John Newton and I set off from our prospective locations on the 5th September to meet up in Barcelona for the night, just as well as BA had left the bag with my pod harness in London. Having picked that bag up at the airport the following day at lunch time we then then push on that afternoon in organized transport to Ager, which is in the very controversial Spanish state of Catalonia (Independence/Freedom from the oppressors!!!!!!) for the registration to The Gin Wide Open 2014 competition.
The practice day that followed was not tasked, due to being a touch on the strong side. Although others in the competition line up did fly (John being one of them). In caution I did not fly as I felt since I had not flown the area before, and I might have put myself in a situation I might have been uncomfortable with. As it turned out most of the ones who took off had a short flight and got pinned in the Valley!!! What did surprise and I must say impress me was that the experienced Brian Steele (Ex SMPC member) also knocked back the opportunity!
The following day was tasked and it worked out to be a great task with only a few making goal. I unfortunately flew the whole course instrument blind as I had set my competino for a different task before I launched, then found out to my dismay that I couldn’t reset whilst I was in the air. I managed to pick off 5 turn points from memory before going over the back at 2000+m. Finally sitting above goal with about 1000m to burn off, and I had no idea where it was. So chose a spot close to Tremp (nearest town) and next to the main road. having just landed I was walking out of the field when I spotted a white motor stop on the main road, reverse up, and drive into the same field heading my direction, well I was thinking about having to start apologising to this farmer for landing in his field and how much money I have on me that might pacify him. When he pulled up rolled down the window and asked me if I wanted a lift back to camping in Ager. He turned out to be a friend of one of the Swiss competitors!!
Out of the 5 days that it was flyable, 3 of them were tasked, what stopped us the other days were extremely large Cu-Nim developed above take off and with wind coming over the back.
The 2nd task day turned out to be a wild one most pilots experienced punchy conditions with stories of near full frontals and many collapses. Toby Colombe (GWO 2014 organiser) personally got a severe kicking whilst flying the task and experienced a strong head wind when the task was scheduled go over the back with 60+ pilots at base gale hanging) he radioed back to the safety committee and Brett Janaway (GWO 2014 organiser and meet director) expressing his concern and all agreed that task was to stop. I was on the ground at this time about 2 km from Ager after taking a kicking myself witnessed all these airborne wings head for camping together and land without any issues.
There was a fair bit of para-waiting and yes there were times that it was flyable, but the competition consisted of a wide range of pilot levels and there was pressure on the committee to set safe and do-able tasks. There was also a time factor involved where the meet director needed enough time to allow 120 pilots to safely launch and according to the competition regulations to make it a fair contest he also had to allow an additional ½ hour (reasonable time) for pilots to sort themselves and kit out before taking off. So by the allocated time to start, conditions would have changed.
Although the weather didn’t play ball for the comp most folk seemed to enjoy themselves. Toby and Brett were gob smacked themselves with the weather conditions as they commented they have been going to Ager for the last 7 seasons, they have never known anything like this, it was un-presidented.
On a personal note I made goal on the last task, the 2nd one was difficult conditions and I made the best I could with what I had, but my biggest disappointment was the first task where I blew it on take off with instrumentation. As it turned out I could have completed the task easily and made goal and that would have put me in the 50’s overall. Some words from an old mentor of mine especially ring true here “ Know your instruments!!” That was my only negative in the whole 18 days!
John and I had 3 days to ourselves after the comp I flew one day and landed 1km short of Tremp, managed to get a lift in to the town after 10 mins walk out to main road. Found a nice little café and enjoyed a couple of cold beers whilst I waited for my retrieve which turned out to be a very attractive German girl who had competed in the GWO and was trucking around Europe in her camper van, on a 1 year sabbatical, this girl was ticking all the boxes for me (a free spirit if you wish), with plans to travel around South America in this year out from work. Naturally I exchanged details & invited her to come fly Scotland.
She wasn’t the only female doing her own thing in the GWO there a couple of others that were on their own!!!!! The other two days were either blown out or pissing down.
The following week john and I joined Toby and Brett’s XC course where I stuck to Toby like glue on a couple of memorable flights, one where we flew a good part of the east end of the Ager ridge and valley at base. Then the following day we went to Tremp (Toby piloting a tandem) leaving a base at 2.1k connecting with a cloud street to top up and then going onto thermal above Tremp (between 700 – 900m). I was then looking at crossing the 10km lake Panta de Sant Antoni to the North beyond Tremp, but couldn’t find a strong enough climb to get to a position to go again. So we both played about until Brett joined us, and all landed in the designated field along side the town. Then a quick walk in for a cold drink and bacon sandwich. I attempted flying to Tremp another couple times during that week once landing short 2km after a speed barred glide from 2k with no lift in the Tremp valley quite pleased with that attempt it got me to about 8kms. The last time (2nd last day) I got absolutely drilled when I tried to follow a cloud street and it put me down on the small ridge behind the main one, this was where I turned to the East to try the sun light crags (To go West was going into major boonies) and followed the valley out. I got a kicking from small broken thermals on the way, and a couple of times was too close to rocks when that happened, but no collapses (with that warning) I moved out over the centre of the valley obviously loosing some height but gained a safety margin, to land about 1 km from the main road next to the lake Panta dels Terradets. An hour later was retrieved by Brett's mini bus, and after a quick break in Ager, we went back up to fly in very boaty conditions for an hour so. this time completing most of this ridge line (Monsec d’Ares) to the east and coming all the way to the West end to get a couple of photos of the lakes below (Panta de Canelles) a really nice flight, where you had to scratch close into the rocks to get the best of it.
Over the whole 18 day experience, I’ve gained so much knowledge in so many areas, and this capping off a good year for me. The main thing I improved on in my flying was to re-learn speed to fly and I have had a lot more success with my speed bar application, which was something prior I shied away from, and that ultimately put me on the ground prematurely!!!!!
I would personally recommend to anyone at any level, keen to improve their XC skills, Brett and Toby’s courses are worth considering. Toby I hear also does an excellent Pilotage and SIV in Turkey with video footage analysis, he is the new “Jocky”