Flight of the month goes to Grove Steyn for an exciting and innovative flight from SLP.


From Grove:

I see that I only managed to launch from the lower take-off at 15h00 after Paul and I had sent off Mark.  The prevailing wind was SW, but the thermals still pulled the streamers up straight regularly.   I had to work a bit to get up above the bridge section of the road.  Thereafter I hung around at ridge height working the moderate thermals while drifting over the back.

There was no movement from Paul who was flying the U2 for the first time - so after a while I decided to try my luck on the next peak after gaining some height.  Fortunately I got a thermal in the gulley while crossing.  I had to do some tweaking on my glider which had developed a persistent right turn, and was relieved to find that I had got it the right way around - and that the situation had been substantially improved - especially while I was thermalling.  Now it was simply a matter of slowly making my way way down the ridge and taking every thermal that came my way.  At first the climbs were modest - but soon they became stronger and I gained height as I went - this was classic summer SLP conditions.  Given the fresh SW I knew that it would be a battle to get back if I did not get decent height, but it was soon clear that there were thermals aplenty.

Earlier on, while we parked my car at landing, one of the PGs mentioned that they encountered a northerly headwind at Hans se Kop.  I encountered no such problems, and as I climbed out above the the peak, and checked out the cloud base above all but the highest peaks I knew the game was on.  For a few years now, I had been scheming to get into the upper valley in proper SW conditions.  I know from previous experience in the Tulbagh valley that if the wind blows into an enclosed valley, almost like water streaming into a dam, that it tends to "spill" over the edges all round, and that it becomes possible to soar right around it.  I knew that I had a shot at getting out of the valley.

From here it was a relatively simple affair of following the mountains around.  I contemplated getting up to cloud base and taking a short-cut across, dolphining  as I go.  I had done this once before but, given my more recent encounter with cloud suck in a HG I was a bit more careful of this strategy - and dismissed it after a feeble attempt and continued following the ridges.  Very quickly I reached the furthest point I had been to before, and enjoyed getting into uncharted territory (for me anyway).   At the top of the valley I was aware that the good landing fields were quite a way away, but conditions were mild, and I managed to maintain my height as I continued along.  I peered into Jonkershoek, which was in full sunshine - inviting, but misleading.  This was most likely a "fohn gap", indicating that most of it was in sink in the lee of the  Southwester.

I was now heading for the highest peak in the NW corner of the valley (Haelkop according to a post on Google Earth).  From the solid cloud above it it was obvious that there would be good lift, and that this could be my final ticket out.  Sure enough - and I was soon  stuffing the bar to avoid getting sucked into cloud.

Last time I crossed out of the valley, I decked it immediately in the only field available on the other side.  I was keen to avoid this fate and quickly had to decide on the best route out.  The direct route out of the valley would take me into the lee of  another mountain SW of Haelkop, so to be on the safe side (and following the cues provided by the clouds) I headed upwind to get around it - sinking rapidly as I went.  Fortunately I did not have far to go before I reached the peak and immediately found lift.  With my confidence bolstered I crossed the mountains - in lift - and found myself on the Cape Flats - so to speak.

There was no time to enjoy the view, as I immediately ran into consistent sink.  I continued North along the range - jumping across a large valley -  towards Stellenbosch Mountain.  At first sight the landing options looked very limited and I settled on what appeared to be a largish patch of Renosterveld  as my bailout option.  On reaching Stellenbosch Mountain I connected with some good thermals and drifted to the end of the ridge overlooking town.  I had to fly upwind a couple of times not be be blown over the ridge, while I tried to gain maximum height and plan my next move.   For a while the choice had been obvious: faff around and land somewhere close-by, or go for the big prize: Simonsberg.  Stellenbosch looked horribly built-up and cultivated - not many places to land.  Given that my glide would be directly downwind, I decided that I could safely make the sports fields north of town in Idas Valley.  I turned upwind and looked for one more thermal.  Not finding much I decided to go before I lost any more height.

I followed the ridge going out, but was surprised to find horrendous sink.  When I glanced at my vario seeing that it was in double digits was enough to get the message across.  I kept going - hoping that I would get out of it soon.  Things improved but I was still sinking at between 2 - 3 m/sec.  The problem was that I had now lost so much height that the 2 -3 m/sec, which normally would have been fine, was simply not good enough.  Soon the Vergelegen sportsfields, south of town were behind me and I was truly committed.

Halfway across town it was clear that I would be able to make original cricket field across town for landing.  But exactly at that moment two entire cricket teams walked out on the pitch!  There was another field adjacent to the main one, but this was now a different ballgame.  I turned left to look back and consider my options.  There were some sportsfields in Mosterds drift and then there was the small nature reserve.  At this point I was about 340m above ground (1000ft).

The vario went quiet, and then, beep......., beep.  Hell - I turned gently and hung onto the buoyant air!  This was not a thermal to get excited about, but it was going up, not down, and gave me time to: (a) make another plan and, (b) more importantly, drift.  All I had to do was hang on to it, fly carefully, and let things develop.  I drifted straight over my cricket field and onto the now slowly rising land in front of Simonsberg.  I was working hard at scanning ahead, anticipating my drift line and lining up landable fields (there weren't many).  For a while I was over a pretty unlandable area, but the thermal was holding and I could still reach at least one or two bailout fields on cross wind glide.

Very soon I realised that the land was now coming up to meet me and the Simonsberg foothills were above me and rapidly approaching!  My thermal also petered out.  It was time to get more lift.  Instead of turning to the land-able fields close by, scanning ahead I found a foothill close by, which was facing into wind, and went straight for it.  Boom!  One of my best ever!  It took my straight from the lowly foothills to above Simonsberg in just a couple of minutes.  As I was climbing out in front of the rock face I had memories of the flight Egg and had there two years ago.  Soon I had to stuff the bar again to avoid the cloud.  I followed the ridge north as I considered by options.  I decided to go straight for Paarl Rock, but again encountered lots of sink, and in the end landed 3.3 km short, next to the N1 in a gusty 25km/hr wind.

Many, many thanks to Paul Laros who retrieved me - hopefully I can return the favour soon!