Gliding can be a fruitless sport. Golf and football can be played in the rain. All sports can be played under 8/8ths. cloud cover. While Wimbledon spectators are eating strawberries under cloudless skies,the glider pilot must explain that, although the temperature is in the thirties, there is an Inversion at 1500 feet which makes it unlikely that you would get further than the polo fields. People tow trailers to Scotland and never get off the ground.
You can weight the odds in your favour by towing your glider to Provence. The satellite picture will show heaped clouds over all of Europe, but there will generally be a tongue of clear air between the Mediterranean and Lyons bounded on either side by the Italian Border and the Massif Central. This at least is the theory. There can be thunderstorms punching Cu Nims into the stratosphere, surrounded by 15 knot sink. Given a low pressure in Northern Italy, the Mistral howls down the valleys of the Rhone and Durance and only the very bold venture in search of wave.
In May, Brian Bateson and I booked Duo Discuses for a week at Fayence and a week at St Auban. We had a total of three days of flying. One flight was terminated by rain, one was Mistral and on one day we actually got to Briancon. The remaining eleven days were unsoarable. We did almost more flying in Easyjet than we did in gliders.
In contrast, we went down to St Auban for a week at the end of June and had five flights in five consecutive days of between three and four hundred kilometres. More concentrated flying in a week than I have ever had in my life. I have spent many hours in these mountains, but almost all of it in single seaters. Mountain flying is cream of the sport, but it is potentially dangerous and your primary objective should be to stay alive. You don't really get the time to gaze when flying single seaters at the glorious vista of peaks and glaciers or ponder the massive movement of air which is sustaining the flight. In one's declining years, two seater flying has great attractions.
St Auban is a monument to the French State in a huge park of monuments. A few miles up the valley, a vertical blade of rock almost closes the valley. In the last ice age, the Durance cut a narrow gap through it. Narrow enough for a single arch bridge, the only river crossing until modern times. Successive French Kings have put up medieval curtain walls, 17th. century bastions, 18th. century gun emplacements, tunnels and magazines to command this strategic point. From the air, you can see the massive fortifications that guard the passes into Italy, Briancon, Mont Dauphin and the Ubaye Valley. Intricate works of art designed to concentrate lethal cannon and musket fire on anyone trying to attack them. Huge investments in hundreds of thousands of tonnes of stone and earth made at the whim of the French State.
By David Rhys-Jones