There are a couple of coastal flights in Victoria that have the "legend" status. The flight from Southside take-off, Bells Beach, to Lorne certainly is one of them. It has been done many times by hang gliding pilots but only a couple of times under a paraglider.
The weather conditions need to be just right for it to be remotely possible: ESE wind with good wind strength.
I was test flying the new mini-wing from Flow Paragliders - the Yoti 2 on the Surf Coast and decided to sleep the night at Aireys Inlet. It was a beautiful Christmas day in good company and awesome flying. In the evening I got the message from Jan that they are going to try the run early next morning.
We met at Southside at quarter past seven. Conditions looked perfect. If anything a bit on the stronger side for the type of glider I was flying. I brought my old and trusty competition glider, the Niviuk Icepeak 5 with me. The only issue is that I'm about 12kg under the weight range on it after my recent 14kg weight loss. Great for light days when I'm just floating above everyone else with ease but not so good for strong days. Well... not so bad either considering that it's one of the fastest normal size paraglider wings ever built.
As usual I was the first one to be ready so I launched into a strong ESE cross-wind and waited around the corner for Jan to join me. We decided to push direction Torquay first. Because of the strong wind and being so light under the glider I needed to stay much further in front of the ridge than Jan, which meant I was constantly outside of the optimal lift zone. Jan was always a bit higher and faster on his Cure. In some places I needed to open my trimmers all the way and push full speed to get a couple of km/h forward speed. It was a slow going but the setting was beautiful. The tide was high and landing options were very limited but in strong wind it wasn't really an issue as long as it didn't go too cross.
We turned around at Torquay and flew past other pilots on the way back to Southside. At Point Addis we slowed down to see how high we can get before crossing direction Anglesea. As we were searching for best lift zones other pilots joined us. We were getting reasonable heights but nothing spectacular. I left on glide towards Anglesea with 250m ASL and I wouldn't have made it to Anglesea without gaining a bit of extra height on the way there. With so much cross-wind it's quite tricky to gain anything. Lift bands are really narrow. Make the turn a tad late and you end up losing height instead of gaining it. With the wind being on the stronger side it was quite a challenge.
I arrived at Anglesea with not much height to spare, losing most of it in those last 200m before the headland. A couple of minutes later Jan arrived much higher than me. He took more time to gain a bit of extra height at those cliffs on the way and possibly picked a better line.
Anglesea was the critical decision making point. Should we continue on towards Aireys Inlet or not? As much as we tried we weren't getting really good heights above the headland. This was my first time flying this bit of coast and I wasn't really confident I was going to make the long glide to Aireys. As we were ridge soaring more pilots joined us - Noah and Dave under their TripleSeven Rook 2's and Nick under his TripleSeven King. I was a bit sorry I've left my King at home. It would've been a proper Triple Seven gliders fly-in. It's just that I use my King only for inland flying.
So there were 4 experienced local pilots flying with me. Jan and Dave have made the flight to Aireys before and I was wondering if they were going to go for it or not. I was at 170m ASL and in a good position for a glide when Dave, same height as me, went on glide. It was a no brainer for me and I peeled off the headland straight line over Anglesea towards Aireys lighthouse. It seemed an impossible glide. There's pretty much no ridge all the way to the start of Aireys Inlet headland. Only a long stretch of beach with a small bushy sand dune sticking out, most of it cross-downwind relative to the wind direction, meaning it won't produce much lift, if any. If it wasn't for the sandy beach promising soft landing options in case of down wind bombing-out I would've never committed to the glide. I picked the most direct line to the little sand dune, hoping for the best. Dave picked a line slightly more inland and was losing height faster than me. It looked like he got spooked a bit and ended up leaving the glide line, turning towards the beach more, which costed him additional height. He ended up bombing out on the beach while I was on a death glide just above the sand dune. I was screaming cross-down wind, my feet almost touching the bushes, in just enough sand dune lift to keep me going. The Aireys headland was nearing fast and hope started arising inside me. It looked like I might just make it. Next thing I was there, in the safety of the orange coloured sandstone cliffs ridge lift leading to the Aireys Inlet Lighthouse. As I reached the low headland I looked back and saw Nick on the same death glide as myself moments ago. But instead of just going for it at one point he decided to turn upwind. He later told me he started getting second thoughts about that crazy downwind glide and thought if he turned upwind he could gain some height. What happened was the opposite. The turn had costed him the more than needed height and also put him outside optimal (and very narrow) lift band. He landed a couple of seconds later.
I enjoyed the relaxed ride, happily gaining height again, flew over the Lighthouse and waived to some kids having fun trying to punch a hole into a trampoline down there.
The next part of the flight was strategically the most challenging, which is why only a couple of pilots were able to make it in the past. The first part of the glide is pretty much all down wind and in the lee of Aireys headland, which means sink and rotor down low. I gained as much height as I could and then instead of trying to avoid lee side sink by pushing forward decided to fly straight line and over it. I wanted to get to the start of Fairhaven headland as inland as possible to catch any lift coming from any wind facing slope and house surface. That did the trick and I arrived to Spion Kop take-off without losing too much height. In front of launch I worked my magic to gain some height for the next crossing, which is probably the trickiest of all.
The treed headland is a fair way in from the beach but what makes it that tricky are all the powerlines along the road, some rising up to the million dollars mansions on the hill. The only way to make that crossing is to hug the hill with possibly little chances of making it to the beach if you don't hit enough ridge lift to glide across. The coastline is starting to look so amazing here though. Treed hills rising from the Ocean. Simply beautiful. The last hurdle before Lorne is getting past Eastern View point headland. This time it was the easiest part of the flight. With plenty of height I cruised around the pointy headland, waved back at the people standing on the scenic lookout below and leaned back for the joyride to Lorne.
The last part of the flight is really what it's all about. Beautiful scenery, clouds hugging the hinterland hills while I'm flying the comp glider with hands off the brakes. I was able to venture out over the ocean without loosing any height. Sweet life. :)
By the time I got there the wind ended up having a bit more Southerly component in it which meant that the flight past Lorne towards Apollo Bay will remain but a dream for this paraglider pilot. Non the less I was more than happy with how far the day has got me. I cruised into Lorne easily, flew over the pine trees on the beach and landed on the manicured grass at the surf club grinning from one ear to the other.
After the landing I looked up at all the Coffee shops and realised I could use a breakfast. At that point I also realised I've left my wallet in the car. Bummer. But then a thought came up. Westpac has this option of "cardless cash" at the ATM through their app. I thought to myself Wouldn't it be nice if there was a Westpac ATM in Lorne? So I looked up to the shops in hope for spotting a red W. Well, when things line up, they line up all the way. Sure enough, there it was... the red W waiting for me to help myself with a bit of cash for a well deserved morning coffee. It was only 10am anyway.
Later on Nick and Jan flew to Lorne as well, relaunching at Spion. Dave came to pick us all up. Thanks guys for a lovely experience and a new Southside Paragliding distance record.