By Carlo Borsattino, CFI of Flybubble Paragliding.
The wind forecast was for light south easterlies, and the thermal forecast was looking good, so we went to SHGC flying site High and Over, near Seaford, hoping to fly and maybe even go XC. As we arrived there were already quite a few paraglider pilots on the hill so we got ready and joined the para-party.
I didn't find it easy getting up from launch as the wind was too light to soar most of the time and the thermals rather fickle. I kept trying but had to land on the slope a few times, then ground handle the wing back up. At one point I took a punt across the valley, got nothing and landed in the middle of the valley on the other side of the river. So I bunched the wing up, walked across the fields, over bridge and back up for another go. Getting some good exercise in too! 🙂
Meanwhile a few pilots had managed get up nicely, and Mark was already leaving the hill on his Ozone R11 (comp proto) together with Kenny on his Ozone EnZo (EN D comp).
I eventually got up with Greg (testing a Skywalk Chili 3, EN B), Nancy (testing a Nova Mentor 3, EN B), Simon (flying his Ozone Delta 2, EN C), Paul (on his Niviuk Peak 2, EN D), Franco (Gin Boomerang GTO, EN D), John (Nova Mentor 2, EN B), Alex (Advance Sima 8, EN C) and some others. I was also testing a Skywalk Chili 3, size M (Greg flying size S).
The thermals were still very weak and 'shifty' as we all drifted over the back; some more pilots joined, some flew back to the hill. A lot of toing and froing ensued for a little while, then Trevor (Gin Sprint Evo) found a nice climb below and Greg and I flew over to him; this was the climb that we needed to get us a bit higher (around 2800ft ASL) and send us on our way.
Greg and I glided on together towards Kingston, picking up scraps of lift along the way, and eventually got a decent climb between Beddingham hill and roundabout. This felt like some kind of convergence lift, perhaps caused by the sea breeze coming up from Newhaven meeting the prevailing ESE wind, and which got us up to around 3300ft ASL. Those who followed with less height didn't quite make it to the next lift, and a few pilots landed in the area around Firle and Mount Caburn, including Trevor, Simon, Nancy, Paul and John.
Trevor later commented to me: "Great day! Everyone flew very well and considerate. Actually I only left the hill as I figured it would either get crowded or rough so I didn't fancy staying at take off. I didn't have enough height to find a third climb and the familiarity of Firle beckoned so, not going as south as you, landed at Firle take off."
Our lift seemed to be fizzling out, and there were good looking cumulus clouds within reach to our west, so we pushed on towards Lewes, hoping to find our next thermal.
We didn't find anything under the first cumulus clouds, so we carried on to the ones sitting over Lewes itself, where there seemed to be a general area of disorganised lift. We both found separate climbs, a few hundred feet apart, Greg a bit more on the north east edge of the town.
At this point we could see nice cumulus clouds all the way from Lewes to near Pyecombe (just north of Brighton).
I then took a very bouyant glide towards the north west, passing over Mount Harry, hardly losing any height, then decided push SW towards Falmer and another nice looking cumulus cloud, where I found my next climb.
The next bit, between Lewes and Ditchling Beacon, was fairly easy, as we stayed high, but it was also flipping cold as a result - much colder higher up! We hopped from one cloud to the next, finding good thermals, and getting up to around 3500ft ASL. Glides were spent trying to warm up. I started to shiver a bit at one point so I jiggled and wiggled about a lot (think disco dancing) in my pod harness, which no doubt looked very silly but did the trick.
Around Clayton we caught up with Mark on his R11, thermaling low near the Jack and Jill Windmills. Here I got a nice climb and reached the highest I did the whole flight, around 4000ft ASL.
Ahead, past Devils Dyke, things weren't looking so good. The sky was already overcast, with moderate cirrus, but looking past the Dyke, for a long way ahead, there were no cumulus and the air looked thick and hazy. The sea breeze had already beaten us and pushed well inland. Game over, I thought. "I think we should turn back and try to push back into wind towards Lewes under the good clouds." I said to Greg. "No let's carry on as see how far we get, it'll be fun!" he replied enthusiastically.
I wasn't so sure, having glided into the sea air many times before only to find no thermals and ending up landing. The good looking clouds to the east beckoned me, so I started to fly back towards them, thinking Greg might follow. He didn't. So after about a kilometer I turned back again to join him and Mark, losing around 8-900ft in the process, now below them.
The three of us headed west. Greg went more south, staying under 4500ft airspace, whilst Mark went more north, under the 2500ft ASL airspace. I also tried to keep under the 4500ft airspace but, after some indecision about what to do next, got low at a bad time and so the SSE wind drifted me under the 2500ft airspace anyway, as I tried to stay up in the weak thermals.
2500ft ASL doesn't give you much height to play with, especially as the ground is higher than sea level and if you want to stay out of airspace then you need to leave climbs well below the actual airspace to allow for unexpected lift accidentally taking you up in to it. So I was leaving climbs early, between 2000-2300ft ASL, trying to fly Low and Under the prohibited airspace.
It was amazing that there were still thermals, considering how thick the cirrus was. The solar heating seemed very weak indeed; testimony to how good the air mass must have been! Under the 2500ft airspace, the going was very slow indeed. Whenever I got too close to the airspace I left the climb, lost some height, then flew back to try and find it again. I did this over and over again, which was very slow going! Eventually I would lose the climb completely and had to push on.
Eventually, after a mega mincing half-marathon, I finally made it out from under the 2500ft airspace to the 3500ft. Things were going to get a lot easier from now on! Or at least they might have done if I'd found another thermal. I didn't, so I landed in someone's garden near a place called Bowlhead Green, about 5km north of Haslemere, not far from Hindhead and the A3.
Greg managed another 10km or so, landing about half an hour later, approximately 10km to the WSW of me, near Liss.
Mark took the same route as I did, under the 2500ft ASL airspace, and landed about an hour later, near Didcot, north west of Reading. He told me that all his instruments went flat during his flight, so he doesn't have a track log. Amazing flight anyway!
What a great and very surprising day, delivering a suprisingly lovely cross country flight! 🙂