Author: Allan Sneedon

There I was Ė I had 56 flights under my belt, I knew I could thermal turn at least 3 times in a row and I had been up as high as 240m a.t.o at Ngomankulu. I was ready for my first competition.

I drove up with Jo Rev. It to the red line Chanani and Alan Laatz, both experienced instructors. They gave me an incredible amount of tips and advice and Joís assistance with regard to working a GPS was invaluable. Being a bit slow, I could hardly remember everything by the time we reached Barbeton.

For a beginner flier Barbeton is a scary place. From the take-off point the ďturkey patchĒ (where you land if you canít find lift) looks for away. You have to cross over part of the town to reach it. The experienced pilots delight in telling horror stories of pilots landing on roofs, in trees etc. The mountain slopes are covered in pine tree plantation and indigenous sharp-looking treesÖ The sisal, which is a spiky cactus-type shrub, looks like it could impale one easily and it lies camouflaged in the long grass. So a person is highly motivated to get up high, and the dust devils zoom across take-off with alarming regularity. Two pilots on take-off had their wings wrapped together like koeksusters.

For the first two days the wind howled and no one was brave enough to fly. The third day was perfect. Washed denim sky and gently breezes. The top pilots were away in a tick. Experienced pilots I recognized from Ngomankulu, Josh and Craig, and Jo and Alan climbed away. I found taking off more difficult in the light wind and thin air. I was lucky and flew into good air almost immediately. My Matrix out climbed the other 4 gliders with me in the thermal. At almost 540m a.t.o, against the advice of my superiors, I headed for the first turn point, which was at zig zags, about 5km away. I was congratulating myself when I fell into a big hole in the sky and began dropping at 4m/s. I pushed my speed bar and managed to escape but reached zig zags with only about 50m of sky below me. I soared the hill carefully and after 15 minutes found a ferocious thermal. I climbed at nearly 6m/s and hung on until I was at 930m a.t.o. Talk about shake rattle and roll! But what a view.

A word about GPS. (I think it should stand for give pilotís stick or something along those lines) I had to navigate by the seat of my pants because it would not co-operate with me. I managed to reach the second turn point, which was a further 13km away at a lookout tower past Agnes Mine when suddenly someone switched off the thermals. My total distance was about 18,5km out of a task of 41,6km. About 7 pilots out of 100 reached goal.

My advisors had scared the hell out of me about landing in all sorts of nasty places. I was lucky, I found what looked liked a bowling green to land on. Iím always amazed at how fast a lawn can change into metre high weeds. Iím still removing blackjacks out of my unmentionables.

Day 2 and pilots are dropping like flies into the turkey patch. I do not hold out much hope as I see Josh with his up with a glide ratio of 200 to / or something, land in turkey. Jo loaded out his new Effect to someone and is waiting for the guy to bring it back up the hill from the turkey patch. After a great take-off I am sinking like a stone. A weak thermal! I work it for all Iím worth and it becomes violent. I feel like Iím riding a bucking bronco but hang on until I reach nearly 1300m a.t.o. Swaziland lies beneath me. My GPS and I are on speaking terms again and after a great flight I reach the same weed infested field I landed in the precious day. I am not too unhappy about my distance when I hear that Josh and Jo didnít get off take-off because a sudden reversal of wind caused airflow to blow from over the back. Alan Laatz tells me later that I landed a few hundred metres further than he did.

Day 3 (Otherwise known as the day the cocky upstart came unstuck) Yes, thatís me. Conditions are very light. Experienced pilots suddenly get manners and allow beginners ahead of them in the queue. Josh is making up for his bad day yesterday by showing everyone how to thermal. Jo and Alan Laatz got up and zoomed away. After grovelling around take-off height I landed in turkey. I tried again. No luck. Jo had a great flight as did Josh and Alan Laatz although none completed the 44,8km task.

So that was it. A great competition. The organisers need to be congratulated on having excellent music on the take-off site and for showing some awesome paragliding videos when flying was over each day. I was chuffed at having achieved two personal goals; to reach 1000m a.t.o and to fly cross-country. My final position of 65th out of just over 100 pilots got me a close second place in the Novice class. And I learned a lot. Always switch on the thermals before taking off, get on the good of your GPS and make sure you grab you free competition T-shirt early. (Seriously early.)

Allan Sneedon