Saturday was a bad day.It was
as if He Himself was intervening, as if He already had other
plans, both for Saturday - and for Sunday.
Everything was just going wrong.It began by our arriving late at the site, when the first paragliders had already taken-off.By the time we got up the mountain there was
nothing left in the air, and only after a lot of “para-waiting”
a thermal finally came through, and the next group was able to launch.
I watched them for a while to make sure they stayed in the air.Then I took-off myself.
Six minutes later I landed in the ‘Turkey-patch’ - as the landing zone
is called here – enviously watching John and Andrea slowly climbing out, drifting
to the west in the light wind.I had a
feeling - no, I actually knew – that they were out there to break the site
record of 111 km, set by myself just under a year ago.
I was stuck at the ‘Turkey patch’
for two hours, watching with envy and frustration as the main gaggle of the day
took-off and reached for the heavens.By
the time I managed to get back up the mountain the air had become dead
again.I had to wait for a long time,
strapped in and sweating in the heat, until a puff came by and I was able to
There was a small group of us in that weak thermal, and we were wasting
too much time just drifting around, without really gaining any height.So I decided to leave the gaggle and set off
on my own.Eleven and a half km later I
was on the ground again, watching once more with envy and frustration, as the
gaggle passed overhead at cloud base, slowly drifting in the northeasterly
By that time I had thoroughly made up my mind: I utterly hate
Rustenburg.You have to do so many Fooffies (as the South Africans call these hopeless six
minute rides from top to bottom) before you get one good flight.I just hate it!
I tried to get John on his cellphone around in the evening. There was no
reply, so I knew he was still in the air.I also knew that he had broken my record.
Early the next morning he came up to me at the clubhouse, and said: “Itamar, your record of 111 km? Well – no more.Yesterday I flew133!”
- “Congratulations, John” – I said, actually happy to hear about it –
“No records last for ever, and I don't feel like a record-holding person; it
just doesn't suit me.I also think it's
appropriate that a South African should hold a South African distance record.”
Ulf, our weather expert, predicted that Sunday would have even worse
flying conditions: high-pressure system, lower lapse rates and weaker thermals,
if any at all.
And, indeed, it was already quite late by the time we finally managed
to launch.With the white, inverted,
hazy, cloudless sky, it didn’t look as if anybody was going to do any real
distance that day.Just try and hold on
to the weak broken thermals, strive to linger in the air as long as possible.
I had thoroughly learnt my lesson of the previous day, and had decided:
this time I stick with the gaggle!I
also wanted to help Marijke the best I could, by
marking the thermals for her, and giving encouragement and advice, when
needed.After all, she deserved it: it
was she who found the one and only thermal that enabled us to climb out after
Once our first thermal had faded away the gaggle scattered, each of us
desperately searching for any scrap of lift.And I found myself again gliding on my own towards the same place where
I had landed the day before…
But then I found a bubble, not a real source of lift, just enough to
hold me afloat.Soon I was delighted to
spot two gliders coming over to join: Marijke on her
green Relax, and Laurence on his red Free-X Oxygen.With the three of us acting together, we
might manage to work the meager lift and find new thermals.
Laurence and I managed to work together as a proficient team for quite
a while.We watched each other carefully
as we turned in the weak lift, shifting our circuit as the thermal slowly changed
its location in the sky.I – flying my ApcoAllegra - would out-climb
him in the thermals, and wait for him at the top.Then he would go trotting along, on a glide
faster than my own.
Marijke never made it to the top, and
was limping along behind, struggling to remain aloft.I tried to wait for her the best I could,
staying with each thermal as long as possible to mark the lift for her.But alas, I lost her.
Laurence and myself arrived over Koster with
a good altitude of 4000m ASL.There were
so many roads and tracks spreading out from the town in all directions, that I
wasn’t sure which one to follow.
- “You lead the way,” – I called out to him as we crossed tracks in a
tight climb – “I don’t know this place, have no idea which way to go.”
We took the tar road to Lichtenburg, and
shortly afterwards set out on a long glide.That is when I saw the last glimpse of Marijke,
just about to land in the middle of no-where. (She didn’t; it was just one more
of her low saves, and she managed to carry on, and set a new South African
distance record for women: 111 km!!!).Laurence was on my right, and loosing height fast in sinking air.
- “Look my way.There’s less
sink on my side of the sky” – I whispered.But he was not looking, and just became smaller and smaller as he
dropped out of the sky.Later I was told
that he had to go down and land, to save his marriage.His wife, chasing him with their car, had had
enough and wanted to go home…
Throughout the first two hours of the flight I managed to remain high,
between 2500 and 4000 ASL. But now, without my teammate, I knew the chances to
remain aloft in this hot and hazy day were not too good.Also - a crosswind was setting in from the
north, causing me to fly crab-like, skidding sideways on full speed-bar,
drifting away from the tar road whenever I stopped to turn in a thermal.
I didn't like the idea of a long hike if I landed out.So I slowly crept back to the road, loosing
height and preparing to land.I found a
nice big ploughed field to land on, but then - a new thermal!Hooking on and drifting downwind again, I
noticed that the road had turned to the left.Now I could drift with the wind again, without getting too far away from
the road.So I decided not to land, yet.
Setting off on my flight some three hours ago, I really had no
intentions to break any records.The sky
certainly wasn’t looking at all like record-breaking sky, so I didn’t even
bother to replace the batteries in my GPS, or reset the altitude recording on
my Casio watch. But now things were
looking different.Might it be possible
to break my 111-km record today?I
looked at my watch: I’d done 80 kms in three hours,
and it was nearly .'No – I whispered to myself - I reckon it's
too late.Just relax, carry on for a
while, and enjoy the flight.'
By now I was approaching the city of Lichtenburg, trying
to figure out whether to avoid the town to the right, or downwind to the
left.I was flying fast, doing more than
70 km/h on the glides, when the GPS showed 112 kms!I had broken my personal distance
Now what?To go for it?Try and outfly
John's new site record?Just one more
good thermal, that’s all I needed!
I decided to pass the city on its down-wind side, to the left, and noticed
that I was heading straight into the middle of an airport.Not again?!!!Last year I stopped my record-breaking flight, turned around and flew
back into the wind, because I was approaching the restricted area around the
airport at Zeerust.Well, I was not going to turn around this time!!!Just kept a good lookout, and kept on going,
right over the end of the runway.
Like Koster, Lichtenburg
has many roads leading in all directions.Which one should I follow to make the best distance?Turn left and run with the wind?Or crab along the road that will take me
farther away from take-off?
I've just finished a slow climb in what might be the last thermal of
the day.I have some altitude, and with
the strong wind which is now blowing, if I stop crabbing sideways I might, just
might, beat John’s new record!
“Itamar, your record of 111 km?Well – no more.I did 133!”- John had
said only this morning.Wouldn’t it be
fun to say to him tonight: “John, I’m sorry… but this new record of yours,
well, you see, I didn’t really mean to, but…”
So – a long hike back it will be.I stopped hugging the tar-road, turned my back to the wind and ran for
it, right into the middle of nowhere.
The kilometers ticked fast on my GPS, as the last hundreds of meters of
height run out: 130 km... 131, …132, and I am only two hundred meters above the
ground, drifting fast over a huge ploughed field, heading straight into power
lines at its end....133 km from
take-off, and I am down to a hundred meters above the field…
Then – 134 km!And a new
distance record for the Rustenburg site!
A tight turn into the wind to land, and immediately I realized my
mistake: I had only just passed the 134 mark, and was now flying back into the
I didn't.I slowed down as much
as I dared, and when I landed my GPS still showed 134.At home checking the distance with GARtrip, the distance was 134.01 km!!!!!
56, is a Captain for El-Al, Israel Airlines, and has been paragliding for eight
years.He lives in Israel and spends one weekend a month in South Africa.He flies an