Assertive Spotting for “C” License

I jump at a Dropzone about a three quarter hour drive from Adelaide in
Strathalbyn, South Australia. It’s a farming locality, but becomingly
increasingly famous for its wines, with the adjacent Langhornes Creek
Wineries encroaching and maybe one day becoming a landing hazard. But it’s
the nice thing about Adelaide: you can drive for forty five minutes in any
direction and be in the country (or very wet, if you head due West).

Last Saturday night, the club had organised night jumps. Being adjudged of
the requisite competence, commonsense and reliability, I put my name down;
and it came to pass that about 10:30 Saturday night I knelt in the door of
our Islander – VH-OBJ – at 3500 feet, twin torches taped to my factory
diver, reserve torch in my jumpsuit, my heart in my mouth, and runway
lights below. Five seconds later, I tossed my pilot chute into the space
on my right, and three seconds later I was under a good canopy, a full
moon, and able to see the lights of Strathalbyn, Mount Barker, Milang and
Goolwa. I looked up, and there wasn’t a cloud in the sky anywhere: just
stars. The light from the moon was sufficient to read my alti – I didnÌt
bother with the light for it – and in nil wind, I parked my trusty
Cruislite about two metres from the floodlit pit.

Awesome. But it got better.

An hour later, I was off again, this time on a ten second delay. A
somersault out the door, stability, and time for a quick look around in
freefall. I circled once, then watched the Islander disappear into the
darkness, its blinking red lights showing the way as it climbed to 12 000
with a load of night rated jumpers. Another good look around under canopy:
with the sky to myself, I spiralled down and set up for the pit, my greed
for the sand earning howls of laughter, a smattering of applause and some
dented pride, plus a ten-minute cleaning session. Why I saved my messiest
landing ever for the grandstand on this particular night I’ll never know.
Oh well.

Totally awesome. But the night was still young.

Still buzzing, I packed furiously and prepared for my thirty second delay.
At eight thousand feet, suddenly the lights of Adelaide, 65km away, became
visible over the Mount Lofty ranges. I could almost make out my street,
although I think I was kidding myself. A sweeping 360 degree power climb
took us to my exit height, and I stopped in the door briefly to thank my
CI before scrambling out with power on. Stability being the over rated
inclination that it is, I fired up one of my torches in the orange “blink”
mode, and thrashed about in the air for fifteen of my allotted thirty
seconds, eyes open, madly seeing city lights, moon, stars and runway
alternately. If there’s not at least a handful of UFO sightings from that
jump, I’ll be sadly disappointed. When I eventually straightened up, I saw
just how far away the dropzone was, and instead of dumping then and there,
used my remaining freefall in a track. I’m learning good habits – I
remember instinctively flaring my track and waving before deployment,
despite having the sky to myself and insufficient light for anyone to see
it anyway. Wish I’d dumped a few hundred feet higher though – I eventually
made the airfield, but landed across what little wind there was and I’m
nursing a few bruises today. Never mind: At this point, I had religion.

I packed, and went seeking partners for some night rel to go with my new
rating. Well, a lot of the DZ had had enough by now, and even my other new
night rating partners thought that 2AM was grounds for a beer or two. With
sinking heart (and diminishing good attitude), I discovered that there
were nine night rated and sober people on the dropzone, including myself,
and the night’s last load had an eight way manifested. I certainly wasn’t
qualified to join them; but I watched the dirt dive and memorised the
slots, just in case there was a sudden attack of bubonic plague or an
absent minded beer; you’ve got to give yourself every opportunity in this
sport.

Eventually, the Islander took off, and I headed for the bar, already
wishing I’d manifested for solo instead of sulking. I finished half my
beer in one swallow and sat by the fire, waiting for the climb to height.
It was still a glorious night: stars everywhere, perfectly still, and you
could hear the odd drone of a car on the main road over a mile away. With
only a dozen spectators left, we sat and laughed and drank some more, and
soon enough, OBJ’s lights could be seen, and the drone of its engine
heard.

We watched the intracacies of the spot with rare clarity, and heard the
engine note change as they called power off. For a while, we could see and
hear nothing; then, we heard freefall. We didn’t just hear the roar of
freefall though: we could hear yahooing, hollering and screaming! Then,
abruptly, the yelling stopped, and I might have even seen a body in a
track directly over the DZ. Then, amidst the stillness of the night, came
the sound of eight canopies opening, like a muted peal of thunder; then
silence.

A minute later, the dark outline of a Stiletto blotted out stars over the
clubhouse roof; and Tony, first down as always, swooped the pit, tearing
the silence to pieces with a scream of “we got it!” Gradually, the
remaining canopies swooped in, and flushed and radiant faces shook hands
and high fived amongst the odd “someone stole my slot” and “no shit, there
we were”. They departed for the hangar, and I left them to share the high
amongst themselves.

Apparently the formation was finished by 7500. That meant, by my
calculations, a full fifteen seconds of holding grips and hollering,
turning the piece and watching the lights of the towns – while the birds
slept and those who have never jumped dreamed of … well, I don’t
remember what I used to dream of before I discovered freefall.

Fifteen seconds.

This Sunday morning at 3AM, I saw eight dudes who also know that magic
does exist, and that you find it in the strangest places. This sport is
filled with rites of passage, but it’s also filled with raw emotions, and
visuals that simply cannot be captured on film or video: scenes of beauty
and eloquence that are simply seared into your consciousness for ever. And
I had my fill of magic that night, but I’m hungry for more. And knowing
that it’s out there, and having been shown the way, I’ll find it, and I’ll
do my damndest to share it.

Blue skies, full moons,

L.

(APF B4119)

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