The Flybubble Challenge 2019

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Report by Carlo Borsattino

I popped out to the hill for a bit of a fly. “Let’s try the Flybubble Challenge!” said Greg Hamerton. The concept was to fly or hike around all the Southern sites (except Beachy Head) in a day. Let’s see how it goes, I thought. If I left the hill at all, maybe I’d make it to High and Over, with some hiking along the way.

Flying is such a funny, unpredictable thing.

First I flew from Devils Dyke to Truleigh Hill and back, a pretty easy easy ridge run, with Greg and Nancy Elliott, meeting Simon Steel, Peter Impey, John Turczak, and Peter Campbell along the way. Many pilots completed this part of the course. I’d already had a wonderful flight by this point. Little did I know, there was much more to come!

(You can follow along with this tracklog replay by Ayvri)

The Flybubble Challenge 2019: tracks

I waited for conditions to improve, working the lift to get myself into a good position in the sky. There was a northerly wind which meant I needed to push forward to make the transition to the ridge to my east. When I was well positioned, I finally decided to go for it and flew on to tag Ditchling Beacon, always working cross wind and following the lift to keep myself high and in a good position.

The Flybubble Challenge 2019: open skies

Many pilots followed me to this point, where the cyclical nature of the Ditchling thermals put some down in the fields. The ridge can be tricky here, and thermals are often out in front (or over the back) and not triggering off the obvious ridge high points.

I would’ve preferred to have flown with Greg and others as a nice gaggle however, the way things worked out, I ended up on my own, ahead of everyone else. I considered waiting for others to catch up but I know how fickle flying can be so decided to keep going, following the flow of the moment, and they day, biding my time, hoping someone might catch up so we could fly together.

I passed north of Lewes and caught some bitty lift over the hills northeast of the town, allowing me to keep good height as I drifted towards Mount Caburn, which I tagged then continued on to tag Firle, where I didn’t find much lift so I continued on to tag Bo Peep, after which I got a bit low.

I eventually managed to get back up to near cloudbase and worked my way south, passing over Alfriston, to tag High and Over and then continue on towards Newhaven.

The Flybubble Challenge 2019: seabreeze front

The views were AMAZING! To the west I could see the whole of the Isle of Wight and beyond incredibly clearly. To the east, Beachy Head Peninsula, and all the way up the coast to Margate. I wouldn’t have been surprised to see France, if I’d thought to look. Looking north, I could even make out London.

Having fun, I took my time working climbs to maintain a good strategic position and safe landing options as I approached Newhaven Cliffs. I connected with sea breeze convergence lift near the launch site and easily tagged the trickiest turnpoint of the course.

From Newhaven, I worked my way north west, opting to take the safer route, with easy safe landing options, rather then the optimum performance route over the more built up areas and areas of potential turbulence.

Making use of the sea breeze convergence at times, the ridges, good cumulus and any birds or other thermalers, I gradually worked my way back to Devils Dyke and passed north of the Brighton sprawl before gliding towards launch, landing about 2 km short on the Dyke road.

The Flybubble Challenge 2019: winner

Five and a half hours of pure joy! Certainly one of the best, most enjoyable flights of my life. The Flybubble Challenge is done. Woohoo!

Flybubble Challenge: Who went where?

The Flybubble Challenge: Carlo's route

The route was designed with ‘hike and fly’ in mind. Many XC pilots followed the ‘classic route’ that runs from Devils Dyke along the south side of the downs ridges towards Lewes and then east towards Hailsham. With the northerly wind this was slow and flights were limited to about 40km. Those who attempted the Flybubble Challenge found some of the turnpoints challenging. The Ditchling turnpoint (most northerly one) was only possible to reach by pushing into wind early in the flight. Mount Caburn, Firle and Bo Peep were well placed in good lift, but venturing down to High and Over and especially Newhaven (on the coast) risks a crossing into the sea air, which can put you down.

The Flybubble Challenge 2019: truleigh

CARLO BORSATTINO (Phi Maestro) “I pushed north of Lewes, drifted over Caburn, linked up with sea breeze front near High and Over and used it to return most of the way to Devils Dyke via Newhaven. A fabulous day!”

The Flybubble Challenge 2019: going up

GREG HAMERTON (Omega Xalps 3) “I tagged all the turnpoints, got 1500m (4950ft) near Bo Peep, cruised past High and Over but glided into the sea air on the way to Newhaven, jogged along the coast path and stopped near Brighton on last leg to Dyke. An absolutely cracking day, great fun, lots of sun, seagulls, seabreeze, and challenging flying.”

The Flybubble Challenge 2019: Houston

ROB HOUSTON (Advance Iota) “I tagged Dyke, Truleigh, skipped Ditchling but got Caburn (thermaled over Greg!), Firle, Bopeep … then continued to Eastbourne. Thanks for a great day, really enjoyed it. And I didn’t land in carnivorous plants! Best part was flying over Caburn to see one unlucky aspirant trying to launch a ropey old 2 liner. On a serious note, what a great idea! The best part for me was coming over Firle expecting to land and getting only 300 foot above the carpark and hooking an absolute belter all the way to 4500 feet, I was still in it over high and over. Can we do this every weekend please?”

The Flybubble Challenge 2019: at the Dyke

PETE IMPEY (Phi Maestro) “The Flybubble Foot and Fly challenge: I am unkeen on the foot bit, but thought I’d give a go at the fly. An early trip to Truleigh and back started me off, but then decided to stop for a break. Parawaited until things started to look better, then back in the sky. A bit of up and down then headed off in pursuit of Phil E. It needed quite a push into the wind to to Ditchling, so I decided not to bother. Needed to scrape and scratch over the Downs and the University before finally getting a second good climb near Castle Hill. This gave me a chance to tag Mt Caburn, then Firle and finally Bo Peep, with some good climbs along the way. I then abandoned the course in the search for distance but both climbs and stamina faded and the ground suck of Polegate Station proved too strong… But a pleasant, if a bit rock and roll flight from time to time in lovely Sussex sunshine.”

The Flybubble Challenge 2019: Climbing out

JOHN TURCZAK (Niviuk Artik 4) ” I kept chasing this dude on a Maestro who somehow managed to stay a climb ahead. Almost bombed trying to get into the thermal he was in at Ditching but got a low save in some scrappy air. Stuck with it and got back up, only to see the Maestro in a climb near Lewes. I then headed to the end of the Ditchling ridge with Ashley Barnes, also flying a green Artik 4, now thermaling with me. At one point I tightened up in the thermal and Ashley went wider. He went down I went up.  I then started chasing another wing heading north but realised I was not going to catch him so decided to fly my own flight. I saw Ashley insanely low on the north side of Caburn and thought he was gone but he got a climb all the way up to base. 

It was at this point that my indecision and the need to pee got the better of me. I was in a perfect position to continue to Polegate and then Eastbourne but decided instead to try and get to Bo Peep and then Firle, heading back into wind, which put me on the ground. I tried tagging Bo Peep and Firle but misjudged it and ended up at the bottom of Firle. That was my indecision, about heading to Eastbourne or tagging the sites. Should have decided a few K earlier.

At 3 1/2 hours my longest time in the air this year and with the various low saves my most tiring flight for a while. I cut my flight short and landed as I was knackered. I need to work on my stamina and decision making! An interesting day, albeit a slow one.  Great fun, a lovely days flying in September and a first for me of getting to Truleigh staying up and then going XC. Thanks to Sasha for the retrieve back to the Dyke.”

The Flybubble Challenge 2019: Chris

ASHLEY BARNES (Niviuk Artik 4) “Three low saves, one dust devil/strong thermal with instant 7ms low down averaged 5ms climb after the sea air came in from the Ouse valley. Took me just under 4 hours to do 41 k and the longest slowest going flight I’ve had. I was very happy and extremely tired to land. But still wished I had gone towards the coast to have hit more club sites on the Flybubble Challenge. Was torn between the challenge and going east. Great day to have seen so many gliders over the south coast. I could see people taking climbs everywhere. Ended up landing just before Pete Impey in front of the Long Man of Wilmington”

CHRIS TRISCA (Niviuk Artik 4) “A great day out meeting new flying buddies. I completed the Truleigh run and got stuck after.”

The Flybubble Challenge 2019: Mike Thomas

MIKE THOMAS (Ozone Rush 5) “I landed on the beach at Eastbourne, and was treated to tea and biscuits whilst reclining in a proffered deck chair.” Watch Mike’s video

The Flybubble Challenge 2019: rigids

DAVID WILLIAMSON (Rigid) “I did a small triangle, out front of the Dyke, on a rigid wing.”

Flybubble Challenge: the video

We filmed the whole day and interviewed Carlo for some great insights. Learn how to stay airborne for ages and how choose the best lines when flying cross country close to the coast.

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