Winching in Deniliquin (Australia)

Winching in Deniliquin (Australia)

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...looking a bit feral after a long day in the harness ;)

...looking a bit feral after a long day in the harness ;)

Adventures on Australian XC flights (from Kari)

Hi friends

I returned home last night after a week of winch towing from Deniliquin in the flatlands of New South Wales, where Seb set his Aussie record a few weeks back.  Wowee… towing!!  It is awesome, but such a challenging environment!  Pilots are stretched to their limits before they even get in the air – unbearable heat in the tow-paddock and no shade to hide under, winches that break and have to be fixed several times a day, pilots inevitably get stressed and cranky and the towing gets progressively wilder as the thermals get stronger… But the potential for such great flying makes it all worth it – just get in the air and stay there for as long as you possibly can!!

Our team included 6 pilots and 1 driver, and we were equipped with 3 winches – a Cloud Street (seriously enormous, over-engineered and requires a minimum of 3-4 people to carry it… enough said), a Quantum (awesome – but not well suited to rough tow-paddocks, which will cause the guillotine to go off and cut your line mid-tow…) and one home-made job (incredibly simple, effective and hands down the most reliable!!!).

Day 1: The day was not forecast to be that promising for a long flight, but sometimes the best flights happen when you aren’t expecting much ;)  My goal for the week was to fly 200km, so I decided to get after it!

Initially I spent quite a few hours towing other pilots up on the Quantum, which I had borrowed from one of my flying buddies in Canberra.  When I finally got on tow myself at about 1:30pm I had a bit of an exciting start to the flight – my tow-bridle malfunctioned when I pinned off and one side remained connected to the tow line. I got dragged sideways and almost locked out on both sides before managing to straighten up for long enough to get my hook-knife out to cut the bridle away. That certainly got the heart rate up ;) the Factor2 was very well behaved given the circumstances and I recovered it without issue in the end, although it took me half an hour or so to settle down into the flight after that.

One of the good things about running two winches was that we were able to get multiple pilots up at the same time.  I shared part of my flight with two of my buddies – Alex Yashco (on his Mentor2) and Geoff Wong (on his R10).  It was a blue day and thermals were topping out around 1900m at the peak, but with the last several hundred metres slowing down to .5-1m/s up, we were generally only going to 1700masl. Each time we went on glide we almost had to glide to the ground to find our next thermal, which made for a LOT of interesting low saves. For this reason it was not a ‘relaxing’ flight ;) Strong-ish winds gave me decent ground speeds on glide – generally 55-65km/h at trim – but made climbing a challenge, particularly down low hanging about in zeroes and waiting for something to pop off.

Choosing route options was also a little stressful – bitumen roads are scarce and there is always the potential that dirt roads will be private with locked gates to keep out retrieve.  I tried not to think about the possibility of a long walk out ;)  The country out there is remote but quite beautiful – long stretches of patchwork crop fields, followed by long stretches where there are no features on the ground whatsoever.

Towards the end of the day we flew over some lower ridges and got separated.  At 7pm I found myself low at 199.5km and facing a dilemma – I could either land where I was (next to a bitumen road with farmhouses along it) or I could push over the ridge directly behind me into the next valley and crack 200km, landing in a much more isolated valley (with one farmhouse and a potential 13km walk in either direction along the dirt track running up the middle if there were locked gates preventing retrieve access).  So I did what anyone would have done on the brink of their first 200km – I lobbed over the back into the boonies and landed next to the farmhouse on the dirt track ;)

My luck ran out at that point – I landed safely but the farmhouse turned out to be abandoned!!  I hit my check-in button on my SPOT to send my location to our retrieve driver, packed up my glider and sat down next to the dirt track to contemplate my situation. With intermittent phone reception I received texts from our driver telling me to stay put.  One of our pilots was ‘lost’ in the bush somewhere as their SPOT had run out of batteries mid flight.  It was going to be a long night in the wilderness ;)

I am quite good at spooking myself in these situations and not really one for ‘communing with nature’.  I was doing ok with the mozzies and the cold, but after about an hour panic set in when famillies of feral pigs came snuffling by to check me out, not 30m away!  This was way out of my comfort zone – there were hordes of them!  I really didn’t fancy squaring off with an angry pig and took refuge in a tree at that point.  My retrieve finally arrived at 1:30am and 6hrs later we made it back to camp.  The retrieve vehicle had driven over 1200km! I was so exhausted I couldn’t see straight and although it was quite fly-able, I took the day off to regroup and catch up on sleep. My tracklog:

So, my first 200km flight and one that I will remember.  The day off refreshed me and the day after that I had another enjoyable flight of 150km and encountered a mob of charging emus on retrieve… but I think I’ve carried on long enough so I might leave that story for another day ;)  After that the weather detereoriated and although it was still fly-able, the rest of the week gave us days with either highcloud or over-development.  All in all – good times, good climbs in the flats on the Factor2!!  I’m going back next weekend!

Wishing everyone blue skies from Australia!!