We are mid-way through the nationals as I write this. The championships started on Monday and so far we have been lucky to fly every slot, 5 flights. It has been a bit of a shaky start for me and not my usual consistent flying which has been very frustrating. Some tasks are very good and some have been very bad! Currently I am in 4th place with very little gap to 2nd. Matthew is in 1st place with a nice little buffer of a lead. Let's hope we get some more great flying conditions and another 5 flights before the end of the week! Results can be found here: http://northamnationals.com/Results/Bootstrap/N17Index.html
With the fast flying conditions we have been having I haven't had much of a chance to get some photos of this beautiful flying area. But there will be more to come.
Goodness, how quickly three quarters of year can fly by! It had been my intention to post fairly regularly on this site so after a bit of a break I am back at it again now and will endeavour to keep a little more up to date!
Not a lot has been missed in the world of competition ballooning in these last 8 months as, for me, there has been none :( After the Japan world championships we arrived home to an extremely busy summer season of commercial flying. As well as that 'life' was occurring, we sold our house in the Hunter Valley and moved east to Newcastle, the beach, and just a little bit more going on then in our quiet little piece of paradise in the Hunter. It has been an extremely busy and at times rather stressful first half of the year and I'm quite glad it's all over!
Ok, now that my boring excuses have finished, back to the ballooning. I will be competing in all of TWO competitions this year, and one of those I will be flying with Matthew and 'sharing' a balloon. We will be travelling to Austria in August to compete at the Pre-world championship event at Groß-Siegharts. This is where the open world championships will be held in 2018 and will give us a great opportunity to check out the local area both from the ground and above before the competition proper next year! Unfortunately the cost of getting to and participating in overseas events is quite huge, especially when there are two pilots in the family and everything is doubled, so for this event we will be flying together in the one balloon and hopefully not fighting too much ;-) ha!
Austria will provide a nice opportunity to get some practise in for our Australian National Championships which will be held, once again, in Northam, Western Australia during the first week of September. At the last National championships Matt and I placed 1st and 2nd. This time I'm hoping that we can again go 1, 2, but this time with me as #1 (of course!). Unfortunately our preparation has been quite sparse but this is something that we will always be struggling with living in Australia with it's lack of frequent competitions for practise.
That's all for now. More to come...
Coming soon.... In the meantime here is a brilliant photo from Kathryn Soddy of balloons approaching a target at the Common Launch Area !!
And it's finally here! I'm so excited to be flying here in Saga, Japan among 105 of the worlds best balloon pilots! Four years ago we were in Battle Creek, USA, at our first ever world championships, Matt as pilot and me as his navigator. I could not have imagined all that we have done in the four years since, and that we would be here together now flying side by side. We will be posting plenty of updates on our Team Scaife facebook page to keep you in the loop. The weather is looking great for the week so if we are flying morning and evening it is unlikely I will get the opportunity to post anything here (I'll be sleeping at any opportunity I can get ;-) ). So will check back in again at the end of the week.
Years ago Matt and I made a deal after we were window shopping somewhere in the world and spied some really nice Breitling watches; if either of us won a ballooning world championships, the other would have to purchase a watch for them. Pretty great motivation for a competition… not that we needed any more motivation!
Finally, after 2 years (and a 2nd world championship win) we took a trip to the Breitling Watches head office and Sydney Boutique to settle the deal and pick up a very special package. In a way it was lucky for me that I had to wait a while, as just this year Breitling bought out the Galactic 29 (I had already chosen the larger 36mm version). It’s an absolute beauty of a watch, also very practical (I can swim with it), it tells the time (10x more accurately than most watches, I’ll have you know) and fits my scrawny little wrist perfectly. I am not really one to covet things, but I’m absolutely in love with this watch and love that one day I will be able to hand it down to a next-gen female aviator in the family and start a great tradition in our family. A big thank you to our friends at Breitling for helping me to own this watch.
It feels like only yesterday that I was in Lithuania at the women's world championships yet we are now less than 2 months away from the open world championships. This will be my first open world championships and I will be competing against 110 of the worlds best balloon pilots! The Australian balloon team will be represented by 3 pilots; Matthew, myself and Peter Wright. It isn't just the pilots that need a mention, we will be travelling with our biggest and best team yet. All up there will be 16 (!!) team members, complete with independent wind-reading team, a photographer, a social media/tech support guru, a team manager and then our own various crew members too!
Have a look at this video that Andrew Robertson has put together and while you are at it, visit our team website here to read more about the team and competition ballooning.
The build up to the world champs was certainly drawn out! We had arrived in the UK a month before the competition to get some practise flights and take a little trip to Germany for some training. However the weather gods were not in our favour and June seemed to be breaking all sorts of records for ‘worst summer ever’ in the UK and elsewhere. After a frustrating month, with only 3 flights, we were well and truly ready to hit the road to Birstonas, positive that the weather must surely be better the further east we flew.
Birstonas is a lovely green spa town, known for its healing mineral waters. It has a population of around 3000 people and is situated in a crook of the Nemunas River, just over an hour west of the capital, Vilnius, or 2000km drive from England. We arrived early to allow ourselves three practise days of flying and to get settled in. On Saturday we enjoyed two great practise flights, with clear skies and nice steerable winds. As seems to be a bit of a trend for me, this turned out to be the best day for flying we would have all week! Over the next few days balloon vans and trailers began to arrive and unlike 2 years ago where I didn't really know anyone, this year it was nice to see so many familiar faces and catch up with people again.
Tuesday came around quickly and it was off to the opening ceremony (complete with formation jet fly by and a surprise FAI flag raising by yours truly). Then it was on to the general briefing and the first flight briefing, scheduled for 7pm. With such long daylight hours we almost had to reverse our sleeping patterns, with night-time sleep being a ‘nap’ before waking at 3.30am for a 4.30am briefing, and trying to get a longer sleep in during the daytime.
The evening looked good and we were given 3 tasks: A PDG star, JDG and WSD. There was a short wait at the CLP for the winds to drop and then we were up and into it. I was surprised at how quickly everyone got up and away. As soon as we took off it was pretty clear that the left turn down low that was forecasted to get more predominant as the evening progressed was not going to happen and in fact the little left that was there was not very consistent. It was a matter of finding the altitude with the best direction, which turned out to be at around 3000ft, and maintaining it for the flight. I managed to find a bit more left than most and finished the first evening in second place. We were refuelled, debriefed, fed and in bed just before midnight, alarms set at 3.30am ready for flight briefing #2!!
Flight #2 saw two more tasks on the table before some funky weather was to arrive later in the morning. Launching from the CLP we flew north to a HWZ with all 3 targets set at the airfield, and then a WSD. There was speed and some nice steerage for both tasks. I was really happy with my line into the HWZ, but just didn't get the winds that Matt was reading on the surface (unlike the balloon on the outside of me when I dropped down, who managed to score better!). On to the WSD and my best result yet at a competition, 73cm (still room for improvement!). This flight saw me hit the lead with around a 500-point margin.
Then it rained. All day. That evening’s flight was cancelled as was Thursday morning’s flight, and although we went to the launch site on Thursday evening, it was far too windy to fly and there were some big bands of rain moving across the countryside to the north. So frustrating and disappointing to start a competition then just sit around as the flying slots tick on by.
Friday morning we arrived at briefing to find 5 tasks on the table. We drove to a CLP to the west and arrived to fairly brisk conditions. It was obvious that there was a little tension in the air amongst the officials. It was a difficult go/no-go call. I’m glad they called it on as it ended up being a very fast but great flight, with all tasks achievable. We took off and had a PDG first up. While my placement of the goal was good, when you’re travelling at 60km/hr these things creep up on you pretty quickly and your ability to adjust closer to the target is pretty limited! Still, 47m put me 4th. Then it was on to the HWZ at the main launch site where I just made the scoring area.
After the first 2 tasks of the morning i.e. the first 12mins of flying (!!) I settled into the flight and achieved a 1st, 4th and 2nd in the last 3 tasks. The flight was over in no time and it was then a wait to find out whether I would extend my lead. We were confident it was a good flight but knew there would be mixed results.
That evening a 2-task flight was called, flying in to the airport. A supplementary briefing at the airport cancelled the FIN and eventually the flight was black flagged just before the Hare balloon was to take off. Another cancelled flight on Saturday morning meant there was one flight to go before the end of the competition. The scores from the day before had finally been published and I had a sizeable lead of around 1700 points from the next competitor.
Saturday evenings flight briefing seemed to go for hours all the while more rain was closing in. The pilots were obviously very keen to get another flight in as a good flight could have potentially changed the lower rankings quite dramatically. It was a hard call but in my opinion the event director was a bit mad not have a plan B, and he send us in the direction of the bad weather to fly in to the CLP. If he had made the decision to go earlier and sent us from the CLP we could have had a great 2 or 3-part task before any rain came through (the fiesta pilots flew from the CLP that evening). Regardless, we drove towards the rain to the west to begin a 3-task flight. As soon as I took off I looked behind me and saw a large band of rain only a few miles away. There is no doubt that it was affecting the winds on the surface as the flight progressed. It did seem to be dispersing when, almost half way through the flight all tasks were cancelled. What an anticlimax! But I had just won my 2nd world championship title so it wasn't all bad!
It was such a mixed week of emotions. Winning the first world championships was an amazing moment, but slightly unexpected. I certainly felt more pressure coming into the second world championships. It wasn't so much the pressure to win (although of course that was a small factor), but for me it was more about having the opportunity to fly well. The weather being bad was always a worry for me in such a short competition period; with so few tasks there is no room at all for mistakes. Luckily I flew consistently well. Here are the results for the top 5:
- Nicola Scaife, AUS -8713
- Ann Herdewyn, BEL -6992
- Cheri White, USA -6680
- Ekaterina Larikova RUS -6441
- Agne Simonaviciute LTU -6433
It is an honour to be the 2 x women’s world champion. Having the women’s world championship is such an important thing for women in ballooning. It gives us an opportunity to participate and hone our skills in a high-class event that most would ordinarily not have the opportunity to do. Hopefully by continuing to create an encouraging and supportive environment like this we will see more and more women taking to the skies and flying competitively against the men.
A huge thank you to Matthew, Sanshiro and Sean, my extraordinary balloon crew. To Granny Judy for taking on last minute babysitting duties for Hugo. To my great friend Liz, who flew all the way from Vietnam just to be there with me (also, because she knew I would win, haha!). I could not ask for a more clever and supportive team. Finally, thanks to everyone supporting from afar, your words of encouragement are not to be underestimated. xx
Thanks to Aurelijus Šeštokas for the pic.
We’ve been over in the UK for nearly three weeks now, visiting Matt’s family and watching countless weather forecasts on TV, and looking at other forecasts online, and gazing out the window waiting for the rain to stop or the wind to ease. One thing I can tell you about England, the weather is bad. Like, really very bad. And it changes a lot in a very short period of time. We’ve not been flying as much as I had hoped to but that’s ok, who needs practice anyway?! Actually, I’m pretty happy with my flying at the moment so I’m not desperate for the hours. We had a really busy summer of commercial flying back home so I’m just enjoying being in the air with 22 less people in the basket with me, and giving my racer a good push.
Instead of worrying about the things I can’t control (silly weather), during my non-flying periods (i.e. pretty much all of the last 3 weeks), I am focusing very hard on the things that I can control, like eating delicious food and sleeping. I’m doing a lot of sleeping. And come to think of it, a lot of eating too.
In other ballooning news Matt and I enjoyed a spectacular, very early morning flight over London on Sunday. We took off along with 45 other balloons to the south-east of the CBD at Burgess Park and flew to the east between Tower Bridge and Canary Wharf, over the O2 arena, city airport and the Thames flood barriers into Essex. Ah-May-Zing!
Last fortnight we were in Saku, Japan for the second round of the Japanese hot air balloon Honda Grand Prix. This is a series of five events held throughout the year and Matt and I have entered the series as “Team Scaife”. Unfortunately there are no competitions in Australia this year (so sad!), and given this is a world championships year we really wanted to get some competition experience leading up to the worlds.
Saku is located in Nagano prefecture and is approximately 4 hours drive North-West of Tokyo. The city itself lies in a river valley and is surrounded on all sides by mountain ranges, one of which includes the active volcano, Mt Asama. Standing at 2,568 metres (8,425 ft), it is taller than Mt Kosciuszko, Australia’s highest mountain! The balloon festival ties in with Saku’s annual carp festival, and there were many beautiful, metres-long colourful fish flags flying throughout the city. We also managed to catch the last of the spring blossoms blooming; so pretty! It was a very quick 5-day trip for the team, leaving Australia on Saturday evening and arriving back in the country on Friday morning.
On Sunday morning we picked up our hire car and drove to Saku, picking up our gear from Watarase on the way (where Matt flew GP1). After arriving at the comp centre to say hello and check-in we decided that a 1 hour wait to be seated for lunch might be fun so we headed to the famous Sakunokusabue Soba restaurant for a delicious, very late, lunch. Afterwards we settled in to our home-stay and met our lovely host family, Noriko and Akito Okamoto. We were staying in their old family home, a traditional house with tatami floors, rice paper sliding doors and futons. The garden was beautiful and I enjoyed coming home each morning and sitting in the garden with the morning sun warming me up!
The next morning we were out of bed early for a practice flight, with all of the balloons taking off from the CLP (common launch point). It wasn’t a particularly successful flight in finding any targets however was good to take in the terrain, get my bearings – ‘can you see that giant, active volcano over there? Well, that's just east of north!’ and got me used to flying my little racer balloon again which is 7x smaller than the balloons I fly for work at home. Gosh I love my racer. While the visibility wasn't great, at 3000ft agl I got a great look over the beautiful valley and caught glimpses of the giant snow-capped peaks in the distance. The rest of the day was spent sleeping, eating (a lot! noteworthy: a delicious pizza restaurant that we visited with our friends Akari and Tetsuhiro Sue, Saku locals.), and getting final things ready for the competition proper the next day.
Competition Flight 1: Hiropon set 4 tasks for the morning. PDG, FIN, JDG, FON. The winds were pretty consistent and many of the balloons ended up in the same area for launch. I was in the first few balloons to launch with Yudai and Takeo Mizukami just in front of me. After a so-so throw at the PDG (5m) I was into my FIN. The FIN target was set at the launch site with a nice crowd gathered. During the flight so far we had faster winds aloft taking us left and the slower, lower winds to the right. I was flying closely with Richard Parry and it was quite unnerving at times with some very close flying and gentle balloon contact as we were both working those distinct wind layers the whole way into the target, not wanting to get too far left and making sure the right was still there. As it turned out the right did drop out at the target, which was right down on a riverbank. I spotted Mizukami’s balloon out to the left, struggling to get the right back to the field so held onto my line and did my gravity drop from height for a 7m result. Onto the JDG and at this point it was only Yudai ahead of me now. It was much the same coming into the target however the right hand turn on the surface was back. I dropped in a little too early and had to adjust with a quick high to low managing only an 8m-gravity drop (good enough for 2nd).
And now onto the final and saddest task of the day. The moment when you drop your marker with your final declaration on it and ascend to get on your way and realise that the wind has shifted, a lot, literally in that last minute since your drop. When you look behind and realise that many of the balloons behind you wont score well on the goal as the wind shift means they will miss completely, however, they will then have time to re-declare their FON. At this point there is absolutely nothing you can do but try to find the closest point to your declared goal, 100’s of metres away. It’s the worst feeling ever! So that’s what I did, making sure not to drop my marker in a flooded rice paddy field. I landed on a small road and lots of excited and curious people came to say Conichiwa as I handed out little Australian flag stickers to all the kiddies :).
That evening the welcome party was held and as the current women’s world champion I was honoured to join the world champ, Yudai, and event officials to open the party helping with the ‘kagami-biraki’, breaking the Sake barrel, so that the drinking could start.
And that was that for the event. While we still went through the motions of the balloon competition for the next 2 days, meeting morning and afternoon for briefings, heading out to the launch site and waiting, in the end the afternoons were too windy and the mornings were too wet on one day and far too windy the next. Not ideal but unfortunately that is the nature of our sport. In the small number of competitions we have done we have been pretty lucky so far with the weather so it was bound to happen eventually! The other negative to not flying is we had far too much time to go shopping and eat (and eat and eat). The discovery of an amazing French bakery ensured we would not go hungry, as did my continual purchases of different types of rice crackers, my Japanese addiction. Our host family also cooked us a delicious (mostly vegetarian!) meal one evening too. So yummy. We did some sightseeing heading to Kanizawara, the closest ski area to Saku, only an hours drive away, the strong winds meant we finally had great visibility with beautiful views of Mt Asama and the surrounding mountain ranges.
Unfortunately we could not stay for the prize giving ceremony as we had an evening flight booked and were told that as it was 'Golden Week' the traffic would be very heavy going into Tokyo. It was a whirlwind trip and we were back home and onto our commercial flights the very next morning.
Travelling to Japan is starting to feel very familiar to us now, we love meeting up with friends and we’re starting to recognise more and more familiar faces. A big thanks to everyone who has helped us out, lending, storing and transporting equipment. And also the ever patient Sanshiro who is a complete saint for putting up with Matt and I asking questions all the time, needing things, wanting to go shopping, needing translations and finding vegetarian food. We really couldn't do it without you all! x
Recently I stumbled upon the Vixen Sports website www.vixensports.com.au. The site is dedicated to representing female athletes from a variety of different sports and, as the website states, to:
...enhance the profile and exposure of professional Australian sportswomen by having multiple sports on the one site. It’s an opportunity for consumers to view the journey and results of various elite athletes, some of which do not have easily obtainable results elsewhere.
Women's sports, and more obscure sports (such as Ballooning!), struggle to gain everyday media attention and this site is a great resource for women's sport in Australia. I approached Kellie at Vixen Sports to see if they would be interested in having an air sports athlete on the site, and wonderfully, they were! I'm so pleased to have my own dedicated ballooning page and looking forward to updating it in the coming months as I travel to various competitions this year. Please go and check out the site and show some love with your Facebook "Likes", and stay tuned! Dear potential sponsor, please feel free to contact me at any time...!
The entry process is well underway for the Women’s worlds to be held in Birštonas, Lithuania at the start of July this year and I have just emailed my entry form. 46 women from 21 countries have registered interest to compete. Exciting!
The website is very user friendly with a great home page, you can visit it by clicking....here.
“Do you want to spend two weeks in Dubai in December? All you have to do is buy your flight tickets. We’ll ship your balloon equipment and cover all in-country costs for you and three team mates, this includes; three (delicious buffet) meals a day, van hire, transport to and from the airport, two hotel rooms, some cool merchandise, you’ll see lots of other great airsports athletes doing their thing, we’ll also put on an amazing multi-million dollar opening ceremony complete with acrobatics, singing and dancing, fountains and fireworks, and flame lighting ceremony, the Crown Prince of Dubai will be there… so whaddya say?".
“Ummmm, yeah, ok”
“Welcome to the 2015 World Air Games!”
Seventy of the world’s best balloon pilots came together over the first two weeks in December to participate in the ballooning component of the World Air Games (WAG). Hot air ballooning was one of 11 Air sports represented with other disciplines such as paramotoring, gliding, rotorcraft, model aircraft and parachuting all competing for glory in their respective fields. We really had no idea what to expect of the event or even Dubai for that matter, but accepted the invitation eagerly. The WAG coincided with the UAE’s 44th National day ‘Spirit of the Union’ celebrations. The whole city was looking it’s finest when we arrived, with the UAE flag flag adorning houses, apartment and office blocks and cars all proudly displaying the flag and images of the Royal family.
Matthew was one of only two Aussie balloonists able to attend and ranked high enough on the world-ranking list to get an invite. Sean Kavanagh made up the other half of the team. Most of the athletes were grouped into accommodation according to their country however because ballooning runs a little differently than most disciplines all of the balloonists were put up in two hotels in an area called Al Barsha. This is where the (must been seen to be believed, ginormous) Mall of the Emirates and Ski Dubai (indoor ski park) is located. Conveniently our hotel, The Grand Excelsior, was also the competition centre. Even more fantastically, the whole hotel was built to look like a cruise ship, complete with internal glass elevators that were a hit with The Kid. Breakfast and Dinner were buffet style and served at the hotel. Lunch was catered for in giant food marquees at both of the main competition areas, The Skydive Dubai Palm drop-zone (DZ) or Desert DZ. We tried both and they were both pretty phenomenal, the food tent at The Palm even had an ice sculpture as its centerpiece each day (seriously!). I don't know how many litres of hommus and babaganoush I ate over the fortnight but I know I was a pretty happy little vegetarian!
As I wrote in my previous post, the competition started with a 3-task flight then was on hold for two days due to strong winds. The rest of the week went OK, Matt finished in 13th place, but the competition was a little hit-and-miss. The event director, Claude Weber and his team seemed to be quite limited in what they could do due to certain restrictions in airspace and flying area. The event directors of each sport would have a meeting each evening to discuss their timings, airspace requirements and locations for the next day’s competition. As any balloonist knows, planning for the next day’s flight, and especially a competition flight, is very difficult to get spot on! I think partly because of that, nine tasks were achieved in five flights, a third being Hare and Hounds. Very frustrating for the pilots and maybe the event director too! I didn't go out every flight due to Hugo being pushed to his limit of sightseeing and sleep deprivation and needing a few rest periods, so here are a few of Matthew’s highlights:
- The second last morning flight, a 3-task flight where he won two out of the three tasks and in the 3rd task threw 60cm to come mid-pack (!!). He loved the fly-in to Sheikh Mohammed bin Rashid Al Maktoum’s private airstrip, a green oasis in the desert, surrounded by a camel racing track. Flying over packs of racing camels being taken through their paces in the early morning…only in Dubai!
- The very memorable last competition flight in the desert. Enjoying the solitude of flying in the desert, with rolling sand dunes as far as the eye could see, dropping right to the surface and contour flying over the dunes.
- And of course… Flying out of the World Islands (more to follow), possibly a once in a lifetime opportunity.
An absolute highlight of the trip for me was Matt taking Hugo and I for a flight from The Palm DZ. We couldn't resist the opportunity to take Hugo for his first flight in such an amazing flying area; so we sat him on a gas tank, strapped him in with a tank strap and off we flew! It was an incredible flight, flying low out over the Arabian Gulf to The Palm and then climbing high to get back onto land, flying just to the west of the city high rises then out to the edge of the desert. Hugo was as cool as a cucumber sitting hanging over the edge of the basket pointing out boats, flags and mosques and other balloons. It is a flight I will never forget.
On the final afternoon of the WAG as the closing ceremony and air show were taking place at The Palm DZ, just over 20 balloons ascended from the World Islands, targeting the (400m x 200m) Palm DZ. It was a huge exercise in organisation and logistics with 2 separate boat trips taking around 20 balloons and vehicles at a time across 15km of ocean to a giant sandbar! There were many car bogging’s in the sand, plenty of sunburn, balloons being scorched on windy inflations and countless numbers of amazing stories and images that came out of that flight. Hugo and I went to the DZ to take in the closing events and wait for the balloons. 16:30 was the latest time that the balloons were to launch to give them time to clear the ocean and city and find somewhere to land before sunset (17:20). At around this time the wind at the DZ was blowing considerably, and the windsock was horizontal. I had no doubt that they would have cancelled the launch from the completely unprotected World Islands and felt so disappointed for everyone and the effort and whole day involved to get out there. Nevertheless, Hugo and I walked to a point where we had an unobstructed view in the direction of where the balloons should have been launching. I can’t tell you how shocked I was when I saw 15 or so balloons in the air and more popping up behind, the surface wind was surely 15+kts.
The next thirty minutes was quite exciting as the balloons made their one attempt at landing at the DZ, too far left and you were flying over skyscrapers, too far right and you were in the ocean! The balloons that did make it onto the DZ were greeted at landing by at least 10 people hanging on to their baskets to try to stop the balloons a quickly as possible. The crowd loved it! For me, it looked like absolute chaos, especially when one of the first balloons to arrive misjudged his overshoot climb out and flew into a giant TV screen. As you can imagine, the energy and excitement of the pilots, passengers and crews who took part was palpable. Matt and many others report that it was the most memorable flight of their lives. As the sun set and the balloons were being packed away that windsock was still horizontal!
It was an unbelievable 2 weeks in Dubai, I can’t imagine I will ever attend an event quite like this one again. As much as I would have loved to be flying, it was not such a bad event to be watching from the ground. My balloon will also be cleaner for a little longer as a result! A big thank-you to all involved in making WAGDubai2015 such a memorable time.
*(I will be submitting an edited version of this post to our balloon federation magazine as an article for the next issue so that's why it probably seems more fabulously written than previous blog posts ;-) ...
We're at the World Air Games in Dubai! This event is like the Olympics for air sports and runs every 4-5 years or so. It brings together all air-sports such as gliding, parachuting, acrobatics, helicopters and of course ballooning! I'm not flying here, instead I'm crewing for Matt who is Australia's #1 pilot entered. The event runs for 2 weeks and the ballooning component started midway through the event.
We have been In Dubai almost a week now which has given us plenty of time to shake the jet lag and take in the atmosphere of Dubai and this fantastic event. There was an amazing multi-million dollar opening ceremony and we have watched some great air displays from different disciplines. The amount of organisation and money thrown at the event is phenomenal. I can't imagine I will ever have the privilege of attending an event quite like this one again. The ballooning competition started on Sunday with a 3-task morning flight. It's frustrating participating in a weather dependant sport as we had a big build up to the competition, flew the first flight and now we have a shamal, strong northwesterly winds, which have put the competition on hold, possibly losing two morning and three afternoon slots. Thankfully the weather is looking pretty good from Wednesday onwards so we should get some more good flights in before the end of competition on Saturday.
In the mean time we are making the most of our time here and taking in some of the sights of this crazy city.
At the end of last month, Mathew and I (along with Dave and Deano) ventured to Japan to participate in the Saga 2015 International Fiesta and Pre-world Championships. As two of Australia’s 3 picks for next years World Championships we were competing alongside three other Aussie pilots, Pete Wright, Paul Gibbs and Les Springett. We left Hugo in the care of his highly capable grandparents (who within 10 days managed to fix all of the things that were wrong with our house, clean up the garden and fill our freezer with what seems like a years worth of delicious homemade food!).
I think I was deluding myself when I thought I could use this blog to post updates during competition events. The reality is that when I’m competing I have two basic needs that take precedence over everything else: food and sleep. And it seems that doing anything else, such as writing enthralling blog updates, takes up too much of my valuable eating and sleeping time to be given a look in. We literally eat, fly, eat, sleep and repeat for 6 days! Of course if a flight is cancelled then there is a little bit of time to spare but this week we used the time wisely by visiting the fiesta stalls, doing laundry and having an epic shopping expedition to the 100yen shop!
So here, in no particular amount of detail, or order of events, is a summary of our week:
Saga is a 1-hour drive from Fukuoka, if the highway isn’t closed and you don't get lost! On day one we travelled from Fukuoka to Saga, met up with our mate Sanshiro and collected our balloon gear from the balloon shed. Matthew competed at Saga last year so there was a nice familiarity when we arrived into town. There was an obligatory stop at Starbucks for my favourite green tea frappe and then on to pilot registration, which runs so smoothly you’re left wondering whether you or they have forgotten something! On the way back to our hotel we stopped at the 100yen shop to buy decorations for our team vans. This year we chose a very tasteful flower theme (see pic below).
Unfortunately due to work commitments we only had the shortest possible time in Japan. We allowed time for one practice flight on the Thursday morning, with the competition running Friday-Tuesday. The practice flight had us flying from the north all the way to the ocean in the south. When I landed, only a few rice paddies separated me from an endless expanse of ocean, eek! The flight was a nice introduction to the infamous Saga winds, as right on cue, just after 8am everything shifted and I didn't quite make it to my last task of the morning. Still, it was nice to get in the air, have a good look around and get the team working together ready for the competition.
We flew all 5 morning competition flights. All week we had some nice wind speeds to use. One flight we did 5 tasks, with 1 task every 12 minutes or so, which was fun! Monday afternoon was our only afternoon flight with the rest of the afternoons too windy or potentially wet. This was my first time flying in Saga and it was great to familiarise myself with the area before we get to the world championships next year. It is an area notorious for shifting winds. This year was a bit unusual wind wise and we had some pretty consistent and speedy winds with a northerly influence which meant we didn’t have too many of the typical Saga flights. Even so, we still had a little taste of it each flight just to keep us on our toes (and our scores inconsistent! Ha!)
This was my first competition of this calibre and with around 80 balloons competing I really had to learn to get aggressive at times with my flying. A few times I would be standing in my basket, surrounded by other balloons, giving myself a little pep talk as I could see the target ahead of me and had to descend down into the group. Happily these talks became briefer as the week wore on and by the end of the comp I was muscling in there with the best of them. In terms of my actual flying, I felt like I was flying pretty well and had some great results. It was frustrating not to have a little more consistency with my scores but I now have lots of things to look out for and work on for next year. Every competition I fly I am still learning so much from situations that I have not yet encountered in competition and first time mistakes. One of my goals for the week was to win a task. That didn't happen, but on task 10 I came second with 999 points! I threw 90cm and I’m pretty sure that’s my first ever sub 1-metre result, so, I’ll take it.
The final results were as follows:
- 1. Rokas KOSTIUSKEVICIUS (LTU) 15,756
- 2. Johnny PETREHN (USA) 15,068
- 3. Yudai FUJITA (JPN) 14,769
- 4. Roman HUGI (SUI) 14,728
- 5. Matthew SCAIFE (AUS) 14,647
- 10. Mamoru ENDO (JPN) 13,724
- 14. Nicola SCAIFE (AUS) 13,442
The organisation and hospitality of the Japanese people is truly brilliant. There was such a welcoming feeling to the event and nothing was a problem. It was lovely to catch up with friends we had made last year and meet new ones. A huge thank you to my team for the week which consisted of my #1 Aussie crew, Dave Bain as well as our new friends Shinya and Yoshi. Shinya is a young member of the University of Miyazaki balloon club while Yoshi is a 67-year-young Saga local. We were so happy to spend the week with them both. Shinya became our navigator extraordinaire and was brilliant at finding “Shinya Shortcuts” while Yoshi was an all round helpful helper who at the end of the flight would silently disappear from our retrieve team who were measuring markers and would suddenly appear at my basket, having run a healthy distance to get to me! They both volunteered their whole week to spend it helping us, which I think is just wonderful.
It really was a whirlwind week. I missed little Hugo dearly but loved the freedom, time and extra brainpower that I had to myself for the competition. It was so great to be able to focus on what I was doing 100% without having to think about the health and welfare (and toileting habits!) of a whole other person. Even when one of us isn’t flying it is a major exercise in organisation so when we’re both competing it is really hard work.
I'm very proud of Matt who placed 5th, AGAIN! He is working hard to get up onto that podium and I think that 2016 will be his year. I went into the comp thinking that a top 20 finish would be pretty great and then exceeded my expectations. After spending the week in the top 10 of the field, at the end of 6 flights and 19 tasks I ended up in 14th place. Which is actually pretty great, considering 6 of those guys above me are/have been world champions and European champions. One of my goals in ballooning is to be mixing it with the best pilots in the world (not just female pilots!) and I think this is a pretty good start :).
Thanks to Adam Barrow, Tomoko Kurahashi/Tsubasa Yatoji and Evgeniya Burlakova for some of these pics:
Last weekend we hosted the Balloon Aloft Hunter Valley Balloon Fiesta. It was a seriously mad few days and I am still catching up on missed sleep but was lots of fun to have over 20 balloons come and fly in ‘our patch’. It was also great to share the experience of flying amongst lots of other pretty bags of hot air with our very excited passengers! Saturday was a blue-sky flight from the west to the east of the valley. The launch site was abuzz with lots of photographers and spectators. I'm sure even the non-'morning people' would have had no problem shaking off their sleepiness and being energised by the spectacle around them. Sunday was a little bit more work. With rain on the radar we waited for a few hours for the skies to clear then managed a nice quick flight right across the valley, this time from the south-east out to the north-west. Most of the private pilots decided to stay on the ground and keep their balloons dry but our passengers still loved their morning and I have already had reports of people wanting to re-book for next years fiesta.
On the Saturday evening we had a social dinner at a local vineyard, Calais Estate. The President of ASAC (Air Sports Australia Confederation) Mike Close was there and presented me with the ASAC Air Sports Achievement medal. An excerpt from the ASAC website:
Nicola Scaife, current FAI Women’s World Balloon Champion, has been awarded the ASAC Air Sports Achievement Medal. The award recognises an exceptional air sport achievement, either nationally or internationally and either in competition or in record setting. Nicola has been a standout performer in hot air ballooning. She recently won the Canowindra International Balloon Challenge against a strong field of competitors, which included the five times Australian champion and the current men’s world champion.
This is an annual award and is not just for hot air ballooning but for all air sports that come under ASAC. I was honoured to receive this award and it is nice to be representing Australian ballooning in this way.
Thanks to Kath Soddy, Amy Fox and Matthew Scaife for these pics …
Last week I was interviewed on Triple J by the afternoon drive team Veronica and Lewis for their segment "People who are better than you". They speak to people who are successful in their field in obscure or less known professions/sports/hobbies. I'm quite glad they scrapped the "What happens if you need to go to the toilet when you're flying?" question which caught me a little unprepared but otherwise it was a nice little interview. Here it is for everyone who missed it :)
I had planned on writing a day-by-day report while at the Nationals last fortnight however the reality of flying almost every slot (9/10), looking after a 2 year old and trying to eat and sleep in between flights meant I didn't even look at my computer for the week. Here is a bit of a summary of the week:
The Avon Valley was looking its finest when we arrived on Thursday afternoon. As we got closer to Northam we saw glimpses of canola and wheat fields and were quite surprised by the rolling nature of the countryside. Even though we had looked at the maps we thought it would be flatter country than it was. We settled into our accommodation “Boonooloo” who’s front paddock was used quite a lot during the week as a launch and target site and got our gear ready for flying. There is always so much equipment and “stuff” involved with competition ballooning, even when you have travelled across the country to get there.
After a nice long practice flight on Sunday morning I couldn't wait for the week to get started. The long range forecast was looking great and it looked like we were going to have a busy week of flying. At the start of the week Matt and I had the goal of placing 1st and 2nd although we hadn’t figured out who would be which! Then is was comp time. Monday AM we were met with 3 tasks and some nice fast winds aloft. These swift upper winds were a mainstay for the week which made for quick turnarounds on morning flights and lots of opportunities for quick decision making and testing your flying skills. After our first flight HWZ, HWZ, PDG Matt was leading the field and I was in Second place. It was pretty clear straight away that Matt was more focused than he ever has been at a balloon competition, so for me he was the one to beat! I felt like my flying improved as the week went on. The first 2 flights I felt a little rusty and that has shown me that ideally I would have 2- 3-practice flights before an event to be starting the comp flying my best. Matt extended his lead throughout the week while the battle for 2nd and 3rd carried on into the final flights, with 3rd place literally coming down to the very last task! By the last flight I was over 1000 points clear in 2nd place so it was nice to fly the final flight without any pressure.
The top 5 looked like this:
1. SCAIFE, Matthew 19,454
2. SCAIFE, Nicola 17,488
3. WRIGHT, Peter 16,193
4. GIBBS, Paul 15,904
5. ROBERTSON, Andrew 15,510
This was my 6th competition and on every flight and every task I am still learning SO much about my flying, competition flying, tactics, flight planning etc. This was also the most flying I had ever done at a competition so it was nice that at the end of the week I was feeling really good even up to the last task. I won’t run through all of the tasks and flights but I will jot down a few of my highlights for the week (in no particular order!):
- There was really nice sense of camaraderie between many of the pilots this year, there was lots of pre and post flight laughs and debriefs, not so many poker faces, which was really wonderful and can only be a good thing for the Australian competition ballooning community.
- I got drug tested!! I did receive an email months back asking me what competitions I planned to enter, where I would be and when. Then they actually turned up! Poor lady had to sit through the whole general briefing while I drank lots of water and summoned the courage to wee in front of her. I thought the whole thing was very novel!
- Northam was an absolutely stunning flying area. I hadn’t flown in countryside where there were so many features that affected the winds. We had the Avon river and the creeks and valley’s feeding into it, the small hills and differences in elevation across the map. It made it really interesting and taught me a lot.
- Day 4’s morning flight. I felt like I was finally controlling/flying my balloon better and just loved this flight. Also my crew got lost for the whole retrieve so they seemed to enjoy themselves too ;-) It was quick, we did 4 tasks in an hour and I loved sweeping into the 2nd JDG. The paddock was very misty and you couldn't see the target until quite late. We dropped in from 29knots at height and had an amazing 12 knot right-hand turn on the surface. I descended seamlessly from height to just a few metres above and directly over the centre of the cross. It was absolutely perfect and my favourite task of the week!!
- Flying as a team. Matt and I are really focused on the world championships in Saga in 2016. I feel like each competition we fly together we are getting stronger as a team and learning what is and isn’t productive for each of us in the air. Northam has really set us up well for the Pre-worlds in October. And yes, we have arguments (oh do we have arguments haha!!) but we always leave any negativity at our landing place and start each new flight renewed and focused.
Sure we had to travel 3794km just to go to our national championships. It would have taken us 39 hours if we had driven non-stop across the country! Yes it was a fairly expensive exercise, and there is always lots of logistics. But we could not have asked for a better week. A big thank you to everyone involved in making the event such a success.
How lucky are we?! We get to travel across Australia and fly hot air balloons for a week just for fun. Each flight I make sure I take the time and appreciate what I am doing and at the end of my flight when I have landed and see my little crewman running up to the balloon so that he can touch the burners and see the “Fi-ya” (fire), I remind myself just how fortunate we are! Roll on Saga!
Thanks to Kath Soddy for some of these images....
Competition balloonists in Australia have been spoilt this year with TWO competitions being held within a year! The Northam Nationals start at the end of this month. This event is the Australian National Championships and will determine not only the Australian Champion but also the final team member that will join Matt and I to represent Australia at the 2016 Saga World Championships. There are a few top pilots who really want that last spot so it should be a very competitive week!
Our team will be arriving on the 28th and 29th August and the competition kicks off on Monday 31st. The shipping container to transport 8 balloons from the east coast to the west is being packed as I write this. I’m really looking forward to flying in Northam, it looks like a beautiful area to fly and it will be my first competition in Australia that is not in Canowindra so it will be nice to be competing in an area that is mostly new for everyone.