First Time Lucky






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Russell Leaper, graduate of the Steve Senior 1995 XC Flight College and relative newcomer to the sport takes heed of the advice given, and armed with a new canopy takes to the skies destined NOT to touch down in the bottom landing field!

I was thinking about writing an article for The Flying Scot extolling the virtues of my old faithful Edel Sirius (only four careful SMPC owners), but then Gill got me out of bed at 07.30 on a wet Monday morning. 'Do you want to buy my Spectra?' Not being one to make rash decisions early in the morning (and saying no would have been dangerous), I agreed. Less than an hour after picking up the canopy the following Friday, I was soaring at Hillend, quite pleased at staying up, but still well below Steve and Gill who were both flying Omega 3s.

The forecast for the next day was perfect and I rang around desperately trying to beg a lift up to Glencoe. Luckily, Ingrid and Jean Christophe were heading up and kindly took me as well. When we arrived there was a light and variable breeze from somewhere between NW and NE and quite a gathering of pilots at the top of Creag Dhubh beside the White Corries chair lift. A few people flew down but then the thermals started to work better and seeing some people staying up I hurried to launch. After a couple of botched attempts at getting off the ground, I decided the new glider was going to take a little getting used to. I watched Tony leave and disappear up and away, and with a little more concentration the Spectra launched fine. I soon found myself going down and headed for the car park thinking that I might at least get some lift to get a better top to bottom. Suddenly the right wing tip gave a flutter and the glider turned a little to the left. I realised I was going up and turned more to the right aand went up quicker. I thought back to Steve's 'thermal dance' at the cross-country seminar a few weeks before. Lift getting better, straighten up, losing it, increase the bank. I didn't have a vario, but the top of the hill was a good reference point and I soon had the glider in a constant turn in what I hoped was the middle of the thermal. Having got over my initial excitement both at coring my first thermal and at being higher than I had ever been before, there was a chance to appreciate the view of Ben Nevis to the north and glimpses of the sea, out west towards Oban.

I was upwind and a few hundred feet above the top of the ski tows on Meall a Bhuiridh but I still didn't have enough confidence in my thermalling ability to go over the back and it was becoming more difficult to tell if I was still in lift. It seemed safer to head east and skirt around the high ground to make sure of staying in clean air. In fact there was no evidence of any turbulence and I decided to go for a downwind run and try out the speed bar for the first time. The face of Stob a Choire Odhair and the NE facing bowl beside it looked hopeful so I headed straight for it. Being used to flying much smaller hills the scale was deceptive and I was convinced that I was much closer than I really was. I almost lost my nerve as I hurtled downwind towards the blank rock face, still with no sign of any lift. Eventually I started going up and turned into the bowl. It was much windier than it had been at White Corries and there were gust flurries running along Loch Tulla. There were still some good thermals about but at times I could barely penetrate so I flew east again to clear the hill. The wind was now definitely NE and flying downwind looked like a long walk back with no obvious sources of lift (my map was still in my backpack). I could see the houses at Bridge of Orchy which seemed like a good place to aim for, so it was back on with the speed bar and a bit of crosswind crabbing across Loch Tulla. I landed about 1.5 km short of the village, close to the West Highland Way. I sat down in the sun eating chocolate biscuits and suddenly realised I was sweating. On the ground, out of the wind, it was a warm spring day and I eventually shed about six layers of thermals.

Hitching back I got a lift with a CB enthusiast who tried unsuccessfully to convince his mate over the radio that he had just picked up someone who had 'jumped from Glencoe on a parachute and got blown to Bridge of Orchy' - sitting in the car I actually found it quite difficult to believe it myself. It had certainly been a day of firsts; a new canopy, coring my first thermal and of course all 12km of my first cross-country.

Author: Russell Leaper (Scottish Mountain)
Written: 01/01/96
Tel: 0131-346-7461 Email:

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