Cold? Wet? Blown out?

Posted to rec.skydiving, 11 Feb 97

Well, all I’m getting from most of you in my mailbox – given the high content of USA based subscribers to r.s – is complaints about the weather. Snowing here, raining here, too cold to jump there.

Well, in South Australia, Strathalbyn is the place to be: the door on the Islander stays open to 7000 just to try and cool down some. Nobody wants to wear jumpsuits to dirt dive, it’s just too bloody hot. And when the sun eventually sets, and the 100F heat starts to fade, our three fridges and countless eskies keep the beer icy, icy cold.

To top it off, we’re getting some really cool jumps in. Let me tell you about one I was lucky enough to be on Saturday…

My jumping buddy Linnley has been working on his Australian Star Crest for the past few weeks – you need to enter an approved formation fifth or later three times on three jumps, and the points must be completed. Although the actual benefits of having one are a bit academic – technically it allows you on formations bigger than ten skydivers, but our plane only holds ten – it seems highly rated in the unwritten rulebook. I manifested by luck: a full load for hours, one of our number was forced to depart, and I pinched her slot without hesitation.

We dirt dived the jump and sorted out a couple of potential problems, eventually deciding three jumpers hanging on the outside rail was no big deal. This was to be Linnley’s third Star Crest Jump, which was going to cost him a carton of beer, so the dive was uncomplicated and had high provision for geeking.

I raced to finish packing (I’d been on another ten way the load before which turned to crap – with limited opportunity at this stage I’d yet to be on a ten way that turned a point. Despite flying a reasonable base and getting all my docks in bar one, some people were starting to view my name at manifest as some sort of big-way omen. It wasn’t all bad though: Big Pete bet me a beer he’d be on the formation before me, and he wasn’t – despite some vigorous body checking on exit…).

Anyway: Close, Jumpsuit, Factory Diver, Alti, go; and we raced the sun to 12000′.

I was lucky enough to get a seat up the back, which is great – much easier to geek in the plane with a helmet off – and you get a much better view of the surrounding countryside. At 3,000 feet we could see a huge bank of low cloud rolling in, and the sun descending above it. A huge orange fireball, the fierce sort of sun I’ve only seen in Australia, atop a rich grey carpet of cloud. The blue of the lake formed a perfect contrast, and the green of the irrigated paddocks below were stark and clear. Maybe a hint of whitecaps out on the lake.

10,000 feet, and my heart starts to race little, just like it always has. Helmet on, check my handles, check the pins. Matty spots the plane for us, pointing to the incoming cloud. I don’t get a good look: suddenly, it’s power off, Matty’s on the rail, and I’m out there with him. Laurie joins us, and I get another good look at the back of rig (handy, I’m to dock on her and Load Organiser Mick). Some fifteen hours later (or so it seems), the chunk in the door is ready, set, go…

Matty behind and Laurie in front leave on the “g” in go, which I file away for future reference. I try to remember to keep my head up, and it works: the air build up on my chest, and I watch the base funnel away from me…

Never mind, they’re back in shape quickly. Gently, gently I make my way over, careful not to jump on it too quickly in case (a) I get it someone’s way and screw it up or (b) accidentally be the fourth dock and miss my opportunity to start a Star Crest collection for myself. I was also keen to watch it build and see other more experienced skydivers dock (I think you learn more here than on creepers): eventually, five people docked in rapid succession, and I found myself out of position and last on.

Mind you, one point: the hoodoo was broken. It felt pretty good. And Linnley had his Star Crest – you could almost smell the beer…

The first transition went smoothly, and there was geeking a plenty. We broke the second point and turned it into a star. There was work to do yet, but no shit it was such a buzz just being there… We broke the star into two crescents and looped them round to another star – only problem, some blockhead in my slot and wearing my jumpsuit thought “right” and went left. By the time it turned, we were a little bit lower than we should’ve been, and looking at a two way and a three way instead of the other half of our star. 4500′, bye.

I sneaked a look around on my track, and saw that cloud was fog – by now, washing across the vineyards and paddocks adjacent the dropzone. Clear the air around me, wave, reach, pull, one thousand, two thousand, whoomph, and my best friend grabs me once again for a gentle descent.

I look around, counting canopies: the missing one is above me, of all places. Probably get some advice about breakoff and tracking when I get down. I look out, and there’s the sun, not far from the clouded horizon. This fog is LOW, like 1000′: I’m directly above the DZ, right in swoop country, and I don’t enjoy being in the thick of all that. My softest option is closer to the edge of the drop zone, and I take it.

The cloud is right on us now, gently rolling in. At 1000 feet, in half brakes, well clear of everyone else, and looking straight at the sun, I sink into the bank of cloud, timing it so the blazing sun sets as I immerse myself in the fog. The sky around me is illuminated by reds and oranges, then blues and iridescent greys, and finally whiteout.

Lord, take me now.

I wasn’t alone: according to those on the ground, a number of jumpers on the load almost simultaneously emerged from the greyness with slightly clammy canopies. Eventually, we were all down, and the hollering abated somewhat. Big Pete met me halfway to the hangar, and presented me with my hard-won beer – which, by some freak of nature, turned out to be easily the finest beer ever brewed by mankind.

I had more beer that night, and more fun times with my new found “family” at the drop zone. I terrorised some folks at the foos table, and spun skydiving stories to the wee hours in the wind tunnel. I awoke Sunday, and it rained for forty days and forty nights.

I guess that’s skydiving.

Half a summer to go. Yahooooo!

L.

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