(Article and photo by Cally Eckard, team manager)
Pilots: Hans Schwebel (Captain), Frank Eckard, Ron Stirk, Mauritz du Plessis
Team manager: Cally Eckard
International Judges: Jacques Jacobs, Arddyn Moolman
Jury Member: Deon van den Berg
Dates: 12 July 2015 – 24 July 2015
Skive is a small coastal town situated on the Skive Fjord in Denmark. We arrived there after a flight to Abu Dhabi and another to Frankfurt, and then a 12 hour drive, courtesy of Hans’ family vehicle with he keeps at his home in Germany.
Strandangen Hotel’s rooms were the best we’ve ever stayed in for competitions – most had kitchenettes and were really spacious and comfy, with picturesque views of the small-craft harbour right in front of the hotel. Wooden decks led us past the rowing club and small yachts into the main hotel.
The first thing that struck us in Denmark was the silence – even the animals and birds were quiet – and we were some of the first teams to arrive, so we virtually had the place to ourselves. Skive is known for its largest outdoor art museum of sculptures at each roundabout, the most impressive being a large golden orb with four crosses on its side, and each point of the compass marked under each cross. The pilots soon learned that this landmark could be used to navigate their way to the start and finish points.
We indulged our appetites at the A Hereford Beefstouw, set in a dense forest overlooking the fjord, built almost exclusively of glass walls – one of the best restaurants in Skive – and were nearly blown away by the prices – we all chose trinchados because they were the cheapest item on the menu. A very “Danish” place in style and atmosphere – sedate, clean lines, blonde wood, quiet and reserved. Needless to say we didn’t return – only because we couldn’t afford to do so. It didn’t take us long to realise that high prices were going to be the order of the day. Even at the hotel and airfield we eventually resigned our appetites to the jug of water on the table, and indulged in the occasional beer only when necessary or in celebration.
We arrived at the airfield on the Sunday, to find the organisers busy setting everything up. They were so welcoming, friendly and helpful – and most importantly – our aeroplanes that we had ordered were ready and waiting for us, and our licences had been validated. This is the first time in the last 4 foreign competitions that we have been able to fly on arrival. For Precision competitions we fly C152’s, as it is a single-pilot event, and we nominate an air speed of around 70 knots, and if the organisers get the wind forecast correct, it is very easy to maintain this speed with this aircraft.
The pilots got to work immediately, and did some landing practise and a few investigatory flights around the area, to familiarise themselves with the terrain. We had been able to “fly” over the area in Rob Jonkers’ flight simulator – every pilot’s dream “man-cave” in which he shows Google Earth images onto a 180 degree curved screen using three projectors. This helped us to assimilate quicker and easier than usual, so we weren’t surprised to find the terrain fairly flat, but with a few small undulations, and mostly covered with small fields of wheat, sugar beet, rye and corn. No hills to help us navigate, and very small rivers hidden along narrow rows of trees, and all routes led us over vast stretches of fjord, making it very difficult to maintain heading and timing. “Secret” check points usually met us as we reached the shore, which were quite tricky. The strong winds are common to the Danes, and in Skive they blew from between 20 and 40 knots, settling to 0 in the evenings.
Being the first team to arrive, we had the run of the runway, and hitched our flag in pride of place next to the Danish flag. We had a little ceremony with the singing of Nkosi Sikelel and some photographs.
With the price of eating out so expensive, even for Danish people, we bought loads of groceries and drinks from the grocery stores (Lidl and Kvickly being the most convenient) – scrumptious bread of all kinds, Danish cheeses, tomatoes, and meat being the most popular. Most evenings we would stop off at the icecream shop near our hotel and try out different flavours. For our first dinner Mauritz made delicious giant omelettes.
The Danes love “lakrids”, a sort of very salty liquorice, which they use to flavour their sweets, fudge icecream and even beer. A bowl of boiled sweets, bought by mistake, sat uneaten in our hotel room, only used to trick unsuspecting visitors.
The sun only set at about 11pm, so for the first few days some of us had a problem adjusting to this. Fortunately it gave us some extra daylight hours to take some evening walks around the harbour area. The sun rose again at about 3 am, which made it easier to get up in the mornings. We also had to adjust to the temperatures because although their summer temperatures were almost identical to those of our winter at home, the rooms were so warm that we had to keep reminding ourselves that looks can be deceiving. That cold wind whipped through our South African “winter woollies” and we felt grateful that our summers are warmer than theirs.
Walter Walle, past team member and SAPFA committee member, who has a second home in Germany, arrived on Tuesday with two of his friends and visited us at the airfield. We celebrated their visit with a braai outside the hotel in the evening, much to the amusement of the other teams, who we suspect were trying to steal our “barbeque” secrets.
Captain Hans organised a landing competition for every day of the practise week. This made it fun and competitive, and the winners enjoyed a bite of their prize chocolate before handing it around for everyone else to have a bite. Jacques, who is well respected for being an international landing judge, stood at the landing line with his radio and kept score.
After trying for the last four years, Frank had finally managed to organise Michal Wieczorek, Poland champion, over for a week in May to do some training with the pilots. This helped immensely, and everyone’s scores were down from the previous years. Most notable was Frank’s landings.
However, on Wednesday the wind was stronger than usual, between 20 and 30 knots with around an 8 knot crosswind component, and in the practise landings all landed out of the box except for Mauritz.
During the practise week we were invited to Karen Hansen’s house for dinner. She and her husband Ivor participated in Poland, and Karen worked at the information desk this year, together with Annagrete Zobbe. They had invited the New Zealanders as well, and some of the organisers, including Annagrete and Vaugn Jensen, and Allen Hansen – competition director. It was a great privilege being invited into their lovely home in the countryside, meeting their children, and enjoying warm hospitality and great home-cooked food.
Arddyn arrived on Thursday, after spending the previous few days with her friend. We arranged Rodney Blois from the British team to fetch her from a little airfield in Lolland, south Denmark, but as they were about to taxi out they had a flat nose wheel. Hours later it was fixed and Ardy was delivered safely to us. That evening we were invited to Vagn and Annagrete’s suite for drinks and snacks.
By Friday we felt we had put in a fair amount of practise, so after the usual landing practise we headed out on our own excursion, driving across the island of Salling to Spottrup Castle which is set in spectacular herb gardens and orchards, which are planted according to historical records modelled on the original gardens of the castle, and then to a restaurant in the fishing village of Glyngore, where we heard we could get oysters. The oyster seller was very friendly, but at R90 per oyster we only had one each, with a bottle of Irish Oyster Beer, and enjoyed a more substantial lunch at a cheaper restaurant down the road.
Saturday was Registration Day and by this time all the teams had arrived. Landing practise had by now become difficult because the airfield was so busy, and bad discipline on the part of other pilots who did not join overhead, and pushed in between other aircraft on finals. Also, the 3 practise navigation routes overlapped in several places, and the Start and Finish points on all of them were very close together. Traditionally these pilots do not use their radios, except in emergencies, so we had to keep our eyes open for other aircraft coming in all directions. With approximately 72 aircraft involved in the competition, most of them Cessna 152’s, it is probably the biggest annual gathering of these aeroplanes in the world.
Deon van den Berg arrived from Brits Flying Club. He was invited to be one of 3 international jury members, which is a great honour for him and for South Africa.
Sunday heralded the official start of the competition with the Official Landing Practise. Only two landings were held – Flapless Glides and Barrier. The wind was 15 to 25 knots, with an 8 knot crosswind component – quite common for this area. All team members did really well in the glides – Mauritz minus 2, Ron 1, Hans 1, Frank 1. In the barrier division we didn’t fare so well – Mauritz 9, ron 6, Hans minus 1 with a jump to E box, and Frank 7 jumping to 35. Towards the end of the day a Spanish pilot nearly stalled over the barrier and almost cart-wheeled into the first few landing line judges, his right wing scraping the ground. Needless to say, everyone on the judging side of the runway went running for cover, but the pilot managed to right the plane, and landed safely. The competition was halted while the competition director and his team inspected the plane. The pilot was given a warning, and the competition resumed without further incident.
In the afternoon we all dressed up in our official gear, and went just up the road from the hotel for the opening ceremony at Resunland, the School of Music, which was originally a TB hospital. Unfortunately it was raining, which was a great pity because the venue was set in really beautiful gardens. We marched out into the gardens holding our flag high, and were welcomed to the town by the mayor of Skive, and to the championships by competition director Allen Hansen. After a 10 gun salute by the local military division, we filed back into the hall for drinks and snacks and photographs. Back at the hotel we enjoyed a feast for the official opening dinner.
Monday 20 July and the weather looked good for the competition week. First up was the Navigation Route 1. Mauritz and Ron in group 1, and Frank and Hans in group 2. Ardy helped invigilate with Annagrete in the flight planning room, while Jacques recorded hand-in times at the refuelling bay where the planes had to stop. Mauritz did really well but lost concentration at the last two turnpoints, Hans missed a secret, but Ron and Frank did quite well. Frank had the best score, but his timing over the secrets spoilt it for him.
Scores and Positions Day 1:
Frank – 614 (46th), Hans 746(54th), Ron 786(56th), Mauritz 112(68th).
Tuesday and Navigation Route 2. Fog was predicted to lift at 9:30, but after being postponed a few times, it only lifted at midday, and first take-off at 1pm. So it was a late start, and a long day with everyone sitting around waiting impatiently. A very disappointing day for Ron, who forgot to turn on his loggers, so got maximum points. Mauritz had a track error, and missed about 4 secrets. Hans and Frank did a bit better than day 1.
Scores and Positions Day 2:
Frank 543 (42th), Hans 590 (51th), Mauritz 1580 (69th ), Ron 3243 (72nd.)
Wednesday 23rd was the Landing Competition. Perfect weather brought light winds with a 12 knot crosswind, and clearer skies, and the conditions were perfect. This is the part of the championships where we had most chance of winning, with a 2 times world champion on our team ( Ron won in Sweden and France) However it was Frank who wowed us all, and after the first 3 landings was tied in first place with about 5 other contenders, and only needed a zero or a 1 to win, but unfortunately it was a barrier landing, not one of our favourites, and he managed a very respectable 6, to end up in 10th place overall.
Thursday was our last chance to prove ourselves with another navigation competition. With good weather predicted, we would then be able to take our two first results for scoring and “throw away” the worst – a choice Ron especially relished.
Scores and Positions Day 3:
Frank 470 (38th), Ron 477 (40th), Hans 515 (46th), Mauritz 1633 (70th).
After the competition everyone could relax (except the judges, competition director, and jury who were busy seeing to last-minute queries, and putting the finishing list together) and we had a party at the airfield, with all the different countries bringing their own drinks and snacks and letting their hair down and socialising. The South African team made their own version of Springbok cocktails, using a local bright green liqueur and Baileys, and cutting out pictures of springboks to decorate the glasses and table. We are known for our socialising, and we didn’t disappoint, and even sang a few songs to the delight of the other party-goers who have heard us singing so often that they can sing along.
This was the first year that a Chinese team attended the competition – unfortunately they did not receive their licence validations in time due to technical difficulties between China and Denmark, but they were very keen to learn as much as they could about the sport, and their pilots accompanied the Danish team members whenever they could. They brought 3 pilots, a team manager and a flying instructor.
The competition portion of the event was over, and we could relax by joining the excursion organised by the Danish team. A luxury bus fetched us from the hotel and drove us to the island of Fur, just north of Salling via a ferry, which was very exciting for us, as the entire bus drove onto the ferry, and we were parked within touching distance of the other bus, and then drove off onto Fur island. Fur is a small island, and not very densely inhabited. It is world famous for its mo-clay pits. Mo-clay is used in the filtration of beer and wine and is only found here. A museum and guide gave us an overview of the island and the clay, and then we were taken to the mo-clay pits – gigantic cliffs of clay, where it is possible to see the layers of clay separated by thin layers of volcanic ash deposited centuries ago. We were all given knives and shown how to break the clay open to find fossils. Back in the bus and another drive – this time to mini brewery Fur Bryghus where we were shown around the factory and sampled some of the product, treated to a wonderful seafood buffet, and back on the bus home to rest and change into our smart outfits for the final Prize giving and Closing Ceremony.
The Ceremony was held at the hotel, where again the beers and wine were highly overpriced, and I have to admit that we smuggled some beers in and poured them surreptitiously. I must also add that we were not the only team to do this – even the Danish team did some undercover smuggling of their own.
The organisers had not published the final day’s results of the navigation and the landing, so it was impossible for us to work out who was in line for the prizes. It came as a shock to everyone that Mauri Halinen from Finland won the landing competition, because he had not been a front-runner, but one of his landings was referred to the video analysis, which meant that his abnormal landing was converted to a bingo landing, resulting in his coming from the back to win first prize.
Among the honoured guests were the Mayor of Skive, Peder Christian Kirkegaard, and FAI General Aviation Commission President Jean-Pierre Delmas who attended the event for three days.
|70||Mauritz du Plessis||SA||2956|
Individual Landing Competition:
|33||Mauritz du Plessis||SA||103|
Team Landing Competition:
Individual Navigation Competition:
|71||Mauritz du Plessis||SA||2175|
Overall Team Results:
A young musician from the local School of Music played a violin, and with that the ceremony and the Championships were declared a success and over until next year. As is tradition, gifts were exchanged with the other teams, and our gift was a postcard to each participant, with a photograph of our team on the front.
The following day was misty, rainy and overcast, so many of the other teams had to wait at the airfield for the weather to clear. Deon flew home, and the rest of the team drove to Copenhagen. The weather cleared as we drove eastwards, and we were able to enjoy the sights of the many bridges, one of which the Great Belt Bridge is 254 meters high and makes this Denmark’s highest point. The bridge has a main span of 1,624 meters, making it the third largest suspension bridge in the world and the longest outside of Asia. We tried to find the Hans Christian Anderson museum in the city of Odense, but were unable to find parking in the city centre for the minibus and trailer, so we gave up and drove on to Copenhagen. We arrived at the Square Hotel, next to Tivoli Gardens in the centre of the city, and walked to Nyhavn to enjoy the sights of the boats and street-side restaurants. We had to find shelter in an Irish pub during a short rain storm, then into the old city where he had dinner at an American restaurant.
The following day was spent on the Hop-on-Hop-off bus, a perfect way to see an entire city in a day. We chose to get off at the Little Mermaid statue, which is close to St Albans church, and spectacular Gefion fountains, Churchill Park, and the Citadel, which reminded us a lot of the Castle in Cape Town with its 5 pointed star shape. We also visited Christiana, which is the infamous area of the city on the other side of the harbour on the island of Christianshavn, where a small community have taken over a few acres of land, set up their own flag and currency, and sell dagga. We were told that the dagga-selling is now outlawed and not taking place, but we saw several little places covered with camouflage fabric, where if we looked carefully we could just see someone standing behind a small counter top. There were also “watchers” looking out for the police. People there live in quaint make-shift houses and even under tarpaulins in the bushes along the path. Signs everywhere ask tourists not to take photographs. A stage had been set up in front of a beer garden, so we listened to music while enjoying delicious shwarmas and marvelling at the distinct aroma of dagga being smoked quite openly and interesting characters rolling their joints with dedicated concentration.
The Danish weather kept us on our toes in Copenhagen, because every couple of hours the dark clouds would come over, the wind would rush around us and the rain would come down. Fortunately this would only last a few minutes, and the sun would come out again.
A long walk back to the hotel and a quick supper, because we had to leave at 12 midnight to drive all the way back to Frankfurt. The parking garage closed between 12 and 7am, so we had a choice of leaving at midnight or risking missing our plane back to Johannesburg. We experienced another ferry on the way back – between Rodbyhavn and Puttgarden. This is a large ferry, and takes 45 minutes, so we had to leave the vehicle and go up to the deck where we had coffee and breakfast, acting like real tourists, wishing it was lighter so that we could see the scenery.
A very tiring return trip to South Africa, wondering why on earth we do this to ourselves. Soon we will be back in the cockpit practising for the next world event – Frank and Cally will be participating in the World Air Games in Dubai in December, and then the team will be attending The World Rally Flying Championships in Portugal in September 2016.