U.K. One Man Meet

Abergavenny, Wales

15 - 16 November, 2003

By Steve Roake

Editor's Note: Steve Roake is a balloonist from the UK. His article appears courtesy of our anticipated European sister site, www.cloudhopperS.org

 

Over the past two days, following a spell of horrendous rain that swept the country, a gathering took place of what is probably the largest festival of One Man Balloons or "Hoppers" as they are better known in the world. Having been established many years ago by Phil Dunnington , the One Man Meet is now run and coordinated by Clive Bailey with the various teams coming from across the UK to Llansantffraed Court Hotel based in Abergavenny, Wales.

This country style Hotel set in some beautiful grounds overlooking the black mountains was the scene of a weekend of Balloon activity, that looked highly unlikely to take place on the proceeding day, with rain pelting down from above and winds high enough to push the four by four sideways as we ventured across the Severn bridge into the Usk / Wye Valley of Monmouthshire. However the Met briefing gave a definite trend towards improving weather conditions as the weekend progressed, and having travelled a fair distance to attend ,the activities started Friday night with an informal gathering at the Cripple Creek Pub in Raglan to establish one of the main attractions of this event, namely the sociability side of ballooning.

This being my first trip to a One Man Meet, having tried and failed to attend in previous years, I witnessed a general gathering of the whole spectrum of balloonists from the weekend privateers through to some eminent commercial rides operators.The basis of the meet from it's inception being that any balloon may enter up to and including a 42,000 cubic foot envelope, so long as the Basket or Chair arrangement caters for one occupant only. The emphasis right from the word go being that of sociability and as we all know, probably 90% of ballooning is about exchanging tales, so this fitted like a glove. A laid back approach to flying with good food and an "oldie-worldly " theme in the hotel with Log fires and 19 acres of land dating back to the twelfth century, soon reflected in the relaxed nature that one sensed whilst seeing up to 19 balloons in the air at any one time.

Saturday morning arrived with clear skies and a 07-30 briefing that indeed it was very flyable.(Surface winds of 270/5, gradient of 310 at 15knots).With the launch field some 500 yards from the hotel, and having had the first coffee of the day , I joined the other teams on the field for the briefing. Phil Dunnington now firmly established in the Malaysian region of the world sent "hearty greetings to all the attendants".

The morning's task was to fly to the pub from our previous night's socialising. Crewing with Tony Bubb and his wife Pat for the event , I soon saw 15 balloons in the air heading towards the target. Tony got quite close at about 1/4 of a mile in G-EECO his Lindstrand 25A ,beaten by Bill McKinnon in G-IAMP the "BPG" liveried Cameron H 34 who was adjacent to the entrance. However both were eclipsed by Tony Brown attending his first One Man meet, who, in G-EROS the 1990 "Evening Standard" Cameron H 34 Cloudhopper made the task look easy by popping the craft into the pub's car park!

 

One story that made many smile was Andre van Wyk, who turned up for the meet with his unique Customcraft A25 Home built Hopper G-CCKZ, apparently only built within the previous two weeks with the event in mind. Certainly looking very nice on it's maiden flight, this unique newly designed balloon featured a multi coloured fabric design utilising fabric sourced via Pete Bish of the Zebeddee List, who also flew his own Zebeddee V-31 G-BXIT Home built craft. Very nice to see everyone using each others inflation fans as we all pulled together to get the pilots airborne.

Returning to base for a hearty traditional "Full English" breakfast around ten am , most found it hard to consume any more food as we reconvened at the Pub for some Light refreshments before the afternoon briefing at 2pm.Conducted in the aforementioned scene of Tony Brown's landing the weather continued it's trend of improvement with good prevailing conditions and some additions to the flying list. In true democratic style Trevor Read had requested that he be allowed to fly from the same field as the Hoppers/ single baskets in his Cameron N-77, Having had a C of A conducted mid morning and in true British style , a vote was taken with the lucky chap allowed to join in the fun suggested in the event style (being that he fit into the theme of the event and he flew solo!). Nice joke!

The Saturday afternoon slot saw a repeat of the direction from the morning lift, but without a task and most flew longer taking in the sights of Raglan castle close to the Main A449 Trunk road. That evening ,one pilot produced around 15 seconds of footage taken as he flew over with his digital camera, showing fine ramparts and a moat that was not visible from the roads. Generally the surface winds were around 270/8 knots. with gradient winds easing to 10-12 knots on a 320 direction.This particular slot saw the greatest number of one-manners airborne with 20 out of the bag including G-BXUH "Baby Bel" in Kevin Tanners hands, getting a feel of the hopper theme for the first time around the launch field .

Saturday Night once more saw gastronomic activity at the forefront when 24 of us sat down to an informal meal at the venue, followed by liquid refreshment of the sociably alcoholic style infront of a roaring log fire whilst stories of past exploits kept the keener ones of us up until the wee small hours.

Sunday Morning appeared, perhaps for some too soon, but with a unique problem for most. Flying was definitely possible but with two interesting problems.Firstly England were playing the old rivals France at Rugby World Championships around 09-00 live on TV, and more importantly breakfast had to be fitted into the agenda before 10-00. As Usual Ian Ashpole showed the masses the way to achieve the goal by appearing from the briefing to have "Energis"G-BYNW, his awaiting Cameron Cloudhopper already cold inflated by his crew and awaiting its pilot! Wish I knew what he had bribed them to get it ready on time. Being First into the air and with an Inversion evident he took off around 07-45. The actual slot turned out to be probably the best of the weekend with the gradient strong at a given height but very light and variable by the time you were looking for a landing position 50 mins after take off . Tony Bubb radioed to say that in fact having crossed the Castle at Raglan once more and descended for a better photo shot was now reversing his track back towards the castle grounds! With Cars showing signs of overnight frost ,the ground generally had drained away quite well with firmer footing experienced by most crews.

By this time , having achieved three slots out of three, the team from G-EECO returned home to Surrey as my daughter was having her fifth birthday that afternoon and serious Jelly and Ice-cream was not to be avoided at all costs. I believe that the afternoon slot appeared to be very flyable ,but could not confirm having returned to parental duties. It was however nice from a family stance to see our host Clive Bailey on the launch field introducing his four year old daughter to "Hoppering" with a small go in G-BSOF Clive's old"Thunder&Colt" hopper a couple of feet in the air whilst on a line with the younger member of the family getting a feel for flying with Daddy! Can't start them too young!

All in all another superb weekend away! I'm told every time it's held in Wales the forecast is usually crap, but the record speaks for itself, and for the fifth or sixth year in succession another successful event was staged ! Will I return next time .....too blooming right. Thanks Very Much!

 

Photography: Pat Bubb