28/08/02 - Tim Pentreath, 73.1km from Combe Gibbet
It's pretty rare that I take a day off work to go flying, but I had been eyeing up Friday since the beginning of the week following a very promising forecast from "WeatherJack". And when Martin and I arrived at Combe Gibbet at 11.30 the sky looked fantastic. Rich, Alex and Mike were already there and getting kitted up, and there were already gliders at base tentatively going over the back...
I was last into the air at 12.00 by which time the sky was suffering from the dreaded spreadout, something that had happened the last couple of days too. I failed to get into the same thermal that Rich, Alex and Martin were climbing out in, and was cursing my crap flying, but evidently that thermal failed to get itself together properly as people were baling out and returning to the hill - well Martin and Jim at least, Rich, Alex and Mike pressed on (in fact Mike had left in an earlier thermal I think). However the sky was looking unpromising at this stage and I really thought I had blown the day by not getting away in that thermal. Martin, Jim and I then ridge soared for about an hour with absolutely nothing coming through, but shortly after 13.00 a small break in the cloud cover appeared and it was enough to generate a thermal that took Martin, Jim, me and about four others to base - what a relief to be up and away!
I was very glad of my GPS and in particular the waypoints I had downloaded onto it earlier, for with very little sunshine on the ground everything looked very flat and featureless. That combined with the fact that I don't know this part of the country at all well meant that I frequently got disoriented whilst thermalling, especially at base where the viz was less that perfect!
Chinook fly-past - one of the many aircraft that
The gaggle was working well at this stage and it wasn't until I crossed the A34 after approx 12km that I found myself on my own for the first time. I headed towards a small patch of sunlight between Whitchurch and Overton, and as I headed over some sort of mansion I got a bit of a climb, which gave me enough height to head towards some sunshine on the ground just south of Overton. Here I got another weak climb which I stuck with for about 4km until I passed just to the east of Popham airfield.
I was reasonably high as I crossed the A303 (but not at base, which was at about 4,800-5,000'), but was losing height whilst I headed towards the M3. I was down to just under 1,000' just south of the motorway and getting worried when I found a decent climb that got me back up to base, and I just stayed at base playing with the cloud whilst the rest of the gaggle eventually joined me. I must say it was a big relief when I had company again - it was hard work on my own!
Martin just below base passing to the north-east of New Arlesford
I didn't realise it at the time but it appears that we all just ambled along under this cloud (well maybe it was a sort of street) for about an hour and during that time we covered about 30km, still in a gaggle of four or five. Eventually all good things come to an end, and I found myself on my own again - this time the others had headed off in front of me. I had been so intent on staying with the cloud that I had worked my way up the side of the upwind edge of it, and hadn't seen the others head off...
I caught up with one of the gliders, a purple Freex, but lost sight of Martin on his Ventus 2, and we thermalled a bit together in very weak lift before he headed off to land in Havant, and I carried on a few km more to land in the playground/park in Bosham, much to the fascination of numerous small kids (and their mums)! I landed just after 16.00 which made the actual cross country part of the flight three hours long - it was definitely a day when patience paid off!
The great thing about the flight was the way the gaggle worked - four of us all landed within 5km of each other, and when we all eventually met up on a train back to Newbury it transpired that for for one of the gaggle, James, it was his first ever xc, and for the other pilot, John, it was only his second! As for me, I've been waiting twelve years for a flight like this! Anyway, now I know the route I'll be heading back to Combe Gibbet next time there's a NW forecast to try to beat the 100km mark by meeting the sea breeze convergence and heading along the south coast to Brighton! I can but dream...
And until then I'll just re-live this flight over and over again in my head!