I went on a lovely post-call aerial meander today. While I caught up on sleep during the morning the wind turned light north-west; cold sea air began to replace the more boisterous south-easter and most of the PPG fraternity were congregated at Dolphin Beach. I joined the crowd around three o’clock and was airborne shortly thereafter with a vague plan to join a group flying up to Melkbosstrand along the coast. Unfortunately, a stubborn pressure-knot in my lines forced a quick circuit back to the field to sort it out, so I ended up chasing after them on full bar and open trims, idly watching the surfers below. By the time I caught up they had passed Big Bay and encountered a bank of sea fog just making landfall. The group turned back.
My natural wanderlust extends to airborne endeavours, and I knew that I’d be frustrated flying around Dolphin Beach until the mist arrived there and shut things down completely, so I decided to fly over to Blouberg Hill and survey the options from there. The hill peaks at about 700ft and features some old military ramparts, which are now being converted into nature reserve accommodation. I used some ridge lift on the NW side for a free ride to the top and examined the options. The sea fog looked as if it was thinning out to the north, and experience has taught me that while the sun shines if rarely makes much progress inland. I’d already discovered (to my surprise) that there was very little turbulence over the hill. I decided to venture a little further into the farmlands, make a big loop to which ever side felt good, and try my luck later with the fog at the beach – there are always plenty of landing options elsewhere for a PPG.
The PA125 engine was singing melodiously and took joy at every throttle input; my Eden 4 wing rippled gently with the pleasure of being caressed by the afternoon air. Smells of the fields rose up as we skimmed along, seldom more than a few hundred feet and often below the treetops: Dust, cows, something tangy from a processing plant. We skipped up over powerlines and settled down closer to the earth to admire stray buck and huge hares. As the evening light grew richer, I began to notice the texture of the land that we miss when we’re terrestrial: the way vegetation changes in symmetry as you pass a small stream; the juxtaposition of man’s order on nature’s chaos; the lines we leave that endure and those that fade. In one field, a plough had cut the symbol of infinity, and I wondered how long we’d continue to draw our sustenance from the soil.
After a while I realised that while I was becoming much more aware of where I existed, I had less idea of where I was. My mapping GPS was two thousand miles away on another adventure, and dead-reckoning relies on less rumination and more navigation. I raised mine eyes unto the hills and got a rough fix: somewhere between Philadelphia and Atlantis. The air had become wonderfully smooth as the sun continued to sink and the light was becoming gentle, so I decided to venture into the Atlantis Dunes, a small tract of natural white-sand desert amongst the scrub. It’s popular with the 4WD fraternity, but is also a great place to play with a PPG as the sand is forgiving if any low-level manoeuvres are unsuccessful. This evening, however, it was popular with me for an entirely different reason: the poetry of patterns lit by the lowering light.
Bingo time arrived: not limited by fuel, but rather the waning sunlight. PPG’s must be back on the deck by the end of civil twilight (15 minutes after sunset), and most of us assiduously avoid crepuscular calamities. I turned to the south, still cruising low over the veld, and was rewarded with a sighting of a Fish Eagle perched at a small lake just north of the Delta 200 airfield. The strip was deserted; I flew down the centerline of the runway and pretended to be a baby Boeing. Koeberg Nuclear Power Station lay silhouetted against the fog off my right wing; the glinting high-tension powerlines branching out against the approaching darkness.
As I climbed back to the top of Blouberg Hill it became evident that the fog had asserted itself with vigour: the entire coastline was beneath it’s cold covering. The beauty lay above. Last rays of sunlight tinted the hills and vales of fog, turning it into an enormous eiderdown drawn up to keep the feet of Table Mountain warm against the encroaching winter. I flew over my landing field: 200ft deep fog with no view to the ground. Discretion won over valour and a bit of a walk, and I retreated inland to a school field beside the road. After 2h28 minutes aloft and 98km distance I returned to leaving footprints, still trying to understand the patterns we create.
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