cloud. I did an about turn and headed back underneath, but couldn't find whatever I was in before. I probably gave up too soon but I was sinking quite fast so I headed on a glide towards Bridgewater, now about 8km away. Well, I didn't find anything else this time and landed just short of Bridgewater on a rugby pitch near the village of Bawdrip just before the M5.

I had a very easy retrieve - three lifts taking me right back to the private road leading to take-off - getting back to the hill at 1500.

All in all a wonderful flight, made all the better because Tim B turned round at the start!

May there be many more!

Tim Pentreath, 19/5/99