World record paragliding flight: 335 km on Big Monday

Friday 5 March, 1999

Ten years on… Since Godfrey’s record flight Manilla has become one of the world’s top paragliding destinations

Godfrey Wenness describes his momentous 335 km paragliding world record from Manilla, Australia

Many visitors to the outback of Australia say we Aussies have some strange ways of doing things. One classic is measuring distance not by kms or time but by six-packs of beer: “From here to Goondiwindi, umm, orr, I guess that’ll be a two six-pack trip!” and so on.

A few years ago I was put onto Gummi Bears as a good inflight catering option. Compact, flavoursome and chewy, I eat two bears every time I fly 100 kms. On 16 November 1998 I managed a six Gummi Bear flight…

Just over 300 km north-west of Sydney, the Mt Borah launch near Manilla is surrounded by wide rolling farming country with friendly people and great weather. After visiting the area for a few summers, four years ago I bought the farm that includes most of Mt Borah. I have lived and breathed paragliding here ever since.

For me it was a bit like buying your very own ski run or surfing beach. Last season I flew two national open distance records and over 3500 km of XC. Out of the 300 or so flyable days a year there’s probably a couple of big record setting days every month during the summer season.

Because I live here, I’’m usually the only experienced pilot out flying, so the potential of many days is left unexploited. In late 1998, what with the ‘El Nino’ breaking and record rainfalls in Spring, big days were few and far between. Up to then my best was 140 km for the new season… until Big Monday.

Monday morning, 16 November 1998. I was sat in the only room at my place where the phone doesn’’t ring. At 10 am I looked out the window to see a small puffy cu go silently past heading north. Stepping outside to take in the whole vista, my heart started racing. Everything that I thought would make a big day was there – early cu’s, a moderate southerly, and a trough with a front to the south. The temp trace would decide it.

While waiting for it I got Suzy to laminate a new FAI flight declaration form as the old one was lost in the ‘Borah Basher’ (the pilot transport 4WD) somewhere. Then the check list: new film for the camera, UHF radio, mobile phones, three oranges, a banana, water and of course the obligatory Gummi Bears. Reading the faxed temperature trace and upper winds confirmed what I suspected.

Whilst setting up, young Rhett, who I taught to fly 12 months earlier, skied out just after checking my Baro and doing the FAI observer thing. I was already losing time. After launching into a lull the usual south rough stuff was coming through helped by a moderate 20 kph wind. It looked like a train for a big one.

After getting smacked a few times I opted to slide sideways off the face towards the east bomb out field so that I could drift with anything that came through. On the way I heard Rhett at base and heading north at 50 km/h.

Just over the bomb out paddock a wave of light lift arrived which I had to gently tickle to climb in. After parking in it for a few minutes the core arrived and – you beauty – turned to 4 m/s up. I was on my way.

The full article was published in edition 61, Feb/March 2000

This article was updated 13 Jan 2011

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