A FEW FINE FRIENDS, A FEW FINE DAYS

Author: Brett Ellis

We had been up at Paulpiet for a couple of days, just a few flying buddies trying to get some "distance". I'd been pushing for this well deserved break from work, that makes the difference between losing it completely, and pacing yourself through another season of what some of us call our current careers. Our group consisted of Tris, Arthur, and the two Gavins, some of Tris's students, Mark, Matthew (from Jhb) and myself.

The site has a well known reputation of being able to deliver, having sent many of us rocketing to cloud bases of 4000m ASL and clocking distances of between fifty and one hundred kms just a few months before. We had all pretty much done some smaller distances, on average around the 10km mark, but not getting above 500m ATO. Shortly after midday on Thursday Gavin Little hooked into a decent thermal and climbed out to 1000m ATO and started drifting towards Makateers Kop, a large mountain approx. 14kms away.

Tris and I sensing an opportunity to join the fun, launched into a boomer and were soon well on our way to cloud-base. At first the thermals were sparse and a little difficult to read, but with the two of us flying together we were able to make out the drift and soon were heading towards the Makateers trading store in search of any rising air. At this point I was getting dangerously low and needed a quick solution. Desperate to get up I headed for the coal mine that looked as though it could source a textbook type save.

With Tris a good 400m above me giving some encouragement, I managed to sniff out a thermal which had me high again in no time. We were on our way again, drifting now in the direction of Utrecht. Tris was clearly slowing down his flying to wait for me on my slower wing, although we were averaging down wind legs of approx. 60km/h. His Bagheera had some definite advantage in the thermals being tighter in the turns.

After the 20km mark we started to get climbs of an average of three meters a second and this got us to 1200m ATO, which also provided a panoramic view of the farmlands stretched out to the west and the distant mountain range ahead. Could we cross this range? Surely If we did we stood an excellent chance of pushing on towards Utrecht.

Sadly we were only able to find one last thermal. Tristam and I both cruised downwind at a ground-speed of about 60km/h and approx. 500m apart in search of lift. However, the day was done and as the GPS confirmed we had managed a 32km flight in light conditions. We were of course totally stoked !. Since Tristam and I had never flown a Cross-Country together it was a great opportunity for me to fly with someone with more experience, and pick up tips along the way.

We had a long wait on the side of a dirt road, surrounded by the always friendly local villagers, before our recovery arrived in the form of Arthur, who exclaimed; "Sheett, you had a bloody good flight". We learnt Gavin Little had also gone on to have an excellent first cross country of 22km, which had him equally stoked. Every one was excited as we sat on the tailboard of the dusty 4x4, devouring the lunch time sandwiches, swapping war stories and watching the sun go down…

It was the end of an awesome day, a couple of good mates, a mountain, a big sky, and a great sport. It was with great anticipation that we awoke the next day, but more of that another time.

Fly XC
Brett Ellis