Saturday, December 31, 2011

Wilderness Wizards Champs finals.

Richard "Boom" doing what he knows best!

Day four… the finals.

The pilots were tired; three days, 6 tasks and three different sites. Even so, from somewhere enthusiasm was dug up and the boys opted for the traditional dune gooning day – after all, this is the Wilderness Wizards hang gliding championships! Now dune gooning is a lot of fun but it can also be a bit of an energy sapping affair. Playing on the sand dunes with a hang glider might sound romantic but after one carry to the top the idea of romantic is pumped right out of the brain in a matter of a hundred heart beats in less than 30 seconds. Of course the boys where all grins afterwards and recon it well worth the effort.

We started with a thriller – the tandem team task. The rumours of such a task have done the rounds over the years so the pilots looked forward to it but with much trepidation! Only Dirk was qualified as a tandem pilot, for the rest it was a matter of “oh mother!” Of course it proved to be worthy of reputation and no one walked away disappointed, or mentally unscathed. Surprise winners were Richard and Anthony who were the only pair to do a foot landing. They showed the experienced old boys how it’s done and amazed one and all (Including themselves!) by landing a mere 5 meters past the spot!

Richard and Anthoni going for the spot in the tandem task.

Wally and Dirk on the way to the top of the dune busy with tactical chit chat.

Then there was a dune time trial which entailed a flight from the top of the dune to the spot but with a time limit of 60 seconds flight duration. It meant you had to use the lift but only for a very short while or else you will fly for longer than 60seconds! Conditions where perfect. What struck me was that even though the whole of Paradise ridge was littered with danglers, not one of the pilots flew off for an extended soaring flight. Instead they opted to fly the tasks joining in the spirit of the comp. The buoyant conditions made for tricky approaches and the time penalty added an awesome tactical dimension to the challenge. The old boys thought they had it in the bag when Dick and Pete managed to land perfectly just 2 and 1.8 m from the spot with good time bonuses too but then, and once again to everyone’s amazement, Richard landed perfectly on the spot. It made the old boys almost ‘dik-bek’ and to cool off they did a quick impromptu skinny dip in the sea. Almost everyone joined in on that one and it turned out to be a highlight of note!

Pete about to hit the spot.

Summer time beach weather and a hang gliding competition – what a cool combination!

After lunch and a bit of a siesta we all headed off to Sedgefield for a late afternoon glass of flight. Dirk was off first with the task a simple max height gain and then spot to end off the day. Dirk did well with some spectacular speed glide sessions past take of which made one and all, danglers, spectators and hang glider pilots take note. The new T2 sure looks pretty and sounds absolutely awesome! Of course it was late in the afternoon (around 5) and lift was scarce and weak but Wally managed to luck into finding the convergence section on the ridge and long after every other pilot had landed he still managed to buzz take off and then head back to the convergence and climb another easy 500ft ATO or so for another fly past.

That evening we had a chilli con carne speciality prepared by Vangi, Pete’s wife. This has become a tradition for the Wizards Champs and those that have experienced this delicacy in the past always make sure not to miss out. We had the prize giving which was a fun affair. Filled with wine and beer everyone chilled with chilli con carne while we relived exceptional moments of flying with the help of those tiny little camera’s – the go pro. For this season, Anthony of course was the highlight with perfectly positioned and timed camera moments. Anthony has achieved cult classic status along with greats like Richard “Boom” van Niekerk for their epic adventures captured on film. Everyone present had to wipe tears of laughter from their eyes after watching their perfectly executed but unrehearsed performances of what hang gliding often is but should not be like. They are without a doubt our favourites.

Of course the big question is who walked away with the prize of being crowned the Wilderness Wizard Champion title of 2011. This closely fought contest between Pete and Dirk for first place and then the tussle for third between Richard, Anthony and Wally was a pleasure to follow. In the end only one man can be the victor even if it felt like we all were winners. Anthony just got piped from 3d at the very last moment by his impressive wing loading while Wally’s discovery of the late evening convergence gave him a nudge enough to match Richard “boom”s impressive spot performances. Wally and Richard both tied for third place which is probably a very fair result. Well done to the boys.

And then the clincher of the lot – the race for the Championship title and what a contest it was this year. In the words of the new Champ, “the best contest we have had in 5 years”. For runner up in words that epitomises the idea of good sportsmanship he congratulated the Champion by saying, “I did my best and you beat me fair and square but I will get you next year!” A worthy congratulations to our new Champ, Peter van den Berg who out flew most pilots almost every day. So much can be said for experience. Well done Pete!

And then to all the other competitors and visitors – Roelof and Arne from Gauteng, Dick, Grove, Greg and Lennox from the Cape who flew on some of the days and to the ladies who helped with retrieve and some scoring – you are all just awesome. No doubt you will let one and all know what a cool event this is. We hope to see you all again next year, same place, same time.

Wilderness Wizard hang gliding champs 2012 role on!

Peter van den Berg - the new Champion!

Wish you where here!


Thursday, December 29, 2011

Wizard Champs day three

Richard just over shooting the spot. notice the disappointment! ;)

Day three…
I have to start by saying that I have never laughed so much in my entire life as I have done during this competition. Who would have believed that a hang gliding competition could be so much fun!? But the truth is these little go pro cameras are just so awesome – personal funny moments become public property to be enjoyed over and over again. There is some landing moments that are all time greats and it is not just me that think so. :)))
Day three saw the morning start with beautiful cumulous clouds popping along the coast which indicated that the day should be unstable with good thermic flying conditions. The first task then was a cross country run from Sedgefield to the Map of Africa – a distance of about 20km. The flight takes the pilot over lake and forest areas; something that makes the flight far more challenging than the ordinary. Of course for those wishing not go XC the usual height gain and spot landing option as available.
As it turned out the wind quickly backed to the South East, which was not forecasted and the day became rough and turbulent. Less than one hour later everyone had landed, opting to go for the spot bonuses that were up for grabs. Much to Anthony’s own surprise he managed a magnificent approach landing within a wing span of the bulls eye making him the spot victor. At this stage it looks as though Pete might have claimed the height gain prize for the morning flight but not after a close chase from Dirk who is in second place.
After lunch we all headed up to Gerrickes point. Here the awesome view greeted us with a good south east wind – conditions were perfect. An open cross country task was set with a height gain section and then for those that thought flying distance from a coastal sight not possible, the usual spot was made available. Of course competition leaders, Pete and Dirk where the only two that opted for heading out on a cross country flight and from just 1200ft headed down the ridge. Low and behold they both landed within 2-300m of each other, near the klein krans car park after a milky run down the Paradise ridge. It was a brawn over experience moment with experience proving to be the victor – Pete walked away with this part of the contest.
Richard “boom” van Niekerk, our first day leader has been suffering from a bit of sunstroke which has put him slightly on the back burner but I have no doubt that we will be seeing much more of this very talented pilot in the future. Richard is currently in joint 2nd place with our multiple Wizard Champion, Dirk van Loggerenberg – it does seem as though Pete has managed to hang onto his lead going into the 4th day. In the end it seemed that hang gliding was the victor – the many personal best moments for every pilot far outweighing the personal gain of the individual.
Tomorrow shows cross country promise. Who will be the Wizard of the day? Stay tuned to find out. Role on day 4 of the Wilderness Wizard hang gliding championships 2011!

Wish you were here!

Richard "boom" on Gerrickes point showing the long Paradise ridge in the back ground - Dirk and Pete went cross country down that part making almost to near Wilderness.

Wednesday, December 28, 2011

Day two Wizard Champs 2011

This is Peter van Den Berg. Leader on day two...

So day two of the Wilderness Wizards hang gliding championships have come and gone. It was spectacular to say the least and one and all nodded their heads in agreement to having flown two great tasks for the day.

It did start with some rain of course, well, a drizzle to be more precise but we were unperturbed and headed to the Map. By 10 all were rigged with not one dangle in sight - heaven! The wind suddenly came up and I having first thought of a speed glide to the bottom decided to allow the pilots to get some airtime. This was something that later on might just become impossible when all the danglers decide to crawl out from under where ever they take refuge at times when there is no wind or if it is blowing a storm. 30minutes elapsed time from the start of your run until your feet touches the ground plus max height gain, plus the dreaded spot - something that has proved to be a slight embarrassment for many of the top pilots. Of course Mother Nature had to throw us a curve ball. Just after everyone got in the air a few clouds upwind along the coast started to produce rain again. This in turn effected the soaring conditions and suddenly it became very light and the pilots had to scratch to stay up. It made for challenging flying and tactful decision making in order to be able to glide in and still make the spot – which most pilots did not make.

On launch again at 13:00 after everyone had a quick lunch. This time around the wind had really switched on and along with that so did all the danglers. I contemplated cancelling the task because of the danger of having a mid-air collision during the pressures of a comp. We all secretly cursed the mother who gave birth to the inventor of this popular inflatable fabric wing. The pilots rigged and we waited, dragging our toes – well at least I did while contemplating a task. Finally the wind was up proper and most of the danglers were grounded so I called it on. One hour elapsed time, max altitude and spot. It turned out to be a great task with conditions dropping slightly towards the end of the time sequence but before the hangies had to battle airspace with the danglers the time was up and they had to go for the spot. I have to say that the afternoon landing efforts where a definite improvement on this part of the contest so far – the calibre of the landings leaving a lot to be desired for at this stage of the game!

The pilots contended valiantly, not just with each other but also with themselves, even if just to improve on yesterday’s achievements. Our early leader was taking things just too casually and lost the lead after task three. Richard “boom” had to make place for Peter van Den Berg. Even in the lower ranks positions shuffled around. Noticeably was the performance of Anthony Divaris who found himself in second place after the first day’s task. Unfortunately he too had to make place as the more experienced pilots started to show their metal.

I have to mention Hanneke and Van Zyl who both, as a husband and wife hang gliding team, did superbly today. Each had their first soring flights which were in the order of one hour and at good altitudes too. Not surprising they were delighted during the customary beer time after all the action.

Well done to the pilots! Really wish you were here! And role on day three of the Wilderness Wizard Championships 2011!


Tuesday, December 27, 2011

Wilderness Wizard Champs day 1

Richard "boom" near the clouds, or white room as we call it. He is over our Sedgefield landing zone.

We are running the 2011 Wilderness Wizard Hang Gliding Championships. It is a small, informal and social hang gliding meet from the 27th till the 31st of December, aimed at having fun and just promoting the sport in general. We have been doing it for the last 4 years and believe it or not have had the same winner every time. Could this be the year of an upset? The competition between the competitors are certainly getting better...

The following days will be a report on this fun and friendly event.

After the innitial long term forcast of rain, the fiirst day turned into a boomer. At first we thought we would not even get a leg off the ground but ended up running two full tasks. Sedgefield was the choice and the very large field of 6 pilots made their way to the top where they were greated with a beautiful view - not one dangler in sight. Of course it did not last but for a while it was good. ;)
Our task was simple. Get as high as you can, fly for as long as you can and then do a spot landing. Of course you needed to get airborne first and in what was probably a first in SA (and almost a hat trick for Mother nature!), first Dirk and then Wally broke an upright on their launches. What can i say - rookie mistakes... (Thank goodness that was all that got broken). The result was that Anthony followed with a very nervous but good launch and finally the day's task was under way. Soon Richard, Pete and Anthony were climbing all the way to cloud in what was innitially good lifting skies. After about half an hour everything shut down and they were forced to go for the spot. After collecting these three pilots we were back for task two. It was simple once again - another go at the same thing; get as high as you can, stay up for as long as you can and then do a spot landing.

This time round flight times were much longer and Lennox, Wally and Dirk joined in the fun. Dick in the meantime arrived at the beach hotel and opted for a flight there. He did ok in the light conditions and scratched at take off height for 15 minutes before landing on the beach and climbing those long stairs back to the car park. Meantime plenty of white room time was had by the gang at Sedge and then some very interesting landing approaches to say the least. Anthony mentioned breaking many personal bests - good one Ant! The evening was rounded off with beers and a braai and of course watching the many gopro videos of the days happenings (Great fun!). We will see what the scores are for the day but rumour has it that things are very close with Richard "boom" in the lead. Tomorrow looks to be even better with more pilots joining in the fun. See you up there!

And yes, wish you were here! Wilderness Wizards 2011! Go man!

Saturday, November 19, 2011

Frontal surfing

You could say that Dirk and I were slightly shell-shocked, suffering the expected withdrawal symptoms – missing the warm sunny weather, the smiles of our new friends and of course the predictable routine of flying. The cold South African coastal weather was a sobering reminder too of what we have lost. T-shirt and shorts made way for jeans and track- suit tops and I ended up piling the blankets onto my bed, even sleeping with a T-shirt on. It has been a major change but suffice to say that after ten years I know the drill.

Of course the major concern is getting the hang gliding school back on track, letting people know we are up and running again kind of thing. Some students though, knew exactly when I would be back so not surprisingly the first weekend was filled with flying action.

Van Zyl, a pilot from up country and our local pilots Richard van Niekerk and Guim Pienaar did some refresher training. Only having the weekend to play with we had our fingers crossed for good weather and as luck had it, the predicted cold front was only due to arrive late on the Sunday afternoon. We resolved to drive up and down the hill as many times as we could, the pilots doing as many top to bottom flights as they could.

So Sunday arrives and Richard being more experienced with about 50 flights in total, was not that keen to rig for just a top to bottom flight. Instead he stood around launch, dragging his feet and generally talking shop with whomever was around.

“I want more action!” he said to one and all, the light Southerly winds too light to keep the hang gliders in the air. Of course, to the south west we could see the line of clouds that marked the approaching cold front but it was slow moving so Van Zyl bombed off for a top to bottom ride. By the time we were ready for the second flight, the front was much closer and I quickly send him off for another 10 minute flight down to the beach. At this time Richard decides he is going to fly after all and starts to rig. By this time the front was real close and I urged Richard to hurry up. I was keen to see how Richard was going to handle it – the idea being that he will eventually choose not to launch and stand down, thereby learning a valuable lesson in airmanship.

By the time Richard was on launch and ready to go, conditions were very light but good -certainly enough to fly down to the beach in time before the front arrives. I judged it was not possible to stay up in the light conditions so figured it ok for him to go. Well, needless to say, Richard did not get to the beach. Instead, he flew magnificently. Like a pro pilot he darted to the Wilderness village and managed to remain aloft in tiny bubbles of lift, just enough until the front moved in. On the hill, there was a bit of pandemonium. “He’s in trouble!” some paraglider pilots shouted, pointing at Richard and his blue glider. Of course at this stage everything and anything in the air was going up – including Richard, at a healthy rate of knots. Well, he did say he wanted some action…

For those on the ground things looked worryingly. Richard on the other hand was having a ball, which was not an uncommon situation – things on the ground could be really nasty while high up in the air it was wonderful and of course this was Richard we were talking about. It looked spectacular seeing this blue glider circling up under those dark clouds and I could only hope that he would have the sense to stay out of them once he got nearer.

When Richard made his way to the beach for landing and found he could not come down, only the did the first thoughts of alarm cross his mind. (It's one thing to go up when you wanted to but quite another when you did not want to!) Naturally, being Richard he was cool as a cucumber and still enjoyed every moment. Then the beach umbrellas took off at 40mph down the beach and in some far corner of Richard's mind a bit of urgency registered and then only at the thought of the how difficult it might be to try and land in those winds down there. Still thinking heroic thoughts, he decides to run with the front. “Who knows!?” He said after wards, “ I could have rode this front up the coast for a new record flight!”

Of course, heroic thoughts or not, Richard’s inexperience probably saved the day as he dropped out of the lift and landed next to island lake, safe and sound but in a bit of a gale and rain to say the least. But this is Richard we are talking about. Gale hanging is one of his specialities! (A few privileged pilots will know exactly what I am talking about! ;)

It is quite an exciting start to our flying season.

Wish you were here!


Richard just launched as I look on. And of course the frontal system moving in from the right. Thanks to Dirk for the pic!

Friday, November 4, 2011


Dehydrated, bleary eyed, fuzzy head – how can people say that airports are great places to blog? I am in transit having just arrived from the Seychelles whale shark season. Not only do I feel woolly from the traveling but I do so in my mood too. How can one not feel a tad blue when leaving a place like Seychelles? Why, just yesterday Dirk and I where cavorting with two lovely ladies on an isolated rock surrounded by the picturesque turquois and granitic panorama so typical of Seychelles. (OK, cavorting is not the right word really ;) but the fact is Julia, Leah, Dirk and I played on this giant rock and the world’s biggest pool like teenagers in the sun. We jumped of the high spot, flopped in acrobatic high dives, (OK, I did!) did multiple swim through’s under over-hanging submerged rocks and laughed just like kids.

Just like kids.

What fun we had…

Leah and Julia - Dirk is in the water.

You will excuse me for feeling, bleary eyed, fuzzy headed and blue for a bit…

But just for a bit.

Wish I was there!


Tuesday, November 1, 2011

Nearing the end...

Does the earth seem round to you too..?

Normally at this stage we are so tired that we cannot wait to lay the wing at rest. However, this time around for some reason this is not the case. Both Dirk and I, in a moment of poorly disguised nostalgia, mentioned how aware we were about the privileged lives we were living. Of course considering we were flying a little orange plane over the waters of a tropical island, seeing and recording amazing things; counting sharks, manta rays, dolphins and the like, what was there not to appreciate or like? It was all super cool but even so, I could not help but have some extra spring in my step for what it was that I was doing. It was not just in the job. There was something else too. All I know is that I wanted the season to go on for ever.

After ten years this was a first.

And you are forgiven for thinking we are just less tired than other years – seeing as we have not flown as much due to the bad weather. The fact is that for the month of October we have flown everyday but for five, which is very much how it has been in previous seasons. Of course the real truth is we have flown fewer hours but that does not mean it was less exhausting – in fact quite the opposite. In a previous post I explained quite nicely the stress involved in the decision making process of whether to fly or not and given that we have had more of those kinds of times this season one could quite easily argue that we should be even more exhausted than other times. Take one flight which lasted just 15 minutes for example.

We had just taken off and found ourselves heading due south. To our surprise a very large squall line blocked the horizon from east to west with towering clouds and rain. Even worse, some of the clouds were already pushing fingers past the squall line and rain seemed to be forming in a horse shoe shape all around us. It was an easy call to the tower for re-joining procedures. Of course at that point there were 2 Boeings, 2 twin Otters, a Cessna beach craft and a US U.A.V spy plane all lined up for take-off and us being the smallest had to wait our turn. We were forced to orbit and hold while we danced around in little pockets of clearings to avoid getting wet. Those 15 minutes sure felt like 3 hours.

Dancing in pockets of no rain...

So the fact that we actually were probably more tired than previous years yet regretful to stop made for interesting reflection. The only change this season seemed to be a change of heart and attitude and mulling over this only pointed to the same thing – walking with God. Yes, you’d better believe that. The high’s from our best flights and shark experiences cannot even begin to compare with this walk which I have to add has been the greatest adventure in my life. It has added that cherished proverbial cherry on-top!

Thanks for keeping us safe Big Man!

Wish you were here!



Sunday, October 30, 2011


Marianne, off the planet and happy!

29 October 2011...

Even though I would love to the reality is just that there is not enough time in the day; time to write, time to go through photographs, time to share and time to reminisce. Once again I am of sitting at the airport cafeteria and despite not having had a single drop of coffee for two weeks now, I am completely at ease. (The coffee bit has been far easier than I thought – seems like I am lucky – no addictive gene in my bones!).

The last few days have proved to be somewhat disappointing from a whale shark point of view. We have been able to get up and fly for much of the last days but the sharks have just not been forth coming. Today is Saturday and since I only managed a very short flight this morning – Marianne and I could not get around to the west side of the island where the sharks hang out – the bout trip for the afternoon has been cancelled. It means just a normal survey flight and a bit of a reprieve for me at the airport cafeteria.

Hey! Would you believe, David has just joined me sporting a doughnut and coffee, (Yes, I looked at the coffee – it did nothing for me :) David is of course the man behind the MCSS. Founder, chairman and maker of the MCSS, his passion and enthusiasm of late have become highly contagious. He has come to collect Georgia who has been at a Marine seminar in the Maldives. (Georgia lives in the flat down stairs – David calls her the scary one, which is very amusing to all of us – other than a few extra studs in her ears, very short hair that changes colour every now and then, she is of course anything but scary. Georgia is part of the permanent staff of the MCSS and because she has two surfboards in her room, I think she is way more than cool. :)
David and I have a light and very pleasant conversation before he heads off to meet her.

Marianne and I after her flight.

As it turned out (A fortunate turn of events you can call it) Niki, Marianne's daughter, accompanied me on the afternoon flight. We did not see any whale sharks but managed a few fish traps, a couple of schools of fish and of course, the beauty and perspective the view from the air brings. The whole island is cast out before you as if by magic – hours by car is captured in a single glance and dots are finally joined, even for those you did not even know existed. I allowed Niki to pilot the wing for a while – she turned out to be a natural pilot, flying the wing with ease within just a few minutes, no doubt I am sure, bringing new insight to her own abilities as all new experiences seems to lend itself to.

There was a large line of rain moving in from the south bringing a slight sense of urgency to our flight, often so typical of Seychelles. Even so we managed to get to the north and have a quick look for those very shy spotty creatures. On the way back we took a different route. Instead of moving right around the island we flew back up the west coast and dived through some cloudy layers over Anse Royal. It was pretty spectacular to say the least and seeing the endless smile on Niki’s face made me realise that true perspective does not come from being able to look down on our world but rather it comes from within.

These are the moments that define us.

Wish you were here!

Niki high over Conception island...

Niki - a definitive moment...

Saturday, October 29, 2011

Emma's clouds...

28th October...

It rained hard and continuous during the early hours of the morning. Of course, being a pilot our minds have an eternal connection with the weather – inevitably sleep was restless. I kept wondering about the odds of flying, the unreliable met reports, staring at break-dancing wind socks, fighting strong winds and then rain in a little dacron and tubing aircraft. Interestingly too, the company of a lovely lady does wonders for a man’s soul and sometimes even succeeds to improve the weather. Whether Emma was empowered with some mystical magic or just plain good luck, we had a great day. For the first time in a while the weather held for a complete flight around the island. The wind was light so we could remain low level for the whole trip. It is a whole different ball game when one needs to climb to 6000ft just in order to clear turbulence. In this case we cruised around Beau Vallon bay at 2000ft. Then, we found a spot of convergence and climbed in the mild lift. A few bits of cumulous clouds had formed here.

“Have you ever touched a cloud?” I asked.
“Never!” She half shouted while I could not help but hear there was excitement in her voice. As we passed through the edge of the wisps I reached out and without saying a word noticed the outstretched arm and reaching fingers behind me. It was warm, slightly clammy but real.
“Wow…” Emma said while I echoed that no matter how many times I have done it, this is so cool. She mentioned that she has a thing for clouds and when I looked back I could see this was definitely a moment for her.

And that of course makes a moment for me.

Wish you were here!

Just after Emma's moment!

Wednesday, October 26, 2011

In one piece...

Sam and I getting a little bit wet!

Dirk has just arrived back, desponded but in one piece. He said it was his most stressful days flying he has ever had – and he didn’t fly! :) Welcome to the club Dirk! We know those days very well, “Should I fly? Yes! No! It’s definitely not good. Oh, wait. It’s looking better. Yes, it’s definitely better. Let’s go! No! That’s no good. Ah dang!” and on it goes for as long as you want to torture yourself. If you are inexperienced it lasts the whole day and you get back totally exhausted even though your feet did not even leave the ground. There are many days in Seychelles with that possibility which is why you need to be a pretty clued up pilot to make it work.

For holiday makers the weather is absolutely perfect – warm sunny, just a light breeze and they can’t understand why the pilot does not want to fly. Of course if we could take off on that side of the island it would be another story entirely. At the end of the day I support Dirks decision for not flying. It was definitely a pushing the limits kind of day.

The day before yesterday, Sam was my co-pilot. She is a beautiful brunette from Australia, a marine biologists and one of the MCSS interns. We had two flights in the morning – the first we were cut off by rain and on the second the turbulence (and rain!) was too severe. On that day I fell into an old trap – when you look at the windsock long enough and hard enough it will always look better than what it is.

Wish you were here!

Up date...

Season change with rain too!

Every year we enter a time when the seasons change. Here in Seychelles it is marked by change of the trade winds that swing from south-east to north-west. During this change over period the winds can be light and variable and when it is the flying is as good as it gets. Ironically, it is also during this change over period that the winds can swing to the south- west and bring with it turbulence that make flying as bad as it can be. This year, we seem to have skipped the calm bit and jumped straight into the as-wild-as-can-be bit. Not only is it unpleasantly turbulent but there comes a time when it is just down-right dangerous. The trick is to know when to draw that line.

I know that back home I would not fly in these conditions. It should be an easy decision then but when it comes to work and knowing what is involved – all the bookings of people wanting to dive with whale sharks and the bit of money the MCSS makes during this time of the year to help with conservation projects – it becomes a bit more difficult to say no. This of course is the wrong way of looking at it. It should be easy to make the decision not to fly because the real issue at stake is not the people wanting to dive on whale sharks but it is the life of the pilots.

Dirk is getting his fire baptism so to speak – it is his turn at flying and he has to make all the decisions. Of course I have been getting a lot of phone calls from him – what do I think? This morning was too strong for this wind direction and rightly he decided not to fly. This afternoon he has decided to ‘give it a go’ while I am not convinced. This dice can role so many ways…

Wish you were here!


Saturday, October 22, 2011


Dirk is flying today. A large rain storm has just passed by, so I tried to call him. He did not answer his phone which might mean he is still in the air. Hhhmm.

He got a whale shark this morning and the boat went out for the afternoon.

I had a hard time the whole of this week. Dirk was off to the Island of Ladigue with his new wife to be - they got engaged on the islands - very cool Dirk and Jana! :) I generously agreed to fly for the week while he tried to dust off - perhaps tried to find is more appropriate! a romantic bone in his body. (Jana said he did OK, which for Dirk is amazing! ;) So, the fact that he was off gallivanting the islands with his soon to be bride and that the whale sharks are scarce and the weather was particularly bothersome made for a bit of a tough week. I am glad he is up there flying and having to make the thousands of calculations while I can up my legs a bit - catch up on the blog and so on.

Last week we got just three sharks. Luckily the Aqua-firma group managed to dive on two of them.

This was what I had to contend with while Dirk was sunning his butt! Spectacular out flow cloud from a large CB cell. To fly or live to fly another day?

Wish you were here!


Which way..?

“Honey, why don’t you just ask for directions?”

It is human to err.., get lost should I say and if science is to be believed then there are more people that suffer from topographical disorders than we care to believe or admit – which kind of explains a lot of things, I mean what man dares to say, “I am lost!”!? (Perhaps that is why so many resources are being thrown at the problem of navigation – so no man needs to say, “I am lost”! :)

Of course I have no problem in admitting I was lost, once. Thankfully just momentarily and I have to add, it was at 18000ft in my hang glider, high above a very flat landscape with no identifying features and I must have been suffering from hypoxia too – for a brief moment I couldn’t figure out why the sun was now on my right instead of the left before I realised that it probably means I am flying in the wrong direction! Many of my hang glider friends concentrate so much on circling in the rising updrafts that by the time they are high they have lost all sense of cognitive features. (I admit. That must be the most ambiguous sentence I have ever written! :)

Of course for aviators, getting lost it is not a new thing and the seriousness cannot be overestimated – it is no coincidence that billions of dollars have been spent on aviation navigational equipment. The industry is high tech probably second to none. In the hangar that we operate from there are two coast guard survey aircraft with survey and navigational equipment on board that are more than the value of the aircraft alone. (Using sophisticated infrared radar they can read the name on the side of a ship from 10 000ft at ten miles at night!). Around airports you will find even more high tech navigational stuff, VOR’s, Secondary Radar’s, Tracking beacons, transponders etc. But every now and then I get surprised with the ingenuity of man.

Wish you were here!

PS: A friend said, because our little orange plane lacked navigational equipment they did that especially for us.

Thursday, October 20, 2011


Driving over the hill towards Victoria and the airport, the sky towards the east becomes visible. Living on the North of the island does not afford that luxury and even though this is the hip and happening part of the island it often has very little bearing on my world of flying. For me it is the sky to the south and east that counts. It is from there that all our weather systems come from – bar a few exceptions of course and being able to see what’s coming helps in making our local short term weather forecasts. After the change of heart from the weather reports (from dismal to good) I was quite cheery driving to the airport. The ocean on the north showed signs of light winds with flat and calm water making the prospect of flying even more enjoyable. Of course as I came over the hill the dark clouds to the east put paid to the happy ideas of flying. The forecasts have got it wrong, again.

The weather coming in...

Writing this makes me even crankier – I am sitting at the airport cafeteria and have made a pledge not to have one cup of coffee until I am back in SA. It is a kind of experiment, to test my resolve (of course I believe if I put my mind to it I have plenty resolve, so do I really have to prove it? Come on take that coffee, just one! ;), and also just to see what happens. The idea is to find out if my coffee habit is detrimental to my health and overall wellbeing – I am healthy but can I be healthier? And I know one can dig up many arguments about that lot but for now I have decided to head my gut. And even though my gut is wrong at times, l have been around long enough to know it is right most of the times. So it is no coffee for me.

Cranky! (It’s harder than I thought..!)

It has stopped raining. I am going to head down to the hangar again to see what the sky looks like toward the south. As we have become used to saying, “fingers crossed!”

Wish you were here!

Wednesday, October 19, 2011

Quick up date...

Would you believe the weather has changed? What!? No..! Yes. and for the better mind you. There is no rain for casted for today but for a bit of wind. We are heading out to the airport in a few minutes. The whole intern team is out turtle hunting this morning. Perhaps I can give them some support from the air in a while. They are trying to get hold of Carol, the turtle and she is actually a very interesting story. But I am off now to go fly. Will tell all later on!

Wish you where here!


Dreams do come true...

After todays hectic flying I thought I would get up a few pics from the nicer days. Just to kind of make me feel better... ;)

Here is a pic of Ali and I having fun over Beau Vallon bay. Ali is part of the Aqua-firma group and on her first day had a great whale shark encounter. The very next day she booked a flight in our little orange plane. Of course she loved every minute of it and I recommended that she takes up flying. She was very keen on that idea. I won’t be too surprised if I see Ali in the sky pretty soon.

The funny thing is that out of the whole group (I think they are twelve) she is the only one that wanted to go flying. The rest are just into diving! I just don’t get it. Who would not want to do this?

What do you think? One of my favourite pics. On one of those perfect days when you can flirt with the clouds…

Yep, you should have been here!

Up date...

Shoe! Just a short note - today I flew in some of the strongest wind I have ever flown in. It was blowing up to 50km/h in places and the sea looked angry. Of course the problem really was just in take offs and landing and at lower altitudes - it was very turbulent low down. Higher up it was actually quite pleasant, apart from the rain which slowly got worse. Yes, it was all from the outflow of a very large CB cell that covered the horizon. I know, I know, I should have known better but...

After spotting one whale shark in the morning this afternoon was disappointing. We did not get anything...

Wish you were here...


Tuesday, October 18, 2011


Sometimes it is good to wear masks. It can protect you from the sun, from the cold, from harmful gas or as in its most common use, just plainly hide your identity. Take for example the day Jana spotted a whale shark.

Now Jana is Dirks better half. She has flown over to visit for the week, which has been good for all of us. Dirk is not cranky anymore and of course Janna provides new and fresh conversation. Inevitably soon she was sitting in the back seat of the little orange plane with Dirk at the helm. He had to show her the ins and outs of the island from the air but also just to be the man – you know, the guy we don’t always see but Janna knows all too well.

Soon, Dirk had shown her the local fish-traps, the turtles that hang out in the coves and those that like the deep water, seemingly just hanging out in the middle of nowhere. And the large schools of fish that adorn the turquoise waters like Christmas lights a city.

“Daars n haai!” (Theres a shark!) OK, I am taking some poetic licence here. Jana actually said, “Wats daai?” (What’s that?) But the gist was exactly the same – could that be a whale shark?
Dirk could see it too and put the little plane into a downward spiral.
“Ooooh..!” Jana shouted from the back seat. (OK, I’m taking more poetic liberties here :) But soon the large brown object became clearer.
“It’s a Manta!” shouted Dirk and the large wide winged creature took flight. They could see its flatness and tip movement and got all excited. Jana was.., OK I will stop adding colour to the story here – Jana is living in our flat and I fear some retribution…
“Ag, dis a palm tak!” Shouted Dirk. (It’s a palm leave) and the two made known their disappointment while they flew on and left the palm leave to its own devices.

Of course later on when Dirk retold the story to me he could not help harping on the size of the leave, “It was not just long but so wide…” his arms went as far as they could while his fingers pointed even further. And that’s what gave it away. You see I know that in order to hide their identity it is not uncommon for the Seychelles whale sharks to hide behind large palm leaves. And let me tell you, they are very, very good at it too…

Wish you were here!

Monday, October 17, 2011

Up date..

On Sunday afternoon I stumbled upon a lone whale shark. OK, they are loners anyway but this was our first shark in more than a week. Of course the boat was very happy. The sharks proved to be a tame one and kind of hanged around for a while. The Aqua-firma group loved it. It was their first day (Last week’s group left Sat and did not have one encounter for the week…) But this was a good start.

Of course today we tried the same thing in hope. For almost three hours I scoured the ocean surface for anything resembling the likes of a spotty creature but allas. It was not to be. So we are tired but on the way back I managed to get this pic for you. Base leg just before turning on finals. Not bad hey?

Wish you were here!

Friday, October 14, 2011


Dirk got back at 8:30 this morning. It is pouring outside and there will be no flying this morning. The met office says the rain is wide spread and only the southern islands have sunny weather. We have just on two weeks left for the official whale shark season. Bar a miracle I doubt there is enough time to recover from the dismal season.

Yep. Still wish you were here! :)

PS: Here are two pics as a reminder of what the norm is for this time of the year. Two whale sharks and two manta rays in the one and just lots of whale sharks. From last years season.

Thursday, October 13, 2011

Climate change...

South Point is on the right. Police Point is in the foreground. A rare gap in the weather allows me to explore the south...

O the irony. For almost a week we have been plagued by a large cell of CB’s hanging about in the south even if the north of the island was having fine weather. That’s where the MCSS office is – in the north and of course when all the marine biologists looked out the window they see fine weather. I can imagine they probably question why the pilots aren’t flying, once again! Of course the danger aspect of flying to the north where it is clear is that these CB cells can at any time move just a tad to the north and cover the airport, cutting us off from being able to get back and land safely. And it has happened a few times too – thankfully we were still safely on the ground (and happy at having made the right decision!)

Then yesterday we decide that the chance of finding sharks in the north is better since there have been higher plankton counts in that area. We set a plan of action and lo and behold, the large rain cells decide to migrate to, you guessed it, the north! So we sat at the airport with bright sunny weather to the south and rain in the north. I kid you not. What is it with the weather this time round? This has to be the worst season we have ever had. We are all frustrated – marine biologists, pilots, interns and tourists alike.

Climate change is real and if what we hear is correct then it is only going to get worse. I was listening to a program on BBC that mentioned climate disasters are up by three times as many as in the 80’s. Even scientists are working on coping measures rather than preventative ones. On the bright side, you might be living in an area that is going to get better weather in the future. Either way, change is upon us and for those businesses affected by the weather these are very trying times. The big question now is how does one set about a strategic plan of action for the weather? Get into a business that is not affected by the weather? Every time I sip a coffee I think along those lines… I have been for some time now. :)

Wish you where here!


Ten love...

The fact that it was not raining was encouraging. Of course at the airport the stiff windsock and the met office report confirmed that it was too strong. Simon, one of the Aqua-firma tourists handled the news just fine. He understood my explanation with the clarity becoming of a haematologist. Simon was from the UK and worked for the NHS. Inevitably we explored the state of health systems in our respective countries, but soon the weather dominated our conversation again. Coffee at the airport cafeteria was on the agenda and for the first time this year I found some chocolate ├ęclairs that made my mouth water. They were as good as they looked. (Yes, later on I had another! ;)

We agreed that we would try again tomorrow and I dropped Simon off at the taxi. Of course due to the pressures of the program I willed the wind to slack off, which it did – perhaps only in my mind – and at lunch time I made a run for the south to look for sharks. The wind was howling. There were no sharks and I was stretching my abilities.
Must be ten love to the weather by now…

Wish you were here!

Monday, October 10, 2011


Racing from the approaching storm. I had just squeezed through a tiny gap between the clouds and the mountain in the background.

I am sitting in the open hangar of the Seychelles Military training academy. It is right at the very end of the runway and offers a great view down towards the south, the direction that most of our weather systems come from. From here I can make better assessments to predict the chance of flying. At the moment it is drizzling and towards the south it is gloomy and grey. For now the prospect of flying is slim to none – at least for the next half hour or so, which is how long it will take given favourable conditions for the system to clear up. Of course it looks more like these systems are taking their time to dissipate.

Normally by 11:30 I have already surveyed the whole island, located the sharks and informed David so that boat crews and passengers can be briefed. Today it is not going to be that easy.

The drizzle has just increased to light rain.

As if the weather is anything to go by, I have just heard on the news that SA lost to Oz in the quarter finals of the rugby world cup. A final score 11-9. It sounds like it was a close game. In a way I am glad I missed it. I am far too much of a Springbok fan to have been able to watch that game without getting worked up. No, it was much better sitting in the car waiting for the rain to clear up so we could go flying. Now what could be better than that? Yes, you are quite right – to be flying!

Later on I managed to get into the air and what an interesting flight it turned out to be. It had all the elements of excitement one could hope for – from a flying point of view: Lots of stormy weather, rain fronts, low clouds, mountains, turbulence. It gets really exciting when you have to calculate all these variables to make sure you can get through a gap between the clouds and a low valley in the mountains before it all turns pear shaped. As it turned out I could not quite get to the boat to offer air support and just to tease them even more, they spotted a whale shark but then lost it. If I had been in the air at that time it would have been a simple matter to get the research team onto the shark. Of course at that time I was sneaking through a low gap between the mountains and cloud with my tail between my legs, before it started to rain all over the show. Perhaps some other time I will bore you with the details but for now, let’s just say I am happy to be on the ground.

Wish you were here!

Saturday, October 8, 2011


This was the rain that moved in at lunch time from the SE.
After the dismal forecast the day actually started not too bad. There were signs of rain but not the kind of down pour predicted. Andy and I made our way to the Airport with light conversation. He is an interesting man, working in the security business concerning CCTV monitoring – no doubt with todays’ technological advances an exciting industry to be in. He had also done a hang gliding tandem flight in Rio some years back. “My friends said everyone took of straight but when we launched we just dropped and disappeared off the end of the ramp.” It was by no means Andy’s most memorable moment. “Well, Andy, this is much more relaxing. No need to run and hurl yourself off any cliffs…” Andy liked that idea.

In the end we had a great flight. Smooth air with very light winds – all the time I was monitoring the CB cells which seemed to be all around us, as if we were flying inside a large horse shoe. The storms where slow moving so we snuck around the whole island without getting wet. Unfortunately we did not see any sharks.

Just before lunchtime, one of the large CB cells to our north east moves in and it starts to rain over the whole island. David and I have a hard time to decide if it is worth heading out or not. We are just so desperate to run trips especially since Dirk had such a spectacular afternoon the other day, even though he only got one shark in the morning.

The rain seems relentless. We cancel the day. The storm collapses and its clear all around. Eish… (The last bit are for all my South African friends;)

The whole gang goes for an eat-out at one of the islands more interesting restaurants, the Hot Rock but I decide to give a survey around the island another go. I manage the whole island and only run into a few drops of rain near the north. Still no sharks. Perhaps then we did not miss anything…

Wish you were here!

Friday, October 7, 2011

Weather to or not...

If the weather is bad, this is what you miss out on....

We are all guilty of underestimating the magnitude of the role the weather has on our lives. As I mentioned in an earlier post, we are often aware of the effect on our moods but sometimes miss the affects the weather has on our daily physical living – from the threads of clothing we wear to the real threat of living or dying. Even more fascinating are the emotions stirred once we realise the inextricable connection between these two idioms. Rather ironically, if you believe like I do, you can have the one exist without the other but you cannot have the other exist without the one. Be that as it may, I have created a new gadget – a link to “the weather where I am at”, for those that are interested in that sort of thing but also because it is so relevant to my life for the moment. Here in Seychelles our project is so dependent on the weather. Perhaps I should rephrase that to ‘at the mercy’ of the weather, which gives a better description of our current predicament.

Over the years, with the help of the MCSS, Seychelles has developed a reputation as a reliable whale shark ecotourism destination. During the months of September and October daily trips are run with a very high rate of success, probably of more than 95%. The majority of these are multiple encounters with tourists diving with a number of whale sharks in a matter of just an hour or two. The result of this has been repeat bookings for tour operators on an annual basis. This year however, the weather has been so dismal that the Aquafirma tour group, who have booked a whole week of whale sharking, seemed as if they were not going to head out to sea on a whale shark trip even once. They arrived on Saturday and by Wednesday the rain had not let up yet and the forecast for the remainder of the week was bleak. Unexpectedly Thursday offered a reprieve and the boat went out. Of course Seychelles lived up to its reputation and the tour group had a great time (multiple whale shark encounters). However, today (Friday) the rain seemed to have returned with a vengeance. Of course, the forecast for the rest of the weekend looks pretty dismal too.

Earlier this morning, Dirk and I both were woken up by the sharp crack of thunder that rumbled on into the distance. The flash was evident even through my closed eyelids and in my dreamy state I counted the seconds. “One and ‘bang!’ ” – the lightning was less than 600m away! Lying in bed in the dark I knew the odds of Dirk getting into the air today was slim to none. Rain is one thing but lightening quite another, especially if you are flying a tiny, little micro-light.


Wish you were here!

Wednesday, October 5, 2011

Rain and rain and more rain.

Tim and I racing from the approaching rain after studying a whale shark.

Tim and I were unperturbed. Like brave little warriors we headed to the airport even if we were completely outnumbered. The odds were stacked against flying but the pressure was on – so much depended upon us getting into the air. Of course safety does come first – always – but after many days of not being able to get into the air one starts to consider that which is not possible. Perhaps it is possible to make the impossible possible. We spotted a small gap between the rain and agreed to have a go. We were not complete fools – if it was bad we could always come back. Of course the fact that sky was filled with large billowing clouds and rain was falling from almost every one of them perhaps there was still something foolish about our efforts…

By the time we taxied out to the runway even the gap we had hoped for down to the south had disappeared. By then, we were hot and bothered. Double sleeved flight suits, gloves and balaclavas were not the best of combinations for the tropics. Of course up in the sky it was essential.
“Approach we will fly to South Point and then report on our intentions depending upon the weather.”
“Roger, on line clear for take of one three with a right turn”
At that stage all that mattered was to get into the air and get the air-conditioning going.

We climbed to 3500ft in a gap in the clouds and from there could make a better assessment of the approaching weather. Some rain was moving in but we could easily fly around it. The question of course was what lied in wait for us behind it. It did not look too bad so we kept going. Cloud base was at 1300ft and the lack of sunlight made spotting conditions very difficult. We found nothing on our first search but on the way back Tim spotted a nice 7m shark. We did an observational report on it and then tried our hand at a couple of interference transect runs. The idea being to find out at what height the shark responds to the micro-light. Of course it is all official and we record every move. It is actually very interesting and for a few minutes we got totally absorbed in what we were doing.

Hhhmm… A large rain cell snuck in and was almost upon us.

“OK, Tim. Time to leave for the airport.”
“I agree!” he said. We still need to fly around South Point to beat the rain but managed not to get wet.
“Approach, this is Echo Pappa Echo, ready for re-joining…”

All in a day’s work.

Wish you were here.

Tuesday, October 4, 2011

Slim to none…

I got this rainbow pic from our balcony the other day...

Outside the airport cafeteria it was pouring with rain. Tim and I had been chatting all morning about various conservation projects, from the Rodrigues Island in the north to the east coast of Africa. Many of these entailed shark conservation projects and that is so my cup of tea. Sharks have really been getting a raw deal with modern man – many large well known species are on the brink of extinction. Of course, in some areas the influence of man has been kept at bay and very healthy shark populations are encountered. We speculated about ones chances of survival when swimming in these oceans – slim to none were probably not far off the mark.

It was lunch time and Dirk joined us after he bravely cycled all the way from home. Of course he was sopping wet.
“If I am not wet from perspiration I am wet from rain but I am always wet!” he says while we tuck into lunch.

Our conversation was laced with the advantages of aerial surveys and what a great tool that was for conservationists. It was well known in African National parks and used even in combating pouching but very few people, including pilots and scientists alike, know about its uses for marine applications. Tim and I dreamed for a while about the possibilities the future might hold, something so typical of pilots and marine conservationists alike.

Three cups of coffee and some cool drinks later Dirk greets us and heads out somewhere on his bicycle in the rain. For a while Tim and I admire his commitment to staying fit. Then we start to feel bad ourselves and stop.
“To be honest Tim, the chance of us flying this afternoon is slim to none.”

He leaves for the bus station while I am left staring at the rain and contemplating the reasons for hanging out at the airport. Even though we have canned the boat trip for the afternoon, the idea is for me to use any clearing to get out to the shark area and see what conditions are like – is the water rough, is the water visibility good and most important are the sharks still there. The rain of the past two days has caused a lot of flooding and there is every chance that most of our target dive areas are covered in brown rivers of fresh water making diving and whale shark trips a complete waste of time. I watch as the water pours from the roof ignoring the gutter. Slim to none I think again before ordering another cup of coffee.

Wish you were here!

Sunday, October 2, 2011

Certifiable depressions...

This is the lenticular cloud we watched above Beau Vallon Bay....

I have been thinking about the word depression. It’s quite ironic that the meaning of the word swings into the same direction in both humanistic wellbeing and weather terms. Their cyclic nature is so representative of life too, the ups and downs, the highs and lows. And to make this relationship even more interesting, you will find the two are inexorably linked with one another. In fact, we are experiencing that very thing. Let me put it this way.

There is a depression over the inner islands and it is raining cats and dogs. Our crew and tourists are suffering from depression that seems to range from mild to bordering on the certifiable.

The truth is that it has been raining for two days already and the forecasts are not looking any better for the coming week. One can only hope that the forecasts are wrong.

Just before the rain started, for the clued up, we were treated to a spectacular sight. If you are a weather buff or a pilot used to using Mother Nature as your power source, the beautiful lenticular cloud forming above Beau Vallon bay would not have escaped your notice. These types of clouds are extremely rare in Seychelles; occurring perhaps less than a handful of times per year. Dirk and I watched with joy (we were happy to be on the ground!) at the fast forming cigar shaped cloud. It was a beaut! The bottom had cumuli tendrils, swirling and curling in random fashion while the tops were ironed smooth in its familiar and predictable lens shape. The winds were gusting to 40knots on the water below the wave cloud – the white streaks of foam were reminiscent of Cape Town’s bays during a storm strength southeaster. To see such ferocious weather action from the usual tropical bliss brought with it a pleasurable awareness. After all, variety is the spice of life.

Wish you were here!

Thursday, September 29, 2011

Waiting for the sun...

By now I have realised that sometimes all you have to do is wait for the sun to go around the earth one more time. While we know that the literal meaning of the words are wrong from a scientific point of view, we certainly do not fail to get the point. And the point or intent is what this life is all about – you know, it’s the thought that counts kind of thing. Of course very few people realise that that is exactly the whole point of the New Covenant but let me not digress too much here.

So we have been patiently waiting for the sun to go around the earth a few times now – every day bringing hopes of finding those elusive whale sharks. Not that they are supposed to be elusive around these parts. At this stage we have had a very slow season with not just a lack of sharks but also a lack in their food stuff – plankton. The waters have been very clean with water visibility around the 15 meter mark in most places. To make matters worse, the weather has also played its part in the delayed start with strong winds and then rain which hampered our efforts to get flying. Of course on the days we have been able to get airborne the lack of sharks was a painful damper to our initial enthusiasm of just being able to get into the air.

Yesterday was our first day of proper success. Perhaps it had something to do with the fact that I took Darren up for the previous morning’s survey flight and his enthusiasm might have spilled over into the water – his enthusiasm and talkativeness had no bounds. Darren is a new intern that has just joined the project and along with him, or so it seems, the influx of some plankton rich waters. (He did say he is bringing the sharks with him!). Tuesday afternoon was a myriad of action even if the day started slow. Right of the bat I managed to find a whale shark as the boat was leaving the bay, however after just a few minutes the shark dived before the second group could get a chance of getting into the water with it. For almost one hour nothing happened. I searched a large area from Anse La mouche all the way to South point, being greeted only by crystal clear water all the way. Then I spotted some devil rays doing loops. This was a good sign since this is a known method of feeding for these rays – there must be some plankton in the region! I got the boat into the area and for a while the snorkelers chased these elusive rays all over the show, every one managing to get a good look at the looping and feeding activity. At about the time when we thought it was the end of the day a whale shark surfaced. This meant that the second group got a got look before this one too dived but by this stage, we knew our luck had changed. Two more sharks surfaced and both groups got into the water before I left for the airport and apparently the sharks would not go away.

It sure does seem that sometimes you just have to wait for the sun to go around the earth one more time.

Wish you were here!

Monday, September 26, 2011

Cake and coffee... 26 September 2011

The Cake and coffee flight..!

It has been a few days since I have blogged anything. Allow me to use the common flu as my excuse – if there is such a thing. Thank goodness it is over though (Touch wood!) I still have some leftovers (yes, I know, it’s a bad simile) but the result is that I am holding back on giving things too much effort, you know, like life, which is a grand philosophy actually – giving things your all. I am sure you will agree with me when I say that we have all been conditioned to give it our all during certain events, like sports, or exams or things competitive but this attitude seems to be less stressed upon when it comes to the rest of our lives. Thinking about that logically, it makes no sense. Isn’t the idea of living to make the most of life? Surely then for you to become the best you possibly can be, you have to give it your best in all aspects of your life. Right?

Of course the problem with this philosophy is that it is based upon a choice. That is, you have to decide if you want to be the best you can possibly be. Most people don’t because they have not thought it through properly. Of course once you have it is easy to realise that is exactly what God wants for you. Now before you all go and think my illness have made me lost the plot let me explain why this is on my mind.

I was sick. I felt miserable and irritable. Even lying down did not provide any comfort. Then there was a knock at my door. A friend had stopped by to say hello and I, being in the mood I was did not show the most hospitable side I had. Afterwards I knew I could have done better. A lot better and this has prompted me to make a more conscious effort to improve my behaviour even when feeling ill.

I have just been interrupted by a beggar – or so I thought at first. I am sitting at the airport cafeteria sipping coffee – yes, it is sweltering hot but it is a cool habit for writing – when this teenage girl leaned over from the opposite table and asked, “Excuse me but I am hungry. Buy me cake.”

I had a myriad thoughts run through my mind; why someone could disturb me while it was so obvious that I was deeply engrossed in my laptop; why cake?; wow, a beggar in Seychelles?; God is testing me; don’t be rude now, be nice; this could be a great opportunity for Jesus; talk to the girl, be nice. It quickly transpired that she did not quite understand me. She seemed particularly confused at why I did not want to buy her cake, which of course was not true. I was merely intrigued and trying to find out more about her before relenting to the cake part, something I was particularly interested in – why cake and not a healthy sandwich instead. She looked like she needed to be in school so I called one of the waitresses over to translate for me.

“She would just like some cake.” The waitress said.
“I know that part” I smiled more earnestly, “but I would like to know, how old she is, why she is not in school, where are her parents and so on?”
“Sir” the waitress replied before she lifted a finger and pointing it to her head continued, “She is not quite right upstairs…”
The penny dropped. I remembered too what I was writing about when she interrupted.
“Its fine. I will pay for her cake – she can go choose any cake she wants.”
The waitress had a quick word with the girl at which she responded with a smile before quickly adding, “coffee too!”
“She can have cake and a coffee too.” I nodded while my eyes met the girls’. I remembered her glances at my coffee earlier on, that there was something off about them. I could not place them at the time but it was as if they were from someone about to die from malnutrition. It disturbed me. Now they were sparkling with joy.

The girl jumped up and walked off to the counter.
“She is 25 years old sir…” said the waitress next to me before she too made her way back to the counter.

Later that afternoon, for some reason the flying was particularly sweet.

Wish you were her!

Tuesday, September 20, 2011

20 September 2011 - Dirk experiences paradise.

This is Dirk on his first day of perfection. He is flying with Sam, one of the MCSS interns.

Dirk has just arrived back from his days work – all smiles, all hyped up. He is super stoked. This is typical of those that have experienced the tropics on one of those perfect days. No wind. Perfect visibility. He has seen things he has never seen. Come to think of it, he has seen things few men have ever seen. Manta rays, whale sharks, normal sharks, turtles, schools of fish, dolphins – you name it. He can’t stop talking.
Wish you were here! (wish I was better too!)

Monday, September 19, 2011

18 September 2011 The bug strikes

This is our old hanger roof. This is kind of how I feel...

My quarantine precautions had no effect. I have been struck by the bug. Thankfully Dirk has had three days of rest on the trot and he feels strong and ready to go. I am very grateful for that. Today was a bit of a struggle for me and after this morning’s flight, at lunch time I was just about out. Parked in the hanger I lay on the front seat and fell asleep for an hour and a half before I woke. And I only woke because some dude started a grinder right next to the car – literally! (They were doing some work on a rusted container inside the hanger). For once I could say lady luck was on my side, the wind had picked up and the gusts were reaching up to 32k. It had become just too strong to fly safely. It sure helped me and thankful for the break I headed home by 3. I have been dosing myself with vitamins so hopefully it will all be over in a day or two.
Oh, what am I doing? Did I mention that I took a lovely young lady flying with me? Mandy is a beautiful, blond blue eyed surf instructor and from Cape Town too. Last night she called to say that her boyfriend advised her not to go because he knows these things are extremely dangerous. She wanted to know if it is true. Of course it is, I said, which I could hear came to her as a surprise. You decide what you want to do and let me know. Afterwards Mandy reckoned it was probably the coolest thing she has ever done.
The sea is still devoid of life – we saw no sharks. There is a distinct lack in plankton and the water is quite clean for this time of year. We are all hoping for a plankton brew that is just around the corner.
Wish you were here!

Saturday, September 17, 2011

17 September 2011

Tonight I am tired, so I am afraid I wont be doing much of a blog. It was a hard day of flying. We did not get any sharks even though we sent the boat out while I scoured the ocean for those little brown tadpoles for hours. Still the persistent strong winds and turbulence. The highlight of the day was flying with Julia, one of our pretty interns. Julia is from Cape Town South Africa and I so love the accent. Its like home baked pie. :) Of course she loved the flying.

Wish you were here!


Friday, September 16, 2011

16 September 2011 - six love

Rain approaching from the south at south point of the island.
Leah and I in my latest on sunscreen fashion.

Dirk is sick. It seems like he has picked up some flu virus. At first we thought it was just a little cold but it has turned into the typical sore body, feeling battered and blue thing. I have turned our flat into a quarantined zone – trying not to catch what-ever he has. Last night I heard him wheeze and cough and ordered him off. He is at home resting. Yesterday afternoon he found a whale shark in the south and that has made us all hopeful for today.

Leah, one of our interns, had her turn at being co-pilot for our morning survey flight. The wind was a lot less than yesterday which was a great relief to me. (I am becoming tired of having to fight this seemingly everlasting relentless spiteful wind.) Looking at the moderated windsock action my mind drifted to our earlier visit to the met office.

Francois is one of the weather office old-timers. We met some ten years ago and while his forecasts have not always been consistent one thing has, his smile – I have never walked into the office without Francois face beaming a smile and more often than not, echoing an infectious laughter along with it. It is always a pleasure to see Francois.

This year there are two new forecasters, two guys from the African continent and while I am not sure which country exactly, suffice to say it has to be from deepest darkest Africa. (What interesting characters!). John is tall and grey, while Said is short, bald with a set of thick spectacles – the bottle thick variety – and a smile with equally large off-white halitosed teeth. (Yes, I know there is no such word but I am sure you get the idea!) This discovery I made one morning when Francois laughter, being the kind it is, induced Said into a gut shaking joyful boisterous fit which sent me reeling for cover. I had no choice but to leave the office in jest – the white lie I was forced to use I have no doubt, washed to pure white even before it left my mouth.

As they say, it is the thought that counts.

But this morning as we walked into the met office and to our amusement, Francois and Said could not stop laughing. (Of course by now I was keeping a safe distance). “What is so funny Francois?” I asked while in politeness we joined in. “Well,” he said, “Do you want to hear the good news first?”
“There is no good news!” He answered while breaking into another fit of laughter.
“That’s not so funny Francois” I said in mocking seriousness. “You mean to tell me the only time I can expect good news is the day I find you crying?” At this Said’s shaking gut made me take a protective step back. It was probably the lightest moment of the day to be honest.
“The winds will be strong but the rain should clear up for the afternoon” he said and it was these words that I reflected upon while watching the moderated windsock at the end of the runway.

Met office zero, Mother Nature one.

Leah and I ended up having a great flight. We had to dodge and weave our way through some rain clouds, but the air was smooth and calm and she loved it. Even though we did not see any whale sharks, the crew decides to send out the boat in the hope of a bit of luck. However and I am sure just to prove a point, in the afternoon it rained and rained.

Met office zero, Mother Nature two. And that’s been the story of the season so far actually.

Still… Wish you were here!

Thursday, September 15, 2011

15 September 2011 - Cocos again

It is not the just the weather that has changed. One of the first things I noticed upon my arrival this year is the cool and familiar immigration stamp. Yes, the sexy (I know I am shooting myself I the foot here) unique Seychelles Coco-de mer stamp is back. It seems that the people have spoken or at least that someone listened and acted. It is a huge feather in the cap for the Seychellois and the country as a whole. (Read the story I did September 21 in 2010 titles More coco nuts…) It sure looks pretty in my passport.
While on the subject of coco-nuts, Dirk and I have been cautious when parking near the beach – always looking up to see if we are not underneath a ripe, ready to fall coconut. We have been joking about the fact that more people die from falling coconuts than shark attacks. If we are so vigilant at looking out for sharks while surfing and swimming why not look up while on the beach too?
Case in point, it sure pays to be observant, which was exactly what I told myself, in chastisement actually, when my eyes met the wind sock – it was straight as an arrow, way past my safety cut-off point. Unlike other times when looking at the windsock from within the safety of the car this time round we were in the airplane, strapped in and ready to fly. I was blaming Dirk of course, but only partly. Ultimately I am the pilot and have to take responsibility for being here. (This morning I asked Dirk to do the windsock check while I prepared the plane. He reported that it was fine which I just accepted. Of course afterwards he mentioned something about looking at the windsock during a lull…) But we were out there and kind of stuck between a rock and a hard place. The wind was buffeting the little plane while I struggled to keep control. A small hill upwind was the cause of these gusts and for now I thought it best to get out onto the runway and into the cleaner air. The plane was threatening to roll over from the strong crosswind, leaning precariously to one side. If a strong gust came through it would be all over so my eyes scoured the tilted swaying grass for those approaching unseen gusts. This was an old trick for strong wind flying. By watching the upwind grass you could see the swirling eddies approach and prepare so as not to get caught off-guard.
Behind me, on the back seat was Mark, one of the interns with the MCSS. Mark is a great guy. Not just because he surfs, or that he is an old-hand at air-traffic controlling and knows his way around airport procedures, nor the fact that he is the only male living with four beautiful ladies (they are part of the MCSS intern crew). Despite these experiences Mark comes across extremely modest. Dirk and I like Mark.
Mark made it clear to me too that it would be nice to see what it’s like on the other end of the radio. He could not wait to fly in our little orange plane but this was going to be a bit of a fire baptism. Needless, before he could say much we leapt into the air. While climbing I was being kept busy by the frisky air. It was surprisingly bumpy even for the windward side of the island, a side that is usually calm and smooth given that the air has just passed over thousands of miles of open ocean with not a piece of land or rock to disrupt the airflow.
We rock and rolled our way to 1500ft.
“How are you doing Mark?”
“I’m fine thanks!”
Ah… Sometimes you just have to love the fact that ignorance is bliss.

Wish you were here!

Wednesday, September 14, 2011

14 September 2011 We are flying

Reef Rash! I thought before I get to the really nice pics, let me get the ugly ones out of the way. ;) This is me after having paid my dues - I got bounced off the reef on my first surf this season. It was a combination of being rusty and then going out onto a really fast wave breaking on a shallow reef. It is all healed so we are good to go again. ;)

Now, the best news is, were flying! Well, I assume you would realise that since I did not do any blog yesterday. But first, let me tell you about today.

I was wondering what to write about. Of course it is a tropical island and you would think, what is there not write about but finding that something special to share with you is not always that easy. I ordered a cup of coffee and sat down at the airport cafeteria while these thoughts were milling around my head when I spotted a beautiful lady. Of course I kept an eye on her, just enjoying Gods creation in all sincerity. She had long straight black hair, matching thick rimmed spectacles giving her an educated look, white blouse that revealed just enough, tight fitting jeans with black medium healed laced sandals – those that seem to wrap around your feet and then wind their way up around open ankles to a spot somewhere in your imagination as they disappeared under the boot leg denim. Then her boyfriend joined her – not that it changed anything. I was still admiring her, thinking that some woman, are really just born classy. She had a long French loaf in her hand and while the two of them ordered coffee she broke a quartered size piece off the bread and before I could blink stuffed the whole chunk into her lovely little mouth. She couldn’t even close it but she chewed, white French loaf parts sticking out from both corners. I chuckled of course, knowing that not even I could or would do that. In my culture it is considered rude and would that not just be common-sense? What kind of lady would do that? I stopped wondering pretty quickly.

Yesterday afternoon I sent Dirk on his first solo flight around the island. I spent enough time with him so that he could get used to lay of the island, names of important places and the general procedure of flying with the local air-traffic controllers – which is a wonderful story of its own, one which had me in stitches a few times to say the least. But while helping Dirk prep for his solo flight, which at that stage he had no idea he was doing – one always keeps these solo jaunts a secret until the very last moment when just before start up you quickly slip off the back seat, smile and say, “enjoy your flight”! At that point there is no turning back and very little time left for the newbie to fret or worry about the idea of flying alone and they just do it. Of course Dirk was no beginner but like I said his radio work with the local controllers were something else and he liked the back-up company in the rear seat. Needles, as I slipped of the back seat with my customary solo smile – which had the same effect on Dirk, I looked forward to an hour or two of relaxing while Dirk started to earn his keep. Well, by the time he landed I came to the startling realisation that it was much more relaxing for me to fly with him than me being on the ground and worrying if he is doing ok!

Responsibility is quite something. And it seems to be getting more the older I get. Obviously it has a direct bearing on my work – as a hang gliding and micro-lighting instructor but I could not help think that perhaps my awareness of this sort of thing had grown a bit more ever since I had taken over as youth leader in our church. I definitely could not recall being so concerned with anyone flying solo since I can remember.

This morning I took Susie up for the survey flight with me. Dirk was with us but I wanted him to do more solo stuff, until he is more settled. Susie and I did not see any sharks but because of the many days lost due to bad weather we are sending out the boat in any event. David is rolling the dice so to speak – playing the odds of us finding a shark out there given that we spend sufficient time in the air. I certainly hope it works. The interesting thing is that I sent Dirk up there on his own again – he is learning and this makes it easier for me. In another few days we should be settling into a routine of one day on and one day off and that is my idea of island style work. I can’t wait.

Wish you were here!