Sunday, 14 October 2012

Out with the Old

#39, 40, 41 - 14/10/12 

During the first 6 months of my time skydiving I had a frankly sucky success rate when it came actually jumping after I got to the drop zone. It's a sport very dependent on the weather, and I've had trips foiled by rain, wind and cloud.

So I thought I'd seen it all.

Until I turned up early today, to find the airfield covered in a thick layer fog. However, lurking in the gloom was a pleasant surprise.

Just plane better (Sorry)

The most despised Islander was sitting, looking for a new owner, because next to it was a glorious new(ish) Caravan. Pretty soon the sun burnt away the fog and I got a chance to see what the new plane was like.

God damn it's fast.

Newer and lighter than the other Caravan, I found myself genuinely shocked by how little time it took us to get to altitude on each jump. This bodes well for the future.

My first jump was an exercise in mediocrity. My exit, tracking, pattern and landing were all "ok" in the most depressing sense of the word. There was nothing hugely wrong with it but I've done all of the elements of that jump much better before. My landing was a pretty solid stand-up, which I was pleased with.

The second jump was an improvement in all areas. Still not fantastic, but much better. The exception to this was my landing which was the smoothest ever. I touched down like an experienced butterfly on a sturdy leaf, or some other equally cliched metaphor. Anyway, it was good.

The last jump was an unequivocal f**k-up. Whenever I exit I make sure to check I'm in the right sort of place to get back to the landing area, though there's never been a problem before because I'm never the first man out so someone else has got us in the right place first. Well, it turns out my brain doesn't actually do anything during this check because immediately after I got out I realised the airfield was beautifully obscured by a nice big cloud. My plan was to do some flips and turns but this immediately got cancelled as I fell towards the huge white monster. I watched the jumper who got out before me, silhouetted against the cloud, as he clipped its edge, then I fell into it. I knew I was well clear of the other guy but I was still concerned by the possibility of a collision. Watching my altimeter my pull height of 5000' came and went. As it reached 4000' the cloud started to clear and I pulled. As I got down the pattern seemed busier than usual, with more canopies landing together than usual, but I maintained good situational awareness and landed well again.

After talking to a senior instructor I understand better what I did wrong. Skydivers tend to play it a bit hard and fast with the "avoid cloud" rule. He said that if you can identify the landmarks around that's ok, and that's what I did. Also, I've been down to 4000' before. It's a safe pull height. The two things I did wrong were not checking the spot properly, and not jumping the plan. Both of them were ok this time, and, after today, both of them I'm sure I'll do properly in the future.

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