Drag Queens and Teddy Bears
Friday morning, and perfect weather at the Jade Café on Takaka Hill, sipping cappuccino with Carl Koberstein (the organiser) and the other pilots for a thoroughly relaxed briefing that was to set the tone for the four day flying event.
Five Wellington pilots (Colin Iles, Laurie Ross, Kris Ericksen, Guy Harding and Andy Maloney) had come over the water , Colin, Kris and Andy on (appropriately) the Fast Cat, to enter the Mousetrap Classic, the best (and only!) fun flying event on the competition calendar. Named after the Mousetrap (the unofficial name for the Upper Takaka Country Club), the event rose phoenix-like from the ashes of the old Rat trap Classic, which died when the Rat Trap pub burnt down in 1994.
We soon learnt the three rules of the competition: a) Have fun, b) Have fun c) Have fun
The task (for all the days of the comp) was to fly from take off on Takaka Hill to a turn-point 7km south of take off, below Hales Knob, then back to a 2nd turn-point near take off, and either top land, or land at the bottom airstrip near the Mousetrap. However, no prizes were to go for winning the task; this was for fun only. Prizes would go for a Teddy bear drop (nearest the target), best spot landing, most fun had, and best of all, for the 'Drag race'.
A reporter from the Nelson Mail appeared at the take off site on the Friday - and the next day's paper sported the headline 'Drag Queens and Teddy Bears swoop from Takaka Hill', much to Carl's consternation!
Carl had obviously sacrificed a few virgins to the Wind Gods, as the weather was looking good at take off. Light winds up the slope, but not enough thermal activity to stay air-born till about lunchtime, so the first fights were just pleasant drifts down. After lunch, the slopes warmed up, and most people managed good flights, though an inversion layer stopped anyone getting much higher than the ridge, a pattern which repeated itself over the first 3 days of the competition.
Andy quickly learnt which spurs had reliable thermals coming off them- circling at canopy level over big rimu trees as they released the thermals was a lot of fun! Eventually Andy reached the first turnpoint in sector but below it (!) and worked his way back. Not being a race to goal, he took his time, flew with a hawk, zig-zagged through trees for low saves, and had well over two hours in the air- more than his total for the entire week of the nationals in Wanaka! The inversion stopped anyone from top landing , so he headed for the bottom landing, missed the spot landing by an amount too embarrassing to repeat in print, and went to the Mousetrap for a well deserved beer and barbeque. In fact, in this event, the flying was definitely a warm up to the evening's barbeques and socialising.
Kris and Andy not only paraglide, but go caving- very complimentary sports, we found. Why? Because the Nelson Caving Club hut is situated only a couple of K's from the Takaka hill take off, in the direction of the Jade Café, and is a sort of Rolls-Royce of mountain huts. Definitely the best place to stay for the comp, but not quite the closest - fellow Wellingtonian Guy pitched his caravan next to take-off, and usually got an early morning flight before any other pilots turned up. Certainly a good enough performance to win the Mr. Organised prize!
Saturday- another beautiful day, similar flying to Friday, but with the added excitement of more pilots in the competition, and a top dressing plane, which obviously wanted to be a hang-glider as it kept landing and taking off on our set-up area. There were also more hangies to dodge. Some had entered the comp (this being a non-discriminatory event), but many of those from Nelson (probably of Scottish descent) avoided the very reasonable $10 a day comp fee, but still attended the barbeque that evening !
Having successfully dodged all that speeding metalwork and completing the task, Andy attempted his teddy drop: all he can say is that if he'd been a bomber in WWII, Dresden would be unscathed. Kris, however, managed a near direct hit with his teddy (which is making a full recovery in hospital), before landing on the spot. Kris was firmly of the opinion that if children could divorce their parents that Carl's daughter should indeed be doing so. He had "borrowed" all her soft toys, telling her that they were having a day out and were going flying, with no mention that they were going to be hurled from a great height!
Forgoing the barbeque that night, Kris and Andy visited friends in Takaka, who kindly leant us some lovely crimplene frocks, furs, wigs and lipstick- all that was needed for a pair of really ugly sisters to drop in on Takaka the next day. Miss Cupid Stunt and Miss Pantie Flyer won the drag race with very little competition as nobody else competed in this event! Luckily, the prize of a leg and bikini line wax went to Mary Ann Short, for the most fun had by a woman pilot - we were relieved to win a jade pendant (from the Jade Café) and a totara paraglider carving (by Carl).
The day ended with a well attended barbeque at the Jade Café, looking down on the stunning sight of a sea of cloud covering the entire Tasman Bay area.
The weather finally started to pack up on Monday- strong westerlies were pushing in, and with take- off speeds getting marginal on Takaka Hill, the remaining pilots (ie. Those of us who had taken Monday off work, because flying is more important than work) headed down to Ruby Bay cliffs, where a nice sea breeze had kicked in. Stew Karstens took off first, and gave a nice demonstration of a most unusual landing technique- biffing into the cliff face and being dragged back over the cliff edge by his canopy (Kids, don't try this at home!). Andy managed to sink out, and watch everyone else getting amazingly high for such a piddly little cliff. The prizes that day were two trips (donated by pilot Robbie Donelly) on sailing catamarans , and in a desperate attempt to have most fun and win Andy threatened to lob myself off unclothed; but fortunately (for everybody else), we had a ferry to catch, and had to leave early for Picton. Tim Percival and Max Coote reaped the benefits, and will risk an early death by drowning in the near future.
All in all, a fantastic weekend, a lot of fun, a lot of flying, a lot of barbequed sausages, a lot of good company (even the hang glider pilots) with 33 entrants in all, and a lot of good memories. Lots of thanks to Carl Koberstein for organising it all.