Chris Hughes and the Perfect Retrieve

By David Rhys-Jones

Chris Hughes was the legendary CFI of Southdown Gliding Club when it was based at Firle. He came of the Golden Age when gliders were made wood, when dope was something you didn’t smoke and mobile phones had not even made it into Star Trek.

In 1966 it was still the norm to get one’s 300 km with a downwind dash, the classic being the Mynd and Nympsfield to Great Yarmouth and Lasham to Perranporth. Only the pundits did out and returns. The retrieve crew would set off shortly after the glider had been launched, ringing back to base every now and then to check if the glider had landed, using public phone boxes. A minor problem at Firle was that, without a club telephone, we had to rely on the garage at Selmeston as our phone base.

On May 29th 1966 the plan was for me to set off early along the Downs in the North East that was blowing, and then keep going westwards, hopefully getting beyond Plymouth. I was flying the Oly 463 No 463, and the syndicate partner Ian Agutter had agreed to pursue me with the trailer. Unfortunately, not only was the wind more East than North East, but the air was very stable and blue, and I got stuck more than once trying to gain enough height to cross gaps. However, by the time I reached the Petersfield Region, I was able to use what thermals that there were, generated mainly by the towns. Unfortunately the thermal over Salisbury gave me not quite enough height to work the next one over Shaftsbury, and I landed in a field just east of the town quite close to the main road. By good luck, a gate led into a turning off the main road, and directly opposite the gate was a public phone box. Having parked the glider close to a hedge by the gate, I phoned the Selmeston Garage. Later, trying to guess when the trailer would arrive, I sat on the gate and, almost on cue, it appeared coming down the main road, turned right and stopped by the phone box. Ian got out and was just about to open the door of the phone box when I said “Hello Ian!” to which the reply was “Well I’ll be ……..!

Ian, having been considerably delayed in setting off in pursuit, had checked at the garage that there was no message, had made a guess as to how far I would have got by then and headed off westwards. Having driven non stop for 130 miles or so, rolling into Shaftsbury, he had thought he had better check, saw a phone box on a turning to the right, stopped, got out and was just opening the door of the box when a fellow sitting on a gate opposite said “Hello Ian !” He had stopped less than twenty yards from where the glider was parked.