Sunday 25/11/2012 I had one of the most magical and unforgettable experiences in my short gliding career. In the early morning the signs were for strong lift and a good day for cross country soaring. The wind was roughly North-East and quite calm near the ground. The first training flights came back with tales of buoyant air and good lift so expectations were high. I got away in the Libelle soon after 11am and pinged off in good lift at about 2000ft. This thermal did not last and was very rough so I checked around for another only to experience the same thing, and the same again and again. The thermals were sometimes very strong but they did not last, were very rough and seemed to have horizontal gusts that tossed the Libelle about quite a bit. It was all very frustrating.
At first roughly 4000ft seemed to be as high as I could get and after hanging around Boonah for a bit I headed for Coulson’s crossing and Flinders Peak where the clouds seemed to be a little more encouraging. Just short of the Peak I encountered big sink and as I was under strict instructions to stay 2000ft above glide I turned around and headed for Kooralbyn where there were also good clouds but also lots of bushfire smoke. South of Kooralbyn the cloud bases were just over 5000ft so I was able to start increasing my height before once again hitting big sink so reluctantly turned West to skirt the smoke and get closer to the field.
In the distance, just North of Maroon Dam I noticed a long cloud running East-West that I though looked promising so I headed over to it looking for thermals on the upwind side – nothing. I decided to fly South underneath the cloud to see if there was anything directly under it – again nothing. Continuing on until I was on the downwind side lo and behold the vario started to beep. I started turning and the climb continued but something strange was happening – I was alongside the cloud, above cloud base. Not having flown in wave before I wasn’t sure if this might be it, but it wasn’t the standard pattern of wave with the lenticular cloud formation. However, it was worth a try so I straightened up and flew along the edge of the cloud still climbing in very smooth air. It was absolutely fantastic and surreal to be flying in calm conditions, bright sunshine with the cloud immediately off my right wing and still getting 3 – 4 knots of climb. Eventually I climbed above the top of the cloud but still the lift was there although somewhat weaker. The end of the cloud signalled the end of the lift so I turned and flew back along my route climbing higher and higher. Turn again and higher still. Eventually the climb maxed out at 8400ft – well above the clouds and with a fine view of a developing thunderstorm out West. A couple of radio calls to inform other gliders of this phenomenon did not get much of a response.
After a bit of exploration I noticed the clouds beneath me were thickening so with my views of the ground not great and not wanting to get lost I headed for one of the gaps to get back down below cloud base, pulling wide turns at 100+kts. Back on the ground my experiences were described to M2 who described the lift I was in as being shear-wave, which apparently occurs occasionally in Spring around Boonah. It is apparently caused by the upper wind deflecting over lines of thermals or a cloud street. Never mind the meteorological explanation, it was a magical experience to be floating between and above the clouds with the peace and serenity which only unpowered flight can give.