Flight Report – My first XC Flight by Andre Ferreira
Bradwell to Southwell 17th April 2016
Although I haven’t been flying for long, Cross Country flying has always been appealing but until now has remained elusive to me. I’ve read all 50 of the Ways to Fly better and I’m just about to finish Thermal Flying, and although I do understand Bruce’s and Burke’s concepts and tips I’ve always wondered what it really felt like. How do you know you’re high enough to leave the hill? What does it really feel like to be gliding and hitting a thermal? How low is a low save? Well, turns out last Sunday was the day that I finally found out.
I thought to myself: “What the hell? Why? Why now and here? It’s fine I don’t need to go XC, I don’t even need to fly if the conditions are not right!”
I’m quite a calm person, and it takes a fair amount to phase me or make me nervous, but there has been a handful of occasions, in paragliding, in which I feel like I can’t quite control my nerves very well (yet)! If I haven’t flown for a while, if the forecast is on the line between flyable or not, if there is a chance to go XC and I’m not sure if I’ll be able to do. Perhaps I’ll have a bit of a brown pants trousers moment and chicken out before, I leave the hill. It’s strange because I don’t feel the pressure to perform, as I know I’ll make the right decisions most of the time, not flying if it’s too strong, only flying if I feel right, etc. But for some reason it feels like when there is potential to do something new or different and go into the unknown the nerves do play a part as I really don’t want to miss the opportunity.
I had my eye on various sites constantly watching the forecast and most of all on RASP. It was all looking good even 2 days prior so Saturday night I checked in with Lawrie Noctor about best time to be at the hill by and it was surprisingly “early”. We were there for 9am or there abouts and good job we did as it was forecast to get stronger later on.
Walked out to the front and there were already about 10-15 pilots busying themselves with getting their kit ready. At this point, even by walking slowly and taking my time, my tummy was still not happy about all this and had to climb the wall at Bradwell and drop the proverbial ballast! I thought to myself: “What the hell? Why? Why now and here? It’s fine I don’t need to go XC, I don’t even need to fly if the conditions are not right!” Anyway, as you do, after the deed was done (always carry toilet paper in your harness) I felt much better, ready and fresh for the challenge ahead. It’s strange because it’s not really head pulling one way and the heart another. It’s both the head and heart being in tune and loving the prospect of flying and the intestines being the black sheep of the group. At this point I was just accepting of the fact that maybe that’s just what I do before a flight, and that’s fine.
Although the wind was still fairly light around 10am a lot of pilots, most of which quite experienced where setting up on the lower take off, so that seemed sensible and I joined them. There wasn’t a lot of space with so many people around so I just waited for one of the more ready pilots to take off so I could take their place. Chris Dervin was the first to take off in the light winds and spent about 10 minutes scratching around close to the hill whilst the wind wasn’t strong enough to easily stay up. As the wind got stronger and he gained more height more people joined him, which gave me enough space to set up.
At this point I was just focused on setting up right with all the checks in place and doing a clean and safe take off. As I had everything ready and clipped in, looked above me and there were around 5 people up in the air and starting to get some good height above take off, so although my “markers” Lawrie, Theo W. and Ruth C. D. right beside me hadn’t taken off yet there was no doubt about it, everyone was going up and I was launching.
Quite a nice amount of wind for an easy launch and we were away, almost immediately hooking into a thermal. Not high enough to circle so made figure 8’s for a bit and found myself higher than most to then lose it all at once and being back on the ridge. This was the scenario again and again for the next hour. Hooking into a thermal, staying in it the best I could and at around 600, 700 meters up losing it. It seemed to be the case with everyone else too so that wasn’t too bad, and with each attempt it did feel like the thermals were growing taller. In the distance looking West I could see a big thick line packed tightly with clouds, on the edge between nice and overdeveloped so it did feel that with that mass approaching and the increasing wind speed going downwind would not be a bad thing at all. Above us and behind us still looked a bit blue but a couple of miles away there were already quite a few nicely formed cu’s evenly spaced out.
I was quite happy to get to 900 and from there the vario really did pick up and made it to just over 1000! Yey, highest I’ve been in the UK!
On the 3rd of 4th big attempt to get up, and after considering landing to warm up a bit and have a pee, I managed to make it up to 800m and then the thermal slowed down once again but this time tried harder to stay with it and was keeping altitude or going up slightly, so it took quite a while to get from 800 to 900. I was quite happy to get to 900 and from there the vario really did pick up and made it to just over 1000! Yey, highest I’ve been in the UK! At this point it was clear that I’ve drifted with the thermal quite a bit and even if I wanted to make it back to the front I probably couldn’t and trying it would put me in a much more dangerous position than turning downwind and just gliding even if I found nothing, so that was the new plan now. I was now XC weather I wanted or not.
Topped off a bit lower than the rest of the gaggle I was with and for some reason just felt the urge to glide to the next cloud. We were a bit of an odd bunch now that I come to think of it. There were people on B’s and C’s (maybe a D too?), 2 hang gliders, a tandem PG and at one point a sailplane too, all sharing the same thermal, awesome!
The tandem and pushed out on glide perhaps ahead of the rest, with me constantly evaluating landing options despite being relatively close to cloudbase. Above Curbar found my first bit of lift since Bradwell and although it was a bit hard to find and centre properly, when it finally was going up at 2-3m/s it finally felt real. This XC thing actually works then! Like before didn’t manage to get all the way to cloudbase but as the lift was weakening (or I was losing it) near the top and there was a huge cloud street ahead of me I just thought about carrying on instead of trying to go all the way to the top.
You get some impressive views from up there. Could see the whole of Sheffield to the north and was now above Chesterfield, although I didn’t know it was Chesterfield at the time! It was probably around there where I finally managed to make it all the way to base at 1200m+. Turns out when you’re at base or close and you breathe out, cloud comes out of your mouth! Anyway, went on glide again and this time got another climb all the way to base again 1400m+. Was feeling really good at this point because I had plenty of height, could see the M1 almost below me and was flying downwind, so my dream of flying from Bradwell to the M1 or further was now surprisingly in the bag! At this point there was quite a bit of laughing, screaming and singing, with the odd bit of cursing for good measure!
Now that I had done 3 or 4 climbs away from the hill the excitement/novelty was subsiding a bit as my mind was suddenly reminded that I still needed to pee! Because of the amazing opportunity I was in and how the sky ahead looked the same (amazing) as the sky I’ve just been through I thought I could continue going, so needing the toilet was really becoming an issue robbing me of my concentration. I considered holding it and also just accepting wetting myself in the quest for eliminating the distraction but it just seemed too much to carry on with wet smelly clothes and even worse wetting the harness. I even went as far getting the old chap out and “standing up” in the harness supported by the leg loops. However, sorry for the graphic details, it was quite hard to concentrate in the task at hand whilst flying hands off not knowing when i was going to bump into the next thermal, freezing my bits to death, and because of the 40 km/h airspeed at trim I would most definitely would have ended up peeing all over myself and the harness, and ending up freezing in that region! Also, in my defence, I’m not a shy pee-er normally but when you find yourself hurtling through the air at that speed in that position, that high, with literally airplanes going past in front and low than you think I better have my hands on the controls. So I promised myself to try again on the next glide when it would become more of an issue so maybe peeing would be easier and I wasn’t above houses as before! I seemed to me that flying with hands off and on the leg loops and the final piece of the puzzle would be to twist on the risers so I was facing backwards was all too dangerous. Especially having already encountered 2 airplanes in my path and one low flying helicopter, so I got back into the harness, zipped up and carried on.
Around Mansfield came another big climb and I was surprised that on most glides between thermals there was considerable sink so I was quite generous on the speed bar when the sink got as bad as 2-3m/s. This was around the point where Theo and another pilot were getting better lines than me and topping up in altitude more efficiently. It was really nice to do a bit of “dolphining” a couple of times under the dark bit of the clouds, swiftly moving to the edges when it got too close for comfort but great to straight line it sometimes.
So I lost Theo into the distance (well done on the 130km!) and the pilot ahead of him for some reason got really low all of a sudden and for obvious reasons I was really losing my concentration at this point. I could feel it in the simple fact that I would go around in circles when thermalling rather than actively adjusting to get the best lift (tighter when weaker and opening up the turn when stronger).
I’m not sure if conditions deteriorated slightly, I don’t think so, but all of sudden I found myself with only half the height I had before. I think it is true what they say about look/think about the ground and you’ll land. It was for sure the case with me, I couldn’t hold it anymore. Still had half an attempt to get up again but I could feel my concentration going and my thermal centering was absolutely pants, was just going around in circles thinking of something else.
Ended up leaving that weak thermal and gliding downwind again in the chance that I would either land which I was perfectly happy with at this point or I would get a big enough thermal to “easily” get back up. Luckily I didn’t find it, and was also freezing at this point with 2h30m of flight.
At this point I didn’t know how far I flew and I didn’t really care. It was past the M1…
Turns out i was quite low now going on glide above Southwell. The Cathedral looked amazing from the air, and as the town is quite small there were plenty of landing options on the outskirts. Picked the biggest landing field I could find without livestock, power lines or crops and made an approach. Turned into wind with plenty of height just to measure my penetration and it was quite good meaning it would be an easy landing without too much wind or C-riser handling required. Turned back again and gave myself plenty of room in the field. The landing was as smooth as they come in the long grass and only had about a second to rejoice in the moment of safely getting back to earth before my brain went again: PEE!!! Luckily now that was one of the easiest and most satisfying tasks ever.
At this point I didn’t know how far I flew and I didn’t really care. It was past the M1, had loads of fun doing it and was now getting warmed up by the sunshine. Was also lucky enough to have a really supportive girlfriend (who might become a pilot :P) who offered to come and get me, and in the meantime I packed away the glider and made my way into town. The town is really nice and picturesque, and they have an amazing cathedral dating back to the 1300’s. It wasn’t hard at all to lay outside in the sunshine soaking it all up and going through the fresh memories of what just happened. At the same time i could still see lots of cumulus developing and fading above in the blue sky as well as the odd paraglider going past. In normal circumstances I would be really jealous of them but this time around I was just happy.
When Gemma arrived we had a quick look in the Cathedral and surrounding grounds before popping into the nearest pub for the mandatory celebration beverage! What a great day, with many positives and great tips on how to improve and better prepare in the future. Got back into Sheffield late afternoon and got my car back from Bradwell where the wind was now quite strong and quite a few pilots’ cars still stood there abandoned from the owners XC adventures.
Can’t wait for the next adventure! 🙂
Here’s the tracklog – http://www.paraglidingforum.com/leonardo/flight/1381313