2009 Finale & Still Rambling

2009 Finale & Still Rambling

After Brazil, intensive physiotherapy for the shoulder and arm was the only solution. Progress was slow - it always was, for me, with physiotherapy. In July 2002, in a bout of premature enthusiasm, I took the Topless to Sutton Meadows and somehow found the strength to rig it, but was unable to lift it onto my car without help.
The BHPA had arranged a tow meeting at Condover in Shropshire in August. We agreed to take the CAC tug. I went along as supporting cast and for solidarity, but not to fly. The rest of 2002 passed with occasional visits to Sutton Meadows to demonstrate the gradually improving range of movement of my arm, but not with a realistic hope of flying. I certainly didn’t want to risk a set-back to any progress that had been made.

Wimping Out

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In 2003 after the winter lay-off I was still reluctant to face the likelihood of flying, but I did decide to sell my Topless (we were both getting older) and tidied it up for sale. From time to time I would fantasize about replacing it with - hey! - a rigid wing or even, say, an Aeros AL12 (ultralight sailplane) that could be aerotowed with our microlight tug, but, but, … I only had to start thinking about the logistics of rigid wings and the weakness of my arm for the visions to dissolve in practicalities.
What with a weak left leg (from 1986) and now a weak right arm, I felt a bit like a very wobbly table. Could I really countenance the risk of further attrition of essential body parts? And maybe it was the prospect of leisurely Sunday mornings without the angst of the weather forecast, and whether to go flying.

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Roger Wood was always enthusiastically encouraging. ‘Here Ed: put this helmet on; sit there; put your feet there (those are my feet in the image); we’ll give you some air experience in the tug!’. Did he think I was going to be another tug pilot? I was scared!

I took the Topless to Hill Farm in Norfolk in May to find likely purchasers. Good old Barry Freeman gave it a demonstration flight for me. The NHGC had an amicable social scene going on, but without aerotowing of course. Tony and Rona had moved to Spain for most of the year. There were no takers for the Topless, but I can’t say I was surprised. Country-wide, the (flexwing) hang gliding scene was declining whilst the popularity of paragliders mounted. The NHGC was by now competent to winch launch paragliders, but this was only possible in light wind conditions.

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My house had inconsiderately developed a leaky roof the previous Christmas. During the midsummer months, I helped a roof-tiler friend re-roof it. Clambering up and down ladders with armfuls of pantiles should improve my general health and fitness, I thought. Perhaps it did, but in August I turned out for the Sutton Meadows Microlight Club Charity fly-in. It was a splendid blue day with light winds and thermals up to 5000’ hanging over the field. There was my Topless (still unsold) in front of the CAC caravan, rigged and ready to fly. But I was not.

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At the AGM in October 2003 I stepped down as chair of the CAC feeling that a club needs actively participating officers. Charlie Richardson was elected. The CAC membership had reduced from the Norfolk days but was starting to recover. Here you have new faces Hugh Gordon-Roe and Ian Gilbert either side of old faithfuls Charlie and Roger. Not least, we were visited more frequently by national sky gods in search of reliable aerotow launches (but only when the weather had good XC potential of course!). They were putting in some very good flight scores too.

2004

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My efforts to sell the Topless continued as soon as the flying season started. Having advertised it in SkyWings - along with harness and instruments - I went to the Devil’s Dyke (Sussex) to talk to Tony Lucchesi and Steve Cook and the lads. This was Steve, de-rigging, on Firle beacon. ‘Hi Ed - you wouldn’t like to buy a Top Secret would you?! Lovely kite – much easier to fly than your Topless. You’d manage it a treat … ’.
Aaah dear.

By August Tony and Rona were back at Hill Farm for a month or two, running training courses in this country to escape the unbearable heat of southern Spain. Yielding to the approaching inevitable, I took the Topless to Norfolk for a last time and was really glad to donate it to them for use in their school or however they saw fit.

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This was Tony taking a winch launch on it. It was a seemly fate for the kite, that eased me out of active flying with more equanimity than I might have expected. The next year I changed my estate car to one without a roof rack, breaking the habit of two and a half decades. That says it all.

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But I hadn’t ever stopped looking at the sky. Despite never before having seen a hang glider in the sky over Burwell, one day in June two flew over, but under a deadening sky. I went to fetch one of them from a neighbouring field. To our hilarious mutual astonishment it was David Drake, buddy of adventures in Piedrahita, Hungary, Laragne, Monte Cucco and the like. He had taken an aerotow launch from Sutton Meadows - so he got a very quick retrieve! And damn me, just a couple of weeks later, I saw a paraglider over Burwell in a northwesterly wind. It was a jolly good sky too (look hard near the centre left for the pg). The only place the paraglider could have launched was the Sheffield area – surely that had to be a record?! It was. The pilot, Nigel Prior, landed near Newmarket after 187km. He held the record for just two weeks, and was capped by a flight of 204km! Paragliding performances and XC distances were increasing phenomenally.
Did I ever consider migrating to paragliders … ?
No. Never. Somehow it would have seemed a retrograde step, even though these distances were more than the best I had ever achieved on my flexwing kites.

Aftermath

A further 5 years passed before the consuming passion to write about it signalled to me that the fait accompli (no more hang gliding) had at last been assimilated. Re-reading my notebooks and photo albums from years past has been an absorbing creative experience, without stimulating too many regrets for what can no longer be. And it is also about sharing these experiences again with any of you who have been companions on the way.

As just an ordinary person, one feels humbled and incredibly privileged to have been able to do these things. I have, so to speak, spread my wings; stepped off hills to soar into the skies; flown silently like a bird in thermals across the flatlands of East Anglia, the countryside of my youth, from whence maybe came the early urges to fly - if not from Daedalus and Icarus themselves …

Yes, I am still reading Skywings, still looking at the sky, and still capable of boring my rambling friends with explanations of why that cloud up there has just formed with air that has risen all the way from the ground, and why those birds are circling, and why it is (or isn’t) going to rain in the next half hour, and - no - the best conditions for thermals are not when the air is hot but when the air is cold and the ground is warm

But hang on, before I get carried away, this was all supposed to be about the history of towing in East Anglia, not the sentimental memories of a DoD (see glossary), so what better, relevant, achievement to finish with than:

2008: CAC - National XC League Champions!

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For the first time ever in hang gliding history one of our East Anglian Clubs has topped the National League for Club and individual. Andy Hollidge's magnificent triangle flight (remember the bird man on Sculthorpe?) clinched the individual scores by a mighty margin. The devil is in the detail. Here is the detail. Never forgetting of course the irrepressible Roger still delivering the goods: i.e. hang glider pilots to 2000'!
Nice rigid wing on that trolley there …

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Photo credit © CAC 2007
NXCL table courtesy of SkyWings © SkyWings 2008

A response (12/1/2010) to your comments below, from Edmund :
Hi Pete and Jac, Bob B, and others,
Very delighted to see your kind remarks. Much of the enjoyment of writing this was the anticipation of showing it to other people, and I suppose while I was writing it I always had in mind an audience of all you guys who shared the journey at various times.
Best wishes to you all.
Ed

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