I live pretty much equidistant between the Dales and Peaks, the forecast looked equally good in both but the deciding factor for me was that I needed to collect my kit from Manchester airport as it had been delayed on the return from Canada. I knew I'd be pushed to get out of the airport by 10am plus I had some faffing to do refitting my reserve which meant time would be tight to make the best of the day.
Saturday evening I checked in with my pals in the Peaks, Chris and his son Joe. We tentatively discussed a goal for Horncastle with RASP forecasting a strong sea breeze which made the coast look unlikely. As usual, I prepared a route in XCSoar on my laptop and also made a contingency route tracking more to the south. Both tasks set I uploaded to Google Drive but forgot to draft a UK XC league declaration email like I usually do (mistake #1)
Up bright and early Sunday morning and off to the airport. As expected took a while to retrieve the baggage and it was just before 10am when I left. Chris and Joe were planning to be on launch by 10:30. I got there about 11:15 and as I walked over was reassured that the day hadn't already kicked off as the few gliders in the air weren't too high. The guys were still on the deck and things seemed to be improving as we had a quick chat. Got my stuff ready PDQ and launched around 11:40.
Bradwell is almost always busier than Dales sites and this day it was busier than usual. The congestion making it difficult to get established in the first thermal. My first climb took me to 2,400' but I pulled back to the ridge as I didn't feel committed to it. Another 10 minutes and the three of us headed south of the pack to find some clear airspace and were rewarded with our climb out which took us to 4,700' in a close gaggle of half a dozen with another half dozen just behind.
We followed the standard script and played it slow and safe getting out of the Peaks, climbing to a base of 5,500' feet which was steadily rising and gliding to around 3,000'. The three amigo's stuck together as our other compadres gradually dropped out as they chose different lines with the last one separating after we passed east of Mansfield.
Things were going well with glides down to about three grand and climbs back to base at around five and a half. And then I got stuck. South of Ollerton at 3,000' the three of us got a thermal but I was about 750 - 1,000' below Chris and Joe. I guess I was at the bottom end of the thermal and they were well in it so whilst they climbed back to four and half grand I was languishing at three as they went off on glide. It took 10 minutes of patient working the zero's before I got a climb back to 4,500'. We were still in radio contact and I could hear them discussing the need to track north to avoid the Waddington ATZ and a NOTAM'd airshow around Newark. For me the direct route to the Lincoln gap would see me heading in to a blue hole, following Chris and Joe would give me a bigger cross wind headache but to my north east there was a beauty of a Cu developing so that's where I headed.
And it worked! I was down to 1,880' when I hooked into the strongest thermal so far which took me back up to 6,200. I now had a great line and connected with another boomer back to six and a half just to the west of Lincoln. I'd caught up a bit with Chris and Joe who were finding it a little slower as they tracked north to avoid the airspace. From my vantage I launched on to an 8km glide and rejoined the chaps in a thermal which had kicked off from the sewage treatment works on the south west of the city. From there it was glide, climb, glide to goal!
Only I didn't have a goal declared, drat, so being a bit higher than the others I added a little squiggle to the end of my flight to ensure it became my new UK personal best. We could have continued for another few km but it was 5pm, we were satisfied with the flight and there were signs of the sea breeze to the north east.
We landed at a large sports field, took the obligatory Facebook selfie, packed up and looked at our retrieve options. We had hoped to catch the bus to Lincoln then train to Sheffield but the next bus was over an hour's wait so we tried some taxi's. Eventually got on to Hansome Taxis of Lincoln who quoted us £25 to take us from Horncastle to Lincoln. Realising this was a good price, when the taxi arrived we asked for a quote to take us all the way back to Chris' house and were gobsmacked at the quoted £85 total as it had been £100 from Lincoln station previously.
We were back at Chris' by 8pm and they took me back to my car by 8:15, so less than 3 hour retrieve after a 5 hour flight, a pretty decent return on investment. I've come up with a new Meekon XC Scoring System; distance * flight duration/ retrieve duration and I reckon by that formula we had a better flight than the gaggle which did a 160k flight to goal in deepest darkest Cambridgeshire given their midnight return.
So reflections and learnings. Well no brand new lessons more a reinforcement:
#1 team/ gaggle flying makes it a whole lot easier and more enjoyable - there's nothing better than landing out with your mates.
#2 PPPPP. Prior planning prevents poor performance, it applies to work and it applies to XC paragliding too. My lack of preparation (drafting an email declaration) meant I missed out on the goal flight. I'm not bothered about the numbers but it would have been my first UK flight to goal.
#3 get some new gloves. My hands were fffrrrreezing when we landed to the extent that both Chris and Joe commented as we shook hands. If I can prise my wallet open I might invest in some heated gloves as recommended by David May but ee, bah, gum they're darned expensive!
#4 it's definitely easier to do distance in the Peaks than the Dales. Probably a combination of the slightly better weather, lack of sea breeze effecting takeoff, larger number of XC pilots (therefore gaggle opportunities) and the terrain is easier.
#5 Hansome Taxis Lincoln, absolute bargain.