28 September 2009

blowin in the wind

The sound of strong wind in the leaves is something I will never grow tired of. Like yesterday, today's wind send us dust from the southeast. No Morning Glory. For the first time since our arrival 16 days ago, we went back to sleep after our routine pre-dawn wake-up. We gathered in the dark between the cabins this morning, discussed the wind, the lack of moisture, made a few tired jokes, and concluded that it was not Morning Glory weather. Later, I wandered down the road that joins Burketown to the next closest town, Gregory Downs (population 50), 150 kilometers away. "Willy willies" of dust rose up and swept across the road before disappearing in the wind. When I returned, I was covered in a fine layer of Queensland's loosely clad skin, and there was grit in my mouth.

Two days ago, however, this was not the case. Another fabulous ride on the back of Burketown's blustery giant took us out to Sweer's Island on Saturday.  The Glory was another rippled beauty, and we surfed the primary for a while before hopping over it to the secondary, then the tertiary cloud.

The glider here is VH-YHB, the motor falke I trained in, on the primary cloud.  Beside the Glory, it looks miniscule.

25 September 2009

speed on the flats

Yesterday, we spent the "arvo" searching for an abandoned race track. All we found was this. In a couple months, the lake bed will be overflowing.

At dusk, we watched Geoff fly his model airplane across the salt flats. It's a styrofoam getup, with a modified prop and added rudders over the wings, about half a meter long.  If only a glider could pull off those tricks. We watched it with the deep longing to be four centimeters tall.

23 September 2009

said I'm comin from the south...

I don't know if there is a musical tradition for this part of the Gulf of Carpentaria, but if there is, the Morning Glory must lilt through it.  And if there isn't, I'll write one. But I'd do that anyway.  Last night we stayed off sleep later than usual I howled tunes from my homeland until we became too sleepy to see.  It felt good.  It felt great.  And it was probably best that we finally turned in because the cloud took us out to sea this morning for another three hour duel with gravity, sans un moteur.  It was the week's third Morning Glory to chase the tail of dawn across the Gulf, this time coming from the south.  We watched the giant roll over us stirring up dust and dew, and took off before it's siblings could do the same.  They took the darkness with them. It's not very often that they blow from the opposite direction like this.

I shot this photo facing east from the ground as the Glory was directly overhead (the darkness is cloud).  It obscured the entire sky for a couple minutes, sparing only two slices of pink twilight on either side.  Soon after this one passed overhead, a few others followed, spaced a few minutes apart.

21 September 2009

Albert River

A nine-ribbed Morning Glory leapt over us yesterday, and we were were waxing utopian to think that we could ride another this morning. Dew-slicked wings and water-heavy canopy covers made us hopeful. We climbed into our gliders with damp hands. In a momentary span of motorless quiet, I heard a rooster crow. On the horizon, a faint outline of a thick cloud, but too far out to sea to surf. Instead, we traced the Albert River back to Burketown before the sun sent the fog away.

20 September 2009

Morning Glory!

6:14 a.m. 20 September 2009. Burketown.
Morning Glory hunting. lenticular-crowned cumulus on the dawn's horizon. Jabiru taxiing [runway] 21. We're on deck.

I jotted these notes this morning before we took off. Three and a half hours later, we landed the motor glider on runway 03. We had used 10 liters of fuel. And had soared this:

Morning Glory, running roughly north-south. On the leading edge, we were able to get up to 9 knots of lift at times.

looking the other direction, you can see a gap where lenticular clouds are beginning to assemble

as we approached the "lennies," the lift became a bit more elusive

behind the primary Morning Glory, a secondary cloud rolling only a few miles behind

I posted a couple videos from the flight here.

17 September 2009

patterns in the sky

We took off from Tyagarah just after dawn on Sunday. By the time we reached Burketown the following afternoon, over 1000 miles had passed beneath us. I watched rhyolitic peaks rise out of the forest as we crossed over the Tweed Caldera and the Great Dividing Range, and witnessed them sink again when we traveled west. The green army of beeches and bromeliads suddenly came to a halt at the lip of a tawny-colored soup. Outback Queensland splayed out beneath us as far as we could see from eight thousand feet aloft. Dusty brown roads connected cattle station to cattle station, leading at some point to a town only a handful could call home. Rivers became the great sculptors of the land. Their burly arms writhed like snakes with thin stripes of trees on either side. When a curious finger of a river ran dry, the trees vanished and left naked ruts in the sand leading nowhere. Most, it seemed, were dry. It wasn't until we neared the gulf on the second day that we glimpsed flowing water again.

We arrived Monday afternoon, a bit cramped from almost nine hours in the plane, but happy to breathe the heat-laden air of Burketown. On Tuesday, we rose before five and spun our props by the day's first light. As we climbed from the runway, we could see a line of clouds building on the horizon to the northeast. According to local residents and pilots, a well-formed Morning Glory had plowed across the gulf the previous day. What we saw that morning was a second breath of the same type of system, but not as smoothly rolling as its predecessor. It was advancing slowly south-westward nearly 30 miles out to sea. While not producing enough lift for us to soar, it was nevertheless a magnificent sight.

On the prowl for the Morning Glory, we join a handful of other pilots from around the country gathered here in Burketown seeking a ride on the famous cloud. I'll be here for another two weeks. Hopefully, the winds will send her our way.

06 September 2009


70 kilometers south of Kununurra in Western Australia lies a dam constructed without a speck of bitumen or concrete. There, the Ord River meets a barracade of rock, sand, and clay pulled from the nearby gorges to create one of the world's most efficient dams. The result is a body of water occupying over 1000 square kilometers. That's large enough to be classified as "open water," like the ocean, and also vast enough to generate its own cyclonic weather systems. They call it Lake Argyle. Beyond the dam, the Ord River slithers on through Kununurra and eventually meets the Indian Ocean.

Above, an image taken from Mirima National Park in Kununurra. Below, the river and gorge just after sunrise this morning, about 13 kilometers south of the town. The water is so clean that it can be cupped straight from the river.

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