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SE Wales BPC

July 1996

Saturday July 20th. I've just given Marcus and Charlotte a lift down to Wales in the trusty VW camper. It's 0800 and we're enjoying the morning sunshine atBryn Bach Park waiting to register for the comp. Pilots from all over the country start trickling in, including a good sized Avon contingent. There's always familiar faces at these events - that's one of the nice things about comps.

Team Avon hang around looking cool!

It's now 0900, we've registered and are awaiting the briefing at 1000. 1000 comes and goes, but at 1015 things start happening. Tim Macdonald gives us a quick run down of the weather - basically hot and sunny with light southerly winds. Wendy Windblows is saying SE 5mph, so Howie calls a rebrief for 1100 by which time reports from a number of hills will have come in and hopefully the wind will have sorted itself out.

At 1100 it's still SE so it's off to Merthyr for us all with a briefing at 1200. "But I thought Merthyr was west facing" I hear you say - well so did I! There's a couple of things I've learnt about competitions - 1) don't expect to go to what you think is the best hill for the day, and 2) it's not always worth arriving on time!

We get there and what wind there is, is blowing gently over the back. At the 1200 briefing Howie says rebrief at 1230! Some intrepid wind-dummies start soaring the back (just) while the rest of us hang around looking cool!? It's now 1230 and the wind still hasn't swung round to the SW despite Howie's assurances, and no task has been set as yet. So a rebrief is set for 1400. 1400 duly arrives and amazingly, a task is set - a race to goal at Llangorse Lake, 26 km north of Merthyr. (I hear this second-hand as I arrive late at the briefing without a pen). I discover the window opens at 1430. A flurry of inactivity ensues as people can't believe it's possible as the wind is still generally blowing over the back.

Soaring the east side of Merthyr before the task is set

A few brave souls opt for the newly discovered SE take off, and incredibly at approx 1500 Ian Blackmore and Graham Steel get away! Hmmm! This spurs the rest of us on, well, to unpack canopies at least! But the billion dollar question is which side to launch from? The west face seems to be winning out with a few half-hearted thermals coming up, but they're not much to write home about.

Things start happening at last!

Suddenly a slightly better one comes through, and a few people take off. One or two even get quite high and make a brave attempt at leaving the hill, but the rest are soon grounded. At 1600 I take off, exactly eight hours after arriving at Bryn Bach Park, along with about twenty others in a nice strong thermal. (One poor sod was left on the hill trying to find a screwdriver small enough to dismantle his vario after his camelback leaked on it!)

Meanwhile I'm thermalling superbly... right at the bottom of the stack! Looking up I can see about nineteen gliders, at anything up to 1500' above me. Tim Brunskill was one of them, along with Marcus and Simon. At about 4500' asl (1900' ato) I'm still at the bottom of the stack, and the thermal seems to have petered out and the guys at the top are already gliding north. I decide to follow, albeit 1000' below them.

Jim G on his Omega 3 coming to join my thermal over the heads of the valley road

I'm now just past the heads of the valley road and beginning to think that I've blown it big time. I'm down to about 2000' asl with almost everyone else well above me. I instigate a gentle turn to the right to head back to the heads of the valley road so that it'll be easier to get a lift back to the hill to try again, and am rewarded for my wimpishness by a real beaut which takes me up to 5500' asl. Half way up I'm joined by James Ganderton on an Omega 3 (I think) and we have a blast thermalling together.

Cranking it up to 5500' asl

By now I've met up with Simon, whilst Marcus, who had hung back having seen me almost on the deck, was having problems of his own some way behind. The lead gaggle are now some distance ahead (I could see some gliders circling about 1 km north). I'm now flying with three others, (Simon, Jim G and Steve Hawken) and we're all gliding north towards Talybont Reservoir. I opted for speed, whilst Simon had gone for extra height in the last thermal, with Jim and Steve in between. Near the southern end of the reservoir I found the next thermal and was 200' above Jim who was the next one in. Simon was possibly 500' below when he arrived, and as Jim and I circled together once again, he unfortunately never made it as high as we did and started to lag behind.

Heading north over Talybont Reservoir

By now Llangorse Lake was in sight, although it was clear we wouldn't make it on this glide. Still, Jim, who was now slightly ahead of me, found another thermal over to the left of the hill just south of Llangorse and we climbed together for the last time. Now, if I'd been really clued up, I would have noted the height of the landing field, and done some quick mental calculations to tell me what height I needed to safely reach goal from at my current position. Safely, but not too safely, since we had to cross the goal line less than 500' agl. If you arrived too high, your time would continue until you crossed the line heading north at less than 500' agl.

On the final glide to goal

So, not being clued up, we were both going for the extra height just to make sure! I shouted across to Jim "one more 360", and then left on the glide over the lake to goal. Jim carried on for another couple of 360's which cost him a place! Pretty soon I realised I was going to have plenty of height so I cranked the speed-bar full on. By this time I was very close so I pulled in big-ears as well. I crossed the line at full-speed with 200' to spare and managed to sneak under another pilot who was ahead of me, but over the 500' limit!

Boy, was I chuffed when I landed! I was eighth into goal, two places behind Tim B who had had an excellent flight with a max altitude of 6500' asl! Ian Blackmore and Graham Steel had arrived about an hour before the rest of us, but I didn't care, I had made goal, and that was a fantastic feeling.

So imagine how Simon felt when he missed goal by about 500m, landing a couple of fields short, after never getting to the top of that third thermal. Still, at least it was a good score for the Avon XC league Simon!

At goal - chuffed or what?!

I won't bore you with how there wasn't any food left at the BBQ by the time I got there - fortunately the chippy in Crickhowell was open!

On Sunday, the task - Blorenge to Llangorse Lake again - was cancelled, so Saturday's scores were the final scores, but I missed the prizegiving due to the fact that I was on the way back from near Hay Bluff with Marcus and Charlotte (top retrieve team), where I had landed after getting away from the Blorenge after the task was cancelled, but that's another story!