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....