Monday, 14 January 2013

Sunday 13th January 2013: Here we go again.

News Flash....
Carl Wallbank gains a 3rd position for Task 5 after the correct stop time is used.
Results not yet updated on the web, but I have it directly from the scorer...
Well done Carl!

Day 7, Task 6.

Well  this is different – thanks to the kind actions of some of my pilots I am writing this blog from the passenger seat of the car while they share the driving back home after a very, very eventful day…

The sky on arrival at launch
After yesterdays stopped task there was bound to be some extra discussions and comments at today’s briefing. Manfred Ruhmer even questioned the validity of the task being stopped even though the gust front was clearly visible from the air and being experienced on the ground. The round of applause when I defended the decision spoke volumes about how the majority of pilots and support crews felt. Davis Straub, Meet Director, also mentioned that the digital version of the New York Times is running a ten page piece on the recent World Hang Gliding Distance Record – maybe at last mainstream media is catching on to the fact that hang gliding is the coolest, sexiest sport in the world!

So, on to today’s task, and with a weather forecast indicating a strong possibility of increasing winds, there was every chance that the task could be stopped again. By the time the task had been outlined, a 240km race to goal via one turn point, we had little opportunity to have our usual team chat  - Kathleen had won an early bird place and was to be first off the green line, while Gordon was third on the red line. Right, off to the airfield it is then.

We were met by the usual friendly gate marshals who everyday bring a smile to the start of the day by holding up a mixture of home-made signs to welcome you to the paddock.

A happy welcome

Some signs are not quite so polite!

Kath at launch
The sky was already showing worrying signs of becoming un-flyable. The pilots were soon rigged and ready to go.
Kathleen bombed out after her first tow and then hand to go back to the end of the launch line (a disadvantage of using the early bird lottery – a regular  relight would slot  straight back in to the launch line). Gordon’s actual tow line broke, leaving him at 200’ with a load of line which he immediately dropped on to the airfield.  Spectacularly he managed to climb out form that point. Good job.

Kath about to tow...

By the time Kathleen got back in the air, there was just enough time for het to get one climb before the first start gate. And so the task began.
Launch Marshall

And away she goes...
With Steve and I en route quickly (with the strong winds and big distances, we did not have time to hang around) with Steve positioning himself at the back of the pack, and me at the front. Looking at the map and hearing that they were in the main getting good climbs and height gains, I made the decision to cut off the dog-leg that the pilots were flying to try and get ahead of them. 

Unfortunately Dave was having a tough time for the second day running and landed near Parkes. This meant Steve was going to be held up early on in the task retrieving him, making it more complicated for me to track six pilots on my own over a vast area. Ah well, I was sure it would all be OK…
What was that noise? Surely this gravel track wasn’t that rough? The car seemed to be making a strange rumbling noise. Oh no. A puncture. Well that’s blown it… With the pilots’ radio communications getting more faint and noisy, it would only be a matter time since I lost contact. And the usually very reliable mobile could not get any network coverage so I could not phone Steve. Well this was turning out well.  With one last ditch transmission to let the team know what was going on, I got on with changing the wheel.

Ben changing a wheel.

A dusty gust front
The increasing wind speed had left with a feeling of foreboding about the day and I did not want to be delayed for too long. To be fair I think that was the quickest I have ever changed a wheel and within minutes I was on my way again, heading for a piece of high ground to maximise radio coverage. After a further 20kms the radio crackled in to life as I reached the edge of the escarpment. Worryingly the wind was blowing a hooly as I stepped out of the car, with the gust front kicking up a dust storm. Here we go again, I thought.

The mobile phone bleeped with a new message from the Safety Director:
“Task stopped.  Stay flying if you think it is safer”.
Then from me over the radio:
 “All pilots. Task stopped. Please report your positions”. As a matter of safety I needed to know where all my pilots were, just in case... Luckily I got updates from everyone and made a note of their last known positions.  Gary had already landed near Turn Point 1 while the others were making their way along the final 100km leg to goal. With Grant, Tony and Carl flying and landing together and being the furthest away it was clear that I should make my way to them, and ask Steve to pick up the other three pilots who were scattered along the task route. Gordon phoned in to say that he had a retrieve sorted out. Having picked up Dave, Steve was having trouble getting to Gary, meaning that any other retrieve would be significantly delayed. Making my way to the three boys just south east of Dubbo, I contacted Kath to see if she could be retrieved with other pilots she had landed with  -  thankfully despite breaking two uprights on landing, Kath was OK but unfortunately could not get a ride with another crew. I quickly phoned Bruce Wynne, Safety Director, who immediately contacted some other teams, many of whom offered to help, and a retrieve was arranged with Team Brazil. Thanks guys – Kath owes you a beer!

And the rest as they say is history.  We are still driving back from the retrieve, having stopped for an excellent Indian meal at Wellington. A relaxed end to a stressful day. The responsibility I feel for the well-being of the pilots is immense, especially when conditions turn nasty. Thankfully they all live to fly another day. Let’s hope tomorrow brings lighter conditions and a shorter retrieve!


  1. thanks Ben and well done to all on a great effort, glad everyone is safe

  2. fingers crossed for tomorrow

  3. glad you all got through a difficult day ok - I really enjoy these articles - puts you right there in the action - at least enough to feel the drama... fly safe - fly fast...

  4. Hi Ben

    I'm enjoying your blog - keep up the great commentary!

    I noted that you said you had a good Indian meal in Wellington. We have had a history of only finding the worst meals there, so please, please, tell me where you ate?!!


    Peter Dall