Hang glider and paraglider teams from Britain and France have arrived in the town of Sedbergh in Northern England to contest the BlÃÂÃÂ©riot Cup.
This annual match is the only pure team event in free flight. There are no individual trophies: the only glory is found in team success. With six scoring pilots and one reserve on each side per discipline, there is a myriad of opportunities for strategy, tactics and the occasional bit of gamesmanship.
Thanks to the generous sponsors, Elemental Development, all pilots, drivers and team managers are lodged and fed in the Hogwartian halls of Sedbergh School. Everyone is in the same huge house, and the ambience half Big Brother, half Harry Potter.
The British Team is:
The French paraglider pilots arrived on Saturday night and local XC guru and BlÃÂÃÂ©riot tactician Burkitt Rudd took them to the tiny thermal launch pad of Brigsteer to give them a gentle introduction to the area. At barely 100m top-to-bottom, it was smaller than many of their alpine school slopes and there was a certain incredulity that this was, in fact, a real flying site.
After a couple of attempts, finally everyone got away, giving Burkitt and British Reserve Pilot Tom Payne a great opportunity to observe the French in action. Clearly uneasy in the unfamiliar aerology of low cloudbases (900m) and gentle rolling hills, the French flew cautiously and only two made it to their declared goal of Sedbergh, most bombing out after the scrappy second thermal.
A second flight from Whitestones rewarded the pilots with some wonderful classic British ridge soaring and a second chance to explore the terrain near the competition base of Sedbergh.
The previous day's ridge of high pressure had ebbed away to the south, giving way to a passing warm front and associated low, messy cloudbases. It was obviously not taskable, so the teams sought flyable conditions elsewhere. The French retreated to the security of the coastal site of Silecroft, playing wagga on the low dunes and most of them managed to avoid the barbed wire fence.
Meanwhile, the Brits had been a bit more patient with the weather and took advantage of a late weather window at Bewaldeth. The low bases had risen over the top of the hill, giving magic soaring conditions in and around the forming orographic cloud. The team took this opportunity to make the final adjustments to their harnesses, check their radio communications, and snap a few photos in the murky evening light.
The forecast for the next day was very poor, so there was no rush to leave the friendly local pub in the evening.
Yesterday's warm sector cleared through, followed by its associated cold front in the early afternoon. But the wind was far too strong. While the French went swimming in the school's pool and fly fishing in the local rivers, the British para- and hang gliders headed to the coast for a kite surfing taster day. Much fun was had.
The forecast for tomorrow is good in the south, not so good in the north. So, we're leaving early for the Long Mynd. This evening, really, is the day before the competition really starts and the teams have been making their final preparations, checking kit and discussing tactics, before the first expected task tomorrow. With an uncertain forecast for the rest of the week, tomorrow will be critical.
We were expecting to get our first task today, and both teams were motivated and ready to go. Everybody was to bed early, gliders packed ready to go and with a new set of turnpoints in the GPSs.
It was obviously going to be far too windy in the north, so the teams got up at the crack of dawn for a three hour drive south to the Long Mynd. Weather checks on the way down revealed that it was already blown out before we'd even arrived. Alternative sites were discussed, but all were too far away. So, we spent a few hours on the hill, wolfing down a cooked breakfast at the gliding club and chatting to the hangies (it was also too windy for them), before we piled back into the bus for the long drive back to base. Team driver Alan Horsfield is a star.
Way, way down south it was flyable with at least two pilots managing 100k flights, but sadly nowhere with range of comp HQ.
The forecast for the remaining competition days is not great and the frustration of not flying is starting to show on both teams. The French have already driven several thousand kilometres to be here and have many more to go for their return trip. So far, they've only had a short XC and a bit of soaring.
The awful weather continues. No chance of a task today. Unfortunately it looks like the paraglider pilots will not get to unpack their wings this competition, and the Bleriot Cup will be decided on a single task flown by the hangies on Saturday -- if they are lucky.
The team leaders met at 6:15am to check the latest forecasts and if necessary wake the pilots for a long drive to wherever might by flyable. Unfortunately, the strong winds, low bases and rain that have been plaguing us here in the Dales have generalised over most the British Isles, leaving not even the faintest glimmer of hope for a task. Some tried flying at the coast, only to find torrential rain.
The forecast for tomorrow is maybe a fraction drier but still windy, likely too much even for the hangies. Unless a miracle occurs, the only final score at this competition will be 6-0 to the weather, a real shame for everyone, pilots, organisers, and sponsors, who have put so much into this unique competition.
The last chance for a task. There was none.