Tuesday, November 29, 2005

Lanzarote Snapshot

Wednesday 23rd Nov, 12:22pm, the Famara ridge

Laying out my glider ready for the next flight. Make sure there are no tangles. Switch on my vario and make a note of the altitude. Switch on my radio and do a quick comms check. Bundle up my glider and walk forward to takeoff. The takeoff at Famara is intimidating. We are standing behind a low tumbledown wall which sits at the top of a 1000 foot drop down to the plain below. It's not a vertical drop, but very steep and rocky, likely to kill someone who fell down it. There is a little cinder runway from the wall down to the edge - 4 or 5 paces then nothingness - a clear view over the plain to the coast about 5 km away, little volcanoes and the beach.

The air is full of paragliders and hanggliders, they appeared seemingly from nowhere while we were driving back from a wild-goose chase to Mirador on the Northern tip of the island. The sun is coming round now and striking the rocky face of the ridge, heating it. Cumulus are building in the blue sky overhead and the wind is nicely onto the ridge and not too strong. The next couple of hours are going to be classic flying conditions.

It's my turn. Andy and Jamie are waiting to give me a hand with my launch. Glider laid out on the cinders behind me. Risers draped over my outstretched arms, brake handles in hand. Check for a gap in the airspace. Andy - "Launch when you're ready." Shoulders forward, I push forward and feel the pull of the wing inflating behind me. Andy and Jamie grab the brake lines and get the wing under control then push me forwards towards the edge. "Run, Pete, run! Brake gently, that's it, keep running!" I power forward down the runway towards the void. As I pull the brakes my feet leave the ground and suddenly I'm out over the ridge, trying to keep running even though I'm airborne, then sitting back into the harness, leaning over to turn right as I join the crowd cruising up and down the ridge.

Andy over the radio - "Good launch Pete! Keep a good look-out." I crane my head around, looking behind on both sides, below, above. Brightly coloured wings all around me. The vario is beeping in the lift coming up the face of the ridge. I carefully look behind my risers then turn left, heading back along the ridge into the crowd. Advice coming over the radio from Andy - "Get closer in to the ridge. Keep plenty of clear space around you. Look before you turn." I'm picking up strong lift from a big eroded gully at the bottom of the face. As I fly past takeoff I'm looking down on Andy and the others, tiny figures looking up at me. I give a thumbs up. I decide not to fly on to the end of the ridge where everyone else is turning, but to turn straight away back into the lift coming off the big gully. I do this for several beats, working this short stretch of the ridge where the lift is concentrated. I'm looking down on many of the other wings now. I must be 400ft above the ridge line, and decide to try a 360 turn in the lift. The wing rattles over my head in the turbulence on the edge of the thermal. I tighten my turn, fighting the thermal's tendency to push me away. The vario is beeping frantically, I keep on with the 360s.

Looking down I notice that I am drifting behind the ridge. Andy over the radio - "Push forward Pete". I point the glider into the wind and grope for the speed-bar. After a few minutes I'm clear of the ridge again and free to seek out more lift. Bumpy air - great! - that means I'm on the edge of a thermal. Turn the wing against the push, listen for the vario, turn, turn, adjusting my outside brake, feeling for the thermal's centre. Lost that one, pushing through sink now, the vario moaning. I see a gull above me, soaring effortlessly. I fly over to investigate, and catch his lift.

The crowd on the ridge has all scattered now, hunting lift out over the plain. Far out to my left a guy on a narrow orange wing is doing acro spirals. Everyone is below me, a couple of hanggliders are exploring my thermal hundreds of feet below me. Andy on the radio - "Pete's been top of the stack for half an hour!!"

Still getting higher. The air is cold, and becoming damp. Wisps of mist all around me. The clouds are beside me, all around me, no longer above me. This is it, cloudbase, I'm 3000ft above sea level, 1750ft above takeoff. I can see clear to the Northern end of the island.

This is the moment. I have fulfilled my childhood dream of flying among the clouds. The dream that prompted me to sign up for paraglider training last year. The dream that drove me on through all the tough days of ground training and getting dragged through the mud on the North Downs at Green Dragons. I finally did it - I flew to cloudbase.



Gavin said...

Nice post, but everytime I read about your paragliding exploits I get this horrible feeling in my stomach. I think it's fear.

Garry said...

Nice report. What's the next goal?

Peter said...

Hi Gavin - don't worry son, my life insurance is up-to-date.

Hi Garry - oh simple stuff like getting my ground-handling skills up to scratch. Longer term, obviously I want to repeat the cloudbase experience, and then try some cross-country flying!

Phil said...

Dad - this is sure to win a "Bloggy" award for "Best Paragliding Analogy in a Wargaming Blog". Congratulations.

Seriously though, stop flying. I need my Dad.

parapilot said...

Don't worry guys, he's a safe pilot. You won't be getting that life insurance anytime soon! Great read pete, and well done on Lanza, you flew really well. Get your wing back and there will be no stopping you! Cheers Jamie (PG Instructor)

Peter said...

Thanks Jamie! By the way, great lecture last night. Enjoyed all the stuff about principles of flight.