When you can’t see the Wood for the trees
The lead up to Saturday 2nd February 2019 was spent looking at the forecasts for northerly winds with my usual expectant excitement for a day spent on our glorious South Downs ridge. I’ve loved flying this since my hang gliding days in the eighties, and for the last 20 years that I’ve been gliding from Parham.
I’m a long way from being an expert and I’m not going to attempt to tell people the best methods and tactics to fly the Downs, but I would ask that you take heed of the rather dramatic warning sign that was delivered to me. I consider myself a competent pilot and a reasonable instructor. Having been incident free for all the time that I’ve been flying, I have always looked at other pilots incidents and accidents with a level of “there for the grace of God go I”. I figured that any chance of an incident for me would be the result of a tricky or poorly selected field landing. I never dreamt that I would have an airborne incident. I believe that I’m a cautious pilot and with regards to flying the Downs, I’ve always chosen enjoying the view and being comfortable, rather than attempting the Harry/Harting trophy for speed. Now for the but….
So there I was, after an uneventful self-launch in my Shark MS304, ‘sniffing the air’ on the home ridge. Throughout the flight, the LX was reading between 330 to 340 at about 20 knots. I pushed west to the Harting turn point. They weren’t the best conditions, but I made Harting and back with a bit of topping up in Bignor Bowl. The flight to Chanctonbury, with top up to make the 4 mile crossing to Truleigh, was also fairly straight forward, as was the Lewes Northwest turnpoint and back to Truleigh.
Heading back west from Truleigh, I expected a challenge with the in to wind component. I managed to achieve about 1400ft before setting off and found a nice line of energy for the crossing. Upon approaching the easterly spur of the first bowl at Chanctonbury, I was pleasantly surprised to see that I was at about 800ft. I felt comfortable, rather than having to scratch my way back up. On continuing up the spur I gained another 100ft with a airspeed of over 60 knots. Again, I felt very comfortable where I was – a good height and position should I encounter any sink, and was contemplating my next actions, i.e. to top up height around the northern face of Chanctonbury and head on back to Harting.