1000 km a Different Way…
By Errol Shirtliff
The weather map on the TV evening news of 24 February 1989 looked very good for an attempt at a 1000 km flight from Nelson. The isobars indicated that there would be a SW to W airstream west of the Main Divide becoming W to NW east of the Main Divide. This was important as a NW in the Nelson Area produces so much cloud that it is impossible to get out. The pressure wave that develops from French Pass to Wakefield does not go high enough to allow flight over the top.
Warwick Marshall happened to ring me on Saturday evening, so I arranged to call him about 6 in the morning if conditions looked good. Over the past 4 years Warwick has been of tremendous help getting Ivan Evans or myself airborne before 8 o’clock in the morning.
I rose about 0550 hours and had a good look at the weather conditions. It was very calm but still a little dark to see clearly any cloud formations. I rang Warwick and arranged to ring again about 7 o’clock. By then a nice WSW wind was blowing on the ground as well as being indicated by the cloud flowing over the Twins and Mount Arthur. It was all go from then.
The glider was already rigged at Nelson Airport but I needed to top up the oxygen and put 90 litres of water in the DG300 as well as the usual barograph, camera and film, and task declaration. All being ready the glider was towed to the start of Two Zero, the western grass runway. Take-off was about 0835 to a release over Fringed Hill at 3250 feet.
Wooded Peak about 3 kms from the release point is the best chance of climbing enough to get away. The ridge run to it was good and the subsequent climb took me to 4500 feet. At this point I set off carefully for the ridge that runs from the north to Mount Starveall. This was reached with the loss of just over 1000 feet. The SW face of Starveall was working gently up to 5500 feet. This allowed me to push into wind over the ridge by Bishops Cap where were rotor clouds. After considerable fiddling about a climb in rotor thermal to 7000 feet produced the height required to step forward into wave. This started at 8 knots and only went to 13,000 feet but meant the flight was on as this wave leads to another in the lee of the St Arnaud Range. Ath this stage I had to reach back and drag forward the heavy Lammie coat wrapped around the barograph away from the radio speaker so I could clearly hear Wellington Control.
There were no high lenticulars but the low level wave was clearly marked by the firm looking cumulus usually seen on the second of two ridges appropriately aligned for the wind direction.
The country between Rainbow Station and Hanmer has to be treated with the greatest respect as airstrips and paddocks are virtually nonexistent. As well, the walk to the nearest phone or person would be more likely to take days than hours. The track I took was Rainbow Station; Hamilton River; across Rainbow River; Lake Guyon; then down the Waiau River to cross the Lewis Pass Highway and link up west of the Puketeraki Range. At this stage it was obvious that the wind was definitely W, not NW, and quite strong. Climbs in wave up to 14,000 feet did not produce long runs as the subsequent push into wind resulted in rapid loss of height for little gain in distance.
By midday I had climbed in the Craigieburn wave and was approaching the NW end of Lake Coleridge. After a small climb here I pushed forward quickly to the ridge between the Rakaia River and Lake Heron. A thermal here gave me enough height to tackle the difficult terrain between the Rakaia and the Erewhon area of the Rangitata. I was very conscious of having been spat out over one of the Rangitata tributaries while trying to ridge soar back to Omarama when I had attempted a 1000 km flight during the 1989 Regional Championship.
Although I got over the difficult area I could make no progress up the western thumb of the Two Thumbs Range. The net result was a retreat to the hill between Mesopotamia and Hakatere which I ridge-soared up to get onto the Ben McCleod Range. It was working well despite having no clouds above. My subsequent run along it and then the Two Thumbs made me feel I could have made better progress into the quartering wind by ridge-soaring rather than flying the wave. The southern end of the Two Thumbs near Tekapo only produced a thermal to 7500 feet.
Time was passing quickly and as it was now 1400 hours I seriously considered turning back. Thirty minutes later I was almost sorry I had not. I passed over Irishman Creek at 4000 feet thinking I might have to pay Justin Wills a visit with only the low ridge leading up to Mount Mary ahead of me. However, a ridge climb then a thermal just out from the hill got me out to the Benmores which I ridge-soared along to get to Mount Horrible. Another thermal took me up enough to penetrate over the spur towards Hugo’s Elevator. The subsequent climb there lead almost directly into wave in the lee of the St. Bathan Range. This wave was comparatively low level, 13 to 14,000 feet and lay at 45 degrees to a really good looking lenticular just forming with only minor breaks from Clyde to Mount Peel.
About this stage I made radio contact with Ray Lynskey. In fact I rarely go flying down the Alps without hearing from Ray or Terry Delore or both. Ray was a lot more optimistic about my chances of making it back to Nelson than I was.
Having overcome the temptation of an easy link with the high level wave and a good start home I pushed forward three waves to the Tarras Road Junction, my turn point. Luckily it was right under the leading edge of wave cloud so with the photo in the camera at nearly 1630 hours I set off for home.
The choice now was to attempt the apparently easy transition into the big wave or stay close in to the Main Divide and make use of the tail wind with options of moving east if I had to. The low level wave was easy to follow home. It was good to fly north up into areas that were not accessible on the way south then simply drop downwind eastwards to try the next wave.
My track home was Tarras; Clay Cliffs; Glentanner; Murchison Glacier; Harper River; Cass; Glen Wye; Lake Guyon; Mount Travers. Stops were minimal and most of this section was conducted between 9 and 12,000 feet. About Cass my radio and electric vario began to malfunction as the battery felt the effects of the previous days four hours use. As I dipped to 9500 feet near Glen Wye I thanked Christchurch Control for their assistance then turned all the electrics off in case I needed the radio urgently at a later state. Passing over St Arnaud township I turned to the radio. Nelson Tower came in loud and clear responding to my call.
I informed them of my impending approach. Shortly after I called my base from 40 kms out at 8,500 feet. Warwick answered sounding very happy and relieved not to be going for a long drive. A VNE approach to the circuit pattern as I dropped all my water ballast provided a spectacular sight from the airport with the setting sun seen low in the sky behind. As I rolled to a halt near my trailer I could hardly believe I had done the trip home in 2 hours and 45 minutes. The time was then 1910 hours.
A flight of this magnitude would not wave been possible without the help on many occasions of crew and tow pilot Warwick Marshall, other pilots like Ivan Evans who provide the incentive to improve soaring skills, and many cub members who have assisted in one way or another, as well as a very supportive wife. Also I must mention Wellington and Christchurch radar operators. They were very patient particularly so on a day when one was up and down in the vicinity of 10,000 feet all the time. They deserve special thanks.
Glider DG300 Standard Class, ZK-GOZ
Pilot and water ballast 173 kg
Duration of flight 10 hours 26 minutes
Average speed going south 64.27 km/h
Average speed returning north 187.5 km/h
Four pilots flew 1000 km or more on the weekend of 24/25 February 1989, two for their first time. Three of the four are picked to fly at Minden.