British Open 1998
Morzine - 10th-17th August
Monday 10th August
At 0800, after a non-stop 23 hour journey in Tim & Elly's trusty camper van, we arrive in Les Marmottes campsite just outside Morzine in time to hear how Nick Roberts had flown for 5 hours the day before on an alpine grand tour. We also hear that Ceri Brown is in hospital after getting dumped at low level when coming in to land. And apparently Dave Snowdon landed in a tree too! Hmmm... what the hell are we letting ourselves in for?!
Chilling out after the long drive
After pitching camp and getting an hour's rest we follow Nick up to the Mont Chery take off (alt 1827m) above the village of Les Gets (alt 1172m). What little wind there is can't make up its mind which direction it wants to come up the hill. Various people take off and alternately climb to base or sink out. Eventually I pluck up courage and go for it, and after a bit of a struggle end up having a super flight over to Avoriaz and most of the way back to the landing at Morzine. Marcus gets high and makes it into the Morzine landing field although not via Avoriaz. When we later meet up with Tim & Elly we find that they are on a bit of a downer having both bombed out.
Mont Chery take-off
After drinking a 'biere serieux', registering at the comp base (a hotel adjacent to the Morzine landing field), and drinking another biere serieux we head back to the campsite for a pasta and red wine frenzy!
Later that evening Tim decides that either Marcus and I are giving him too much gip about going down, or that we need a shower, and decides to start a water fight. Having no water to hand I decide to retaliate by picking him up, spinning him around and chucking him in the hedge. I though this was justified although judging by the response from some of our French neighbours it was clear they didn't approve. Oh well, I suppose it was nearly midnight.
Tuesday 11th August - competition day 1 - Task 1
Briefing at 0900 (well 0930 really) - the usual stuff, welcome, weather and timing of the task briefing on the hill. Do some shopping then make our way up to Mont Chery for the 1200 briefing, which of course happens at least 30 minutes late! When it does happen a 64km task is set - holy moly! The usual GPS programming frenzy takes place, followed by drawing the route on the map.
Some official wind dummies take off to test the air (it always seems to take an age before the first thermals appear). All of a sudden there's a rush of people to the 'edge' of the hill - one of them had a large deflation and piled in and has to be helicoptered off the hill. We later hear she's broken an ankle and done something to her back, but will be ok idc. This obviously delays things considerably and Steve Senior decides to shorten the task - removing TP15 knocks about 12km of the total distance.
Task board (and marshall!)
With impeccable timing I take off just as three dust devils are making they're way up the hill - a girl called Sarah flying an Epsilon gets dumped near some trees but is OK - my glider tips right back behind me and then surges forward. Marcus, watching at the time, waits for it to fold up, but massive brake input stops a full frontal and it levels itself and I climb out! Until the last day, that was the worst turbulence I experienced.
I can't remember all the details of the flight, but it had everything - rough scratchy thermals developing into bigger smother ones higher up, high cloudbase (3300m, 11,000ft), long fast glides across valleys, scratchy climbs up rocky peaks, the occasional small tuck - this is what flying is all about - it was spectacular! I'm only just leaving TP16 when I hear over the radio that the leaders are coming in! Still, I press on but am aware that time is running out (land by time is 1830). I get the photo of TP20 at about 1800, and then sink out horribly behind it. I have just enough height to reach a steep rocky bowl about 2km away and spend the next 10 minutes slowly scratching up to the top of it. I know I'm not going to make goal and go on a mad dash with Nick Roberts and Steve Simpson, but am forced to land 6 minutes before land by time in a field just below the Mont Chery take off. It was quite a popular spot with Fiona Mac, Hamish Philips and Italian pilot also landing there.
A wonderful French lady makes three trips down to the main road to give us all a lift down to the main road where we get an easy lift back to Morzine for some more serieux bieres!
My flight works out to be 45km, which puts me provisionally in 24= place. Needless to say I'm pretty chuffed! (If I'd managed to fly another 1km and land back at take off, I would have flown a perfect triangle flight, which in the UK would have earned me 135km for the XC league!) Once we all regroup its back to the campsite for another pasta and red wine frenzy! (Sounds familiar?)
Wednesday 12th August - Day 2 - Task 2 (cancelled)
We're up on the hill a bit earlier today because of the threat of cu-nimbs forming, and sure enough, not long into the task, just when the leaders are at TP30, the task is canned as it starts raining on take off! Tim B and Fiona Mac are a little peeved as they were in a good position, but I don't mind too much as I was struggling a bit. It was an air start today, and seeing 30-40 gliders on their way up to base above take off was an incredible sight, but it would have been better if I had been up there with them, but my take-offs left a little to be desired that day!
When I get back to HQ, the Task 1 scores have changed quite a bit - what with 'nil points' for late landings and turnpoint photo errors, I end up moving up to 17th place for Task 1. If it carries on like this I'll be doing quite well!
Back at the campsite the skies over towards Avoriaz are incredibly black, and a strong valley wind picks up bringing a fair bit of rain with it. Still, it doesn't put us off our pasta and red wine frenzy! (Yawn - serious lack of imagination here, but it's easy to cook and tastes good!)
Looking towards Switzerland from near Avoriaz
Thursday 13th August - Day 3 - Task 2
It was back to Avoriaz for the first turnpoint today - I managed to take off in the middle of the field for a change and had a good glide across to the hill of eternal lift where I had a lovely climb with Fiona and Colin Hermon up to base. From there it was a simple glide over to Avoriaz to take the TP photo. However things went downhill from there with only a weak climb over the main car park not allowing me to top up my height sufficiently. I was with a few others at the time and at various stages we decided to cross the Lac du Montrimond valley to get onto the next ridge.
Unfortunately by this time a layer of cloud had shut off the lift and loads of us went down at various points in the valley. As if having to find a safe landing spot in this narrow tree lined valley wasn't enough, we had to avoid the lake too! I landed near the mouth of the valley and was joined shortly afterwards by Steve Simpson and Steve Etherington. Again the retrieve was a dream with a couple of French mountain bikers in a van picking us all up and delivering us back to the comp HQ for more large beers!
Bucking the trend set over the previous three evenings, we ate out at the local auberge and had a wonderful meal washed down with copious amounts of local vin rouge. And so it was off to bed with thoughts of what tomorrow would bring in our heads...
Turnpoint 1 in all three tasks - Avoriaz pool
Friday 14th August - Day 4 - Task 3
A 64km task was set again taking us to Avoriaz for the first TP. There was alot of hanging around waiting for the conditions to improve and after huge indecision about where to take off from I managed to take off after a couple of aborted attempts. I was well and truly at the back of the field this time and had a lot of catching up to do. The view from base over towards Avoriaz was just amazing - there must have been at least 50 gliders all heading across the valley towards the cliffs leading up to Avoriaz. No one seemed to take the less direct route via the hill of eternal lift (HOEL) today, so I did! And found nothing! (I later found out that either the cliffs work, or the HOEL, but not both). It was about this time that I heard on the radio that someone flying an orange UP Soul had chucked their reserve above take off. Donna reported that it wasn't her which meant it must have been Elly! After a few anxious moments Elly radioed that she was down safely and unhurt, thank God.
Task 1, TP 2 - Col du Corbiere
So by the time I reached the cliffs I was well below the top and somewhat nervous. The lift at this point was so light and patchy that turning didn't really seem to be an option, so I pressed on, only too aware that Chris Dawes and the Sky TV cameraman (on the tandem) were right behind me! By the end of the cliffs at Avoriaz I had probably only gained a hundred feet or so, and it was a painfully slow and extremely nerve wracking process working my way up to the top of the cliff. After what seemed like an age I found myself thermalling nicely with Tim B, Fiona Mac and others and I started to relax a little feeling dead chuffed that I had caught them up after such a huge battle with the cliffs. I still had to take the TP photo, but things were definitely looking up!
Imagine my surprise when the radio crackled into life saying that someone was descending under a reserve over the Avoriaz golf course - which was exactly where we were thermalling! Looking first up to make sure there was no one about to land on me I then looked down and sure enough saw a XXX in trouble! (It turned out to be Bruce Clarke who landed safely). So banishing all thoughts of reserve deployments I pressed on with the task in hand - getting that photo! The thermal seemed to be petering out and I was expecting us all to head along the cliff to take the photo, but I was the only one - bollocks! They must have got it already! I got the photo easily, but was now down to cliff top height again having to join in the melee for a second time - I really could have done without this!
Task 1, TP 3 - near Mieussey
Fortunately I found a second good thermal which eventually got me high enough to make the crossing over the Vallee du Lac Montrimond, reaching the ridge with enough height this time! At this point Tim B, Fiona and others were at the top of a climb above me and were just setting off on a major glide over the valley. Pretty soon I was up high along with Steve Etherington and Steve Simpson again and we set off over the valley following in the 'footsteps' of Tim B et al. We could see them desperately scratching over the trees and slowly they managed to get high and cross over the ridge onto the sunny side where they all soon found good climbs. Meanwhile I was nearing the other side, but I reckon I was lower than the earlier group because, despite fighting like a bastard for about twenty minutes, I eventually had to admit defeat and settled for a landing just above a tiny hamlet consisting of barely more than a bar, a chapel and a few houses. It was bitterly disappointing not getting any further (Steve Etherington, who had held back slightly on the glide across arrived with more height and subsequently made it to the third turnpoint along with Tim B), but before I had packed up the glider I was joined by Dave Parsons and another Dave (surname forgotten), so I didn't feel quite so bad!
Marcus King - "fly high, stay high, fly far"
We made our way to the bar and spent a very pleasant hour soaking up the atmosphere of this beautiful spot. However it was going to be a hell of a walk, and we weren't exactly on a main road! Before we had barely taken a dozen steps we heard a French voice asking if we needed a lift - we couldn't believe our luck, and yet again another dream retrieve took us back to comp HQ in time to see the leaders crossing the line.
This really was a fantastic spectacle - we were all willing Simon Oliphant across the line, he made it with about 3ft clearance! Next came Innes Powell, suffering repeated collapses as he headed for the line. He crossed with enough height to allow a typically flamboyant landing - a very tight turn virtually putting the wingtip on the ground, whilst touching the ground with his left hand and then landing perfectly to rapturous applause! Then came Graham Steel who landed only 30m short - still, what a flight!
I had met up with Elly by this time and was hearing all about her 'excitement' earlier - what a story! Being the plucky thing she is, Fiona drove her, Angus (who had joined us today) and myself up to the Super Morzine take off for a confidence building flight in the evening restitution. Despite not having a reserve Elly took off and had a good half-hour flight before landing back at theHQ.
Still no sign of Tim B, so we headed back to the campsite and then on to the Boomerang for the barby, where Tim eventually joined us, clearly very relieved to see Elly in one piece.
So, what a day - two deployments, frantic scratching along the Avoriaz cliffs, high drama at the goal line - what on earth would tomorrow bring?
Saturday 15th August - Day 5 - Task 4 (cancelled)
Up at Mont Chery there was much deliberation about the conditions. There was a reasonably strong (by alpine standards) prevailing wind, which was causing some concern. (Apparently the valley wind in Morzine had caused a tandem to hit a crane earlier in the morning). Whilst we were waiting, Bruce Goldsmith gave a couple of impromptu talks on instability and active flying - little did I know that I would be demonstrating some of the things he talked about an hour later!
So whilst we were listening attentively to Bruce, the powers that be were debating what to do with the day. Eventually they reached a consensus - they were not happy with the conditions so the task was canned, much to my disappointment, as I wanted to improve on my medioca scores from the last two tasks. That also meant the end of the comp since Saturday was a reserve day in case we hadn't had three valid tasks.
Because of the warnings of strong valley winds quite a few people were choosing to take the chairlift back down, but despite this there were a number of pilots (myself included) keen to fly and make the most of the conditions, which to my mind were not too bad - just a gentle (by UK standards) breeze from the south west.
I'm not going to go into much detail here about what happened to me, but suffice it to say that I had a very pleasant flight for about 15 minutes, and then I landed very shortly afterwards under my reserve after demonstrating certain aspects of Bruce's talk - a massive deflation, followed by a spin in which the lines got twisted, followed by a so-called 'death spiral'...
Anyway I landed safely, packed up with the aid of Tim B, and headed back to the comp HQ for some serious drinking! Needless to say I had to repeat the story about twenty five times to all and sundry. Not being as brave a Elly, I declined the offer of an evening restitution flight without a reserve, but Tim and Elly did go up to Super Morzine and had a super flight, landing during theprize-giving just as the light (but not the lift) was fading fast.
The evening was great fun, starting off with an epic juggling performance by Jim Mallinson (those of you who saw him at the Mere fly-in will know what I mean). The prize giving was a good-hearted mixture of piss-taking and serious prizes. Alas my reserve deployment was too late to get a mention or a booby prize!
All this time I had been on a permanent high - it was only when I lay down in my tent that I realised how lucky I was - quite a sobering thought...
Sunday 16th August - posing for the TV cameras day!
The view from Super Morzine take-off
The two camera crews that had been following us around for the last week were keen to get some shots that they could blend into the rest of the footage to try to show a 'complete task'. So about thirty or so pilots (myself included - I was keen to fly again, albeit with a borrowed harness and reserve, to get my confidence back) and laid out for a simulated mass ground start. Innes had briefed us all on the 'task', but needless to say it all went to pot when the 'window' opened! Instead of going up, people were going down, fast! I tried to take off but failed miserably in a slight tailwind. Still I guess about twenty gliders got away in the first couple of minutes and it certainly looked spectacular.
I took off about ten minutes later and joined everyone else on the 'hoel', where I felt decidedly nervous in the borrowed harness and increasing wind. So much for getting my confidence back! I decided to head down to land, which wasn't totally straightforward in itself - the increasing wind made it touch and go at times.
So there ended the last flight of the trip - not exactly an epic one to end on, but at least I had got airborne again!
Tim & Elly in the trusty camper van
We headed back to the campsite to pack up, and by about 1800 we were on the road and heading north to catch the 1600 ferry from Cherbourg the following day. We eventually made it with about 45 minutes to spare after driving pretty much non-stop since 9am.
The reason why we ended up cutting it a bit fine was because we had all overslept after a particularly good night's sleep in one of the AutoRoute rest areas. It was the first time in many years that I'd slept under the stars and even sharing the groundsheet with Marcus didn't spoil it too much!
Well, what a week...! Despite feeling somewhat subdued on the long trip back, it really was an excellent trip. This was my first time competing in a competition at this level and I have to say I thoroughly enjoyed it. OK, so there was alot of hanging around waiting for briefings and take off windows and so on, but that is the nature of the game and I don't think that will ever change. Just think of all the times we've all sat around on hilltops in this country.
As to the safety aspects of competitions such as this, well, alot has been said already in the 'pages' of europg, ranging from 'this has been one competition too many', to 'this was a well organised and safe competition'. Having not been to any other comps of this nature I can't compare it, however I've got no complaints. The flying was fantastic, although it has to be said that the Mont Chery take off was tricky at times with the 'wind' constantly switching sides, but in a way that added to the challenge. However very few people bombed out each day so it can't have been that bad, and it was a big enough site to handle us all.
I've learnt from my 'incident' too, and although I think I was just plain unlucky, I will definitely have more respect for alpine conditions even when they seem benign. It's a much more complex picture out there and its unwise to imagine you're on a UK hill, especially if the wind is stronger than usual.
Overall it was a fantastic experience and I wouldn't have missed it for anything. My final words must be to Tim and Elly for organising the trip and providing the transport - the trusty VW camper van served us well despite all the abuse we gave it! Thanks guys!