A Shetland Adventure
We were 10 minutes into the water crossing and could not see land ahead or behind us. The mainland had faded into the mist and the only visual clue we had was a blue horizon merging from sea into sky. I was flying with my eye trained on a compass heading of 60 degrees North-East. My mind was on the white capped waves 5000ft below us and the all-consuming emptiness.
So our journey had begun 4 days earlier, along the central spine of the UK. It had taken 2 hours to prepare the panniers and exorcise all of the luxuries. Everything was packed to a reasonable dimension, and we had it whittled it down to 2 set of clothes each; daytime and night-time. Michael Fishs' long-range forecast on the BBC website had looked promising for the next couple of weeks; high pressure and settled weather were predicted in Scotland and beyond.
Leaving our home farm strip in Northamptonshire, we set off to a warm day with a light 4 mph North-Easterly headwind to Barton, Manchester. Swollen cumulus clouds dotted the sky as we stayed below them in the 7Km haze, passing many the gliders soaring around the cloud-base.
Navigating the Manchester Airspace was on my mind as we approached the boundary of the low-level corridor. My passenger was feeling a bit green from reading her own chart that was velcroed around my waist under my arms, and we decided to put down at Ashcroft Farm. It also gave me the opportunity to assert our position before crossing through, having never done this before.
“Are you the local decorator, then?” I asked a guy in the hangar clad in white paint-spattered overalls. “Um, No, I’m an inspector from the CAA”.
20 minutes later and tuned into the Barton frequency, it sounded busy as we approached and tried to squeeze our intentions into a gap in the airwaves. Landing on runway 27 meant an approach over a motorway and a housing estate which I was not overly keen on, and I was careful to keep the final approach higher than normal, just in case. We filled the tank to the brim with fuel and planned our next leg to Gigha in the Hebrides over some Barton soup and rolls.
We found ourselves with a lowering cloud-base as we approached the Lake District in Cumbria, and we elected to follow the M6 through the valley so as not to get sandwiched between a cloud and a mountain top. It was the first time my passenger had seen the mountains from the air by Microlight, and she marvelled at the menacing shadows they cast, and the way in which they rose up to meet the clouds. The wind at 4000ft was giving us a 20MPH tailwind as we headed northwards.
As soon as we emerged from the Lake District, the cloud disappeared almost as soon as it had arrived. The wind was an unforecast 18 Knots on the ground, and we held on tight as we taxied to the pumps to top up with fuel for what we hoped would be the last leg of the day. It was now 18:30, and it was going to involve some real motoring to reach Gigha by sunset at 20:30. I opened the Quik up to it's full hands-off trim speed of 80MPH and nudged the bar into my chest.
As the fiery red sun slipped slowly below the horizon, the temperature dropped and the coastal visibility got worse. By the time we were crossing from the Isle of Arran to Gigha, the display was registering only 0.9oC. We were both shuddering in our seats. A peer over the side of the trike made us discuss what a good choice we had made wearing full immersion suits and lifejackets – several times.
I had already set the mixture on the Quik to “rich”, 3 miles from the island, but with my foot off the throttle and into the descent, the engine started sounding extremely rough; it was actually vibrating on its mountings between 2500 – 3300RPM. What could the problem have been ?