EASTERN PROVINCE RALLY CHAMPIONSHIPS
Port Elizabeth – 22 and 23 September 2002
By Ernie Alexander
Most pilots consider themselves lucky to have an understanding family who let them take the day off to go flying, but a two-day rally which turns into a four day affair with travelling and over a long weekend takes a little more suss. I engineered that we take a week long family holiday at Kob Inn near East London, which is a little over three hours in the 182. This would give me the opportunity to sneak off to PE for the EP rally champs.
With the family settled and after a few days relaxing on the beach I set off for PE on Saturday 21 Sept armed with my 182 and the necessary rally paraphernalia. The coastal weather was not playing the game and after being forced to land at 43 Air School in Port Alfred, the heavens really opened. Miraculously after 3 hours the weather cleared and I arrived amid overcast conditions at the Algoa Flying Club in time to meet my fill in navigator, Neil Hattingh, whom I had not even met before. I had also not flown in the PE area and was flying in a 182, as my Wag (Cub) was a little slow to make the PE trip.
Day 1 – Sunday 22 Sept
Sunday morning dawned with typical coastal rain and intermittent squall conditions with low overcast cloud over the inland high ground. It did not look like much flying would take place. All start times were postponed by 3 hours and finally the weather played ball. The experience of Dave Perelson saved the day in that he had predicted that the weather could play a major factor and had planned a short rally and a long one for the two days. Given the remaining time left the short rally was chosen which initially followed the coastal route over the picturesque Algoa Bay, before turning inland to Nanaga, Paterson, and Kirkwood, before returning to PE via Uitenhague. The two National teams of Stirk/ Schwebel and De Groot/De Klerk proved too strong for the rest of the field with both teams scoring under 500 points with Stirk/Schwebel just edging ahead.
They were followed by the rest of the pack with 3rd place going to the Van Vuurens, a local family duo scoring 2086 points. We were really disappointed with our performance and turned for checkpoint CP9 at CP7 missing two CP’s for full penalties resulting in 6th place in the Open Class. I noted a little smugness from Wally Walle who had come in ahead of us. Well done Wally!
The Sportsman Class was having a jolly time with a lot of young talent from Progress Flying School participating for the 1st time. A royal battle was taking place behind the 1st and 2nd teams scoring 1001/1048 respectively with the rest of the field trailing a further 1500 odd points adrift. A great day’s flying with 11 checkpoints including start to finish. If I thought we had been blooded on day one I would have to think again. Third place behind the national teams was still an achievable target. Watch out Wally!
Day 2 – Monday 23 September
The weather played ball for a change with sunny skys and calm wind conditions. The longer rally would take off in time. The organisers decided that a taste of international standard would prepare some competitors for the upcoming World Champs in July 2003. The navigators were set a really difficult plot with 17 checkpoints including start and finish. Some plotted throughout the route which immediately ventured inland to Kirkwood and on to the mountainous region north of Patterson eventually heading south east toward Alexandria before turning for home to intercept the coast at Blue Water. The organisers also introduced checkpoints that were not on the map and these had to be established from the plotting point, which was always a map feature. I believe that this is what can be expected at an international event, which really adds to the workload. The pilot also has to be a lot sharper in terms of timing to the checkpoint as a visual would only be established late in the leg and sometimes not at all as was evident from the number of missed checkpoints.
The top teams of Stirk/Schwebel and De Groot/De Klerk again proved too good for the others with De Groot/De Klerk just edging out their rivals on a technicality due to a logger problem.
We managed to pick up a few positions by beating Wally into 4th place, but our hope for a third place recovery was dashed by the Van Vuuren brothers, who in our view had a better local knowledge advantage – some excuse is better than none. Hats off to my navigator, Neil who plotted the whole route perfectly – Talk about being cool under pressure!
The battle in the Sportsmans class went to the Russian team, piloted by Velekorodney who managed to maintain the classy performance of Du Plessis/Viner who narrowly led on the opening day.
The rally closed with a Spitbraai held at the Algoa Flying Club. The locals were fantastic and showed their flair for good old East Cape hospitality. Dave Perelson and Chris Booysen must be singled out for their organisation and enthusiasm in what panned out to be a great aviation experience. I was disappointed at the poor showing of crews from the other parts of S.A. but I guess costs of aviation today prohibit participation at away events.