Not the best flight of the day, by far - half the distance of many - but some interesting lessons, I hope worth sharing.
It starts with the largest turnout at a Sky Surfing site I have seen for a long time - what a happy, cheery bunch! Telegram & SSC F-B chat the night before meant that we had all more-or-less decided that the rest of the country (within 2 hrs drive) was either going to be SBF'd / off the hill too early (Frocester? ) or blown out (Rybury? ). Which left our local W-NW site of Butser…
Xiaoting +1-2 others got away by 11am, RJ & I followed shortly after - all of us on one-climb-wonders that fizzled out before the still non-existent cloudbase - we all ditched within 5-8km; having climbed with heavy drift, all the time saying to ourselves "it's too early, the day's not yet ready" - but did we listen to our inner voices? Did we heck…
Temper Your Enthusiasm folks - patience is (almost) always rewarded.
An amazing hitch for RJ & me from the Head Teacher who watched me land 10m from her garden in Petersfield got us back to Butser T/O in super quick time. A modest donation to her local charity for her efforts from me was rewarded with the quasi-serious offer a teaching job for RJ! All in the space of a 15 minute retrieve journey.
I love the way this sport can bring out the best in ourselves and complete strangers through the wonder it brings to both: )
Take off #2 - 12:41 - why, oh why was I the only one to take it (or so I thought)? The solitary cloud whiffling towards the hill had "I suck" written all over it, and so it proved - ping!
In the end, I was joined by Chris Jackson (I think) on a red Mentor3/4, who appeared out of nowhere below me around Harting Down or perhaps a bit further East.
Lots of pointing and shouting comms (no shared radio freq. Between us) as we tried to figure out whether to track North into epic skies but lower airspace, or navigate the relative blueness way South of the Downs and risk getting trapped by the SBF at Hassocks, which inevitably happened.
We umm'd and err'd, muddled through some dubious air; he specced out as I dealt with a curious form of tip cravat that was small enough not to be worrying, but stubborn as hell to shift, so we went our separate ways.
Scratchy, scratchy as I eventually caught the tail of Chris's moonbeam just North of Arundel to escape an early landing - he really was flying like a winged beast, hats off.
The highpoint of the flight was definitely the low point:
Having crossed the Arun valley with enough height - or so I thought - to pick up something useful, I squandered everything I had on the first NW ridge facing over this wide valley just above Burpham - both the air and the sky were dead, it didn't even feel like I was getting dynamic lift off the ridge. Possibly a low level SBF pushing cold air up the valley, well ahead of what's to come higher up? Is this game-over?
I decided a last minute dash East to hunt for a kicker off the next, slightly steeper (tho' lower) West facing ridge (or another 0.5km before landing) was in order. Scraping over the firework factory roof at Wepham (20m AGL. ) I sped downslope at 10-20m off the deck to j-u-s-t connect with the next ridge below tree height.
Soar or turn into wind and land?
I felt like I was below sea level; hmm, how low can I go? The valley bottom, right at the foot of the grassy ridge is 39mASL; the grassy slope below the tree-line rises a mere 10-12m above that; then the gradient under the trees only rises to ≈75m ASL - so a total top-to-bottom of ≈ 35m.
Not a lot of wind here; one figure of 8, then some rustling leaves in the trees ahead and *above* me - I'm still at grass height. Nothing to lose: After all, don't the Dutch soar on smaller dunes?
Then a Kite breaks cover ahead, and I follow. We play a game of dodgems, switching back past each other tip-to-tip in a series of single loops or figure of 8s for a couple of minutes. I can't risk circling this low over the endless, flat sea of trees behind the ridge yet - but the drift isn't with the meteo wind (still W-WNW), I'm distinctly getting pulled NNE, albeit in zeros; maybe there is something… Hang on in there.
Wham, bam, thank you mam!
Within 9 minutes I've gone from a low at ground level 180'ASL to ≈ 5,200'
And breath, again: )
The rest of the flight was a battle to get past the Hassocks pinch point with a chevron of Class-A airspace to the N (at 2,500' overhead) and the SBF, now distinctly visible trying to force you into the former - the dilemma here is that you have to dive below the class A without getting the wrong side of the SBF. This was tricky, as the line of virga clouds were visible, some with Cu above, but most without - just whispies, looking like nascent Cu's - tho' way below the level of the few scattered Cu's present. Added to which they formed a very uneven line, meandering N& S all over the place: I suspect from a few distinctly rough and tumble, whacky moments, I got caught the wrong side of the SBF and had to push back hard to get North of it. Probably not possible (or wise) if the SBF and the meteo wind are battling it out head-to-head; but the forecast and the evidence suggested they were converging at a shallow angle, like the mingling of parallel streams, forming a wavy boundary.
I'm reminded of the line by that well-known PG pilot, Philip Larkin: "It fucks you up, the SBF" - and so it proved 45 mins later: The truth is, I have not yet learned to use it properly and make it my friend.