Wow, what a world – we’re in Belem, we were welcomed in by supporters, now we’re in a lovely little hotel and neither Mike nor I have written a word or sent a picture since arriving; yet there are images on our website and everyone seems to know that we’re safe and being looked after! How brilliant to arrive to a South African flag, a group of aeroplane lovers, some beers and a great meal of Brazilian steak, rice, chips and veg.
After escaping the Military Police and filling up with the dodgiest possible mogas in Conakry, we got off at 17h30 on runway 24 for the long crossing. As predicted there were isolated storms around for the first bit as we climbed painfully out at absolute maximum all up weight, fuel literally leaking from every vent pipe and cap. Our stormscope seemed to be working perfectly, though, and we managed to find our way between the cells quite easily to 30% west, where Tim had told us they would peter out, and they did. More importantly, the tailwinds he’d predicted were there right from the start, starting out at about 10 knots and increasing to 30 knots at times during the flight. This was certainly my first flight in which I knew that in the absence of a tailwind we probably wouldn’t make it, and that required a big gulp. It all worked out fine, though, and as the winds increased our margin of safety just got wider and wider.
We had a long, though wonderful night. Since Belem is effectively three hours behind Guinea, the night on a westbound flight like this is three hours longer than usual. We needed a long night, having flown through two of the four previous ones, and slept only 4 hours the night before (thanks to the Guinea police), but certainly not another one spent flying! Our arrangement is that one pilot is awake at all times, monitoring things and, most importantly, switching fuel tanks at the right moments. On a few occasions during the night, however, we realised that the “on duty” pilot had in fact also fallen asleep for some time. After our GPS/autopilot mishaps over Botswana and Angola this was quite a wake-up, but each time there was definitely a funny side – realising how obscure our situation was, flying alone miles above the ocean, both asleep!
Although we did have some limited VHF radio contact with commercial aircraft above us who relayed a few messages from the Dakar Oceanic FIR control room, without an HF radio we were effectively on our own for most of the night. So we spent many of the small hours listening to our iPod through the headphones, which raised our spirits – thanks Jay for “Tonight we Ride” and to Andrea for all the rest.
Our Rotax 912 ULS engine, technically uncertified and “experimental”, didn’t miss a beat the whole way, to our relief. We also had an incredibly strong feeling of people following our progress and wishing us well. The messages of support on our website have just been so overwhelming that we feel as if we have a whole team of people accompanying us at every minute. I certainly feel very emotional about all the positive thoughts and messages and as we flew they had us feeling as if things just couldn’t go wrong.
To see South America, in the form of the edge of the Amazon jungle, rise out through the clouds after 19 hours in the air is quite a sight. We were talked into Belem though some thickish clouds and a little rain by a very friendly air traffic controller (interestingly, save for large commercial aircraft, all radio work in Brazil is in Portuguese, not english), and of course met by Robbie Weich, Gilberto, Hugo, Octavio, and later other family members, after 21 hours flying, which has been wonderful. More about all of that tomorrow, though.
There is so much to write – about what thoughts one has when flying like this, how much it means to get messages of support, how the aeroplane is performing, just how much fuel it uses, how this improves as it lightens up and so on, but it isn’t the time for that now – it’s time to sleep! There should be three short “experimental” videos attached, just to give a feel of the mood. The first is a shot out of the cockpit arriving at Conakry on Tuesday morning, the second demonstrates the atmosphere in the cockpit around about midnight, and the third our joy at arriving at the South American coast without having turned into sharkbait. Then there are some photos which I think are self-explantory.
We’re not going to go to Georgetown as planned tomorrow – we’re going to rest instead, do an oil change and a little planning. Then we intend to head directly to the US Virgin Islands on Saturday as, though a longish flight, that way we have less admin, slightly less flying overall and don’t lose a day. More of that tomorrow, however, Sleep tight.