Classic Coastal Cruising
The weekend of 21st/22nd October saw Lisa and me down on the Isle of Wight visiting my parents who were returning from two months sailing in Turkey on the Saturday. We were really supposed to be spending time with them (although they didn't know it - it was a surprise visit), especially since our baby daughter Emily was only six weeks old the last time they saw her, but somehow the paragliders found their way into the boot of the car all on their own!
Saturday dawned clear and bright with a light Easterly wind as forecast, so after a phone call to a local to find out where things were going to be happening, we headed to a cliff site called Luccombe, just to the south of Shanklin. With my parents not due to arrive until late afternoon we had time for a few hours flying.
On our first attempt to find take-off we missed it and ended up at the Luccombe tea gardens a few minutes walk along the cliff path. The sign at the entrance to the gardens, "Persons entering here do so at their own risk", was somewhat worrying until we found out why - the cliffs about 15m away are crumbling at an alarming rate. Then it became extremely worrying! We decided to risk it, after all it probably wouldn't be here next year, and although the rock cakes were probably more solid than the surrounding cliffs, they were still tasty and the hot chocolate was excellent. Convinced that the cliff edge was now a few centimetres closer to us than when we arrived, we got up gently and headed back to have another attempt to find take-off.
Near where we had parked the car we found a small clearing on the cliff top with a couple of people throwing bits of grass into the air. This must be it! No wonder we had missed it first time round - it was barely big enough to swing a cat! They were both paraglider pilots, one of whom, Barry, I'd met on previous visits to the island. We "umm-ed and arr-ed" and eventually declared it was too windy.
Barry and his mate Jeremy roared off in Jeremy's extremely flash green open-top BMW Z1, and as we headed off somewhat more sedately in our family hatchback a load more pilots turned up. We stopped and said hello - I recognised one of them from the Isle of Man comp and the Airwave Challenge - but we stuck to our guns and headed into Shanklin for a bite to eat, before continuing on a bit of a tour round the island.
By chance we ended up on the Esplanade (with a good view of the cliffs by take-off) where just as I was tucking into my cheese and pickle sandwich I spotted a paraglider soaring above take-off. "Bugger me if that's not a paraglider soaring above take-off" I said. Fortunately for me it was! Needless to say Emily was fed and changed in a time that made the Williams Formula One pit-stop team look sluggish!
Ten minutes later we were back at the small clearing on the cliff top which I shall call take-off from now on. It was barely big enough to lay out my canopy, but there were three gliders in the air by now so it looked dangerously like I was going to have to fly! I jumped the queue in front of a hang-glider pilot who was rigging up, but unfortunately this didn't leave a huge amount of room to lay out the glider. Twenty minutes later I was ready, having, with Lisa's help (Emily had been dumped on some unsuspecting member of the public), removed all the dead bracken from my lines.
Five minutes later I was still ready to take-off - I was being a bit of a big girl's blouse waiting for the perfect moment to go for it. Funnily enough the perfect moment came very shortly after the hang-glider pilot, who by now had been ready for at least ten minutes, shouted "Are you going or what you big girl's blouse!".
I went! Pretty well to I thought, avoiding the tree to the left, the dense undergrowth to the right and the expensive looking hang-glider behind! And the four members of the public waiting for it to go horribly wrong! Never have I been so relieved to get airborne safely! Within seconds I was a couple of hundred feet above take-off and able to see the beach (by now 500' below me) for the first time. That was a relief in itself - I now had somewhere to land! (There is no top landing here). I started to relax for the first time in half an hour. A couple of minutes later I was positively laid back! The lift band was huge, I was now 400' ato, the sun was shining, the view was spectacular, and everything was coo-ool! What's more, Barry and his mate Jeremy would be gutted if they knew we were flying - ha ha!
The time was now 3pm and as there no top landing there was no way that both Lisa and I could fly since we had to start packing up at 4ish. So Lisa did the decent thing and went and bought the food for supper that night whilst I was up there having a good time! I must buy her some flowers sometime!
I could only see one other paraglider now, some way up the coast to the north of me. I decided to see how far I could get. The cliffs at take-off are about 300' asl, but further up the coast to the north they get lower (150'-100' I guess) but sharper. Running directly behind this lower cliff is the town of Shanklin so it's a bit of a blast flying over hotels, houses and amusement arcades! There were some very smooth thermals coming off the sea, about 2-3 up, which took me to about 700-800' asl at times. Most of the time I was between 300-500' asl. The pier at Sandown (4.2km from take-off) was now getting closer, but I resisted the urge to make it my turn point since the cliff stops about 150m before it and I didn't fancy a 3km walk back along the beach to the official landing area!
So I turned round whilst I still had a bit of cliff left and hacked back stopping to gain height in the odd thermal along the way. It was an easy cruise back along the cliff, and by the time I got back to take-off I was back up to 700-800'asl. By now it was approaching 4pm so I thought I'd better lose some height and head back down the beach and land, but along the way I just happened to fly into the best thermal of the day which took me up to almost 1000' asl - coo-ool! After that I made a conscious effort to lose height and eventually made a posey landing on the beach in front of a few grockles narrowly avoiding wet patches of sand and groins (ooh err Mrs!) The hang-glider pilot didn't have such a good landing - in trying to avoid the groins he landed heavily and broke an upright. Being a decent sort of chap I went over and helped him pick up the pieces!
Lisa arrived just after I'd packed up, complete with the raw materials for the boeuf bourginion we were having for supper that night. By now it was 4.15pm and we had no chance of surprising my folks by meeting them off they ferry, so we headed straight back to the house where we arrived beating them by no more than five minutes. Unfortunately Emily spoiled the occasion by giving the first smile to the friend who had given them a lift home from the ferry rather than to Mum - I guess we'll have to get her better trained for next time!