Sky Hill to Knockaloe 23rd July 2007

My compatriots in Ward 11 had other reasons to be there with broken bones. Quad bike accident, car accident, falling out of a tree to retrieve his kids ball, a lead weight falling off a shelf onto his foot, walking out onto his garden patio and tripping over a foot high retaining wall. Mine was at least a bit more exciting and memorable.

The forecast for Ballaugh was good at 16mph but due to increase. It was 5pm and there was no time to waste as seemed evident already by the biggish white horses now clearly visible. My tail was definitely securely screwed on but I was still a little unsure whether it had been that factor that spoilt my last flight on Beinn-y-Phott. I was therefore a bit apprehensive as I took off into surprisingly light but lifty air. In the first hour I ventured out three times to between 1.5 and 2 miles out front and returned safely still at hill height, topping out at first 1000 ft and later 1600 ft Above Take Off.

Later whilst in hospital Watty lent me Judy’s book “Flying with Condors” in which she says that one of her ambitions had always been to fly with either Golden Eagles, Peregrine Falcons or Condors. At one point for about 15 minutes I was at 1200 ft ATO ridge soaring with a Peregrine Falcon sitting beneath me at 1100 ft ATO. Everytime our paths crossed he would turn his head up to look straight up at me to reveal the white underside of his head. That was something to remember.

After two hours I thought it was time to head out towards Andreas but changed my mind over Sulby when I didn’t seem to be penetrating that fast and fell back instead to take the easy ridge run to Sky Hill where I topped out at 1700 ft ATO in even smoother air than I had had at Ballaugh for some photos of Ramsey. There was about 50% orographic cloud cover a few hundred feet beneath me and stretching back in patches to North Barrule. Above North Barrule about 500 feet above me there was a slightly ominous separate blackish cloud which I assumed would be a wave cloud with associated mega-lift. I didn’t have the bottle to put myself back there amongst that combination of dual layer clouds.

Instead and for the first time ever for me I returned with ease out over Sulby, the Curraghs and back onto Ballaugh arriving still with 900 ft ATO. Now there was 75% orographic cloud on the hills beneath me. Behind Ballaugh over Mount Karrin / Slieu Dhoo, the top of this orographic cloud was being shaped into a classic low smooth curved broad wave cloud. I started to fly back towards this but chickened out just over the back when I started to sink. Now the wave had really started to kick in which got me to 2100 ft ATO (2900 ft Above Sea Level). In retrospect I think I should have stuck with it as the wave was getting better all the time and I just may have got really high.

Three hours is normally plenty long enough for me but obviously I couldn’t just wind it all off, so I set off for the highest point of the cliffs at Orrisdale Head. I seemed to be losing a bit more height than was warranted by any meagre lift I just might get on the cliffs, so I steered a bit more south to join the cliffs at Kirk Michael still 2300 ft ASL. I wanted to prove to myself that it was possible to get some useable lift a couple of hundred metres out in front of the the 100 ft cliffs whilst still flying at height. This was something I thought I had discovered last August on a similar but somewhat lower flight to Peel but my vario / flight recorder hadn’t recorded it so I could replay it. Later I had mentioned this high level cliff lift at Andreas Gliding Club but I don’t think anyone believed it was possible.

I mentioned at our Creg Ny Baa meeting on Thursday that I thought I had been getting light wave over the flatland between the coast and the hills. From closer analysis of my height loss over time I find that I was wrong and that the ups shown on my vario were cancelled by the downs! Nevertheless the lift on Ballaugh to 2900 ft ASL was surely wave assisted. Also I did most certainly get high level lift off the cliffs which I reckon was most likely wave assisted. I flew the 6 miles of cliffs from Kirk Michael to Peel Head in 13 minutes starting at 2300 ft ASL and finishing at 1300 ft ASL at the start of Peel Head.

Allowing for the theoretical best sink rate of my glider of 140 feet/ minute (almost certainly optimistic due to the age and condition of glider, not to mention the lousy pilot) means that, although I was sinking, I was actually being assisted by an average of 63 feet / minute lift. Some of this stretch was well out of wind but in the best lift. For five minutes just past Kirk Michael, I was getting a steady 125 feet / minute lift (almost as much as the 140 ft needed for me to stay up) while still at 2300 ft ASL at over twenty times the height of the cliffs!

From out in front of the Stack I set out in a nervous but deternmined manner straight across Peel Bay for St Patricks Isle with half a kilometre of sea and all of Peel between myself and any kind of landing option. This was very “stimulating” but with no lift greater than my sink rate until after passing Corrins Tower I finally found marginal lift at Contary Head at the south end where the hill kinks NNW. Still not good enough so with 1200 ft ASL it was time to go and crash land!

The straight line distance Sky Hill to Knockaloe was just over 14 miles – my furthest flight so far on the Island. It was just a pity that I screwed up big time at the end! In the hospital I kept looking at a table mat in the TV room showing the view with the Castle in the foreground and looking North across Peel Bay towards Kirk Michael. I felt like I was still up there in the middle of the picture at 1300 ft and that was always going to be just one part of a very memorable flight. Anyway at least I think my compatriots were mildly impressed by what this kamikazee old geezer with the bus pass had been up to.