xc tour porterville - in pursuit of 100km

In early March of every year we head down to Porterville & Valley-of-Desolation for 1 week of† focused XC flying, with the sole objective being to break 100km.† March is the best time because it is extremely hot and the inversion can lift to 3000m ATO on select days.† The thermals will definitely yield some good XC opportunities. Conditions are traditionally strong, so this trip is for reasonably experienced Pilots wanting "adventurous" XC flying.

Trip to Porterville March 2003

FRIDAY 28TH FEBUARY: We rendezvous at Arthurís House at 3h45 am. A sleepy but excited bunch, we are on the road just after 4h00.

Our group consists of :† Arthur (Its freezing cold) Gemperle;† Alan (Double the speed limit) Sneedon;† Josh (My arse is sore) Degenaar;† Nir (Please stop for a cigarette) Eshed;† And me:† Tristam (I want to fly 150km) Burrell.†

The 1700km trip takes us 18 hours, with Arthur making sure our stops are never too long.† We arrive at Rob Manzoniís house, and after a quick swim in the pool, we are in bed by midnight.

SATURDAY 1st MARCH:† We are all up early, preparing our kit, filling up water-bottles and replacing batteries in our instruments.† Our recovery driver for the day is a young local called Riaan.† Kurt Bacher and his wife Yvette have arrived to join us for a few days.† We trundle up to take-off and get ready to launch.† A few pilots are in the sky, but nobody seems to be getting any real height.† This is Allan and Joshís first visit to Porterville, and Allan is a little nervous before launching.††

Early morning coffee-stop near Escourt. Early morning views near Harrismith. Overdevelopment in the Karroo. Arthur briefs our recovery driver.
Jaco Wolmarans takes my Hornet SP for a test-flight.

We all launch around 1pm, and Alan immediately relaxes a few minutes into the flight.† The going is tough, with the thermals feeling small and broken.† After about half an hour we start drifting down the ridge, never getting more than 500m ato.† Kurt and Arthur drop-out, and Riaan rushes them back up the hill for another go.† Rob Manzoni radios us to tell us Adriaan Hepburn is approaching in his fixed-wing glider.† I get my camera ready and snap off a quick shot as he passes below me.††

Pre-launch Arthur and Alan. Adriaan Hepburn flies below in his glider. Catching a thermal over the farm. Scratching low somewhere near Bumpy
Over Citrusdal and going down...

Meanwhile, Josh, Nir, Allan and I have taken 2 hours to get to Bumpy Peak and the thermals start to improve.† We enter the Bermuda Triangle and shortly after that Josh goes over the back.† Arthur has launched again and is chasing after us.† I inform him that if the rest of us get high enough we will go over the back to Citrusdal, and he should do the same.††

At Piekeneerskloof Pass Allan, Nir and I get an excellent thermal, which takes Nir and I up to over a grand above.† We turn and run over the pass towards Citrusdal. Thermals are weak in the valley, and we are soon all on the ground near Citrusdal.† Nir and Alan have flown their best distances and are stoked with there achievements.† Josh's daughter, Taryn and some friends have come up from Cape Town to join us for a braai at Rob's house.

Josh with daughter Taryn. Taryn and friends do the cooking. Yvette & Kurt Bacher. Josh and Nir tucking-in
Tristam & Nir make adjustments to the camera in Tristam's wing.

Distances for the day are:

Nir -51.3km
Tris- 46.6km
Josh- 36.0km
Alan- 35.5km
Arthur- 31.0km

SUNDAY 2nd MARCH:† We arrive at take-off, focused and enthusiastic, but the day looks suspiciously inverted.† We all launch and our suspicions are confirmed.† Thermals are small and rough and itís difficult to get more than 300m ato.† Arthur, Alan and I land before Bumpy, while Josh makes the pass, and then flies down the tar road back towards Porterville.††

Soaking up the Sun on take-off. Arthur briefs Greg, our recovery driver for the day. Flying low, slow and into wind. Flying over Laatson Chalets and campsite.
Leaving the ridge and gliding to the town.

Nir goes over the back just before Bumpy, and finds a gentle headwind in the Citrusdal Valley.† He lands at 20,1 km.† By 3pm Arthur, Alan and I get back up to take-off.† Seeing as the conditions are so shitty, we decide to try fly into wind to Robís house in Porterville.† Alan drops out at 3km, while Arthur and I make Robís house, after an excellent, challenging 2hr flight. †

Looking South towards Saron Mountain. Getting closer... On the edge of the town. Thermalling over Porterville town.
Rob Manzoni's house.

Distances for the day are:

Nir- 20.1km
Tris- 12.5km + 11.9km
Josh- 28.0km
Alan- 18.0km + 3.0km
Arthur- 7.0km + 11.9km

MONDAY 3rd MARCH:† We spend the morning effecting repairs to our bakkie's power steering. The mountain is covered in mist so we arenít missing much.† By midday the mist lifts and with our bakkie repaired, we head up to take-off.† Itís strong and southerly, with the wind parallel to the ridge.† After a couple of hourís procrastination, we give it up and drive back to Robís house.††

Josh, Arthur and Nir decide to try some winching in Robís backyard.† At 6:15pm Arthur gets winched up and finds a small thermal.† He flies 10,0 km to the base of Dasklip Pass.

Josh decides the take-off conditions aren't suitable for launching. The view from the back of Rob's house. Nir gets winched up. Stopping for a break on the side of the road.
Nir shares a joke.

Distances for the day are:

Arthur- 10.0km

TUESDAY 4th MARCH:† We awaken to an exciting met forecast.† Perhaps today is the day!† The inversion doesnít look too severe, and the temperature drops nicely from 1000m ato.† Josh takes off around 11h30 and finds conditions very scratchy.† The rest of us launch after 12h00.† We start the difficult into-wind flight towards Bumpy.† The going is incredibly slow and rough.† We get smacked hard trying to break through the inversion.††

Arthur gets ready to launch. Nir on take-off. Scratching low between Teenage and Bumpy. In the Citrusdal valley, looking North.
Thermalling in the Citrusdal valley.

After 1ľ hour into the flight we have only covered 11km.† Alan and I get very low near Teenage, then a lucky thermal takes us up to 850m ato.† Arthur, Josh and I do the crossing at Bumpy, while Nir and Alan make the jump a little sooner.† We all more or less rendezvous again in the Citrusdal valley.† Alan and I get low again.† I land while Alan drifts 6km deep into the back valley where he lands.† Alan radios his co-ordinates to Arthur, who relays them to me, and I drive recovery after everyone for the rest of the day.† Nir, Josh and Arthur press on, to have fantastic flights to the constriction and beyond.†

Distances for the day are:

Nir†-††††† 60.9km
Tris -†††† 23.9km
Josh†-††† 70.2km
Alan -††† 29.7km
Arthur - 52.1km
Flight Duration

4h 20mins
2h 10mins
4h 40mins
2h 45mins
3h 45mins
Best thermal


WEDNESDAY 5th MARCH: An air of excitement prevails.† Without further ado we lay-out and Josh launches by 11h30.† The rest of us follow suit a few minutes later.† Alan and I drop out within 5 km.† Our recovery driver collects us for another go.† 12h00 and Josh is already at Piekeneerskloof Pass.† Arthur and Nir are maintaining well.††

By 1h00 Alan and I are back in the sky.† Alan drops out again and conditions are too strong for him to try a third time.† I get 600m ato before Teenage and head over into the Citrusdal Valley.† The glide is long till Iím almost on the ground, and then find a small thermal which takes me back up to 600m ato.† The pattern repeats itself till Citrusdal, where I get 1000m ato.† I fly down the road towards Constriction, over Arthur who has landed on the road.† Unbelievably I donít get a single thermal on the entire glide and land at Constriction.††

Nir checks out his map before launching. Screaming down the road to Constriction & hoping for a thermal. Lower now & still no thermal.... The welcome committee at Constriction.
Seafood dinner at Muisbos-Skerm in Lamberts Bay.

Nir lands at the same place as yesterday, 60km from take-off.† Josh is still flying and making good time.† His route has taken him across the Piekeneerskloof Pass towards Renoster Hoek.† There he jumps over the back to Constriction and flies on towards Clanwilliam.† He presses on to fly 104km.† A fantastic achievement.† We celebrate our flights by driving to Muisbosskerm in Lamberts Bay, for a delicious Seafood Dinner.

Distances for the day are:

Nir††††† -†† 61.0
Tris†††† -†† 53.0+ 5.0
Josh††† - 104.0
Allan†† -†††† 5.0
Arthur -†† 46.9

THURSDAY 6th† MARCH:†† The Final day, and last chance for some of us to fly the 100km!† The Bluesky Mobile's power-steering problem has somehow re-appeared.† We drop the bakkie & our recovery driver at the workshop & rush up to take-off in Rob's Kombi.† Josh launches immediately, with me in hot pursuit.† It's slow going, into wind.† It takes over an hour for me to reach Teenage, where I finally get above the 450m inversion for the 1st time.††

Alan is behind me & I announce to all I'm jumping over into the Citrusdal Valley.† When I get there however, I find the headwind much stronger!† On full bar I can only get 28km/h groundspeed.†† I radio the disappointing news to Alan & Josh, & then I just manage to sneak back over the range to the Porterville side.† I'm rather despondent now, and sort of start writing the day off in my head.† I think about the options now;† It's SW at take-off, so we can't fly to Worcester, & we've wasted too much time anyway.†† Josh is at Piekeneerskloof Pass & says he is scratching.† Our big-distance options seem to have faded away, so I announce I am going to attempt a flight to Piketberg.† I stand on the bar & start gliding out to the tar road.††

Half way there Josh radios me & suggests I come join him at Piekeneerskloof Pass.† I agree and turn around to fly back to the ridge.† I've lost too much height though, & come screaming in low over a farmhouse.† It triggers just in time.† Alan comes to join me, also low, but he misses the core & lands.††

Arthur & Nir have also landed near Turkey.† Our recovery driver is back from the workshop with our bakkie, so she rushes them back to take-off.† Arthur takes-off again & promptly drops-out at Turkey for the second time.††

Meanwhile my thermal above the farmhouse is going great guns, and I break through the inversion, climbing to 700m ato.† I start drifting over the back again, while Josh announces he is doing the same at Piekeneerskloof Pass.† I start the long slow into-wind slog to Citrusdal.† The going is very slow, even on speed bar & the thermals are drifting the wrong way.††

Getting a lift up to take-off in Rob's Kombi. Josh and Nir. Cranking it up in a thermal in the Citrusdal Valley. At Citrusdal looking North towards Constriction.
Looking back at Citrusdadal and Piekeneerskloof Pass.

Meanwhile Arthur and Nir take off yet again.† This time Nir flies 12km to Teenage and Arthur flies 39km to just after Citrusdal.† After Citrusdal it's not really working so I hop onto the big mountain with the radio mast.† Near Constriction, after being very low, I find a thermal, which takes me to 1300m ato.† Now I can see the Clanwilliam Dam!† A sight I've been looking forward to for many years.

On the edge of "No-Man's-Land". At the Constriction looking North towards Clanwilliam Dam. Clanwilliam Dam is in full view now. Racing down 1 of the back-valleys.
Almost past Clanwilliam looking East.

Josh says he is at Clanwilliam in very strong wind & asks for suggestions.† I advise him to try get height & go over the Pass.† Unfortunately the wind is so strong he is just getting hoovered down the narrow valley in a South Westerly direction.† He jumps onto the plateau of the big range and tries to crab sideways down the road towards distant Calvinia.††

Meanwhile, I too am starting to have some anxious moments.† I am basically just being pushed side ways into the big range.† I inch across some scary looking gully's while on full-bar.† Ground speed is now only 2km/h & I'm being buffeted around somewhat.† I keep creeping along till I make the road on the plateau where I finally land; 5 hours & 85,2km from Dasklip.† I check my GPS co-ords & it's still another 102km to Calvinia.† Josh has flown an extra 8,8km and lands 94km from take-off.†† Josh hitches a ride in a bakkie and picks me up on the way to Clanwilliam, where our recovery driver collects us.

A collection of in-flight photos taken somewhere between Constriction and Clanwilliam

We get back to Rob Manzoni's house and start packing.† We grab a Pizza at the local hotel and start the 18 hour drive back to Durban.

Coming in to land. Down & safe 85,2km from Dasklip. Pizza-time at the local hotel. Alan & Josh
Snacktime at a Steers on the way home.

What an amazing trip with a fantastic group of pilots.† This is what our total distances looked like:

Name Josh Tristam Nir Arthur Allan
Distance in Kms 36.0 46.6 51.0 31.0 35.5
28.0 12.5 20.1 10.0 18.0
70.2 11.9 60.9 7.0 3.0
104.0 23.9 61.0 11.9 29.7
†94.0 53.0 †12.0 52.1 †5.0
5.0 46.9 †17.0
85.2 39.0
Total Kms after 6 days flying: 332.2km 238.1km 205.0km 197.9km 108.2km

In conclusion:††
Josh flew incredibly well overall, flying his 2nd 100km flight.
Arthur flew consistantly well on all the days.
Nir surprised us all with his flying ability.† He achieved his best distance on this trip.
Alan is KZN's top up-&-coming XC Novice.† He also achieved his best distance on this trip.
Tristam (me) still didn't get to fly his 150km...