The day after I got back from running a paragliding trip to Croatia, I had many things to do. However the weather decided to taunt me with looking really great for a cross country flight from one of our local hills, Mount Caburn near Lewes. Question was, as Joe and Mick famously wrote: "Should I stay or should I go?" Like the lyrics say: "If I go, there will be trouble." But then again they also then say: "And if I stay it will be double." This indecision's was indeed bugging me. So I decided to put things off for the day and go flying. The weather waits for no man, woman or beast, after all!
After waiting around on the hill for a little while, taking photos of pilots ground handling on snow patches, things (i.e. thermals) started to happen and a few of us lobbed-off, climbing out in some of the nicest, smoothest conditions I have ever flown in anywhere in the world. This kind of experience is what makes me love flying so much. It's such a privilege to be able to fly like this, with no engine, no noise - feeling just like a bird. Just WONDERFUL! 😍
The visibility was absolutely incredible - probably due to the post-frontal conditions - and so I got totally carried away taking photos around launch. I flew over the edge of Lewes and then out front, over the river, taking lots of photos, totally forgetting about the idea of going XC--which anyone who knows me knows I'm always keen to do--due to the truly stunning visibility and views! 🤩
I've been flying since the early 1990's, and the views on this day were some of the very best I've ever seen in Sussex; the clouds--some of which grew to on the large and over-developed side of the scale--added even more to the breathtaking skyscape. 🥰
In fact, the only thing that was a bit disappointing is that the clouds down track were clearly getting too big, with precipitation--rain, sleet or snow--falling down to the ground beneath them. 🌨
I got so carried away with admiring the beautiful views and taking photos that I lost the lift, whilst my good friends Paul and Simon Steel carried on climbing, and I sunk out, ending up back down on launch once again. Doh! 🤨
No problem, I thought, I'll just keep trying and get back up again... So I watched the sky like a hawk--or at least I like to think I did--looking for any signs of good lift nearby.
Nothing obvious presented itself. Some good-looking cumulus clouds kept forming in the distance, but too far away for me to be able to reach easily.
I kept trying to get to these good-looking clouds downwind, getting very low, running back to the hill, landing half or two-thirds of the way down.
Each time I kited the wing back up the hill to try again. And again. And again. Again. Again. Again. As long as my legs would carry me, I kept trying! 🚶♂️
I was starting to get exhausted when finally I got a climb which took me up a bit higher. This meant I was then able to push out further, to find another climb, to get up a bit more.
This in turn enabled me to then push out further again, to reach the good looking clouds which were, as I had hoped, working well. Yeeha! 😁
In the end it took me literally more than 20 attempts to finally catch a climb that finally got me up high enough to go over the back and try for an XC. Phew!
Fortunately flying a paraglider isn't nearly as physically demanding as walking up the hill twenty times! 😜
I drifted over the back, eventually getting near cloudbase, around 4500 ft above sea level (ASL), almost directly over Flybubble HQ in the village of Ringmer.
I then glided along the edge of a line of convergence lift, where winds meet creating updrafts, losing only a little height along the way, picking up my next climb over Laughton, up to near cloudbase again.
I then took a long glide across a 'blue hole' (no cumulus clouds, indicating likely no lift) towards Heathfield, losing a lot of height along the way, and eventually got my next climb, fairly low, just before the town.
Typically, one minute I was scratching down low in masses of sink, thinking: "Damn, I'm going to end up landing now!" when suddenly I found a booming climb (averaging 4 m/s) which I then had to leave quickly to avoid going into the 3500 ft airspace.
Sacrebleu! Zut alors! Nom de dieu de bordel de la merde! As they say in France. Or so I'm told, at least. 😘
I hung about near the edge of a cloud, and the 3500 ft airspace, looking down track towards Royal Tunbridge Wells, Maidstone and Ashford in Kent, deciding what to do next.
A line of big black clouds with plenty of precipitation falling down from them all the way to the ground blocked my path ahead, all the way into the 2500 ft airspace.
I wondered if my friend Paul has been 'keen' enough to fly on in that direction. Yes he had, I later found out. More on that later.
The choices I had at this point were to either:
- Fly downwind to the northeast, staying under the FL55 (approx 5500 ft ASL) airspace but towards the Big Black Precipitating Cumulus Congestus Clouds (BBPCCC);
- Head cross-downwind to the northwest to avoid the BBPCCC but end up under the 2500 ft controlled airspace, with cloudbase at over 4500 ft ASL and suck-y clouds about; or
- Cut cross-upwind to the east to avoid the BBPCCC and make the most of the sky that wasn't full of BBPCCC and was .
Unsurprisingly, I decided to go for option 3, despite paragliders not being renowned for their into-wind performance. But how to have the best flight possible?
I decided to just fly to wherever the sky (and clouds) was looking best. Generally the best idea anyway!
Despite the wind not being that light, I decided to try and complete some kind of 'circuit' flight. Either an out-and-return i.e. to somewhere and then back again. Or maybe even a triangle i.e. to somewhere, then somewhere else and then back again.
I flew cross upwind towards Hailsham, working the lift along the way, eventually managing to get to near Hellingly village, near the edge of the Sea Breeze Front (SBF). Simply put, the SBF is where the prevailing wind meets the opposing sea breeze.
Going any further would have meant flying 'into the blue' - which pretty certainly means dead sea air--and no thermals--and therefore ending up landing shortly afterwards.
So I decided to head back towards Mount Caburn, now pretty much straight into wind.
Things, unsurprisingly, got A LOT HARDER at this point and I spent a long while taking 3 steps forwards, 3 steps back, 3 steps forwards, 2 steps back, trying to use the SBF to aid my progress upwind. Challenging, but still great fun!
Eventually, unable to make it back to Mount Caburn because of the sea breeze, I ended up landing near Laughton, quite tired and VERY happy! 😁
Paul meanwhile had carried on downwind, ending up landing somewhere near Headcorn, about 30 km further on. The jammy sod then got an aeroplane retrieve back from Headcorn airfield, from a friend who flies light aircraft and hang gliders! 😘
What a great day, and what a lovely little flight on my paraglider!
See Carlo's flight tracklog from the 8th April 2008 in the UK National Paragliding XC League and the Southern Club Paragliding XC League, and the 2008 Southern Club Paragliding XC League table for the whole year.
See photos taken by Carlo during this paragliding cross country triangle flight from Mount Caburn on 8th April 2018.