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Back to Back 300's  (Failure or Success?)
by Kevin Hook

We had had a run of good wave forecasts from the start of November, but I had managed to make a mess of all of them. One example was a declaration of a fast 300 with a remote start, which went horribly wrong when it took me five hours to get into the start sector. Ultimately, I had to run for home 30km short of the remote finish in order to get back before dark. Now, I needed to rebuild my confidence with a declared and completed task. I wanted something achievable but I also wanted to go for something that would count. John Williams was declaring 500km out and return to Tongue, a flight that I had been hoping to make all summer, but too demanding for my present state of mind. I excused my lack of spirit, pointing out that I had a 16 point handicap deficit, but still didn't relish the prospect wasting a day on which a record was likely to be set. I remembered that John was the current contender for the BGA 300km speed trophy. This sounded like a soft target and proved too tempting.

The trophy rules are not well defined, but there appears to be nothing to preclude a double out and return, nor even a requirement for the turn points to be 10km apart. Based on the satpics, COM-FES-COM-KIG-COM sounded like a good bet using the same 80km energy line 4 times to give 319km. (FES and KIG are only 9.9km apart).

I established in blue wave south of Perth and worked a very confused and demanding system to get to the remote start. It was in my mind to fly the first two legs steadily, looking for the best lift before restarting to try and get a really fast time around the task. However, the first leg averaged 136kph and the second was 123kph. The restart didn't seem necessary until the energy lines collapsed and the wave slots filled in on the third leg (85kph). However, conditions improved towards the end of the final leg to give a leg speed of 122kph.

Having completed at 113kph by 13:00, it was clearly too early to go home and land, so the question arose "What do I do now?" "Start again" was the outrageous reply. "If I can get the speed back up, then I can take that trophy from Williams" (who, after a very slow start, was turning the Tongue turn point just as I finished, making me green with envy).

I spent 15 minutes climbing to what I thought would be a good start height to take advantage of the revitalised conditions. In spite of diving through bad sink to make the restart, suddenly I felt I was in with a chance. However, the good conditions were short lived. The first two legs were completed at 107kph, and once again conditions deteriorated further on the third leg. By the time I reached the last turn point, I was being chased east away from a developing area of 8/8th cloud. As I headed south, watching the descending sun, I found myself creeping eastwards, hedging my bets between a direct return to Portmoak and the (almost) possible final leg.

By now I knew that John had completed his task and that whetted my appetite for success. I worked my way along an incomprehensible energy line that was oriented directly into wind thinking that the weather gods were looking after me after all. Time was running out and I was mentally committed to landing out at the Strathallan parachute centre and rescuing the glider the following morning. Finally, I got into the finish sector but too low for the 1000m rule. There was no obvious sign that I could climb back to the necessary height, and precious little daylight to do so. I would have to settle for the 15 minute penalty and accept a start time from the finish of my previous lap of the task.

Although I had a theoretical final glide to home, I had no time to spare and if anything went wrong I would be selecting fields in the dark. However, if I used my engine I would get back to Portmoak before last landing and would not have to rescue the glider from Strathallan in the morning. With a sigh of resigned defeat I accepted that I couldn't soar home and fired up the iron thermal. I landed with five minutes to spare and gradually it dawned on me that I had not failed after all. John's trophy was safe (from me at least!), but two laps of a declared 319km task at over 100kph was hardly a failure and must surely score a few ladder points. A total of 690km of soaring on a November day was not really a failure at all - just not the success I had been hoping for.
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