2015 Gordon Bennett stops play (and work!) – Robin Batchelor writes
Well what can you say? I think balloonists around the world were transfixed by this years Gordon Bennett Race which launched from Pau in the French Pyrenees on August 28th with the last balloon, Suisse 2 piloted by Messrs Tieche and Sciboz, landing after a flight of over 75 hours and covering 2,067.76 kilometres, in the very early hours of Tuesday morning. The event was full of daring tactics, wise decisions and kept everyone watching, enthralled. The tracking system worked perfectly so we all had a fantastic view of the race as it unfolded in real time in far more comfortable conditions than the competitors I dare say. Thunderstorms were cleverly avoided or forced others down. We learnt new terms like ‘parking’. The more skilled were indeed parking. Follow the contours of the flights and there was some remarkable flying the best demonstrations by the Teams with lady pilots in them! The tactics and communications between them all were both skilful and entertaining in the best way possible. Likely targets early on suggested that by nipping up the Baltic, Latvia, or even Estonia, was a possibility then, as the thunderstorms brewed, a more easterly track was chosen with the possibility that a few might just make it through the gap between the closed areas of Belarus and Kaliningrad, or whatever it is called these days, and creep into Lithuania or even Latvia beyond. But it was eventually the border of Belarus with Poland that called time with the top seven of the sixteen balloons that flew landing in Poland, some a lot closer to the border than one would have expected! We held our collective breaths. The difference in distance flown by the top three finally worked out being only 13.04 kilometres. Astonishing nail biting stuff.
Now throughout this epic Race, ever since the Faceache pages became de-rigueur and the Gordon Bennett mob managed to sort out a reliable and easy to access tracking page, Robin Batchelor has kept the World notified of the latest developments, tactical manoeuvres and predictions during each Event. To achieve this he has gone without sleep or shaving and lived on single malt, dried rolls and olives for days on end. He fills his Facebook page for the event with the latest news and bits and bobs of information gleaned from the pilots, posting piccies and messages up at regular intervals making the event come alive for everyone. After keeping us all from getting on with those important jobs and making a social evening a bit tricky, when the last balloon landed and the winner declared life finally returned to normal, or whatever ones’ idea of normal is! For those taking part some ended up with much longer drives home, or back to Pau for the prize-giving ceremony, than others. After landing they probably lived on adrenalin for another hour or two before falling into the arms of Morpheus. For us it was time to remember Chris Woods and his love of the event and raise a glass to him, all the Teams and the winner. How would he and John Rose have got on this year? Well I have a hunch that they would have done jolly well and Chris was keeping an eye on them all.
So the note went to Robin. ‘Now its all over how about 500 words before you forget what happened please?’ Good as his word and a few words over he has put together a piece for us. To all the competitors we thank you for a great race and keeping us on our toes for days. Congratulations to you all and to Robin another job well done, many thanks and I don’t ‘do’ Faceache, luckily for me Jane does. (o:
Gordon Bennett 2015 by Robin Batchelor.
France played host to the Gordon Bennett race this year because Vincent Leys and Christophe Houver won in 2013. That was the year the leaders spent all night flying across the Bay of Biscay to land in Portugal.
Sixteen teams lifted off from Pau in southern France beneath a full moon and started their journey to a place unknown. The wind blew them north west towards the Bay of Biscay where the pack split into two – some stayed low and continued out to sea to fly a clockwise arc north of Paris and the rest climbed to winds which would keep them south of Paris Air Traffic.
The following morning, one balloon had to land after a leak forced him to use half his ballast in just 9 hours, and after 20 hours, three balloons made precautionary landings in the dark near the Normandy coast to avoid approaching thunderstorms.
The race website was excellent and displayed live information for each balloon’s position, altitude, speed, track and distance flown so it was easy to monitor the Spanish balloon of Angel Aguirre and Anulfo Gonzalez trading the lead position with Cheri White and Mark Sullivan in USA 1. They had both chosen the 4-5,000m trajectory which curved up through France, Germany and into Poland. It’s tiring at the best of times camping for 70 hours in a small basket in the sky, but add to that the need for oxygen and fatigue sets in but the magic of flying beneath a full moon made it all worthwhile.
The baskets have little camping stoves able to brew coffee and heat food, but bear in mind there’s a lot of hydrogen above your head. Baskets can also have a flap which opens to allow sleep lying down The Spanish team also use it for sunbathing! (Charles Dollfus used to tie himself to a plank across the top of the basket).
My notes for Sunday morning show the leaders flying at 100kph at 5200m whilst USA 1 was following 40km behind at 4,800m with 80kph and the German balloon of Himke Hilbert and Dominic Haggeney 80km behind them at 4,800. Willie Eimers was close behind in 4th place but flying over Holland and approaching thunderstorms. He descended to manoeuvre around them and managed to escape trouble and was soon in 3rd place after Hilbert and Haggeney landed.
The German balloon successfully skirted around more thunderstorms in the afternoon and by early evening the two lead balloons were approaching the banned Belarus border. Spain landed with 2056 km and USA with 1937km. That left six balloons airborne into Sunday night with the Germans favourite to continue next day on into Lithuania to claim victory.
Monday morning saw three more balloons land leaving the German balloon to manoeuver into first place at sunset up against the Belarus barrier with 2071km, but their victory was short-lived because the Swiss 1 balloon had cleverly managed a track just north of the Germans and landed with 2080km. giving Kurt Frieden and Pascal Witprächtiger victory for 2015 and Switzerland become host for 2017.
That left Swiss 2 balloon some way back who bravely flew on into the fourth moonlit night sky and landed near the Lithuanian border at 3am with no ballast left. 2067km earned them 3rd place and much respect.
Big thanks to Robin and for the use of the pictures
Angel Aguirre sunbathing – selfie by Angel Aguirre
Spain landing ©Wojtek Kaczmarek
Angel and Anulfo above the clouds ©Angel Aguirre
Willie Eimers taking things seriously ©Matthias Zenge
Panoramic view from Swiss2 lightweightbasket ©Laurent Sciboz
Camping ©Himke Hilbert
Dominic Haggeney and HimkeHilbert cleaning teeth ©Himke Hilbert
Launch ©Jean Pierre Girard
Polish balloon preparations ©Jean Pierre Girard
Germany 2 landing with thunderstorms ahead.
Results and distances along with landing positions can be found at
Main site at http://www.gordonbennett.aero
The link to Robin’s page is in the text-clever eh!