A weekend away combining aviation and sailing
Spoilt for choice this weekend with many possible and conflicting options, I flew in to a Fly/Sail event where both pilots and yachtsman get to try out both modes of transportation. This one is organised by the RIN (Royal Institute of Navigation), who have run these annually over the past few years. Having done some sailing in the past, I thought it would be nice to get back on the water again and find out what nautical fanatics think of being airborne.
The airfield was Lee-on-Solent, which has been opened up to GA but I hadn’t yet visited, with yachts and Saturday evening based at Hornet Marina just a short drive away. We were given detailed briefing instructions and the planning was all in place, but low cloud on the day caused some mayhem. The organisers said that on the day there were:
- a few pilots who were definite ‘No’s,
- a few definite ‘Yes’ but
- many who were definite ‘Maybe’s
The cloudbase at Gloucester was reported at 800 feet when I arrived, and when talking to ATC it had dropped down to 500 but reported at 1500-2000 by the coast. I delayed my departure by about an hour for it to lift and it was still pretty quiet when I took off. As expected, it was straight into the murk but everything went to plan. I cruised at 3000 feet and climbed to 4000 when given a potential traffic conflict. I should have considered climbing earlier – popping out into sunshine at around 3400 – and enjoyed a pleasant cruise south. I heard few other GA aircraft on the radio. Bournemouth gave me a transit to cut the corner and I descended through a thin cloud layer to VFR when over the sea.
Remaining VFR clear of cloud was a bit of a challenge, and I was down to 800 feet at times over the Solent. It was straightforward to enter downwind for 23, passing to the left of Stubbington and turning over the solar panel farm. Wind was 18 knots almost straight down the runway, making for a gentle landing. I backtracked and taxied across to the Lee Flying Association hangar, being marshalled into place. The border between hard taxi-way and grass parking has many small stones, so it’s worth paying close attention to the couple of specific clear crossing points.
Speeded up video of the flight below.
Gliding is very active onsite, with a parallel grass runway, frequent winch and tug launches and the associated landings. Clear communications and good behaviour ensured good co-operation. Powered aircraft wait prior to crossing the approach for gliders to land, glider launches wait for aircraft to backtrack before departure. Gliders are on a south circuit pattern with powered to the north. The field is also home to model aircraft, helicopters and other users. It’s great to see this valuable asset being re-energised and put to good use – there had been a protracted campaign to avoid closure and transfer across to civilian use.
We introduced ourselves and had a picnic lunch, while being entertained by a three Trislander aircraft display – they have a lot of local heritage here, and have long been used for commercial flights to the Channel Islands.
We were then assigned passengers to take for a short flight. My two were ATC specialists, one with experience of fighter control on aircraft carriers and another with technical expertise of NATS control rooms. Both enjoyed the flight, which involved an anticlockwise circuit over Gosport, Portsmouth, Bembridge, Cowes and back. It gave them a different perspective of the area they had sailed around and knew very well – including all the hazards and rocks they try to avoid. While others thought their flights were a bit bumpy, my passengers thought it was quite smooth – all down to being a slightly larger and heavier aircraft. The backtrack after each landing on 23 required longer spacing between aircraft which I didn’t adequately allow for, so had to go around. (The west taxi-way was temporarily closed hence the need for backtracks).
Saturday Night Social
The social event on Saturday included a pontoon party at the marina followed by a sit-down Carvery dinner at the Hornet Yacht club. We chatted about some of the fly/sail differences, and I remain astonished at how lightly regulated sailing remains. You can sail to/from France without any paperwork (just be able to show your passport in France on arrival), there is no need for any yachting qualification to buy and sail a yacht almost anywhere (insurance might be another matter). Parts are much cheaper and engines (and sails) are not unknown to run for 20 years or more before replacement.
Many boats are now fitted with the equivalent of a transponder called AIS (Automatic Identification System), which emits details of position, type, direction etc. and can be received by anyone – just like ADS-B. Large merchant vessels over 300 tonnes must have these fitted (but sometimes they aren’t switched on), and many smaller boats have already done so. The worldwide market is at least a million units (there are estimated 23 million boats afloat). A typical cost of less than £500 was mentioned. A larger number of yachts just have portable receivers fitted, so at least they can “see” where the big ships are when crossing the English Channel. There are also many navigation Apps showing tides, shallow waters etc. comparable to the aviation ones.
Accommodation was provided on board the yachts, in people’s homes and a nearby hotel. We were all made very welcome. I even had an entire yacht to myself overnight, and could make use of the facilities in the clubhouse.
Sunday Morning Sail
On Sunday morning, the fleet departed at around 8:30am and headed south west across to Wooton Creek on the Isle of Wight. Departing Portsmouth Harbour was quite busy, and there were ferries, hovercraft, power boats, yachts and other traffic to keep an eye out for. Yachts must keep to the small ship channel pictured below or radio the harbourmaster for a clearance to cross to the other side of the entrance. This is unusual and only because its such a large harbour with many large commercial and military vessels sharing a very narrow entrance.
We motored against the tide then sailed across for about an hour.
A Full English breakfast awaited us at the Royal Victoria Yacht Club (apparently founded by Queen Victoria herself to keep husband Prince Albert amused when they stayed at Osborne House nearby). After some more socialising, we sailed back and debriefed.
We had a bit of trouble getting back into the airfield – the Lee Flying Association hangar isn’t located by the tower and you have to enter by a different gate using a secret code. We got there in the end though.
Return flight to Gloucester
My flight back was very straightforward, retracing my route but remaining VFR. I was surprised that it wasn’t busier on the radio – I asked for and was granted a shortcut across Bournemouth zone and heard only a few other GA aircraft on frequency. The weather was much better than the previous day. I used the new listening squawk code while passing east of Bristol and contacted Gloucester Approach when 10 miles south.
Gloucester tried to be kind to me by assigning a straight-in approach for 04 with a request to keep my speed up – they had instrument training traffic inbound on 09. I was around 7 miles away at 3000 feet/140 knots by that time and stupidly just pushed the stick forward and reduced power to descend. I was then far too fast to lower the gear or flaps – I should simply have lowered the gear and flaps to add drag at our usual approach speed. It’s something I was taught during differences training and really should have got used to by now.
But no real problem – called a go-around into the visual circuit, which I had expected to require anyway and after a short downwind orbit for spacing, landed with one of my better greasers. I have a strong admiration for the ATC at Gloucester which caters for a wide variety of GA traffic (aircraft types and pilot experience) in a very efficient and safe manner.
This trip: 2:20
Total PIC: 295:05
Total Time: 428:00