Australia and Oceania

Video of paragliding at Stanwell park recently

 

I could not help sharing my latest flight at Stanwell park…enjoy

 

 

Cool boat people

grey Cool boat peopleSo the other day I asked what do a plumber, supercharged methanol burning V8’s and Cassonova racing in boats have in common. I will start at the beginning…

Last Monday the main sewer draining my rental property blocked up with tree roots so I called my mate Chris who owns a Plumbing business. Chris is quite formidable, he is quietly spoken and shaped like a triangle. In his shed Chris climbs ropes with huge weights tied to his ankles for fun, from the back he has the profile of Mr Strong except that he is not red. I know no other human being as powerful as Chris. He was the Australian Judo champion for umpteen years and, despite only ever being friendly toward me I tend to choose my words carefully around him. Chris assured me that a plumber would be at my house directly with a root cutting/pipe unblocker thing so conversation turned towards fun stuff;

“So where are you these days Ben?”

“Just near Woolongong, doing a bit of work and a bit of Paragliding”

“Still climbing mountains”

“Nah mate, not recently, about to get into the training again though, I’m getting fat. What about you mate?”

“I’m on the road to Sydney, racing this weekend at Penrith, you should come up, say G’day. Noodles will be there”

“Hell yeah, I’m free, Penrith eh”

“Racing at the old Olympic rowing course, world champs”

“Sounds good man, see you there, good luck”

“Bye”

This is how I got to be stepping out of my Mum’s pastel blue Honda Jazz last Saturday morning to the tune of stupidly large V8 engines burning fuel at a furious rate. I stole mums car when she left for Jakarta, was getting sick of the motorbike in rain. Chris’s boat “Outlaw” burns about 120 litres of Methanol over a 3 lap race. The power of these engines is felt in the stomach more than seen. I mean, when you see a boat skitting at 140+ mph (or 225 kmph) over water the brain cannot compute the sight, like if you saw a sheep running to overtake you on the freeway. For some reason the sound of these engines make me want to both void my bowels and dance with excitement.

grey Cool boat peopleI walk beside the lake and spot Chris’s white boat in a race. Chris races his big boat in the unlimited category, this means that you can do whatever you want, you could even strap a jet engine to the back of your boat if you thought it could negotiate the corners. Most people choose huge methanol burning V8’s similar to those used in NASCAR races (One especially wealthy racer has a V8 EXACTLY like a NASCAR V8) Walking over the bridge toward where Noodles is meeting me I look back to see Chris. He is dead in the water, yellow flag is out.

I grab my phone to call Noodles. Noodles is a very good friend who travels as a problem solver with Chris’s “Outlaw” racing team when he is not building gizmos in his shed or fixing other engineers’ mistakes. Noodles got his name due to a habit of once sporting poo-orange dreadlocks, he is known to a few as Ian. An engineer, the things he builds in his shed puts Maggyver to shame, however Macgyver did not have a C&C machine the size of a small car.

“Hey Noods, where are you mate?”

“Cuntface! Wassup?”

“I just got here man, where are you?”

“Next to the commentary block, halfway up the disabled ramp”

“Not surprised to see you loitering on a disabled ramp mate!”

“Haha. Spot ya soon anal warts”

We sure have a special way of addressing each other!

Ian explains that Chris has a dodgy oil pump (an important bit apparently). When Chris saw the red oil light he killed the engine. After having already blown up one engine this weekend he did not want to explain to the wife that a second $100 000 engine is on order.

The weekend of racing is over for Chris, before I arrive he was crashed into whilst testing out the ‘little boat’. The ‘little boat’ runs a mere 5 litre V8, which is neither supercharged or Methanol burning. It was built for his teenage daughter to race. Noodles and I take a stroll to look at the vintage boats on display.

grey Cool boat peopleThe Molinari Hydroplane was built in Italy and raced by Cassanova, it is one sexy wooden boat with a huge leather steering wheel.

We wander over to the F1 boats.

“Feel this Ben”

“I’m not falling for that again Noodles!”

“Haha good on ya, the propellor champ”

“Christ, you could shave on that edge”

“Yup and see my hand? This is how much of

the prop sits in water”

“Serious? Only halfway in the water”

“And only about one metre of boat in contact with water, they steer via propellor movement not rudder”

I love hanging out with Ian, not only do I invariably learn a few novel sayings or curses I also learn heaps about engineering or machines in general. Noodles shows me around and with his formidable knowledge (I really should write a blog one day about the things he has invented or blown up) he explains about how these boats go and turn so damn fast. I decide that these beasts need a more racey collective than ‘boat’. ‘Celestial water hoppers’ maybe or ‘Introspheric surface skimmers’.

Soon it is getting dark so Noodles and I retire to the pits to be surrounded by literally millions of dollars worth of shiny boat. As the mercury falls John, another Outlaw team member, decides to light a fire.

Obviously no one wants a normal wood fire which would get ash all over the boats so John fills a 20 litre open drum with Methanol and lowers his cigarette lighter. I back off nervously as Ian assures me it is quite safe.

“Yeah mate, lighting an open drum full of aviation gas seems quite safe… you fucking idiot!”

“Nah, only the top one or two mill of vapour burns, the fluid methanol below actually cools off as the latent heat is drawn out to vapour…see”

I look at the drum which is now emitting a steady blue flame about one metre in height, it seems stable but dear god, no one kick it over! We warm ourselves around the fire, eat hamburgers and catch up on news before I have to make for home.

“See Ya Noods, great to catch up old boy”

“You too Westy, spot ya in Devo mate”

“Spot ya later Chris, hope the next race goes better for you mate”

“Cheers Ben. No bother, that’ racing. Oh Ben”

“Yup”

“Be careful in those paragliders, they seem really dangerous”

Paragliding Stanwell Park – First solo

grey Paragliding Stanwell Park   First solo I am standing on the edge of a cliff with a semi-circle of around fifteen onlookers curiously watching me sorting green from red lines. My hands are shaking and my back is wet with nerves. Some people squint through camera lenses, most just peer with a slightly open mouth like one does at a caged monkey. I am about to have my first go Paragliding Stanwell park, solo

I’m buckled into an overgrown baby capsule which is in turn attached to a glorified parachute by two clutches of brightly coloured line. My life will soon be hanging from these lines, lines not unlike what you peg your undies to on a sunny Saturday morning. With my back to the very cliff I will be soon running off I face the wing and watch the leading edge move slowly in the slight breeze.

I am slightly terrified, need some serious self-talk.

“Dear nerves, piss off, this is why you are here. Don’t think, just act, get the launch right then worry about the rest in the air…”

Blocking out my nerves (and the audience) I focus on the launch.

It is time.

I feel a steady gust of wind and raise the wing. The yellow and purple wing comes up perfectly centred and controlled. Now fully inflated it steadies above my head and tugs on my harness eagerly. The wing wants to fly. I am, however, in two minds…

“Don’t think, just act”

I turn to face the cliff and gently control the wing above my head. Leaning forward I feel the rising lines push back on my shoulders, an assurance that this wing can fly. Leaning well forward while looking up at the horizon I push and walk, then run off the edge.

Grass falls away to become cliffs. The cliffs quickly disappear to reveal, much further down, waves crashing onto rocks. I wriggle myself into the seat, adjust my grip on the brake handle and look around.

“Shit you are fucking mad! Why not lawn bowls?…”

This is my first time flying off Bald Hill without a radio. Before taking this leap my teacher Mitsi assured me that I have the skills and ability to fly down, negotiate my altitude without hitting power lines or trees, plan my landing, land and survive, and all without his reassuring voice on the radio;

“It’s all good Ben, stay in that course” or “Do a 180, bleed some altitude, then come in to land”

This time it is all up to me and to be honest I feel damn lonely swingin high above the black rocks. All that I have for company is a rhythmic tugging of the brakes as the wing dances above my head and the steady whistle of rising lines cutting the air.

I make a few turns and look back at the hill, the onlookers now peer over the cliff towards me. I spot Mitsi intently following my progress.

“Ok, what did Mitsi say? Looking down on the low car park at about a 60 degree angle when passing means you are at about the right height, depending on the wind, thermic conditions and any catabatic winds coming down the valley”

When humans get scared the tendency is to clutch at things. I find myself unconsciously pulling on the brake progressively as I tense. The wing starts to fall behind me on its way to a stall. Realising my mistake I raise my arms to let the brake almost totally off, the wing responds by surging in front before settling down to a steady cruise.

Flying over the lower car park I see about five people standing around a car looking up. I get self-conscious as I pass over and force myself to stop grinning. Failing to act cool I swing out of the harness into the leg straps and focus on my landing.

I sight the spot where I want to land but fly right over the top. Too high.

“Wow, that happened quickly, okay, plan ‘B’”

Hard turn left, then right and down the beach.

My feet hit the sand only ten metres from where I want to land, not bad for a first try.

The three people on a picnic rug look on as the bearded weirdo from the sky starts a manic dance/crazy laugh combo even before the wing is fully deflated.

I have done it! My first paragliding flight without radio guidance.

Paragliding Stanwell park – What goes up

grey Paragliding Stanwell park   What goes upWhat goes up, must come down, a fundamental cornerstone of all aviation…this is also true when Paragliding Stanwell park – What goes up…

To bring you up to speed I am currently based in Woolongong (Near Sydney), selling drugs 2 days a week (just enough to pay the rent and buy kebabs) and working towards my paragliding licence. Sadly in the almost 2 months I have been here the weather has not been playing ball and I have managed very little feet off ground time. Yesterday, however, looked good.

I drove up to Bald hill full of butterflies as Mitsi said that today is the day for the big boys hill. I should introduce Mitsi properly. Mitsi is the owner of Sydney Paragliding, he is completely bald apart from a little growth on his chin, very personable and constantly looks up at the clouds. Most people when they look up at clouds just think;

“Oh, there is a bunny rabbit raping a toad” or some such thing.

Not Mitsi, he is thinking;

 

 

“That cumulo-nimbus system out of the sea is creating squall pockets which will shift the conversion and increase precipitation, therefore….”

The man is a walking weather station, the amount I have learnt from him about the weather just through observation and discussion is astounding. Mitsi is trying to retire but his formidable reputation in the world of paragliding (he has a launch technique named after him, as do I but mine is called the “Benny-bum-slide”) means there is a steady stream of enthusiastic pilots to be, knocking on his door at all hours demanding lessons, I am one of them. It is very reassuring to be learning from the guy who taught most of the pilots now teaching paragliding at bald hill. Anyway, where am I? Okay…so driving up to bald hill full of nerves, I get there and count no less than 14 craft soaring about in the air, many with learner streamers slapping from the back (like with a car, “L” plate pilots have to make their inexperience known), Must be a good day for learners.

I find Mitsi looking at the clouds contemplatively with a mate and wait…and wait…. before finally Mitsi finishes his analysis of the conditions and we decide to do a tandem flight. I need to practice the landing approach, some people think that launching is the most important thing but truly landing is, power lines are not your friend! We lay out the tandem wing and ready to go, then Mitsi looks around one last time;

“See that cloud line coming along the escarpment Ben?”

“Yeah, miles away, what about it?”

“Well I think it will push that system over the water our way and kill the conditions, we should wait”

15 minutes later the wind not only dies to nothing but becomes sinking air. I will spare you the technical details (mainly because I don’t understand them myself) but in less than five minutes the whole area is ‘flushed’. Gliders and Hang gliders are landing one after the other down on the beach, I spot a Paraglider flying very low over trees,

“See that Mitsi, they’re not going to make it”

“They’ll be fine…oh  bugger”

We see feet brush tree-top then the wing settles gracefully on to the upper canopy. A lady has not made it over the forest, she will go on to spend about five hours unhurt dangling 40 feet up in a tree while rescue services try to find a big enough ladder. I have it on good authority that getting a paraglider out of a tree takes hours with all their lines and floppiness.

We listen on the radio and hear that another crash (or altered-landing-zone-decision) has occurred, a Chinese man has had to put his hang glider down on the lower sea-shelf and is currently running about recruiting helpers to retrieve it before the tide comes in.

grey Paragliding Stanwell park   What goes up We unanimously decide that today will not be a flying day, pack up our gear and head for the cafe. Drinking coffee we spot a lone Paraglider making his way towards us (the cafe lies near the beach, under the cliffs where you launch) He disappears from view and Mitsi remarks “Must have gone to land on the beach…”

When everyone leaves I decide to take a stroll along the beach. While walking I recognise two pilots from the heads rush past, then another two I follow curiously.

It turns out the man who Mitsi said would make it didn’t, the seventy-something year old pilot ended up in the water. Waves wrapped the lines around his legs making it impossible to swim and he went under. Thankfully two surfers saw the incident, pulling him and his wet rig out of the ocean. We helped the soggy pilot along the beach, carrying his wet glider complete with ensnared shoes to the van. At the van the fellow seemed to be in a bit of shock, he was shaking terribly and looking very rattled. When the ambulance arrived to check on him I left and drove back home glad that Mitsi is such a cautious teacher. I can’t wait to join in the fun!

Heat stroke symptoms, a practical class

grey Heat stroke symptoms, a practical class4am Saturday morning I roll rather unsteadily into McDonalds Devonport with my friend Mark who has been showing major heat stroke symptoms for some time now…

“What you want Marky-boy?”

“Quarter pounder with cheese and a sprite”

“In France it’s called a Royal with cheese, metric sys…never mind, How you feeling mate”

“Not great”

“Haha, this kind of fun activity will do that to a bloke!”

“You got that right brother”

About 7 hours prior I watched as Mark vomited all sorts of green liquid onto the ground, he was retching away with big dark shadows under his eyes. Shortly after this event I was forcing my red eyes to stay open and focus on a wildlife encrusted road with all the intensity of a fifth year medical student performing his first prostate exam.

By this stage you are probably making assumptions, thinking I am crazy to be drink driving and that we are starring in one of those “mates don’t let mates drink/drive” advertisements, you would be sorely mistaken… The culprit here is bushwalking. To be more precise, bushwalking and underestimating terrain, possibly also overestimating ability.

Since July this year Mark and I have been planning a bush walk together. Over many months of eager anticipation our plans changed from doing the Overland Track with another friend to tackling Frenchman’s Cap in the remote South West to going along the easy Lees Paddocks Track with a few bottles of wine and posh food before finally settling on simply packing super light (I was carrying 16kgs with all my food, clothes, tent and sleeping gear) and cruising about the Central Highlands, making plans day by day.

The first few days are glorious, we enjoy an easy, if somewhat hot trek up the Arm River Track through myrtle and eucalyptus forest, we lunch at the palatial New Pelion Hut amongst tired Overland trekkers before plodding onward and somewhat aimlessly up the Pelion Gap. Mt Pelion East to our left and Ossa to our right greet us like old dolomite friends. Back in an area that is more home to me than the house where I once lived in Devonport I find myself talking to the hills,

grey Heat stroke symptoms, a practical class“Hi Pelion, Ossa, haw have you guys been I missed you guys” (if you have read any of my previous blogs you will know by now I am somewhat weird, and proud of it!)

The only reply is the cawing of black currawongs quickly leaving the scene of their pack raiding crimes. These black crow-like birds can open zippers with their beaks to steal peanuts in the pockets of packs; packs left behind by people sidestepping up nearby peaks. Whipping out the cooker Mark and I watch the water boil as we silently enjoy the amphitheater of mountains that loom stark grey against a bright, hot blue sky. Mark generously lets my talking-to-mountains moment pass without jest, this hardworking father of two feels the same reverence as I do for mountains. Two French men return from Mt Ossa to discover the contents of their packs strewn around the small platform.

“The birds can get into your pack mate”

“Really…”

One does not seem convinced, the tension is evident as they discuss in French whether to confront us about raiding their abandoned packs or to move on. The moods quickly lightens when they spot signage depicting birds opening packs along with explanations of this clever bird’s behaviour. Mark and I finish our drink, pack up and continue climbing.

“Looks like a good spot mate”

“What a view!”

“This will do eh”

We set up our bivvy bags (gore-tek coffins which just pass for tents on light weight missions) on a ridge amongst Tasmania’s finest mountains, eat in almost gospel like silence then watch the sky turn from shimmering blue, to pink, salmon, grey and black, before we maneuver into our respective beds, zip up and try to sleep.

The morning sun brings a complete lack of motivation so we wash a muesli bar down each with a coffee and stroll downhill to enjoy a day of swimming and lazing in the magnificent pool near historic Old Pelion Hut. Old Pelion hut was built in 1895 to house the mine manager when the Mole Creek and Zeehan Mineral company were exploring the area for copper. There are old mines surrounding the hut, the biggest is about 60 metres long and glistens gold in torch light at its deepest, surely great fun to explore. I think it’s brilliant that the area was not rich enough in deposits to be completely raped for profit and that this hut is one of the few remnants of a gun-ho era left in this park, my church. When the miners left in the 1920’s Old Pelion Hut was used by cattle men. When the cattle men left the snarers moved in, they went snaring in the winter to catch possums when their coats were thicker and worth more money, seems a hard way to earn a living. The hut is exactly as it was in bygone days, one can imagine the crackling of eucalyptus branches in the fireplace warming cold trappers, except that the fireplace was removed in the 1970’s to prevent this important piece of heritage being burnt down. Oh and those wankers who think they need to carve their names into the soft King Billy Pine weatherboards, no one cares if you “were ere” feck off, sorry, anyway…

grey Heat stroke symptoms, a practical classThat night we lean against the hut outside eating dinner and have a conversation which is to completely change to tone of the walk. I put my pasta bowl aside and pull out the map;

“I think we need some off track action mate, what do you reckon?”

“Yeah we have been a bit soft”

“Up Mt Oakley, then along the ridge, then we can either chill at this lake marked just here, or we can go down this creek back to the track”

“Looks fine man, the terrain does not look too hard judging by these contour lines and it is only about eight kays”

“Deal”

“Done”

“Small medicinal whiskey sir?”

“Does the pope shit in the forest!”

We are right about the first bit, the next day we get to the top of Mt Oakley in plenty of time to enjoy a few hours soaking up expansive views (framed by shimmering blue skies) and testing our nerves by standing too close to sheer cliffs. Sadly we are a bit off target with the second bit, the off track section of our walk. I have both compass, map and a GPS which I am learning to use, I know all the mountains surrounding us on a first name basis and am confident in the use of both map and compass, as is Mark. The terrain, however, throws us a curve ball. Prickly, knotty, bastard thigh high scaparia bush is really hard to push through, it is hot and soon we are out of water, the small lakes (or ‘tarns’ in Tasmanian speak) marked are all but dry. Mark is rapidly running out of steam and I am getting grumpy. I kick at the bushes with my leather boots which proves a complete waste of energy. It takes us three hours to cover what we hoped would only take one and arrive at that bloody “lake marked just here” tired, thirsty and ready to get out of the sun. A quick drink and dipping of feet in the cooling water has us deciding to push on down the creek towards the track, a few short kilometers downhill. Again the terrain completely throws us, we should have bought a more ‘zoomed in’ map to get a better idea of the terrain. Familiar mountains abound with which to aline our maps and triangulate our positions, we both agree on our position but seem to not be making very good time at all.

It is getting dark, I am grumpy at our slow progress and decide to leave Mark resting by the creek. Pushing on down to the track alone I leave my red bag top (which doubles as a bum-bag) on a tree then return to get my main bag and Mark. Mark thankfully is still here, he has not panicked at being left alone at dusk beside a black creek in a spooky forest with trees that have reaching fingers right out of some cartoonish Halloween special.

Through teamwork and sheer stubbornness we negotiate the thick foliage surrounding the creek and burst onto the track very relieved to be here. Mark immediately-and thoroughly-throws up and I start worrying about his health. Previously I thought he was just tired and slow but now it is clear that Mark is suffering from a solid dose of heat stroke. Bloody hell…heat stroke, how do you treat that again? I hope he does not start convulsing or fainting in the grey torch light. What would I do then?

He is stumbling a bit, throwing up a lot and apologizing even more.

“God bro, sorry, I had no idea you were so crook”

“Yeah man, I just wanted to get to the track before dark eh, sorry about this, I am soft”

“Bullshit, you are sick man, chill out, sweet tea? Water?”

It is now 10 pm and completely dark. We realize that there is a good chance Mark will feel even worse in the morning so we push on to the car. Concerned, I walk behind my mate who stumbling occasionally like he is drunk, he sips water constantly and soldiers on despite clearly wanting to just sleep and rest. I am impressed by the man’s fortitude against the odds, and on an empty stomach!  We stop a few times for soup and tea. I nearly shout for joy when Mark does a wee, he is starting to get some water into his system! Beauty!

We arrive at the car at 2am, both completely exhausted and ready for civilization. Two hours later McDonalds and a mutual decision that Mark will not drive home an extra hour to Legana sees me showered and tucked into bed at 5am. I quickly fall asleep, but not before Mark pops his head into my room to say;

“Type three fun man, type three…

Buy this book!

The Red Rucksack - Available now

This business partnership has expired.” Ben has no idea what adventures are in store when he sets out to discover what lies over that next mountain.

This week's popular posts

My favourite video

Sometime getting home is the best bit!