The Highland Club's AGM was held in Aviemore last night. A fine curry was consumed, followed by a fruitful meeting at the offices of the Club Chairman...
January 10, 2016
Highland Round 2017
July 28, 2017
Based on the highly scientific basis of a suggestion by Windy Wilson, a well known amateur Scottish Facebook meteorologist, that the weekend of 22 / 23 July would offer good weather, Neil Rollings & Warwick Lister-Kaye took a punt and called the Highland Round a week in advance. By Thursday that decision was looking questionable with strong wind & rain predicted for most of the country. However, the Isle of Skye showed sunshine and 8 - 12 mph easterlies both days. Thinking that we’d soar the Trotternish ridge at best and enjoy a sunny weekend on Skye at worst, we decided to hold our nerve and announced to the Highland Round Telegram group that the first briefing would be at the Sligachan Hotel at 10am on Saturday.
Warwick (with Becky and nine week old Hazel in tow) and Neil (on crutches) set off on Friday afternoon. Warwick met with James Smith at the Quirang at about 4pm. The wind was right on the ridge but top endish. We set up on the heathery slope 100m to the north of the car park, intending to give ourselves plenty of space to deal with trashing wings. In the event launch was straightforward and before long we were both out at the front of a strong lift band. However, pushing forward we discovered that there was more than ridge lift. Large areas out front were giving smooth consistent 1-2 mps lift. Looking at the bands of cloud forming parallel to the ridge above us we concluded this could only be wave. We both concentrated on staying lower than the highest point of the ridge, using 360s and big ears to keep sensibly low! The conditions were not scary but it is a bit disconcerting to find yourself going up everywhere! We flew within the area visible from launch for about 45 minutes landing beside the road down in front of the cemetery. As we packed up we noticed a speed wing launching from the top - a visiting Canadian pilot who jumped in the car with us when Becky came down to retrieve us.
We returned to the Sligachan Hotel, where pilots started to emerge and a couple of beers were drunk before most of us crashed at the campsite.
Early Saturday Neil, Warwick and Paolo Belleze of SkyCamp set off up the island early to recce conditions and sites. The wind conditions were peculiar! The Quirang was blown out but Staffin Bay in front of it had nil wind. There were wave bars forming above and we thought we might only be able to fly a low coastal site. However, after driving about manically for an hour or so we hadn’t found anything offering much promise. We started heading back towards the Sligachan feeling a little frustrated and disappointed. However, we pulled over beside Loch Leathan and observed light wind blowing across the loch and right into a nice big bite in the ridge above, with the Old Man of Storr at its north end. This was our best chance. We raced back to the Slig and found a good number of pilots congregated for the ‘briefing’. After some debate about what to do, we decided the Loch Leathan site was our best bet and set off in a slightly chaotic convoy up the island.
At this point a few concluded that the day was too wavy and decided to go for a walk instead. However eight pilots climbed the short distance up onto a spur at the south end of the ‘bite'. Paolo and Warwick launched as wind dummies and after flying with massive grins on their faces for 15 minutes they remembered they had a job to do and landed. (Nice slope landing from Paolo. Warwick made a few passes of the grassy slope at launch with landing gear down but ultimately chickened out and bottom landed!)
The conditions remained more or less the same for the whole day. It seemed that there was a wave cycle resulting in the wind freshening and dropping in a long, slow rhythm. The challenge was launch, where the breeze was fresh. However, once in the air the effect of the wave was negligible and the ridge lift was beautifully smooth and a good strength for soaring. The lift band was wide, allowing pilots to fly well out front of the ridge. There was some compression at the cliff top, where caution was required, especially for pilots light on their wings.
Back at launch Paolo swung into action and gave a safety briefing and then set a task appropriate for all, including the low airtime pilots and recently passed CPs. The task was to stay in the air for exactly 1.5 hours, with points deducted for landing early or late. Then to land as close to the wind sock as safely possible, with points deducted for each pace from the sock and heavy penalties for any dangerous landings.
What ensued was a magical day of flying with multiple pilots in the air at the same time, simply boating about and enjoying the superb views all around us. The Trotternish ridge running south to Portree and the Cuillins beyond and north to the Old Man of Storr, the fresh water of the Loch Leathan below us and the sea beyond with the Isle of Raasay lying long and low in the middle distance and the glorious mountains of Wester Ross beyond that. The nature of the task allowed everyone to do their own thing within that big bite. Some taking the opportunity of smooth conditions at decent altitude to practice a few wing overs and 360s. Others taking photographs and video. The launch site was tricky, with pilots having to lay out on a very steep grassy slope, with a crossing wind that became increasingly cross at the wind backed towards the end of the day. Some of the lower airtime pilots did struggle a little with launch but all got off and some (if not most / all) walked back up for another go. Sam Newmark walked up four times! Again Paolo’s assistance on launch was massively appreciated.
In the afternoon the word had spread to the non-flyers that conditions were good and they all walked up to join us. By the end of the day all the pilots that had come for the Nationals had flown.
Some pilots were able to push around the corner to the north and to fly right around and over the Old Man of Storr and the numerous tourists on the ground. Gordon Smith abandoned the task and flew to Portree at the end of the day!
Neil Rollings stayed down on the road and offered a lot of encouragement over the radio as well as driving up and down to collect pilots who had landed well away from the wind sock. He was joined by various family and observers and formed a little road side supporters camp where beers were being dished out in the sunshine towards the end of the day.
There was a good congregation of happy pilots in the bar of the Sligachan Hotel on Saturday evening. Most retired early after a tiring day in the sunshine and bright air of the Trotternish ridge.
On Sunday Neil dashed up the island and declared the Quirang flyable. However, by the time the rest of us arrived it was feeling distinctly top endish. As we stood on launch and looked at conditions we observed a buzzard fly into the ridge lift and gain about 100m of height in about 3 seconds. Collectively we though (and said) ‘F*** that!’ and we bailed to the coast. Bizarrely Staffin Bay once again had very light wind. However some pilots did manage a little top to bottom off the sea cliffs. Again it was a beautiful sunny day and we were just glad to be out at the coast and basking in the sunshine. No task was called and when the wind started coming over the back of the cliffs at about midday we called an end to the Round.
Scores from the previous day were tallied and a prize giving was held sitting on rocks beside the sea. The judges ruled themselves out of the prize giving. The Highland Club provided trophies and SkyCamp donated generous prizes, with a Flymaster Vario LS as first prize . 1st, 2nd & 3rd prizes went to Przemek Marek, Scott Kidd and Lenka Rozbořilová respectively. Warwick and Neil decided that the Judges Award trophy should go to Paolo Belleze for his massive contribution to a successful weekend. A special mention to Peter McCulloch who flew excellently on his EN A Mojo and Ben Johnson both of whom sadly missed the prize giving.
Overall the weekend was a success, with superlative Highland flying taking place in a fun and social environment with a really good turn out and everybody going home safely.