XC Tour Porterville – in pursuit of 100km

Trip to Porterville FEB 2002

The Email from ROBO read as follows:

I want to go fly Porterville 25 Feb -> 2 March with the simple focussed goal of flying my 100 km XC.  February is the best time because it is extremely hot and the inversion lifts to 3000m ATO.  So, in theory this is absolutely best possible time. 

I am in Cape Town around that time for business, so I don't require/can't offer transport to Porterville from Durbs. But maybe if some guys can club together you guys can make a trip up. If we have a large enough crowd I will organise a dedicated recovery driver. We can rent a bakkie for going up the hill from Manzoni.

So if you would be keen to join me please tell me ASAP.

Porterville - I just can't get enough !

So after some canvassing and overcoming a bit of reluctance from Ryan, our team finally consists of Arthur Gemperle, Ryan Peo, Glen Mitchelmore and myself.  Robo has come up with some silly excuse at the last minute, and decides not to join us!

Wed 27/2 : We rendezvous at Arthur’s home at 4am. After quickly packing the Blusky mobile and filling up with Diesel; we are on the road by 4:30am. It’s an un-eventful trip. (No close encounters with livestock this time.) It takes us 19hrs to drive the 1800 km to Rob Manzoni’s house in Porterville. We’re in bed by midnight.

Thurs 27/2 : We awaken to a grey and gloomy sky.  Rob gives us a map briefing, after which the heavens open, and torrential rain sends us scurrying to our room to while away the hours; reading, etc.  Around lunchtime the rain stops and Arthur starts making noises that we should head up to take off.  Conditions are light with a heavy grey sky, so I send Ryan and Glen off for a foofy.  By the time they get back to take-off, it’s good enough to stay up.  It’s NW so we decide to fly to Porterville about 10 Km’s away.  At 4pm Arthur and I take off first and start the 10Km flight to Rob’s house. Near Porterville we find we are flying into a headwind, so I tell Arthur to turn and fly to “Bumpy” instead.  After some protesting he agrees. By now Glen and Ryan have launched so we all head off to “Bumpy” 18kms away.  Once there, we thermal up and drift over into the back valley.  Arthur gets 880 ATO here.  I’m really enjoying flying close as a group like this, as we continually use each other to mark the thermals.  It’s now after 6pm.  Arthur and I have already been in the sky for over 2 hrs. We catch the last thermal of the day, in the middle of the Citrusdal valley, and do a final glide to the golf course in Citrusdal. We all land at 6:30 pm, after an excellent 2 ˝ hr, 35km flight.  Ryan and Glen are over the moon with their 35km achievement.  It’s the 1st time either of them have been XC.  Dave (from Lemmings) picks us up . That night we celebrate to a “Potjie-A-La-Manzoni” while Ryan and Glen deliciously dissect every detail of their flight.

The storm on the 1st morning. Rob Manzoni, Arthur, Glen, Tristam & Ryan. A view of take-off, looking North. Looking over the back towards Citrusdal.
The Eastern mountain range. No-Man's- Land! .Glen works the thermal below me. Glen and Ryan climbing in a big thermal over the flatlands
Cranking it up over the flatlands. The "Team" at the Citrusdal Golf course.    

Fri 1/3 : It looks sunny and good, with puffy cumulus all over the place.  Cloud-Base is a little low, but we are full of enthusiasm.  We race the Lemmings group to launch and in a short space of time there are 20 pilots in the sky.  A few minutes later all 20 pilots are on the ground!  It’s rough up there and we can’t stay up.  We go back up and re-launch.  It's the same story; most drop out except Ryan who gets a few kilometres up the ridge.  Then a young female Pilot gets hit by a dust-devil while coming in to land.  She sustains a broken arm and some lower spinal bruising.  A helicopter arrives to take her away.  By the time we get back up to launch, it’s after 5pm.  We decide to all launch anyway.  Ryan and Glen land a few kilometres down the ridge.  Arthur flies 31km and I land at 34km on the outskirts of Citrusdal at 7pm!  We celebrate with pizzas for dinner at the Station Tavern, while discussing this strange new Porterville phenomenon, of not being able to fly any decent form of XC before 5pm.

Puffy cumulus. Arthur on take-off. Heli-casevac. Evening flatland flying towards Citrusdal.
Approaching Citrusdal.      

Sat 2/3 : The day starts with cloudbase just above take-off.  We have employed a young local “Radi” to act as our recovery driver.  We amble along to take-off and launch around 1:30pm.  It’s very thermic.  Thermals are few and far between, and small and punchy.  It’s very difficult to work, with big sink cycles in between.  Twice I have a low save a few metres off the lower rocks.  This is not my style of flying.  I’m too wary to scratch close to Porterville rocks.  After encountering a violent dust-devil I decide to rather fly further away from the ridge.  This proves to be a mistake, and I end up landing at Bumpy, 16km from launch. Ryan lands a km shorter.  Glen radios he is also getting low and is coming in to land.  Above my head he gets a lucky thermal and goes on to fly 27km.  A fantastic flight in incredibly difficult conditions.  Arthur flies 48km to Renosterhoek.

The view from Rob Manzoni's patio. Checking out the conditions. Ryan on the Eastern mountain range. Pre-launch at Dasklip.
"Bumpy Peak" and the view over the back.      

Sun 3/3 : The “boys” are psyched and ready for the “Big One”.  This business of Porterville not being XC-able before 5pm surely can't continue.....  We jump into the bakkie, only to find it has a puncture.  We then discover that our spare is also flat, so we inform Radi that we will be hiring his bakkie for the day.  Conditions are once again very light.  Ryan, Glen and I launch, and are on the ground in a matter of minutes!  Arthur launches and catches the house-thermal.  Radi drives down to pick us up, and by the time we are back on launch,  Arthur is well on his way to “Teenage Tit”, the smaller mountain before "Bumpy".   The day is heavily inverted, and Arthur reports it is difficult to go much higher than 200m ATO.  

Glen, Ryan and I re-launch, Glen and Ryan scratch really hard, but are soon on the ground again.  I get a lucky little thermal, and soon I am chasing after Arthur, who is now near “Bumpy”.  I try fly fast on speedbar to catch Arthur, and when I get to “Bumpy” I see him ahead of me crossing the “Bermuda Triangle”.  I am low in the “Bermuda” but scratch along chasing a small dusty for about 2km.  Finally it triggers, and I climb back to take-off height.  This type of flying is almost unbelievable.  I’m pulling every trick out of the book, just to stay in the sky.  I've flown 20km never getting above take-off height.  The wind is also now pumping, and when I turn into wind; my ground speed drops to zero.  

Meanwhile, Ryan and Glen launch for the third time today.  They report strong, crossed conditions on launch, and a trashy sky.  Once again they are back on the ground in a few minutes.  I make it to the other side of the “Bermuda”, a little concerned about the conditions, so I re-asses the situation:  The wind is now a blasting south-easterly, 90 degrees to the ridge.  Arthur is following the same route as yesterday, towards Renosterhoek.  I’m tired of flying low along the ridge, so I radio Arthur that I’m going to fly out into the flatlands.  This proves to be a big mistake, and minutes later I’m on the ground, 26km from launch.  Arthur reaches Renosterhoek, and announces he is going to jump the plateau and try make Clanwilliam.  He is however only 200m above the ground, and lands on the plateau, 56km from launch.  A fantastic flight in incredibly challenging conditions.

Waiting for adi (our recovery driver) at landing. Looking North at "Teenage Tit" with "Bumpy" in the background. Glen coming in to land. Gliding above the road towards Citrusdal.
Looking towards Piketburg.      

Mon 4/3 : There is something about the heat at Porterville.  You awaken to it already perspiring.  It takes away your appetite and as the day wears on you start to feel like a pacing lion in a cage.  There’s no escaping the heat’s effect.  A simple task such as unpacking your glider leaves you exhausted.  My harness is tanked with ballast and weighs a ton.  The combination of a full-face helmet, flying suit, gloves and boots doesn’t help the situation.  We stand there on the launch mat, panting in the baking sun, waiting for the streamers to straighten.  5 – 10 – 15 minutes go by, and still we stand there waiting.  My legs are buckling under the strain and the sweat runs like a river down my back.  My sunglasses have misted up and it's a mission to wipe them clean with my gloved hands.  

Then Rob Manzoni shouts; “Here comes one!”  I glance at the strategically placed streamers.  They look good.  I inflate my wing, turn, and start to walk to the edge.  I hesitate to feel for pressure in the wing.  It feels right.  I lean low, push forward hard and run!  I’m airborne!  My wing surges as I enter the thermal - A slight collapse on the left - The core is on my right - My vario starts to scream - I weight-shift hard to the right and hold tight as I position myself in the core.  The thermal only goes a few hundred meters above launch and then stops against the inversion.  Arthur and I glide North down the ridge towards the “Bermuda Triangle”.  

Glen and Ryan have launched and landed 3 times in a row without being able to catch the house-thermal and head down the ridge.  They decide to give up and drive with Radi to come collect Arthur and I.

We cross this section of no-man's land and then glide over Piekernierskloof Pass, onto the next range.  Conditions are now very light and we scratch close to the rocks, using any bit of lift available.  We both make it to Rhenosterhoek, 45km from launch, landing at 6:30pm.

Tues 5/3 : It’s our last day and we all have mixed feelings about how the trip has been so far.   Glen and Ryan are happy to have flown their first XCs, but are humbled by Porterville's unpredictable sky.  Arthur and I are still puzzled by the sky not really working till around 5pm in the afternoon.  The forecast today is SW 15 knots and the sky looks like it might have a little more potential than the rest of our trip until now.  The sky still looks heavily inverted.  Little do we know what is in store for us... 

We all launch and start the usual scratching around a few 100 meters above the house-thermal.  Then a strange thing happens; the drift is Easterly with a slight Southerly component, which is contrary to the Met report.  Arthur has already started heading North, so I radio him to say we should fly South towards the Tulbagh valley.  He agrees and we start the slow slog South.  Glen and Ryan land close to Turkey, just as Radi arrives from school.  He whisks them back up to launch, and they are soon back in the sky.  By now Arthur and I are adjacent to the town of Porterville.  I get a particularly strong thermal and break through the inversion layer, climbing to over 1000m ATO.  There are now 10 of us in the sky; our team of 4, Rob Manzoni, his assistant Andre’ and visiting pilots Ellen, Matthew, Mark and Scott.  Ellen and Rob land at Porterville.  Ryan also gets low but scratches his way up again.  We get to the “Gap” near the town of Saron, and Matt and I spend some time trying to gain height before crossing.  I advise everyone to cross the gap to Saron, and not to take a shortcut and go through it towards Tulbagh.  

Glen at take-off./td> Looking South towards Saron and the "Gap". Creeping slowly towards Porterville. Now within spitting distance.
A good view of approaching the "Gap".      

However, Arthur, Glen, Mark and Andre’ decide to go through the “Gap” instead of around it.  I consider this to be an extremely risky move, as there are no thermals in the massive venturi.  Andre’, Mark and Glen land near the town of Tulbagh.  Glen's flight is 36kms.  Against all odds, Arthur finds a small thermal near the ground and starts climbing out again.  He’s saved some time by doing this, and has crept a few kilometres ahead of me, so now the chase is on!!  Meanwhile Matt and I are taking the long route.  We cross the “Gap” and start working the big mountain with the town of Saron at its Base.  We both climb to over 1200 m ATO and Matt does the jump into the Tulbagh Valley.   I watch him carefully to see if he makes it across.  He doesn't, and lands near the road.

Getting close to the "Gap". Looking through the "Gap".  Climbing up next to the Saron mountain with the Tulbagh valley beyond. At Saron mountain looking South towards the dam.
Going over the back of the Saron mountain.  The town of Tulbagh ahead with the fire beyond.      

So, I patiently climb a little higher and then follow suit.  There is now an enormous fire on the other side of the Tulbagh Valley, and I choose a thermal trigger-point midway across the valley, which will drift me straight to the fire.  Meanwhile Mark lands near Tulbagh.  I congratulate him on his excellent flight, just as I reach my chosen trigger-point.  I’m low, maybe 100m off the ground.  Are my calculations correct?  I fly over the road, really desperate for a thermal.  Nothing!  I experience some quick sink and then my vario starts to beep.  What a welcome sound!  I crank my wing around and start to climb.  

Ryan has listened to me and has taken the long way round the "Gap".  He jumps over the back of the Saron mountain range, but encounters heavy sink over the back.  He lands a little past Tulbagh, 46,5km from take-off.  He is stoked with his flight, and settles down for a long wait for recovery.

Arthur radios he is now 1700m ATO, in front of the fire.  I keep climbing and drifting towards the fire, till I’m 1700m ATO.  I then chase after Arthur over the next gap.  The Tulbagh valley looms ahead like some giant, fat serpent.  We get onto  the next range with the town of Wolsely at its base.  

Tulbagh on the left as I head for the trigger-point. Approaching the trigger-point; the small tri-angle left of my boot. Drifting towards the fire in the big thermal. At the inversion layer, 1700m ATO.
Crossing the big gap after the fire.      

I'm slowly catching up to Arthur.  I fly over Wolsely, and then there is another big gap to cross to the next range.  Arthur and I both get low, yet manage to find thermals to get decent height again.  

Downwind dash towards Wolsely. Flying over the town of Wolsely. After Wolsely head towards the mountain range on the left. Scratching along the last mountain range before Worcester.
Worcester !!!      

The wind is now pumping on the ground and it looks like we are working the last thermal of the day.  Arthur is still a few kilometers ahead of me.  We stand on our speedbars and go for the final glide to the town of Worcester still a few kms ahead, Arthur reports a ground speed on his GPS of 90km/hour .  I land on the NE outskirts of Worcester, 88km from take-off, while Arthur lands in the Worcester Sports Stadium, 92km from take-off.  A fantastic achievement!  Arthur has broken his previous distance-record of 70km and is ecstatic.  We get collected by Radi and drive the 130km by road back to Porterville.

Down & safe in a small valley NE of Worcester. Tristam & Arthur after their flight. Radi (our recovery driver) and Arthur. Getting a tow to Colesburg.
Hanging out in Colesburg while we wait for our new radiator.       

The 1900km drive home to Durban took 30 hours as the Blusky-Mobile snapped a fan-belt and blew the radiator in the middle of the Karroo.  We spent 10 hours in Colesburg waiting for a new radiator from Bloemfontein.  We used the opportunity to investigate the local "koppie".  I think we could do some XC from there.  The townsfolk tell me they've seen hanggliders flying there...