Things are looking a whole lot brighter after an afternoon nap on the back of a couple of Lion lagers each. It’s 23h45 local time already and we’re up at 04h00 time for the airport though, so we’re not exactly going to slum it out. Also, it’s Friday night and there’s a wedding going on in the hotel hall just outside our window, so we may not get too much quiet. Lots of sweet little Sri Lankan kids running around dressed in their smart saris and suits. Still, we’ve had good showers and a great local street meal and so we are at least feeling human.
Yesterday’s flight was the most intense mixture of emotions imaginable. We flew out through beautiful cloud formations on radial 010 outbound the VOR at Gillot, Reunion. They have no radar, so very soon we put Colombo, Sri Lanka in our GPS and routed out directly across Mauritian airspace, which may have been a bit naughty. It certainly focused our minds on getting our PLB’s activated if we had to ditch, as it did mean that search and rescue would have been at least 200 nautical miles off course according to our flight plan. (Though Mike did have a very good idea where we’d be). Climbing out our GPS said 2 210 nm to run and during the climb our MGL extrapolated to show that we’d run out of fuel after only 1 800 nm (and 22 hours – thankfully from one third of the way in we had at least light tailwinds most of the route and we came in after 21 hours with four hours fuel left).
One benefit of flying over the ocean with a VFR radio is there’s no ATC to bother you, so we settled into some serious music our 24 hour around the world playlist. Of course that got our emotions flowing, so we had some serious heart to hearts and contemplated the romance of our lives as we passed over some very isolated but pretty islands, completely uninhabited, to the strains of voices ranging from Freddy Mercury to Luciano Pavarotti and Barry Manilow. (I was almost weeping to sounds of “Mandy” – Andrea, thanks for the 2009 playlist which lives on).
Sunset was glorious and we felt well set up for the night ahead. Headtorches on, PLB’s attached, liferaft and water close at hand and so on. Though we’d already been going 8 hours, we knew when the sun set we’d still be flying when it rose on the other side.
I’m not going to try and recount the night’s events now I simply don’t have time. I do remember Jean remarking to me just after midnight, though, that we’d overcome so many hurdles during the night, that as each new one arose, he’d forget the previous ones ever existed. The main problem was avoiding towering cumulo nimbus clouds and storms. Once in a cloud, we couldn’t see embedded storms, so at times we had to fly at 1 000 ft above the sea, sometimes in the rain, to get below the cloudbase. At other times we were up in the heavens dodging, using the moonlight for lighting.
About three quarters of the way through the night the engine spluttered, cutting twice in succession. Jean was sleeping and in an instant, as he awoke, he hit the back-up fuel pump (Rotax 914 engines require high fuel pressure to operate). Our A pump had failed and now we were on the back-up B pump, planning ditching procedures. Thankfully the B tank held out all the way to Colombo. (The problem was a totally blocked filter in the A pump they’re very fine and very small and it was blocked with lint). Later a false ground connection sent all engine instruments into the red and again we planned our ditch in the dark. Again Jean fiddled a fix in flight, though the problem continued intermittently until landing. (And of course I’ve not had time to explain how we had to plumb in the 120 liters of jerry cans to get the fuel from the back seat into the tanks, and then un-plumb them to get the B and C wing tanks back into the system while we were going too! Jean, also the PIC, was like a machine attending to one issue then the next!).
Flying at night is hard enough anyway – with poor weather, no place to land, 200 miles off flightplan, marginal fuel supplies, a failed fuel pump and engine instruments showing oil pressure off the dial it’s a pretty exhausting ordeal. There were definitely times when we wondered what the hell we were up to. The danger with humans, though, is that we seem to forget!
Just before dawn we were able to relay a message to Mumbai through an Air Mauritius airliner, and later to Male, Maldives, via an Air France Flight. When the east began to lighten we had to overcome another final set of clouds and storms, at least this time with a little light to see the dark cloud masses by. Then………
Ah well, that was yesterday’s adventure. Tomorrow (actually today, it’s just gone midnight!) we’re off to Phuket, Thailand. We’ll take off as soon after 0100Z (3 am SA time) as we’re able. It should only take us 10 hours and there’s a good tailwind predicted for most of the way. There we hope to take 2 days rest. Jean will give his view on things from there.
AdiosJ and J