44km flight – 2004

From the club newsletter of November 2004
Story by Guy Harding

Sunday turned out to be a good one for flying, despite what the weather forecast was predicting. Namely showers followed by a southerly front. A light westerly turning around to the south with a mostly blue sky greeted us overhead as we arrived at the Papawai airstrip. We could see good cus forming to the south. What looked to be the precursor to the southerly front.
Trev Gavin and I set up on the strip. While at Kourarau, Grant and a few others were on their way up the hill. The plan was to meet up over Kourarau and then head east in the light westerly, but of course things never quite go according to plan.
Trev ended up back at the strip after his first tow saying there wasn’t much over Jury hill, so I was expecting a similar ride. I released at 1000ft into a weak disorganised thermal. I worked this thermal for a good 15-20minutes finally getting to 3500ft when it gave up on me. I was going to go back to the strip after a quick scout further north, when I blundered into a better thermal that took me to 4500ft. There were now some nice clouds within glide to the north so it was time to go. Up high the drift was from the east so getting to Kourarau wasn’t really on. I could see the gliders set up on the hill and by now a big cu had set up right over them. As I made my way round the western side of Masterton that cu was now getting real big. A convergence line was now setting up from Kourarau heading NW. So after getting to 5800ft I headed a bit more NE to get under it. I couldn’t believe the height I was getting to, especially after sooo much rain, the air must have been real dry and there was no inversion. The next thermal things got even better as I climbed to 6500ft in a smooth 3-400 up. There was cloud around me but I was above base by a few hundred feet with just wisps forming below me. I don’t know why this thermal decided not to condense at the same height as the rest, but it was a great view. The southerly looked to be coming up behind me as more and more cus developed. It was about this time that I figured that I was riding the leading edge of the front. I was now a few km’s north of Masterton and climbing once again under a great looking cloud. It ended up taking me to 6800ft (bloody unbelievable!). I was still climbing when I got to the same height as the edges of the cloud but the middle of the base was still a few hundred feet above me. Very concave. So I stuffed the bar to get out, flying through the edge.
It now looked like the only chance of going much further was to head west of Mt Bruce. I was now out running the convergence line with nothing but blue sky to the north and the dwindling convergence line heading NW. So I followed it for a while, getting a very buoyant glide until I had to turn more NE again to avoid running into the Tararua range. It was looking like landing time as I flew over the Mt Bruce saddle with nothing but blue sky in front of me. I did fly into scrappy lift at 2000ft (only 1000agl) but the hands were numb after spending the last hour above 5000ft (hang on this is the Wairarapa, isn’t it!). So after working it half heatedly for a few minutes I went on a glide, landing just south of the bird sanctuary at Mt Bruce into a light NE. The cus south of Mt Bruce were seriously large by now, and I herd thunder a couple of times after packing up. Glad Trev and Gavin came and got me before the rain hit. We drove through it south of the saddle and a few of the hills to the side of the road had been turned white with some serious localised hail. Glad I wasn’t in the air when that lot dumped!
The distance ended up at 44km, and no, you couldn’t wipe the grin off my face that night!
I’ve never had much luck going xc in the Wairarapa, so to get a flight like this in October was something else. And I’ve got to say that being towed into the first thermal made it so much easier to get away. Roll on summer, and more towing at Papawai!