Monday, 5 January 2015

02 Jan 2015 - A New Level of Low

One of the great things about gliding is that you never quite know what you are going to get, sure there is the expectation, the hope for forecast epicness as you hitch up the trailer in the predawn gloom before setting off on another adventure, but often what transpires is even more astonishing than what you envisaged in the first place.
Map of the Ridge between Nympsfield and Bath
 There had been a call to action by Trevor Stuart, who highlighted the forecast of fresh westerly winds and the possibility of a good ridge day at Nympsfield on the 2nd of January. Answering the call, JB and I set off in convoy in the early hours of Friday morning for the 90 mile trip to The Bristol and Gloucestershire Gliding Club where we joined at least another 12 gliders on the grid for what was hoped to be a pretty good day. 2 other North Hill pilots had also made the trip so that they could experience the Cotswold ridge from the privileged position provided by the back seat of Trevor's Nimbus 3DT 970. This is by far the best way of being introduced to the Nympsfield ridge tasks as so much of the flight is outside the normal gliding frame of reference and Trevor wrote the manual. Socks were going to be blown off.

As we busied ourselves getting ready to launch there were murmurs amongst the grid that the wind didn't seem that strong and even the large wind turbine to the east of the field was contributing to this feeling with its lethargic rotations. At least it was pointing in about the right direction. Further umming and aaghing ensued and Trevor who had initially said that he was planing to incorporate a north run in his task, only because he had an engine, decided to limit his fun to the Bath ridge. I had optimistically set NY2-BAT-DSW-BAT-NY2 into my Oudie, hoping for a double run down to Bath, but was beginning to think, oh well, it would be nice just to get into the air. 

Rob Thompson launched first in his Discus B turbo, with a plan to use the plummeting price of fuel to get him to the wave in the lee of the Welsh Black Mountains, and soon the drone of the Solo engine drifted over us on the somewhat more energetic breeze. Hmmmm the task might still be on. 

JB went next and as was signalling too fast most of the way up the wire, pinging off at 900' and climbing a bit more as he bled off the speed. I was 4th to launch. Strapped in, here we go, cable going tight, all out! The speed built...slowly, increasing now, unusually long ground run, lift off, rotate into the climb, through 50' speed really increasing, into windshear and turbulence, constant pressure on the stick, let it settle down, speed still increasing, too low to try and signal, heading towards 85kts. Bang! Pressure on the stick gone. Cable break! Push forward, check speed, adjust attitude for 60kts, can I land ahead? Yes. Full air brake and I'm back on the ground. Bugger not quite the first flight of 2015  was hoping for. 

I pushed M5 to the side of the strip out of the way and walked over to the winch to catch a lift back to the launch point in the cable retrieve truck and to give Tommy the club's new winch driver some asked for feedback. Wyn Davies, however, arrived shortly after with my car and tow out gear, negating my need for a lift and I was soon back at the launch end of the field with M5 in tow and faced with the prospect of waiting ages for a launch at the back of the still hefty grid. So instead, I elected to help the tuggy justify getting the pawnee out and joined the front of the until now non existent aero-tow queue.

By the time I pulled off the tow at 1500' Trevor and Matt Williamson in 970 were almost at the M4 motorway  on their way to Bath. I decided, what the hell, I'll give it a go. (Heights mentioned are QFE Nympsfield which is also just about relative to the top of the ridge to Bath) So through the start line, and as I was relatively high I aimed straight for Hillesley missing out the usual routing of Tyndale Monument (DSW) and Wooton Bowl. My gadgets where indicating a wind of 268°/18kts giving me fresh hope that the task was on. There were a bunch of gliders milling around on the home ridge at about the 1000' mark which probably should have sown a little doubt but I was lost in the view and the prospect of attempting a task. 

It is almost 10km from the end of the Nym home ridge at Uley to Hillesley, crossing a series of ridges and valleys which are not aligned with the wind. As the air-flow tumbles across the gnarled folds in the landscape there are welcome burst of lift as well as tense spells of heavy sink but I was soon across this and happily cruising along at about 900' passing Hawkesbury with the silhouette of the Bath end of the ridge beckoning in the yellowy glow of the low winter sun. Absolutely glorious. 
Over the home ridge, Bath is on the horizon to the right of the wingtip and DSW below the sun
I was flying slowly, between 50 and 55kts, not stopping, but turning momentarily into wind, in the pulses of lift, to gain a few feet before continuing on. I often recall an article written by G Dale where he likens it to crossing a stream on small stepping stones. Where you can skip across the stones using your momentum to carry you along but you can't really stop in-case you slip and fall in. There are places along the ridge where the stepping stones are a bit bigger and you can pause there, S turning or even circling if the opportunity arises or if the situation calls for every foot of height you can muster but we'll get to that later. At the moment I was comfortable, continuing on southwards and slowly spending my height reserve. The wind was a little weaker about 16kts so things were as expected but becoming less curtain in terms of completing the task. Radio chatter was now also relaying difficulties, doubts and speculation of wave interference. Hmmm

I was south of the M4 at Toghill, a place I have managed to hold position in the past and about 5km from the racecourse turn point. I was down to about 250' and I could see 970 beating the slope at the turn-point at a similar height and I didn't want to increase the work load and chance of landing out by having 2 gliders fighting over the same meager lift. However, 5 minutes later 970 came past heading north at about the same height and I was having second thoughts about trying for the turn-point. I wasn't comfortable about going anywhere really so I spent the next 12 or so minutes trying to tease every last inch out of the bubbles of lift that I encountered as S-turn after S-turn kept me in the air. 

I had almost given up on the task and was thinking about turning back but then some new-found resolve and a feeling of acceptance of probably landing out anyway gave me pause.  Eventually, with almost 300' on the altimeter I headed south for Bath race course where a bit more direct sun on the slope got me around the turn and up to 350' providing enough motivation to head back north again and if anything a least shorten the retrieve. 
A small thermal over the Bath Racecourse turn point
I was back down at 250' by the M4 and attempts to stop seemed to lose any gains I made during the initial turn in the lift so onwards I went. By now Trevor was at Hawkesbury with James Ewence in his Cirrus and Mike Fox in his LS4, all trying to get high enough for the jump to Wooton bowl. Over the radio, Trevor advised James that 400 was the absolute minimum for the jump and that 500 would be more sensible. Meanwhile Rob Thompson had called passing 12000' over the Forest of Dean confirming the presence of wave and possibly explaining the tricky conditions down on the ridges.
James Dyson's (Mr Vacuum) estate just south of Old Sodbury
I was bouncing along the small slippery stepping stones over the Dyson estate at about 200', a new low for me and unable to stop. I was aiming for the relative safety of the ridge at Old Sodbury. When I say safety, I mean it usually seems to work, probably because it is down wind of Chipping Sodbury so any warmth generated by the town gets an extra nudge upwards when it meets the well shaped ridge here. I arrived 33' below Nym according to my 302 and exactly level according to my altimeter which kind of tied up to being level with the tops of the trees on the brow of the ridge. Another new low in as many minutes and only about half way back to Nym.
Joining the good bit at Old Sodbury (the railway tunnel cutting visible on the left)
I was now resigned to the fact that I was going to land out and was ready to turn left and drop into my chosen field at any second. Approaching the ridge the air was positive though. I could feel the buoyancy and see the glider rise by the view outside more than by what the vario was telling me. Safe to keep on flying. The beat is about 2km long which also meant at this height I had to choose another field to escape to at the north end as well. For what seemed like an age my altimeter resolutely showed 0' and I wondered if the houses I was floating over might help by lighting their fires. Back and forth and back and forth, again and again, trying to turn in lift, watching the seagulls and crows, joining with them, if only I could flap my wings too. Ever so slowly my altitude crept up to a more comfortable 400' and so north I went again, hoping not to lose my hard fought gains and be able to go for Wooton. 
It was not to be and at Hillesley I was back down to 250' having to retreat south looking for a place to climb again. James, meanwhile, had fought his way up to almost 500' utilising the nooks and crannies around Hawkesbury which were concentrating the bubbles of lift before setting off for Wooton and losing 450' in the jump but he also called back to say that the bowl was working well. So after another long battle I managed the same and put on some speed to arrive at Wooton just above the trees to some enthusiastic waving by a couple of walkers at the southern point. Phew!

Lift in the bowl was the best I'd had all day and I was quickly up at 600' and safe in the knowledge I could get back to Nympsfield. So abandoning the task I rounded Tyndale Monument (DSW) and headed for the home ridge to join the throngs now hunting for wave around the club. 
Home ridge by now was working well enough to smoke the last bit home!
 I have flown down to Bath loads of times but never at such consistently low heights or had to choose so many fields that I might need! Every time it is different and a number of times I have turned back unsure of the conditions, defeated as much by my own doubt as by the elements. I was super stoked to have persevered this time and surprised myself to make it back again. Even though I had not completed my declared task the effort required to get back gave me a great sense of personal achievement and I was grinning like a dope fiend. Contented with a great days adventure,  I easily climbed up to 1000'  and thought I'll just pop over to Wooton bowl again which had been showing better signs of wave and it was fun diving back to Nym from there anyway.  During the jump over Dursley to Tyndale, Trevor announced that he was passing Hawkesbury on his second trip to Bath this time taking Wyn Davies along for the ride. I recalled my resignation to landing out in some muddy field and at 900' in Wooton bowl I turned south for Hillesley and gave chase to the Maestro in his Nimbus eager for another battle with the elements having temporarily defeated my own demons.
Long Shadows at the end of an epic day!

1 comment:

  1. Awesome! Fantastic flight and thank you for taking the time to write about it !