13/04/02 - Tim Pentreath, 22.8km from Hay Bluff
A difficult call this one, whether to head to Wales where it might have been blown out, or to take the safe option and head to Westbury... In the end, after much umming and ahhing and numerous calls to Wendy, Simon and I decided to stick with Plan A and head to Hay Bluff. As you can see the sky was looking pretty good when we reached the northerly take-off at about midday...
We were pretty keen to take off, but at this stage it was quite breezy, although definitely flyable as there were already two gliders in the air, one of whom climbed out and was away after only 15mins or so... We waited for a lull, then took off, but during the whole of the first hour we never got above 750' or so. Meanwhile the clouds in front seemed to be merging so we both landed to warm up during an extended period of cloud shadow.
During the next hour or so the wind dropped alot and it was a case of lobbing off in a bit of a gust, flying around a bit and then landing back on top or in my case about 50' below the top on a couple of occasions. Eventually the breeze picked up again and before too long I was thermalling with a blue Nova up to about 700' once more. He then spotted a sailplane climbing out in front and headed off to join him. I did another couple of 360s and then pushed out too, arriving well below the Nova who was already climbing strongly.
There was no doubt that this was the best thermal so far, and after 1000' there was no doubt either that this was taking us to base... Simon too was climbing well in another core (his vario was averaging 11 up all the way up he said later - I was only managing 8-10 up...!) So after climbing 3,500' in about 3.5 minutes we all reached base (about 5,700') but didn't stop... Bloody hell, the lift is strong...! I headed out to the closest edge before I completely lost sight of the ground and after a few seconds saw the Nova emerge 200 yards away I guess, heading crosswind in a south-westerly direction along the ridge in the direction of Talgarth. I didn't see him again after this so I don't know how far he flew.
After a few more seconds I saw Simon spiralling out of the cloud, and wheras I stayed on the upwind (but unsunny) edge of the cloud, Simon, who had ended a couple of hundred feet lower than me after his spiral headed towards the other (sunny) side. I probably would have done the same but every time I went under the cloud it went grey and damp - funny thing that...!
So I stayed where I was, circling under the edge of the cloud slowly drifting south. I realised it was over 18 months since my last cross country flight, and boy did it feel good being up at cloud base again! In fact it was better than good, it was abso-bloody-lutely fantastic and I was having a blast! I was climbing up the edge of the cloud trying to take photos of the ground a long way below...
This was not easy as every time I got my camera out I ended up drifting back into the cloud again! I must have stayed with this cloud for about half an hour, just playing with it, and at some stage I recorded my maximum ever height in the UK - 6200' above sea level, 4000' above take-off! It was fantastic up here!
The trouble was, I was higher than the bottom of the cloud, so I could only really see for a 180 degree arc, looking E from NW round to SE, and in the end I think I flew along the whole length of this very spread out cloud, and then all of a sudden I had flown out of the cloud and was in sinking air. I turned back but somehow couldn't find the lift again. I was still very high (approx 5500') and maybe I should have searched for longer, but after about a minute I turned south again. The trouble was the ground all the way to Abergavenney (about 10-11km away) was in a huge area of cloud shadow, and I really didn't know which way to head to try and find more lift.
In the end I just carried on down the Llantony valley passing about 3km to the west of the Pandy take-off, and then kept above the high ground just to the west of the A465 Abergavenney to Hereford road.
Looking at the next photo, approaching Abergavenney, you can see how overcast it had become...
... so apart from maybe 1km spent in an area of just about zeros, the whole second half of the flight, some 11km or so was one huge glide! I realised I coudn't quite make Castle Meadows, so I landed in the main park in the centre of town, and after showing some interested kids the digital photos of the flight, I packed up and met Simon (who had landed a couple of km short of Chrickhowell) at the Bridge Inn for an obligatory "there I was at base" session over a pint! Even better too was the fact that Simon was chatting to Sam Moffet - it makes all the difference telling the story to someone who was at the Blorenge all day where it hadn't been working :-)
So, all in all a great day, and a very long overdue return to cross country flying!
Tim P (13/4/2002)