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December 1999

Whole world celebrates Kris's birthday

The whole world is expected to go into an extended 24 hour paroxysm of celebrations at mid-night of New Year's Eve to mark Kris's 40th birthday  which falls on 1 January.  In deference to the large street based celebrations that are expected  to occur a small private brunch is being organised on New Year's Day for friends.  This will be a relatively quiet and inexpensive function  in contrast to the many millions of dollars that will have been spent on celebrations the previous evening

Always Take the Weather With You 
The Crowded House song bounced around my neurones, as I sat on the take off area of Mt. Ouamourai, overlooking Noumea, on the first day of the International Open Paragliding Competition in New Caledonia. Why? Because Kris Ericksen and I had come from Wellington to compete, and the familiar howling wind over the back had found its way there too!

The wind dogged the competition for much of the week, so only 4 tasks were possible out of 8 days, and none of the days were classic XC days- nobody made goal on any of the tasks!

Most of the competitors were local pilots or French pilots living locally, but a smattering of overseas competitors helped to ensure it lived up to its 'International' title  2 Swiss guys, Dennis from Australia, Senko from Japan, and of course, Kris and I.  The local pilots were fantastic hosts, and made us feel very welcome. Everything from a pick up at the airport when we arrived, to transport from our hotel to the flying sites (with a local pilot, Laurent) was organised for us. On one of the windy days, Laurent and some other pilots even took the trouble to take the visiting pilots on a tour of the south of New Caledonia, kayaking in the rainforest, and getting to a  superb swimming hole in a river via some quite extreme 4WD tracks through an old Nickel mine - definitely off the usual tourist route!
Several social events were organised too  from a welcome meal and drinks at the paragliding school (Plein Vente), to a barbecue at organiser Jacque Lequattre's home, to a silly hat party at another competitor's home. I had to learn the time consuming but sociable French etiquette of greeting everyone with handshakes (men) or two kisses on the cheeks (women) whenever we met  even if it was only an hour since our last meeting! This ritual happened every morning at the paragliding briefing as well as at parties, so extended introductions were the rule! We never felt left out of conversation  most people spoke English well, and conversing in 'Franglais' to those that didn't was fun, as well as stretching my schoolboy French (failed 'O' level French!).

Kris flying in New Caledonia, with Noumea in the background
Our competition flying started on Sunday, the second day, from Mt. Ouamouri, the site of all but one of the competition tasks. The wind had dropped, but conditions were looking so poor that only a short task involving 3 turnpoints was set, a total distance of 14km. The thermals were weak, but it was possible to maintain on ridge lift between thermal cycles. The big problem was getting to turnpoint 1, a rocky spur low on a ridge of a mountain on the far side of a deep valley. From take off at 630m, the last spur on Ouamouri before the valley was 500m, and I had been advised to get to 800m before attempting to cross the valley. This took about an hour! On the far side, I bounced around in bullet thermals, with my glider doing pulsating jellyfish impressions only a hundred feet off the deck, for another 40 minutes before a proper  thermal took me to 800m for the return  to Ouamouri. Having made it back to take off ( turnpoint 2 being on the other side ) I tried to get some height  but sank out, to land at goal, but without having got to turnpoints 2 and 3! Even so, I did well- 6th place! Kris didn't get more than a downhill glide after taking off, but still scored more than Senko, who would have won the day, (and, ultimately the entire competition) if she hadn't mistaken the turnpoint and photographed the wrong rocky spur. (I wasn't sure of the turnpoint either, so I photographed every spur!).
The next day dawned with somewhat better weather. The task set involved a turnpoint close to the previous day's turnpoint (3km SE of take off), then a second turnpoint on the flank of Mt. Mou, around 12km NW of takeoff, then carrying on NW in a narrow corridor squashed between airport airspace and the mountainous spine of New Caledonia, to goal, 18km or so further , beyond the airport. Reaching the first turnpoint, and back to take off proved easy, on moderately good thermals. After reaching a good height again above take off, I set off north-west, caught a small thermal on a lower peak  a kilometre or so further on, and attempted to cross a deep valley to the next mountain, Mt. Erambere. I managed it, but with no lift on the way, I was relying on a low save above a ridge of the mountain, which , unfortunately, didn't happen. Two gliders near me broke off and headed down to land in the valley, which seemed full of trees, and tiny, spot-landingish gardens. A big , flat, nickel-mining scar on the hillside seemed a safer option to me, but after touchdown, I discovered why the local pilots had headed for the valley. The apparent 500m walk to the road head through low bushes turned into an epic battle through monster thorny triffids, waist high bracken, and what I called the Number 8 fencing wire fern, trailing horizontally across all the other plants. Fighting through this in 30 degree humid air took nearly an hour! Tiger country indeed.
The hero of the day was Senko, who was the only pilot to get beyond Mt. Mou, and managed a stunning 34km, nearly twice as far as the second placed pilot, and the best cross country flight of the week.
The third day started rather unpromisingly, with not a breath of wind, and no thermal cycles up the face. The task was to do 3 turnpoints (each around 1.5km from takeoff, first left, then right, then forward of takeoff), followed by an open distance, once again to the north-west. The take off window was extended by an hour, and with 15 minutes remaining, there was still not a breath (though loads of cumulus all around). Then suddenly, it came on. There was a mad scramble to take off, as 21 pilots shot into the air in 10 minutes. (Most of the local pilots were prepared, with gliders spread out in the scorching UV for the last 3 hours.). The thermals were terrific, and zipped me up to cloudbase (at 1500m) at up to 5.2m/s when I accidentally cored them. Staying out of cloud was the hardest part- big ears and speedbar only slowed the ascent rate.

Unbeknown to me, Stuart, the Auzzie, had the dubious distinction of being the first person to throw his reserve in New Caledonia. Apparently, he had put on double big ears, with 2 of his 3 A-lines, and speedbar, to stop being sucked into the cloud. When he stopped going up, he released the speed bar, and was preparing to pump out the big ears, when he felt what he interpreted to be turbulence (but later thought was his glider reaching point of stall), and reacted with the brakes. A full stall  then happened, and he fell through the lines, somehow getting them tangled round his legs, then going into a spin. He couldn't stop the glider spinning, and decided to throw the reserve. Unfortunately, the glider continued to spin round the reserve, reducing its effective surface area, and he was unable to pull in the glider. A rather hard landing resulted, and Stuart couldn't do a parachute landing fall, as his legs were wrapped in the lines. By pure chance, he landed in a clearing amid a sea of trees, and the ambulance was able to reach him easily. The lucky boy avoided serious injury, but was out of the competition with a very sore back!
While this was occurring, I was heading to Mt Erambere, and this time, arrived with tonnes of height over the summit. I caught another thermal, which I dropped out of at 1000m, but decided to race for the next ridge in the hope of another thermal. But thenthat sinking feeling, vario sounding like a death rattle. And no penetration! Suddenly I was flying into a strong headwind, and (knowing the dodgy terrain) selected the best landing field well in advance, a recently burned and cleared paddock at a road head, a safe landing which added a nice charcoal colour to my wing. Senko, and another competitor, Benoir, landed close by, with Benoir misjudging the headwind and making a tree landing (luckily in soft, bendy Casurinas).
Nobody got very much further than my 14.5km flight, but nearly everybody got slightly further, so I dropped back to 9th place!  Kris managed to achieve his first ever cross-country flight  covering 12.5km.  He ended up landing on a small lawn in front of a few bemused locals. 
The next two days were Wellington weather, so flying was out. Our hosts arranged a sightseeing tour one day, the next we spent sharing  the beach with the local sea snakes, developing our sunburn to show off back home, and generally frolicking under the palm trees; so unlike in Manilla, not flying wasn't too much of a hardship. The weather forecast was more of the same for Friday, so the organisers  decided to have the next task in the north, 300km from Noumea, where the forecast was better. So at 6am, Laurent picked us up, and we headed for Voh, 3 hours drive away, and the take off, another nickel mine on Mt.Katepahie, 400m above Voh.
An open distance was set, and we all waited for some thermal cycles. One came, and Senko skied out. But nobody else followed, so unusually for me, I took off next, and spent the next half hour in moderate thermals, up to 400m above take off. Nothing like Senko's thermal, and I didn't get enough height to go over the back. Another few pilots took off 15 minutes later, and joined me in the thermals, then Jacques took off and had a massive collapse and ended up uninjured in acacia bushes - conditions were now too rough at take off, and over half the pilots never left the ground! The wind seemed to be increasing, and I fell out of the bottom of a thermal at 800m. I was below the other pilots, and too far over the back to do much except a downwind run, and with no more thermals, my flight ended 4km later at the village of Temala, narrowly avoiding the one tree in a sea of bare fields!
This turned out to be our last flight, as the weekend was windy, but I'd pulled myself up to 8th place, a position I'll admit I was surprised at, as this was my first competition. Kris came 20th, but was happy to have managed his first cross country, 12.5km during the 3rd task.
The final prize giving dinner took place on Saturday evening at 'Le Bilboquet', a restaurant with such poor food that I was surprised it could survive in a territory of a country  known for its culinary excellence. However, the company was good, and everyone (even the last place!) got a prize. The 1st prize was a flight from New Caledonia to Sydney, so perhaps it was just as well that a local pilot won! 
Many thanks to all the pilots in New Caledonia who spent their time organising the competition, especially  Jacques Lequattre and all at Plein Vente paragliding school. Thanks also to the sponsors,  including OAM French Airlines, AXA., Enercal (the local power company), ADA Car Hire, and Coca Cola.
The final results were:
1. Bertrand Lacassin 2882
2. Bertrand Lestrone 2423
3. Henri Grenier 2264
4.  Senko Koyama (Japan) 2241
8.     Andy Maloney (NZ) 1441
17.   Stuart Dennis (Australia) 868
20.   Kris Ericksen (NZ) 737
Travel tips :
Kris and I booked a package with House of Travel, which cost only $200 more for 2 weeks in a reasonable hotel than the flight alone would have cost.
Anything in New Caledonia except bread and wine will cost 2 to3 times as much as at home. We thrived on baguettes, cheese, jam and vin rouge!
The best flying weather is late October through to December. Contact Plein Vente for details (Phone & fax 00687  24 90 09).  I would strongly recommend entering the competition if you plan to fly there.
The weather may be less reliable than Manilla (unless you ask the  NZ nationals competitors!), but you can't dive with sharks on the reef edge, sunbathe with sea snakes, or kayak through the rainforest if the weather is poor there!

This year, Andy once more headed overseas to warmer climes - swapping winter for summer in England. This year's trip was somewhat shorter than last year- six weeks.  And most of it was spent on holiday, with only one week working, again in Doncaster.
With all that free time, you would have thought that Andy would have time to see all the bits he always wanted to- Skye, Lundy, Ireland. But no! Time flew by like a stooping peregrine, leaving no time to visit many old friends or visit the edges of the Sceptured Isle.
London was the 1st stop off point- time to visit friends. Also a car was procured- a beat up Citroen Dyane in yellow orange and rust, from a 2CV co-operative (Hackney Two Horse). 
Then Andy visited his parents in Yorkshire (quickly before they headed off on holiday themselves) and his expanding sister (pregnant with No.2), brother in law, nephew Nicholas. Aside from a serious case of Garden Envy (of Jane's 5 acre garden in the idyllic Yorkshire countryside), Andy enjoyed the visit immensely. Young Nick was talking amazingly well, having doubled in age since Andy's last visit a year previously.
Spring Bank Holiday was spent working at the wonderful new vet surgery in Doncaster. Andy enjoyed catching up with old friends at the surgery, and (hint, hint) would love to spend more time working there in future. Andy's old landlady, Phyllis was taking her holiday that week, so Andy stayed at friends Eric and Tony's house. Luckily, the weather was totally foul all week, so Andy didn't get grumpy for missing a great week's climbing in Wales. (Those who went were washed out of Wales by the rain!!).  After that, a nostalgia visit to Lincolnshire - where Andy was pleased to see his old house Listeria cottage was being cared for well by its new symbionts, and the little piece of New Zealand bush called the Back Garden was flourishing. Grimsby and Alford whizzed by, then it was down to Bristol for some more nostalgia in Andy's old university city.
At last, the English sun proved it wasn't a myth after all. It came out. It shone. It was warm, and stayed that way for the rest of the trip. Andy stayed with brother-in-law Jan's brother Nick, at his palatial lodgings in Clifton, whilst doing the nostalgia thing (though nostalgia isn't what it used to be) Thanks, Nick.
Then, dashing up to the Lake District, Andy met American friend Garry (last seen on the Heaphy track in New Zealand), and spent three glorious and sunburnt days gaining potential energy then loosing it again over the fells near Keswick, and refueling in many of the marvelous inns and pubs selling the incomparable Theakston's ales.
Then it was time to speed (metaphorically- Andy was in a 2CV) back to London in time to spend a weekend with NZ friends and their children in Margate, with their Kohanga group (a sort of adults and kids New Zealand/Maori cultural group).  Andy had a great time building sandcastles, playing seamonsters, going to the funfair, etc. The kids quite enjoyed it too! Unfortunately, the weekend was cut short due to Andy suddenly discovering his flight to San Francisco left on Sunday morning not Monday. ( Sorry to Lizzie, who never found out why Andy didn't meet her for coffee on Sunday.)
San Francisco was everything Andy expected and more. The weather was superb, sunny but not too hot. The accommodation was, well, Youth Hostel, but an order of magnitude cheaper than anything else, very central, and came with free tickets to the S.F production of 'Shear Madness', which Andy enjoyed very much.
Highlights of S.F included a trip to see the coast redwoods in the nearby Muir woods, and cycling across the Golden Gate bridge. Many new friends were made, and Andy will never look at another car chase or cablecar scene in a movie set in S.F without jumping up and shouting "I've been there!".

Garden Developments
1999 has seen some major changes to the garden, following the completion of our purchase of next door neighbour Ivor's back garden. The extra 240 square metres brings our bit up to a whole one eighth of an acre, now the biggest section on the street.
Andy has been working like a dog (lots of digging!), clearing tree stumps (pet hate = whiteywood trees, with their heavily over-engineered root system), and double-digging the rubbishy soil to 2 foot deep. Applications of large amounts of chipped up trees from previous clearing operations, gypsum, lime and furt-lyzer has hopefully produced a fertile soil. At the time of writing, the top two terraces are almost finished, and planted with fruit trees.
Unfortunately, with such a mild climate conducive to both temperate and sub-tropical fruit, Andy couldn't decide what to grow and ordered far more trees than conventional orchardists would recommend for the limited space. Four peaches (Peregrine, Wiggins, Paragon and Blackboy), three apples (Egremont russet, Coxes orange pippin, Early almond), two pears (William von creitin, Winter nellis), an almond ( with three varieties grafted on it), a medlar, two plums ( damson and greengage/Coes golden drop), a grapefruit, a mandarin (clemantine), a lemon (lemonade-a dessert variety), two blueberries, a gooseberry,  a guava, three rhubarb plants, a kiwifruit rootstock (for later grafting of the new delicious 'kiwi gold' variety), and some strawberries are already planted. Waiting in the wings are three feijoas, an orange, a lemon, a kumquat, a mulberry, a japanese loquat, a blackberry, a boysenberry, a dessert grape, and a dewberry. Could be interesting when they all mature, but we shouldn't be short of fruit. In between the fruit terraces, Andy has planted native plants on the steep banks.
Meanwhile, Kris has built a deck by the back door, including a seat, which gives the house more useable 'outdoor space'. Hopefully, by the time you read this, the last few planks will have been nailed down!
Chris, displaying his handyman skills to maximum effect, has built a bomb-proof retaining wall on the border with Ivor's remaining section. Construction has been with half-rounds, in box-form, a-la log cabin construction  well, Chris did live in Canada for a while. Incorporated into the structure are the piles and foundations of our yet-to-be-built shed, which will mirror the form of the Barrel Room in the house.   As a consequence Chris has done absolutely no caving this year (except the Glow Worm caves at Waitomo).
In the front garden, the big news was a visit by Consumer Home and Garden, who are going to run an article on it in March 2000. The plantings are maturing, and it has decided to be a sedge/ tussock grass and low-growing shrub sort of garden (The extreme wind it sometimes gets, the poor soil, and the invasiveness of the plants which really like these conditions seems to be the major factors).

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