British Open and 1st Round of Nationals

St Andre les Alps

30 th May to 5 th June 2004

Pre competition flying days had been very good. Early birds were enjoying days of exploration all around the region. Forecasts were promising and everything pointed toward an exciting competition. 80 pilots from 16 Nations were to compete for first place out of the original 136.

Task 1

51.8k Race around 4 turn points and speed into goal. Kept within three local valleys due to storms in the mountains to the north and the sea breeze to the south. Hooter blows for window open and the sky was instantly filled with colourful fabric. Half the front gaggle traditionally headed to the aerials to prepare for start, the other half pushed forward into developing convergence. I was with the lucky devils in the convergence, finding ourselves hitting cloud base just at start gate just on time.

Speed bars on to take turn point 1, then blast south down the valley for number 2. The aerials gang had managed to scrape out of their mess and they were hot on our heels.

I slowed up by getting low on route to two while others just cruised at base and headed back toward take off in preparation for turn point 3. The commonest route was to climb off The Chalvet then pile over the back crossing the hated valley "Jaws of Death" to take turn point three on the Maurel. I received a damn good thrashing low on the crossing to turn point 4 Crete de Chamette. It should have been then, having been rotored inside out, that I'd realise the wind had increased! But no, hitting convergence, climbing back to base and having the memory of a gold fish helps. Racing on to last turn point at 70kph only to turn round for goal and stand completely still ??? Wind? eh? Oh? Arh!

It seemed like days on speed bar, averaging just 5kph , staring at that lovely goal line. People kept pressing into wind as it pulsed from strong to very strong to medium to strong again.

It was a matter of luck weather you crossed the river and into goal. We all came close, some slipped through when the wind pulsed to medium. Others like Adrian Thomas, Steve's Ham, Purdie, Pym and Ethrington all landed, like me 500 meters short only to watch late comers cruise in as winds dropped.

The next few days we're tour guide Barbie's travelling twice to Greoliers, marching up the mountain, carrying our wings !!! (I ask you? What has this sport come too?) only to sit basting in the sun like seals on the rocks. The cloud base dropped and tasks were canned. Day 4 found us back at St Vincent le Fort. The scene of last year's fateful day. With rotorous take offs, long slow queues, the task had to be cancelled due to "time of open window". For me a very emotional time topping out on the Dormillouse and peering over to Tete de la Strop remembering last years terrible day.

Day 5 arrived and so did our Lord the Sponsor, David Spencer-Butler of www.frp.co.uk This must be fate as he arrives, so does great weather and an excellent task. A 63k race around 4 TP's and into goal.

Similar, but longer than task 1 with less wind. Hey hey hey!! Window opens with the usual flurry and we all jostle for position ready for gate to open. The clouds formed early and climbs are strong, however, the clouds continue to form and start to blot out the landscape. Start gate and turn point one go smoothly enough but TP2 goes into shade as we approach. Some pile in, race heads fully on, some scrape through and get out, others get gobbled by the sink monster. I decided to slow down, go back to basics, stay in sunshine, climb to base and then take TP with enough glide to escape. For me it pays off and convergence sets up to carry us to TP3 and 4, then it was a cruise into goal. Meanwhile the sponsor had been driven to the goal line to see 50 pilots race in and take the line. What a day!

Day six and Task 3 was validated with an 85k race around 4 turn points. Luck, in timing was the essence this day. The early bird beat the wind, exactly opposite to task 1. Climbs were strong and the front gaggle pressed on. Anyone caught anywhere was left to the dogs. Tp 2 required climbs off the feet of Cheval Blanc and over the Tournon to take the turn, then back over the Charvet and on your way. I met front gaggle at cloud base going in to TP2 as they were coming out. Two minutes later they had crossed and we got trapped, the wind increased and 5 attempts denied, as our gaggle slowly dropped away one by one. Finally, I chanced a glide over the 15k "Jaws of Death" to get hit again by the wind at St Andre as Britains Bruce Goldsmith (Airwave Magic FR) came racing in just behind Polands Marcin TOBISZEWSKI (Gradient Avax Rse).

Most of the front gaggle cruised into goal soon after, apart from Chris Harland who ridge soared for two hours convinced he couldn't glide the 18k to goal. With ten minutes to race close he decided to land on route and was amazed to find himself cruising in. The seconds ticked away, Chris could see the line, the light was fading, time was running out. Could he make it in? Did he have enough time? Maybe, maybe? Then, just as he was about to cross,,,,,,,, the line disappeared!!!

We'd all packed up and gone home, leaving him to land alone in the dark. Well done Chris.

Many thanks to our sponsors (see foot of page) and for fantastic prizes donated to this Open by Ozone, Snowden Gliders, GreenDragons, XC Mag and local French paragliding school "AeroGlisse".